As the Rabbitohs prepare to return to their spiritual home in the Return to Redfern clash this Saturday, we take a look back at the history of the venue that has become synonymous with the red and green – Redfern Oval.
While South Sydney was founded in 1908, it wasn’t until 1948 that the Club was blessed with a genuine home ground, and it came in the form of a tract of land that was once known as a ‘dangerous pestiferous bog’ known as Boxley’s Lagoon – in addition to also being known as Nathan’s Cow Paddock.
Bounded by Elizabeth, Redfern, Chalmers and Phillip Streets, Redfern Oval was designed and constructed during the 1880s as a typical Victorian pleasure ground with ornamental gardens, cricket pitches, bowling green and a bandstand.
It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century that sporting facilities became more prominent, and the proud history of memorable sporting moments began in earnest.
One of the most famous incidents in the early sporting history of the venue came in 1903, when legendary cricketer and Rugby League Pioneer, Victor Trumper, playing for Paddington against Redfern, straight-drove a ball out of the park and through the second-floor window of the boot factory across the road where apartments now stand.
South Sydney’s proposal to make Redfern Oval their home ground came in 1946 – a proposal which Redfern Council accepted, adding earth mounds for spectator seating including the Redfern Oval hill as a result.
On April 17 1948, Souths came home to Redfern for the first time when they took on Easts in round two of the Premiership and despite an injury scare to Rabbitohs legend Howard Hallet, the occasion brought about a thrilling 19 all draw between the two rivals and was just the first of many memorable matches in Rugby League history at the ground.
Mere years later, one of the Club’s and code’s greatest moments was played out at Redfern, when on March 13, 1955, Rugby League Immortal Clive Churchill played the majority of a match against Manly with a broken wrist.
Despite his obvious pain, Churchill soldiered on with a make-shift cast made of cardboard and paddle-pop sticks. The solution served its purpose, with Churchill amazingly kicking a side-line conversion to sink Manly by 9-7 with his arm hanging limply by his side. Souths would go on to take the 1955 Premiership despite the Immortal not playing for the rest of the season.
The famous ‘Reg Cope Grandstand’ which stood opposite the hill until the mid-2000s was built in 1957, named after Norman Reginald Cope – an alderman from 1950 to 1960.
The oval continued to be the home ground for the Club until the opening of the Sydney Football Stadium at Moore Park in 1988, but continued on as the Club’s training facility.
Premiership Rugby League briefly returned to Redfern in 1996 though, when the Rabbitohs opted to play three matches at the venue. The final match, a round 15 ARL clash against the now defunct South Queensland Crushers, yielded a 48-16 victory to the Rabbitohs, bringing the curtain down on Redfern Oval as a Premiership venue.
But that was far from the end of the story. On 18 August 2000, following the exclusion of the Rabbitohs from the NRL in 1999, an invitational South Sydney team faced off in an exhibition match against the USA Tomahawks in a match designed to raise funds for the Clubs’ successful fight to re-join the NRL.
Attended by over 20,000 spectators, a South Sydney team comprised of ex-players as well as the then up and coming Nathan Merritt, demolished the USA by 82-12. The Club also staged a second exhibition the following year against the Murdi Paaki Warriors.
Redfern Oval would continue to serve as a training facility to the Rabbitohs upon re-instatement. But the nearby Erskineville Oval also played a role during the early to mid-2000s, particularly when the City of Sydney Council agreed to a major redevelopment of Redfern Oval which was carried out in 2007 to provide modern training facilities for the Club. This involved the removal of the Reg Cope Grandstand and levelling of the site.
In 2009, the Club began a new tradition at Redfern Oval in its new format as a state of the art training facility and community asset, when a pre-season match billed as Return to Redfern was staged on 8 February against the Wests Tigers at the newly developed arena. A sell-out crowd of 5000 Members was on hand to welcome the red and green back home, with the likes of Adam Reynolds, Chris McQueen and Dave Tyrrell all turning out for the clash eventually won by the Tigers.
The tradition continued with the Club taking on the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles (2010), the Newtown Jets (2011), the Warrington Wolves (2012) and the Papua New Guinea Residents XIII (2013). After a year away in 2014, the tradition will continue in 2015, when the Rabbitohs take on the Northern Pride this Saturday 14 February in the next instalment.
The South Sydney Rabbitohs will take on the Northern Pride in this Saturday’s Return to Redfern clash and the boys need you there to help them get over the line! Be there to celebrate our return to our spiritual home and get your photo taken with the Provan-Summons Trophy, while the kids enjoy a footy clinic among a range of activities on the day! Kick-off is at 6pm.