George Thomas Bryan Palmer
The Palmer family rugby dynasty of New South Wales comes close to emulating the famous Queensland McLean family in generational terms. It began first with grandfather Tom (T.D.) Palmer of Dubbo who played three matches for New South Wales in 1899. In that year he was selected to play in the famous match against the New Zealand Natives team, prior to it undertaking the most arduous tour in the history of world rugby.
Then came his son, Bryan (G.B.T.) Palmer, who represented New South Wales and Australia in the 1927-31 period and finally his grandson, Bryan Rugby Palmer, who represented New South Wales in 1950. All were fast, outside backs of the highest quality. But it was that most colourful personality, G.T.B. (Bryan) Palmer who is the subject of this biography and about whom so much could be written.
He enlisted in the 1st AIF in 1917 but suffered from near fatal pneumonia in England. After being shipped home, he began his rugby career in Dubbo to help build up more strength, then in 1924 he joined the Glebe-Balmain Club in Sydney. He went on to play 93 first grade matches in their colours and with Drummoyne when the name change took place in 1931.
He was first selected in 1927, playing his first match against Victoria, then being described in the Rugby Annual as a “tall, beautifully balanced runner with a highly developed positional sense.”
Bryan Palmer was selected along with six of his Glebe-Balmain team-mates in the famous 1927-28 tour of Great Britain, France and North America but withdrew to be with his wife for the birth of their son, Bryan Rugby Palmer, in 1928.
He went to New Zealand in 1931 with Syd Malcolm’s team before being struck down with blood poisoning in his left leg after only four matches. But it so happened that concurrently the tour manager, Tom Davis, had to suddenly return home for personal reasons and the hobbling Bryan Palmer took over as manager, the only time that the management of an Australian team has been entrusted to a current player.
His gravely authoritative voice, coupled with rare conviction, soon established his coaching credentials and quickly won the respect of the Australian team, that was to pass through Club, New South Wales and Australian Rugby for years to come.
On return from New Zealand he applied his sound rugby fundamentals and drills with his Drummoyne First Fifteen and then concentrated for some years on schoolboy rugby coaching in both City and Country, where his name and track record still resonates.
In 1966 he coached the Eastwood Club to the grand final and Parramatta some years later to the Sydney premiership.
Perhaps his hallmark achievement was in coaching the NSW Waratahs to superb victories over the All Blacks in 1962 and the Irish side of 1967.
When Alan Roper retired as the Australian coach after a great tour of South Africa in 1963, Bryan Palmer took over as Australian coach.
He retired in 1967 aged 68. He lived until the age of 90, committed to the end to the game he loved and his strong principles.
The Palmer Shield for Primary School Rugby in New South Wales is named in his honour. New South Wales Country Rugby, in particular, honours the memory of Bryan Palmer, not just for his success at the State and National level, but for the countless visits he made to far-flung outposts of the game to support and encourage that great rugby nursery, Country Rugby. He coached Country teams from all points and in the headquarters of the game he relentlessly emphasised the critical importance to both New South Wales and Australian teams of the need to nurture the country player.
There were some mighty three-quarters in the game when Palmer was vying for representative honours, such as Cyril Towers, Syd King, Charlie Morrissey and Johnnie Wallace. Palmer missed his appointment with destiny when he declined the invitation to tour with the famous 1927-28 Waratahs. And in 1929, 1930 and 1931 he could not coach the State lineups against touring teams. As stated, he went to New Zealand with the Australian team in 1931.
He was by far the oldest member of the touring party, at 32 years-of-age, and weighed 12 stone. Palmer played in only four of the ten matches, two on the wing and two as five-eighth. The games he was in were against Otago (3-3), Canterbury (13-16), Seddon Shield Districts (5-14) and Wellington (8-15, replaced by H. Primrose). He then took over as manager.
Somewhat of a legend, stories abound about Bryan Palmer. Though he played in no Tests, he was in four non-Test matches.