Kenneth Australia Gavin
- 100Wallaby Number
“He was a good, solid type of country forward,” recalled Dally Messenger when asked about Ken Gavin. “He would ‘bog in with his eyes shut’, as the saying is, and I am not slinging off. That’s the determination wanted in a forward.” Born in 1883 in Cudal, a small town that was once a stop-over for thousands of prospectors travelling to and from the Forbes gold fields in western NSW. Gavin’s early rugby career began in Boys’ clubs. Peter Sharpham in The First Wallabies records that Gavin was a burly backrow forward who represented Country against City in 1904, 1906 and 1907, as well as Central Western against the touring British team in 1904.
One match report described Gavin as possessing “the bounce of India-rubber, the pace of a sprint champion, and the strength of a wrestler, broke through two or three times, swerving like a crack three-quarter”. Gavin advanced to the NSW State team in June 1906, playing against Queensland in Brisbane. He was unable though to hold his place in the side for the return matches in Sydney. A year later Gavin was chosen in the first inter-State game of the winter, but was one of five NSW forwards cast aside after the Reds sprung a surprise 11-6 victory. In August 1908 he was still on the outer with selectors, and was not included in the 1908 Wallabies tour to Great Britain, France and North America.
Despite his disappointment, Gavin played strongly for Central Western in a 15-10 win over the visiting Great Britain (Anglo-Welsh) team in Bathurst. With the Wallabies absent, he was selected in the NSW team to play against Great Britain in their last match before heading back home to England and Wales. Another sterling performance from Gavin, which included a crucial try, led NSW to a surprise 6-3 victory – a milestone achievement for NSW, as Great Britain had never before been defeated by the State/colony (touring in 1888, 1889, 1903 and 1908).
After the Wallabies lost the services of forwards Charles Murnin, Peter Burge and Peter Flanagan to illness and injuries at the start of their British tour, the management cabled the NSWRU back in Sydney seeking two replacements. Gavin’s end of season efforts were still fresh in the minds of the selectors, and he (along with A.B. “Son” Burge) were promptly offered the opportunity to sail to England. Gavin didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation, and a hastily organised farewell function was arranged and held in Orange by his colleagues and family. At the end of the congratulatory speeches he was surprised to be given a purse full of sovereigns, courtesy of “the residents of Orange” for spending money.
He and Burge arrived in England in mid-November, a month before the opening Test against Wales. Gavin was overlooked for that Test, but was called upon for what would ultimately be his one and only Test appearance in early January 1909, playing against England at Blackheath’s Rectory Field. Under the captaincy of Chris McKivat, Australia scored three tries to one in a 9-3 victory. On the North American leg of the tour, Gavin played against the University of California (Berkeley) in the USA, as well as Vancouver and Victoria in Canada. Upon returning home he turned out for the Wallabies in a 22-16 win over NSW at the SCG. NSW played five times in 1909, but Gavin was passed over by the selectors on each occasion.
It was abundantly clear to Gavin that despite his efforts, his representative career had permanently stalled, and it came as no surprise when his name was linked to secret negotiations taking place in Sydney to form a rebel Wallabies team to play a series of rugby league matches against the Kangaroos. Gavin accepted an offer of £100, becoming one of the fourteen Wallabies to sign-on. A report of the opening match in The Sydney Sportsman noted that “’Gumleaf’ Gavin played a fine forward game”. After the series Gavin (now disqualified by the NSWRU) returned to Orange and vowed to help establish rugby league in the rural city. In 1912 the local rugby union body voted in favour of changing over to rugby league (though a separate group vowed to continue on under the NSWRU until the Great War). Gavin worked for a time as a commercial traveller. He excelled at lawn bowls in his autumn years with the Orange City Bowling Club, passing away at the age of 73 in 1956