Walter Arthur Reginald "Wal" Mackney
- 284Wallaby Number
Wal Mackney was one of Australia’s greatest sportsmen of his time. He rowed at the Olympic Games, he represented Australia in Surf Life Saving, he boxed at the national titles, and he played Test rugby for the Wallabies. The stripling Mackney was a superbly conditioned athlete, a legacy of his many years in the police gymnasium. As a footballer Mackney was a destructive tackler of great strength who possessed a deceptive turn of pace that left many an inside back rueing his presence. He was also tough, very tough. A rival once suggested that ironbark fibre and barbed-wire were threaded into Mackney's hide. Mackney was born in the Bellingen district of New South Wales and was schooled locally.
Aged 13 he abandoned his formal education, shouldered a pack and set out for the tall timbers of Dorrigo. Mackey secured a job in one of the timber camps and graduated to a sleeper-cutter. He then learned to swing a whip and at 14 was driving a team of 16 bullocks. Queensland soon beckoned where farm work, horse-breaking and cane-cutting brought their own scars. By 20 he had reached Sydney and two years later he joined the Police Force where he was first introduced to organised sport.
In 1928 Mackney reached the semi-finals of the Australian heavyweight boxing championship and around the same time he was induced to play rugby with the Police team. He was crude, but improved rapidly, and in 1930 won a place in first grade at Northern Suburbs. Incredibly within just three weeks he debuted for New South Wales, against Warwick, on their tour of Queensland. Just as in football, Mackney was conned into rowing. Swinging an oar was a good match for his abundant strength, staying power, and energy. Not surprisingly he made the Mosman VIII in 1932. That same year Mackney couldn’t earn a start for the Waratahs however an opening emerged after Australia lost the Test series to New Zealand.
Although the Wallabies were not due to tour South Africa for ten months the trials for the 1933 tour were held just four weeks after the third All Black international. Mackney was named at No.8 for New South Wales in the key final trial against The Rest. He and Aub Hodgson led a fiery home team to victory, helped by two tries from Mackney, to book their tickets to Africa. Mackney played in 13 matches and two of the five Tests, including a debut international at Cape Town. As the incumbent No.8 Mackney retained his position in 1934 when Australia defeated New Zealand at home to claim their first Bledisloe Cup series victory.
The Wallabies did not play any Test rugby in 1935 and as such Mackney’s focus turned to rowing and unsurprisingly he reached the pinnacle of the sport. Mackney sat in the stroke seat of the victorious New South Wales crew that won the King's Cup, Australia's blue riband annual rowing race for men, and a year later he represented Australia in the men’s VIII at the Berlin Olympic Games. Clearly not satisfied with having attained national honours in two sports, Mackney was selected in the surf-boat crew that represented Australia in the 1939 Pacific Aquatic Games in Honolulu. Hollywood film star Ginger Rogers was also in Hawaii at that time. From her luxury suite at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel she saw the Australian crew gathered beside their boat. Rogers went down to the beach, walked up to them and said, "Hello, who are you guys?” All five hastened to explain that they were from Australia. "Say, will you take me out in your boat?" she asked. The boat could not have been launched quicker for an emergency rescue. Rogers rode three waves, each from half a mile out, and shouted with glee throughout as she sat beside Mackney and helped to pull his oar. Wal Mackney played four Tests for Australia in a two year international career.
Mackney won his first Test cap at No.8, in a back-row that included Geoff Bland and Jim Clark, in the 1st Test, 3-17 loss to South Africa at Newlands. Bland shifted to the back of the scrum for the second Test before Aub Hodgson assumed the position for Tests three and four. Mackney returned at No.8 for the 5th Test, 15-4 victory at Bloemfontein.
Mackney started at flanker in both home Tests against New Zealand.