Laurence Joseph Dwyer
- 106Wallaby Number
The Larry Dwyer story is an unusual one, in that he was the son of poor Irish immigrants and was born and bred in the bush, in Orange, NSW. Yet he rose to captain his country despite his adversities. Pollard, in Australian Rugby, said of him: “He first played football at the Orange Patrician Brothers School wearing street shoes because football boots were a luxury few boys at the school could afford. He left school at 12 and worked as a clerk in a solicitor’s office, and began to play rugby for the Orange Waratahs. He scrounged footballs from his club, and retired alone to the paddock to teach himself to kick with both feet.” He certainly honed his skills. As Chester and McMillan described him in The Visitors: “The captain, Larry Dwyer, rates among the great Australian fullbacks for his ability to kick a ball the length of the field, his uncanny handling skills, his prowess at punching holes in the defence and his deadly tackling.” It was obviously a disadvantage to come from a country centre and represent his State and his country.
When he played for any teams that required him to be away from Orange, he would ask for leave from his employers, but was therefore required to work late at night before catching a train to Sydney. He would stay up all night, and then return to Orange as soon as he could after a match. It was this desire and motivation that eventually got him to the top. As for his handling skills, when he was not on the rugby field he was playing handball, and won national championships in the sport. Larry Dwyer was a superb athlete, and very well conditioned. When Larry Dwyer started coming into his own, rugby was at somewhat of a low-point. The New Zealand ‘All Golds’ rugby league team came to Australia in 1907, played games and signed ‘Dally’ Messenger. Rugby league teams were formed, and a team was sent to England in 1908, being there at the same time as Moran’s touring 1908-09 Wallabies. Rugby union appeared to be getting the upper hand, when the code was shocked by the defection of 14 of the Wallaby team to the British Isles.
It was a severe body-blow, and with most of the top players in the rugby league code, public interest shifted to their games. Larry Dwyer appeared on the scene at a difficult time for the amateur code. He first came to public notice playing for the Western Districts team of NSW in 1908, and impressed with his coolness under pressure. It was in 1910 when he was openly recognised, playing for NSW twice against a touring NZ team, led by Fred (‘General’) Roberts. The All Black fullback was Joe O’Leary, who gained immediate fame for being the only All Black to front up for every meal on a particularly rough ship crossing. Some other NZ greats on the team were Simon Mynott, Frank Mitchinson, ‘Bolla’ Francis and ‘Ranji’ Wilson. Among the better-known NSW players were Ward Prentice, Syd Middleton, Ted Fahey, Fred Wood, Jimmy Clarken and Tom Griffin.
The ‘Blues’ were beaten in both matches, by 8-21 and 11-17. Dwyer’s performances put him into his first Test team, captained by Syd Middleton. NZ won a close encounter 6 to 0, and Dwyer was adjudged the outstanding Australian player. He was an automatic selection for the second Test, played only two days later. Australia won by 11-0, in a sensational upset, and as Howell, et al report in They Came To Conquer: “All the home team played with distinction, but none was better than Dwyer, whose defensive work was of the highest standard.” With the series tied 1-all, Dwyer was retained for the third Test, and though he personally played well NZ crushed Australia to the tune of 28-13. The American Universities also toured in 1910, and Larry Dwyer played for Central-Western against them, the home team being narrowly defeated by 9-11.
The NZ Maori team was also in Australia in 1910, and though there was no Test, Dwyer was first choice for both NSW games, NSW winning both 11-0 and 27-13. In the first encounter Howell,et al state: “Dwyer was in terrific form at fullback, saving try after try in the first spell.” In 1911 there were no tours in or out of the season, but in 1912 a team was picked to tour the USA and Canada under captain Ward Prentice, and Larry Dwyer was selected. The 1912 tour was a disappointing one, as only 11 matches were won in 16 matches, including all three matches in Canada, but Dwyer played in 12 of them. He had picked up an injury and missed the first two games, but finished up playing in 12 of the matches, against Stanford University (2), University of California at Berkeley (3), the Olympic Club, St. Mary’s College, University of Nevada, Santa Clara College, the USA, the only Test, British Columbia and Victoria, Canada. It did not help that players were distributed around various fraternity houses during their stay, as discipline was almost impossible to exert.
What the Australians lacked on the playing field they made up for on the social side, Bob Adamson asserting that they hardly went to bed on tour. For the 28-year-old Dwyer, it all seemed a long way from Orange, NSW. In 1913 the NZ Maori came back to Australia on an eight-match tour, during which no Tests were played. Larry Dwyer was captain in the two NSW games (won 15-3 and 16-5), and against Western Districts at Bathurst (lost 8-11). Dwyer was in the three-quarter line in these three games. In the Western Districts game, he scored an excellent try which he converted. It was little wonder then that the ‘boy from the bush’ would captain Australia in 1913 on its tour of NZ. Dwyer would play in six of the nine matches.
He captained and played against Auckland, Taranaki and Wanganui, but was injured in the latter game. He therefore missed the first two Tests and the match against Southland, the vice-captain, Ted Fahey, taking over as captain. He was back into action against South Canterbury (won 16-3), New Zealand (won 16-5) and Marlborough (30-3). Though the tour was not successful, Australia winning four and losing five, one Test had been won, and Dwyer was acclaimed by all the New Zealand experts as one of the finest they had ever seen. In 1914 NZ toured Australia in what has been called the ‘Declaration of War Tour’, as World War I was declared halfway through the tour, taking much of the gloss off it.
Larry Dwyer represented NSW against them, and despite being under considerable pressure from the All Blacks he was picked out for special mention through his performance, in particular for his defensive work. He captained Central-Western Districts against NZ four days later, and was picked in the first Test, Australia being captained by Fred Wood. It was a narrow 0-5 loss. He was also selected for the Brisbane Test (lost 0-17), NSW as a centre (lost 10-25) and Australia as a centre (lost 7-22). The war caused rugby union to cease in Australia, and a great fillip to the game when peace was declared was the visit of the AIF team to Australia. Highly trained, and having competed in the AIF Inter-Service matches in Europe, the AIF team was too good for Australian teams. It had been five years since Dwyer had played top rugby, but he was on the NSW team against them (losing 14-42), then Australia (an 18-25 loss), the Sydney Morning Herald noting that in the NSW game: “The side was well served in many positions, notably at fullback, where Dwyer showed out.”
This match for Australia was the final one for Larry Dwyer at the top level. He was now 35 years of age, and he had done more than he could ever have hoped. He played 24 matches for his country, seven of them Tests. He would captain his country in Tests to an impeccable record, winning one and losing none. He would captain Australia in five mid-week games as well. Larry Dwyer is a wonderful example of determination taking a person to the top. Poor in material wealth, he was rich in the experiences he gained, going on two tours for Australia, one of them as captain of the Wallabies. He came a long way for a boy from the bush who could not afford football boots.