Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Belshaw's World - Ampol, New States and Soccer

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday  23 December 2009. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here.

I noted with pleasure the decision by Northern NSW Football to reintroduce our own state knockout cup. However, it carried my mind back to the past.

A while back, I was doing some research on the Walkley Awards.

Named after Sir William Walkley, the Walkleys are Australia's top journalism awards. My father-in-law, Jim North, was president of the Australian Journalists Association. The AJA founded the awards, and I just wanted to look at their history.

The research reminded me of a New England linkage and a possible explanation to something that has always puzzled me.

Born in New Zealand, Sir William founded what would become Ampol Petroleum.

While Ampol has faded from the scene now, it was one of Australia’s major petrol chains, proudly asserting its Australian ownership in opposition to the dominance of foreign oil companies.

Now how does this link to New England and to soccer?

In 1961, the New England New State Movement launched Operation Seventh State, a major fund raising campaign to support a new self government drive. I acted as an usher at the launch, wearing my first ever suit borrowed from my Uncle Jim.

Our target was to raise 100,000 pounds, a very large sum in those days. We were successful, leading to a very major campaign culminating in the 1967 self government vote.

As part of the campaign, the Movement decided to mount a major car drive on Sydney. The aim was to flood Sydney with thousands of demonstrators in the domain matched by press advertising. We did indeed do this.

Because it was a car drive and demonstration, the decision was also taken to swamp parking spots around the Domain even though this would incur fines.

The drive was organised with military precision by a team headed by General MacDonald from Wallabadah Station as marshal.

To get to Sydney for the demo, I decided to hitch-hike. Arriving at Maitland late in the afternoon, I realised that I was not going to make Sydney until late. I also had not arranged anywhere to stay.

Checking the train time tables, I found that there was an early morning train to Sydney. I decide to take this.

With that settled, I wandered down to Maitland’s main street and went to the pictures, spending the rest of the time in the Railway Station waiting room. Then, in Sydney, I shaved and washed at Central and on to the demo!

This was, in fact, my second New State demonstration.

I organised the first at the request of ABC Four Corners to provide them with some TV footage. They were doing a story on the New State Movement and needed visual material.

Hastily grabbing a dozen or so friends, we prepared placards and marched up Beardy Street shouting slogans in front of the cameras. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

So what's the linkage in all this with Ampol?

While we were asked not to talk about it, and no-one did, Walkley’s Ampol provided free petrol to cars participating in the New State Drive. As I remember it, the company also offered to pay the parking fines.

The answer to the thing that had puzzled me?

A little later, the Australian Soccer Federation acted to separate New England from NSW, creating a Northern NSW State League.

This survives to today. Only in soccer does New England have a state presence.

I never knew how this happened.

Now that I have read Sir William's ADB entry, I suspect that I have the answer. He was a major driver in the Australian Soccer Federation.

This is my second Christmas as an Express columnist.

Last year I had just started. Now I seem to have settled into it.

I know that some readers at least enjoy my ramblings. That’s why I continue.

To you and yours, I wish you a merry and safe Christmas and a great new year. Let’s see where 2010 takes us!

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