Malcolm Montague van Gelder
Malcolm van Gelder described himself as the “Least Classic of the Classic Wallabies”. Perhaps he should describe himself as a “Unique Classic Wallaby” as he not only represented four ‘States’ but he scored a try in each Wallaby game he played in! He is also looked on as the first Wallaby from South Australia, but more on this later.
Malcolm was born in Gunnedah on 4 June 1933. He was educated at Warwick High School, Queensland, where he played rugby as a hooker and breakaway in the Warwick Schools’ Competition. Following high school, in 1952, Malcolm entered the Royal Military College Duntroon, where he was a member of the Duntroon First XV and played as a breakaway during his four years at the College.
Duntroon played in the ACT competition and were Canberra Cup and Premiership winners in 1955. He had regular games against Combined GPS, Combined High Schools (CHS), Hawkesbury Agricultural College and City Colts. While at Duntroon Malcolm played for ACT in representative matches including the inaugural match against Victoria in 1955. Before graduating as an officer in the Australian Army from Duntroon Malcolm excelled at sports ,gaining full colours for Rugby, Tennis and Boxing. He was the RMC middleweight boxing champion in 1952 and on graduation in 1955 he was awarded an Honour Cap for Rugby.
Following graduation from Duntroon, with the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Australian Engineers (RAE), and while still in the army, Malcolm studied at the University of Adelaide during 1956-7 when he played for Adelaide University, for South Australia, and for Australian Combined Universities. Adelaide University won the Kanematsu Cup, for Southern States Universities, at inter-varsity in Hobart in 1956, and also beat Queensland University prior to a narrow loss against Sydney University.
In 1956-1957, playing for South Australia, he participated in the 1957 Wallaby trials for the team which went to Britain, France, USA and Canada, following earlier matches in the Southern States carnival in Perth, and matches against NSW Country and the New Zealand All Blacks.
In 1958 he returned to Canberra and played with Easts, and it was from Easts that he was selected for the 1958 Wallaby tour of New Zealand. The records show that he was selected as a breakaway from South Australia, the confusion resulting from the fact he was from South Australia at the time of the 1957 trials. He has been explaining this anomaly ever since!
Strictly he is the ACT’s first Wallaby. The lead-up to Wallaby selection in 1958 was quite a saga. After completing his studies at the University of Adelaide he was posted on attachment to Papua New Guinea Public Works Department; returned to Canberra as an engineering instructor at RMC Duntroon, played with Easts and was selected for the ACT, NSW Country and the NSW II team in the Wallaby trials.
In 1958 he played for ACT against the visiting Maori, for NSW Country against NSW City and for NSW II against Victoria.
In the 1958 Wallaby tour Malcolm played in only two provincial games, against Southland and Manawatu, scoring a try in both games. He may have played more games but for injury and the fact that that the team captain “Chilla” Wilson and John Thornett were also breakaways in the team.
On return to Australia, and following promotion to Captain, Malcolm spent six months at the Maralinga atomic test site. He then attended the School of Military Engineering at Casula, NSW, and played for Parramatta in the Sydney competition.
In 1959 he played for North Harbour against South Harbour on 23 May at North Sydney Oval.
Malcolm was posted to 21 Construction Squadron at Puckapunyal, Victoria, in 1959, but missed out playing against the visiting Lions on residency grounds; but one week later he played for Victoria against Australian Universities, and in later years was selected for Victoria on several occasions playing against NSW in 1959 and 1961.
While in Victoria Malcolm played for Harlequins and Army through to 1961. He played for a Combined Victoria/South Australia team against New Zealand at Orange in 1960 when he scored a try running past the famous All Black full-back Don Clarke. He played for Victoria against Queensland at Manly Oval on 11 May 1961 winning 14-9, but then losing to NSW 28-12. During his time in Victoria there was a lively Army and inter-service rugby competition; 21 Construction Squadron challenged and defeated 17 Construction Squadron, the premier Sydney army team. Wallaby Danny Kay was also in the 21 Construction team and represented Victoria at this time.
Later in 1961 Malcolm was posted to Darwin on attachment to the RAAF 5 Airfield Construction Squadron and essentially disappeared from the mainstream rugby scene.
During 1961 to 1964 he played a number of service games in Darwin, Malaysia, and Thailand.
In 1965 he returned to Australia as a Major and represented Combined Services against the visiting Californian Bears and against several State teams, including Queensland, ACT and Victoria.
In 1965 he captained Australian Combined Services in Canberra against the Prime Minister’s XV, the rival captain was John Thornett, by now an old acquaintance!
In 1966 while attending the Army Staff College at Queenscliff, Victoria, Malcolm played for Geelong in the Victorian second grade competition. His team won the competition.
In 1967 while at Holsworthy, NSW, he played with 23 Construction Squadron, which he commanded, in the NSW Army competition and coached the Army team in the Inter-Services competition.
In 1968 to 1969 Malcolm commanded 17 Construction Squadron in Vietnam and played inter-unit rugby regularly. In 1969 Malcolm returned to Canberra and finished his playing career with East’s third grade, at the age of 39, and played his last game against RMC Duntroon on the same ground where he had started training at RMC in 1952 at the age of 18.
His playing career turned to refereeing in 1969; he refereed 466 games in the ACT but he can also count other games as a referee in the UK, USA, Papua New Guinea, and Korea. He refereed his last game in Seoul in 2001, aged 68, in a game between Seoul ex-pats and a US Army team. What a saga, what a career!
Malcolm enjoyed his army career which included overseas service in Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. His speciality was airfield construction; his non-engineering responsibilities included personnel planning and military tactics instruction.
In 1972 Malcolm, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, resigned from the Regular Army after 20 years service and joined the Commonwealth Public Service as a Second Division Officer in the Department of Territories and later the Department of the Capital Territory. He continued army service in the Active Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel until 1983.
In 1989 he resigned from the Public service to become a lawyer, having graduated in law in 1986.
In 2007 he continued to practise as a solicitor as a sole practitioner. While in the Army and in the Public Service Malcolm completed a number of military and academic programs. These include: 1955 - graduated Royal Military College, Duntroon; 1956 - Bachelor of Technology (Civil Engineering), University of Adelaide; 1964, Bachelor of Economics, University of Queensland; 1966 - Graduate, Staff College, Queenscliff, Victoria; 1967 - Master of Engineering Science, University of New South Wales; 1970 - Graduate, Joint Services Staff College, Canberra; 1974 - Master of Economics, Australian National University, Canberra; 1986 - Bachelor of Laws, Australian National University, Canberra; and 1990 - Fellow. Institution of Engineers Australia.
Malcolm married Helen Nicholson in Melbourne in 1959. Their three sons James, Timothy, and Nicholas had their rugby introduction in the ACT Junior Rugby competition playing for Easts, and then at Tudor House, Moss Vale. All three played rugby at Geelong Grammar School, Victoria, with two, James and Timothy, going on to play for Ormond College and Melbourne University. Nicholas played and toured with the Victorian Schoolboys, meeting up with Ewen McKenzie. He went on to St Paul’s College, Sydney University, where he continued his rugby under the watchful eye of Tony Abbott. After graduation he played with Sydney University, Old Haileyburnians in London, and in South Korea.