In 1917 the historic Darwin Buffaloes became the final football club to complete the Northern Territory Football League (NTFL), joining the already established clubs, Wanderers and the Waratahs.
This year, they celebrate a century's worth of 'kicking the leather around'.
A sporting club with a significant history
Formed in 1917, the Darwin Football Club (DFC), now known as the Darwin Buffaloes, was first mascoted as the Darwin Warriors.
The team were mostly comprised of residents of the Kahlin Compound, a reserve in Darwin which segregated and controlled Aboriginal people who the government classified as ‘half-castes’. From the beginning of the NTFL, an enforced ‘colour bar’ prevented anyone of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Chinese, Filipino or mixed-race descent playing in any other teams except the Darwin Warriors.
The Warriors unfortunately failed to win a match during their whole first season. However, the following year they were reinvented as the ‘Vesteys’, named after their sponsors - the meat factory located on Bullocky Point (currently the site of Darwin High School) where many of the players were employed.
The ‘Vesteys’ played significantly better since their debut as the Warriors and took out the 1921/22 premiership, and in 1924/25 and 1925/26 took victory again.
During this time, Indigenous people were deeply oppressed under racist law and by racist attitudes; however, the football field was one of the first places in Darwin where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people were interacting as equals – or almost. The success of the largely non-white Vesteys wasn’t taken well by the white Australian Rules community. During a match, the Vesteys players walked off the field in strike of obvious discrimination being made by the umpire and were subsequnetly disqualified from the competition by authorities.
In 1926, the club registered with a new name again, due to cutting ties with their sponsors who made little-to-no attempt to help overturn or dispute the disqualification decision. They were then named the Buffaloes Football Club, as the large number of players who worked on buffalo hunts. The newly named Buffaloes won again that year and continued to dominate the ladder in the 1930s, playing supreme in 1933, 1934, 1935.
In the 1940s, many of the club’s best players left to fight in World War II, in which rivals the Waratahs took the glory in their absence. However upon the return home of players like Jack McGuiness, Jack Ahkit and Herman Rooding, the premiership was once again, the Buffaloes’.
In 1962, the Buffaloes changed their name for the fourth time, as the Darwin Football Club. However, they still retained their Buffaloes emblem due to historical significance.
Although women have always been involved in the Darwin Football Club community; barracking, supporting and volunteering at events, a women’s side was not officially established until 2004. The DFC played in the first season of the NTFL's women's side, sadly losing to champions St Mary's Football Club: St Mary's 7 - 5 (47) and Darwin 0 - 3 (3). The DFC women's side are affectionately named ‘The Buffettes’.
Jack McGuiness was not only a skilled player in the first first team line-up, but an important activist in the community. McGuiness was responsible for leading his Vesteys team off the field in an act against discrimination of Aboriginal players.
Bill Dempsey MBE played for the DFC in the 1950s and 60s, and captained the 1964/1965 season. He was recruited by West Perth to the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) in 1966, and was awarded the Best and Fairest that same year. Dempsey is in both, the WAFL Hall of Fame and the NTFL Hall of Fame.
Andrew Luke McLeod is considered one of Australia’s greatest Aussie Rules players of all time. From starting out with the DFC in the 1980s, McLeod followed his career to the South Australian Football League (SAFL) playing for Port Adelaide Football Club. He was shortly recruited to the Australian Football League (AFL) and signed to the Adelaide Crows. McLeod is the recipient of the Norm Smith Medal, the Malcolm Blight Medal, the Jim Stynes medal, amongst other prestigious Australian Rules awards.
Former Hawthorn player (2008-2010) Cameron Stokes comes from a long line of DFC players including his father Steven and his great-uncle Don Stokes who are both former Nichols Medal winners. During his junior years, Stokes captained the Northern Territory under-age state team.
Last year, Jasmine Anderson of the women’s league was recruited to the AFL Adelaide Crows. Although she has been focused on both Australian Rules and soccer professionally, Anderson has always been a promising AFL star. In her junior season, she was the repient of the Best and Fairest medal whilst playing in a mixed competition, which she was awarded over her male teammates. Anderson is the granddaughter of the club stalwart and legend, Jimmy Anderson.
John Patterson, a Ngalakan man, is the current president of DFC. He has played 214 for the club and considers his most memorable moment as winning the 1979/1980 premiership whilst captaining the team.
"It's often the dream of the captian to hopefully lead the team to win a premiership," Patterson told NITV. "it was a momentous, significant event."
To date, the DFC proudly holds 23 premiership wins over 100 years. Eleven players have recieved the prestigeous Nichols Medal and prior to that award was the League's Best and Fairest medal, which seven Buffaloes players were awarded.
The club has expanded into twelve teams and the Buffaloes offer playing opportunities for boys and girls under-12s, to premiership players and seniors players.
Since the arrival of the St Mary’s Football Club in the 1950s who are known for being the most successful football club in Australian history, the Buffaloes most recent premiership win was in 2005/2006. They are currently number six on this years’ TIO NTFL Men’s Premier League ladder.
Current star players in the Darwin Football Club include captain Phillip Wills, Jarrod Stokes and former North Melbourne demons player, Matthew Campbell.
Darwin 'Buffaloes' Football Club celebrates their 100 years at their Centenary Gala Ball, Saturday 4 Feb at the Beachside Pavillion, SkyCity in Darwin.
Watch Darwin Buffaloes vs. St Mary's tonight on AFL Summer tonight, 31 Jan at 10pm AEST on NITV Ch. 34.