Geelong’s George Tansing became the second Chinese heritage VFL player when he made his debut in 1908, later captaining East Geelong to two Premierships.
On Saturday June 6, 1908, George Tansing ran onto Corio Oval in Geelong to become the second player of Chinese heritage to play in the VFL. George had been recruited from local club East Geelong where his consistent form had earned a promotion.
Although Geelong lost by three points to St Kilda, George played strongly, with the Argus reporting him “cleverly snapping” his first goal, whilst the Geelong Advertiser noted that he: “put in a lot of clever work, made a distinctly good impression and should prove an acquisition to the team.’
Geelong lost their next three games and after 5 VFL matches, George was dropped after a 21-day VFL stint that yielded two goals including one in his final game against Collingwood.
Geelong would only win two of their 18 games in 1908, and George Tansing returned to play the rest of the season for East Geelong where he was appointed captain of the team, the first Chinese heritage player to captain a mainstream club team.
East Geelong defeated Ashby in the Grand Final and the Geelong Advertiser noted George’s “splendid work” at rover, including a crucial goal securing a win and a 17-game undefeated record for the season.
George led East Geelong to another premiership in 1910, top scoring with two goals in the grand final win over Chilwell.
George Tansing was born Kimjue Sing on 25 March 1884, the son of Cantonese migrant Sang Sing and his English wife Ada Mary Stephens who was originally from Exeter in England.
Sang Sing was born in the See Yup region of Canton and did not take the traditional route to Australia, migrating from London where he had worked for 10 years as a mixed business trader.
They were married in 1881 at St Kilda and then moved to Geelong, settling in Little Ryrie Street where Sang Sing established a thriving Greengrocer business.
In 1884 they had their first child George and decided to merge his surname to the more culturally digestible Tansing, used today by descendants across Australia.
The year before George played for Geelong, he married Wilhelmina Ellis and they would have three children including their son Leslie who served as a machine gunner in World War II and Bill who played in the Geelong reserves team in 1936 and 1937.
Bill was the leading goal kicker in both years and played a starring role with four goals to help the Geelong reserves win the 1937 premiership.
In the Geelong and District Football League (GDFL), the annual medal for the best and fairest is named after George’s nephew Ivan Tansing, who was a prominent player for Herne Hill in Geelong in the 1950s, while George’s great-grandson, Damien Tansing, played for a number of years in Geelong’s amateur league.
Jack Wunhym played for Footscray and went on to captain Yarraville, becoming the first Chinese heritage VFA/VFL captain.
Every year Ballarat’s ‘Young Sportsperson of the Year’ is awarded the ‘Wunhym Trophy’, named in honour of East Ballarat’s Jack Wunhym, who played elite Australian Rules football and influenced the lives of many in his coaching career.
John (Jack) Stevenson Wunhym was born on May 30, 1908, 14 days after Chinese-Australian pioneer Wally Koochew made his debut for Carlton.
Jack’s grandfather, David Wun Hym was born in 1839 in Canton and migrated to Australia in the 1870’s where he married Englishwoman Elizabeth Martha Sally who was born in Gloucestershire.
Together they settled down in Ballarat, merged the family surname to Wunhym and raised a family of 9 children in Golden Point, the heartland of Ballarat’s Chinese community
Jack was a second-generation Wunhym footballer, with his uncle Willie a pioneer who played for the Golden Point Rice Eaters whilst also being the captain of the Ballarat Chinese team.
Jack dominated junior sport in Ballarat before moving to Sunshine Football Club in 1924, subsequently signing with Footscray.
He would play a total of ten senior games before moving to Yarraville in the VFA in 1929 where he played 88 games over five seasons, scoring 17 goals. The Herald described him as Yarraville’s “mainstay” and late in his stint he became the first Chinese-Australian to captain a VFL or VFA team.
Jack’s peak season came in 1932 when his form earned him selection for the VFA Allstars team to play the VFL Allstars, a showdown of the rival and competing Melbourne professional leagues.
The VFA led by 1 point at halftime and went down valiantly by 8 points in front of 31,000 fans packed into Carlton’s home ground Princes Park.
Jack was also a crucial part of Yarraville’s first two finals series including 1933, where they came third on the regular season ladder and lost unluckily 55-52 to Port Melbourne in the first semi-final.
In the midst of his golden period, the Sporting Globe paid tribute to Jack in 1933: “Jack Wunhym has been one of the outstanding followers in the Association this season. He plays a hard game but fair, and his stamina enables him to carry on in the most rugged company.”
Jack Wunhym played in an era where it was common for VFL & VFA players to captain-coach country sides at the end of their playing days.
He played and coached in and around Ballarat including Redan, the Golden Imperials, Maryborough and famously coached Ballarat North to their first victory in the Ballarat Football League in 1946.
Ballarat North historian Stanley “Digger” Roberts has fond memories of Jack Wunhym:
‘Jack was highly respected as a coach and was the architect of our first premiership.’
Carlton’s Wally Koochew was the first Chinese heritage VFL player when he made his debut in 1908. Wally would later win a Premiership with Woodend in 1914.
On Saturday, May 16, 1908, Wally Koochew ran onto Princes Park wearing Carlton's navy blue lace-up and chamois yoke, the first recorded Asian and Chinese heritage player to play for a VFL club.
After his selection announcement, a member of the Ancient Order of the Druids returned his ticket, saying that by including a Chinese on the team Carlton was dealing a death blow to the White Australia Policy.
Wally's debut against Essendon was noted in The Age's match report: "Koochew performed creditably."
Wally retained his spot for the next game against Collingwood and scored his first goal from the half-forward flank.
When Carlton played Geelong at Princes Park in Wally's third game, he matched up against fellow Chinese Australian footballing pioneer George Tansing.
Wally would play four games for Carlton before he packed his bags and headed back to his hometown of Woodend.
His VFL career had lasted 35 days, despite the accomplishment of breaking into arguably the best team the VFL had ever seen to that point.
Wally's father, James Kou Chou, had arrived in Australia in 1865. His name was changed to Koo Chew upon landing and he went to stake his claim in the goldfields before setting up as a market gardener. He met and married an Irish Dubliner, Mary Dalker, and moved to Macedon to set up a greengrocer and start a family, with Wally their first born in 1887.
Wally was an acclaimed athlete and played football for Woodend where he was spotted by the Brunswick Magpies on an end-of-season tour and signed by them to play in the Victorian Football Association before being signed by Carlton to play in the VFL.
After he finished his stint with Carlton in 1909, Wally Koochew settled back into life in Macedon to work in his father's greengrocer and he would have five sons with his wife Axelina, a New Zealander of Dutch and Danish heritage, eventually starting his own greengrocer in Woodend.
Wally signed up for the Macedon footy team and immersed himself in the local community, becoming secretary of the club and spearheading its fundraising endeavours.
In 1909 and 1910 he would return to Melbourne to pull on the black and white jersey of the Kyneton Football Association's rep teams, who would travel by train to challenge teams including Victoria Police and Brunswick.
It was swapping football clubs from Macedon to his old club at Woodend in 1914 that delivered one of his greatest moments, spearheading Woodend Football Club to the premiership .
One of his sons, Walter Koochew jnr, played for Melbourne VFL reserves and another son, Leslie, was awarded life membership of the AFL Umpires Association.
In his final years Wally Koochew moved to Melbourne and sold hot dogs outside Arden Street Oval before he died of tuberculosis, at the age at 44.