Bush Footy Legends

Roy Poy

Roy Poy played as a rover for Albury and was also a publican, bookmaker and proudly served for Australia in the Vietnam War.

Roy Poy was born in Albury in 1947 and picked up Australian rules football in Albury High school, where he captained and starred for his school.

An image taken in 1959 shows a young Roy, captain of the Under 14’s, sporting a beaming smile and meeting North Albury captain coach Don Ross, a former VFL Footscray Premiership winner and Best and Fairest who was on a school visit.

Roy Poy went on to play 50 senior games for Albury, famed throughout the league as a rover who could get his hands on the football for his teammates.

His football career passed the pub test according to author and writer John Harms in a story in The Age in 2008: “At my local pub the boys told me of Roy Poy. A character of Albury, he wasn’t hard to find. Roy played under Murray Weiderman at Albury and was, by all reports, a fine rover.”

Roy was a classic country town character, who in addition to playing football was a clerk with Murray River Electricity, a publican, taxi owner, cricketer, golfer, bookmaker and served his country in the Vietnam War.

At his funeral in 2008, Roy’s friends reminisced about his qualities with Roy’s best man David Dynan commenting: “Roy was a loyal true friend, passionate and determined in everything he did.”

Roy’s grandfather Willie Ah Poy was born in 1875 in Canton and moved to Australia in his teens. He had a rocky start to his Australian experience when at the age of 21, he was captured by police crossing the Murray River into NSW.

He went to gaol and faced the magistrate at Corowa Court accused of avoiding the compulsory poll tax levied on Chinese community members.

The only image of Willie Ah Poy depicts a picture of successful integration – standing on the veranda in front of his Chiltern store with four of his children, all dressed in western clothing with Willie wearing a hat, pants with braces and smoking a pipe.

Roy’s father Lindsay served in World War II in Borneo and was a famous bookmaker in Albury, a tradition he passed down to his son Roy.

Roy married his wife Colleen in 1971 and had four children, who according to nephew Lindsay Poy have continued the tradition of ‘fine upstanding citizens in the Poy family’.

A number of Poy family members have kept the football tradition alive including Roy’s cousins Graham and Lindsay, who both had solid country football careers.

Graham Poy feels the family’s cultural history is a big driver in the Poy success on and off the field: ‘All the way back to our grandfather Willie, the Poys have been very tenacious, especially Roy and I think his Chinese heritage had a lot to do with that,’

‘I think that's the way we played the game and approached life.’

Russell Jack

There was a time in Russell Goldfield Jack’s life when Richmond’s President Maurie Fleming was a regular visitor to his house in Bendigo.

There was a time in Russell Goldfield Jack’s life when Richmond’s President Maurie Fleming was a regular visitor to his house in Bendigo.

The teenager’s Chinese-Australian mother Gladys would serve tea to Maurie on each visit but according to Russell she could not fully understand what Maurie was offering and why he was so persistent in asking her son to join the Richmond Football Club.

Russell had won the trophy for the Best and Fairest player in the 1949 Victoria Schoolboy Carnival in Melbourne and was on the radar of the powerhouse VFL Club.

Eventually Fleming gave up on his quest to sign Russell and left the Jack house empty handed.  Russell could not make the move to Melbourne because he had to help his sick mother take care of their big family of 9 children. 

Russell Goldfield Jack was born in Bendigo in 1935, the son of herbalist Harry Louey and Daisy Gladys Ah Dore who was the daughter of Samuel Ah Dore, Bendigo’s much-loved market gardener.

Harry Louey Jack arrived on a steamship from Hong Kong in 1899 as a 17-year-old, and worked as a storekeeper on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne before moving to Bendigo to work as a herbalist and greengrocer.

From the moment Russell started at Long Gully public school, he began kicking a football in the playground and his skills were further developed playing kick-to-kick in a vacant block of land across from his school.

Russell captained the Long Gully School football sides including many wins against their fierce rivals California Gully and recalls: ‘We had no choice but to play football in winter and cricket in summer, so why not give it a good go.’

He has fond memories of catching the tram as an eleven-year-old to watch Eaglehawk playing in the Bendigo League and one player stood out: ‘I remember Ian Chinn playing for Eaglehawk who had all the skills and a big kick,’

‘We knew he had Chinese background which was exciting.’

Russell continued playing football at Bendigo Tech and in 1949 he was selected to play for the Bendigo regional school’s team, travelling to Melbourne to play in the Victorian Schoolboys Carnival.

His high-flying marks attracted attention and he won the trophy for the Best and Fairest player in the carnival, ahead of future legends Collingwood’s Thorold Merrett and Carlton’s John James.

At the age of 17, he was promoted directly into the Eaglehawk senior men’s team, playing on the same ground that his grandfather Samuel Ah Dore had graced in the 1896 Eaglehawk v Bendigo charity game.

Instead of finishing his final years of high school, Russell joined the Railways as a boilermaker, ending his short lived Eaglehawk senior men’s footy career after a single season, retiring at the age of 18 explaining: ‘When I look back, I think I would have made it in footy but as a boy in a Chinese family I had obligations that went beyond sport.’

Thomas Chin Chee

In 1895 Thomas Chin Chee made his debut for Inglewood and in the same year became the first Chinese-Australian to play in a winning Premiership team.

The Inglewood Football Club started in 1876 with a blaze of glory and a year later, the club was included as a foundation member of the Victorian Football Association (VFA), fielding teams against Melbourne and Carlton in the late 1880’s.

In ‘The Blues’ - Inglewood Football Club’s 125th anniversary publication, one player stands out from the rest, an Asian face peering out from the Anglo-Celtic players in the 1895 Premiership team photo.

His name was Thomas Chin Chee and he was the first Chinese-Australian to play in a club Premiership team.

Thomas Chin Chee’s father James Chin Chee, was born in Canton in 1831 and migrated to Australia, settling in Smythesdale close to Ballarat and marrying Grace Vincent, a South Australian of Cornish descent.

In 1875 they had a son Thomas Henry Wah Chin Chee, and moved to Inglewood for the gold rush where James set up as the herbalist/doctor for the Chinese camp

Thomas Henry Chee spent his youth in Inglewood, playing football at school, and at the age of 20, he was selected to make his debut for the Inglewood senior team.

The Inglewood Advertiser reports that he played his first game for the ‘Blues’ on August 3, 1895.

Several of the Inglewood regulars, “good and true men”, were injured and Thomas stepped up against arch-rivals Dunolly on a rainy day at Inglewood Park.

He performed well in front of a crowd of 600, making himself “conspicuous by good play”.

Thomas held his spot in the team for the rest of the season, forming part of the victorious ‘Duggan Trophy’ winning team.

After the Inglewood Chinese camp went into decline, Thomas moved to Korumburra in the Gippsland region where he worked in the coal mines and married Irish Austalian Harriet Matilda Kells, fathering eleven children.

When Thomas retired from coal mining, he and his family moved to Vere Street in Collingwood where he shortened his name to Thomas Chee and ran a market garden growing fruit, vegetables, and flowers.

From the black and white heartland he was able to indulge his lifelong passion – the Collingwood Magpies Football Club.

According to his granddaughter Faye Pollock, he was famous in the family as a ‘diehard Pies' fanatic who had a great understanding of football and would go out to as many games as possible.

Faye recalls that Thomas would often drop in and talk for hours to the owners of the Chinese ‘cook shop’ in Hoddle Street in Collingwood. 

In advance of big Collingwood games on the tv or radio, according to Faye, Thomas and his wife Harriet would: ‘go down to the restaurant and return with saucepans full of dim sims and chow mein for a footy feed fit for a king.’

Thomas lived to the age of 91, passing away in a nursing home in Carlton in 1966.

Billy Wong

Billy Wong is a 4th generation Mooroopna Cats footballer who played 312 senior games and was inducted into the Goulburn Valley Football League Hall of Fame.

In June 2019, Billy Wong was inducted into the prestigious Goulburn Valley Football League Hall of Fame for his sustained excellence for the Mooroopna Cats as a ruck rover/forward.

A life member of the Goulburn Valley Football League (GVFL), Billy had a storied career playing 312 senior games, winning back-to-back senior premierships in 1985 and 1986. He was awarded the club's best and fairest trophy twice and made 10 appearances for the Goulburn Valley representative team.

Beyond fitness, skills and tactics, the most important element of his success with Mooroopna was mateship. He grew up with the same group of friends and they won a number of junior premierships together. "That's a great platform to build off," Billy explains.

Although the 1985 premiership was Mooroopna's first flag in 47 years, it was the back-to-back grand final victory over Shepparton United the following year that entered the region's folklore.

By half-time, Mooroopna trailed Shepparton by 24 points and their fans were anxiously hoping the Cats could turn around the deficit in the second half.

And then, Billy Wong recalls, "something amazing happened".

In an effort to recharge his flagging players, Mooroopna coach Chris Smith reached into his bag of tricks that he had acquired from playing 10 years in the VFL for Fitzroy.

"We were just about to run onto the ground when Chris Smith stopped us," Billy says. "He then made us sing the team song twice and we went out and won."

Billy Wong was continuing a long family football tradition that was kicked off by his great-grandfather, Billy Wong Sr, who also played for the Mooroopna Cats including winning the 1896 premiership.

Billy Sr's father was Chan Ah Wong, a much-loved Cantonese gold rush migrant who had settled in Mooroopna to run the local market garden and the bridge connecting Shepparton to Mooroopna is named 'Ah Wong Bridge' in his honour.

After Billy Wong Sr retired from the Mooroopna Cats in the early 1900s, his son Laurie continued the tradition in the 1930s, serving on the committee before becoming the head trainer after World War II and coaching the club to the 1946 premiership.

Laurie's son John 'Tangles' Wong played briefly for the club in the 1950s, was a trainer in the 1960s and devoted the rest of his life to serving the Mooroopna Football Club in a variety of committee roles.

'Tangles' passed away in 2012, and to mark his passing the club officially named a bar The John 'Tangles' Wong Bar at Mooroopna's home ground.

"He wasn't a great footballer but he loved the community spirit," says his son, Billy Wong Jr. "He got a lot of enjoyment out of watching me play, which makes me really proud."

Clarence Lepp

Clarence Lepp served proudly in World War I before returning to Ballarat to become the first Chinese-Australian captain of the Golden Point Rice Eaters.

Clarence Lepp was the son of the first recorded umpire, James Henry Lepp and in 1915 was a 20-year-old working as a bacon curer in Ballarat when he answered the call to fight for his country.

At 5' 2" he was well under the minimum height restrictions but eventually he was accepted and left Australia for Egypt and landed in France in March 1916, joining the Australian Imperial Force's 24th Battalion.

Clarence was wounded in action with a gunshot wound to his leg but rejoined his battalion a few weeks later where he earned a Distinguished Conduct Medal and the prestigious Military Medal for 'great gallantry and endurance in carrying messages and acting as guide under heavy fire at Pozieres'.

Two years later in August 1918, he was wounded again, taking shrapnel to the back.

Unlike his brother Victor, who was sadly killed in France, Clarence survived the war, returning to be discharged in May 1919, and joining the Golden Point Rice Eaters football team.

In 1922 he was made captain of the Golden Point Rice Eaters, the first of the Ballarat Chinese community to take the helm alongside other community teammates and his cousin Freddy Foon, who was one of the club trainers.

Clarence's time playing and captaining the Rice Eaters in the 1920s represented the peak of Ballarat's Chinatown, Golden Point, which at the time was alive with the energy of human exchange, a thriving suburb of more than 1000 Chinese community members serviced by three Joss Houses and two fan banks (lotteries) running daily.

Clarence Lepp's grandson Mark Lepp recalls his father Stan telling the family story of Clarence receiving an invitation to attend pre-season training from St Kilda, an offer he couldn't take up because of work.

"They were struggling because his father James Henry Lepp died early, so Clarence had to work in a biscuit factory when he was young," Mark says.

"Playing footy was like a luxury when you've got to help your family."

Clarence worked the rest of his life as a meat curer making black pudding and Strasbourg sausages. He died in Ballarat in 1972 aged 77.