Rowland Sidnam Walter Birt
- 142Wallaby Number
‘Clinker’ Birt was a tall, rawboned loose forward who was easily distinguished on the field by a huge mop of curly black hair. In 1911, Birt was playing at Longreach and may have been lost to Queensland rugby but for the Charters Towers RU organising a Northern Country Week in July 1911 for players from Cairns, Townsville, Charters Towers and Rockhampton. Clinker Birt, then a 13st.4lbs number 8, played for the Western team in the competition and again the following year when the northern unions combined to send a powerful Northern Country team to Brisbane. That team was studded with stars and it easily defeated its opponents.
Among the many stars was Townsville’s Arch Fraser, a big powerfully built loose forward who subsequently played rugby league for Balmain. In the match against Brisbane, Birt made such an impression that he was invited to come to Brisbane by Brothers’ officials and he joined the club in 1913. During that year, there was an outbreak of smallpox in Sydney and all players had to be inoculated for the first interstate match in Brisbane. This resulted in a number of players withdrawing after suffering adverse reactions. Arch Fraser was one such player and Birt was his replacement. Although he played well, Birt lost his place to Fraser, since the selectors considered that those originally named ought to be given an opportunity to show their wares. Later in the season, Birt failed to make Queensland’s southern tour. Next season, Birt was not chosen for the opening interstate games in Brisbane but he was taken to Sydney for the return matches.
After missing the first interstate clash in Sydney, Birt starred in the midweek match against New South Wales ‘B,’ scoring two tries. This won him a berth for the second match against New South Wales. Playing with great confidence, he had an outstanding game, and Sydney critics singled him out as one of Queensland’s most impressive forwards after Bluey Thompson and Pat Murphy. When the touring All Blacks arrived in Brisbane, Birt played strongly against them in both of Queensland’s outings against the tourists. Birt’s big moment arrived when Fred Thompson was unavailable for the second Test match at the Brisbane Cricket Ground and the big, curly haired number 8 was chosen as Thompson’s replacement.
In the final selection, Birt was one of five Brothers forwards in the Australian pack. The All Blacks scored an easy victory by 17 points to nil. Fred Thompson was available again and he regained his place at Birt’s expense. In 1915, Birt turned out for Brothers ‘B’ again and gained selection in the South Queensland team that made an historic tour of north and central Queensland, which enabled him to play against many of his former country opponents. At the end of the 1915 season, the QRU disbanded and Birt’s rugby career ended, but he could be satisfied with making the big time from way out Longreach, and ended with one Australian cap and four caps for Queensland – not bad for a boy from the bush.