On the Heritage Trail walking tour of Wangaratta, one of the 20 historic sites that tourists take in is the corner where Lister Hospital used to stand. It was here that Edward Dunlop, the baby who would become Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop, was born in 1907.
In Benalla, a town approximately equidistant between Wangaratta and Shepparton, you can find yourself on Weary Dunlop Drive, a street named after the man who went to high school in the town before undertaking an apprenticeship with the local pharmacist. In the Benalla Costume and Pioneer Museum, there is a display on the life of Weary Dunlop, along with two of the town’s other “favourite sons” and in the Benalla Botanic Gardens, there is a statue commemorating Dunlop’s war-time heroics.
Before he served in World War II, Weary Dunlop was a Rugby Union star at Melbourne University, and became Victoria’s first Wallaby when he debuted in 1932. Two years later, he was a member of the first Wallaby squad to win the Bledisloe Cup away from New Zealand. He is the only Victorian in the Wallaby Hall of Fame.
At war, Dunlop was a surgeon who led the first Australian group of Prisoners of War to work on the Burma-Siam Railway. According to the Sir Edward Dunlop Medical Research Foundation, “In his dual capacity of Commanding Officer and Surgeon he had the care and responsibility for over one thousand men. He displayed extraordinary courage in attempting to improve the harsh living and working conditions imposed by his captors.
“Weary used his position as a doctor and Commanding Officer to protect his men. Having the awesome responsibility of deciding who was fit enough for work and who could remain behind to perhaps survive, he would often stand up to the Japanese soldiers, frequently with dire consequences for himself…Weary never wavered; he always stood fast for his men.”
In 2007, at the launch of the Melbourne Rebels team for the Australian Rugby Championship, Chris “Buddha” Handy said:
“Like the great Weary Dunlop, Victorian rugby has a history of daring to be different, a touch of the larrikin, and always having a go. These qualities are what you want in a Rebel and characterize the way Victoria is successfully tackling this historic year.”
In Ballarat, a new Eureka Centre is currently being refurbished to commemorate the events of the Eureka Stockade in 1854. Rightly or wrongly, the Stockade has been mythologised throughout Australian history, with the Eureka flag being used to represent everything from democracy to unionism to the working class, to any cause that opposes petty officialdom.
On the Melbourne Rebels Facebook site in 2007, it said:
“When deciding on the name of our new ARC team, it was decided that not only did the name need to have a strong link to the history of Victoria, it needed to be a symbol for the changing landscape of Rugby in this country. Coupling the rich history of the Eureka Stockade with the desire for the Melbourne team to be innovative leaders in the ARC, it seemed to be an excellent fit to name the band of young men to take the field – The Melbourne Rebels.”
The Eureka Flag itself became a symbol associated with the Rebels.
When the name ‘Rebels’ was chosen for the Melbourne side in 2007, many would not have been aware of the historic references related to either of these schools of thought – that the Rebels were named after Weary Dunlop or the Eureka Stockade. Regardless, the moniker caught on.
Now, three years later, Victorian Rugby has been awarded a franchise in what will become the Super 15 competition from 2011. But unlike Jervis Bay, ACT; Broken Hill, NSW; Atherton, QLD; and Broome, WA, Wangaratta, Benalla and Ballarat won’t have a side named for them in the Super 15. For while the ACT Brumbies, the New South Wales Waratahs, the Queensland Reds and the Western Force play in the competition, the new side will be known as the Melbourne Rebels.
It is difficult to believe that Peter Lalor and the rebels of the Stockade would want a team that is supposed to represent Victoria to be named purely after the state’s capital city, the venue where many of the decisions that the rebels were taking a stand against were being made.
And wouldn’t it be likely that Weary Dunlop himself, along with his surviving family who fully support Weary Dunlop Rugby, an association established to “develop and expand Rugby Union in Victoria,” would want the adults and kids in Victorian country towns to know that the Rebels are a team representing them rather than just their peers from the big smoke?
Come on, Victorian Rugby Union. People from Sale through Warrnambool and Geelong through Mildura deserve better. Let alone the folk in Wangaratta, Benalla and Ballarat.
Bring on the Victoria Rebels, and let the whole state feel pride in their history and their team.