The South West Football League might have started in 1957, but it was four years earlier that the seeds of change were planned.

The vibrant Bunbury-Collie League was formed in 1953, but widened its scope to become the South West National Football League in 1957.
The Bunbury-Collie League was formed in March 1953 at a meeting in Collie with the following clubs signing on – Bunbury Railways, Collie Railways, Pastimes, Mines Rovers, Collie Centrals, South Bunbury and Donnybrook.

The foundation President was Reg Earl (Collie) with Joe Richards and the League’s first Secretary.

Eastern Districts (Capel/Busselton) and Western Districts (Busselton) made it a nine-team competition, but in 1955 they amalgamated to form one Busselton team. In 1956 Harvey Brunswick joined the flourishing League and two sides underwent name changes – Pastimes became Carey Park and the Bunbury Railways became Bunbury.

With well-known Bunbury man, Percy Payne as foundation President and T Mason as secretary/treasurer, the revamped South West National Football League started the 1957 season by introducing a seconds (reserves) competition with Boyanup-Capel being admitted, playing only in the seconds. Two years later they entered a League side and became a fully-fledged member.
In its foundation year the League adopted colours of green and gold, which have continued to the present day.

In its first year, the SWNFL introduced a Provident Fund which has been maintained and was a first in Country Football in Western Australia. A year later the League introduced a Player’s Accident Fund designed to assist players who suffered loss of work through injury. The scheme continued until 2001 when mandatory player insurance was introduced nationally. The Accident Fund started in 1958 and still operates today by paying the players’ insurance and offering a supplementary payment to injured players.

The halcyon days of the 1950s and 60s saw the new League flourish and football became the dominant winter sport with large crowds attending matches and the community giving great support.
The League inherited a weekly match programme known as the Football Budget form the Bunbury-Collie League and production has continued every season since 1955. Football and local community radio enjoyed a successful partnership with Radio 6TZ-CI of the then Nicholson’s Broadcasting, providing colourful match commentaries, and weekly football shows.

A sign of the times in the 1990s saw the station turn its back on football when the corporations settled for national programming and match broadcasts ceased in 1994.

The year 1960 saw the League in dispute with the Bunbury City Council over ground charges and no football was played in Bunbury with the Grand Final hosted by Brunswick. The dispute was soon settled and football returned to Bunbury grounds at Hands Oval and the Recreation Ground the following year.

In 1961 the League became a nine-team competition when Collie Railways and Collie Centrals amalgamated to form the Collie Football Club. The SWNFL admitted Augusta-Margaret River in 1966 and returned to a 10-team competition.

The end of 2001 saw the fierce Coalfields rivals Collie and Mines Rovers amalgamate, citing declining player numbers in the coal mining town as the reason.
Mines Rovers, one of the oldest clubs in the region, had been formed in 1904 as Cardiff and adopted the name Mines Rovers in 1909 and the newly-formed club was renamed the Collie Eagles, sharing facilities at the local Recreation Ground.

Many of the prestigious player awards were already establish before the formation of the South West National Football League in 1957 and most have been carried forward to the present day.
The Hayward Medal, donated by Bunbury businessman Thomas Hayward, was first presented in the Bunbury Football Association in 1946 and had been part of the Bunbury-Collie League. When the company was sold, the Medal continued under several sponsorships as the store changed ownership. The Hayward family continued the rich tradition of the Medal for the League’s fairest and best player and for a short time the count was broadcast by the local radio station.

The reserves fairest and best medal was first awarded in 1957 and has been maintained by the Times Newspaper group. The fairest and best in the league grand final is another long-standing honour, first awarded in 1956 with sponsorship form the Pike family of Collie.

The South West League has taken part in all the Country Championships since the 1960s and built and impressive record. The first Country Championship title was won in 1970.
During the 50s, 60s and 70s the SWNFL engaged in many inter-league matches and built an imposing record. Despite the League’s success and commitment to inter-league matches, clubs and many players did not always fully support that concept and by the 1990s they had virtually disappeared from the football calendar.

The League entered a Colts team in the 2000 Country Championship after being unwilling to take part in the first two Colts Carnivals. The League has achieved a remarkable Colts record since its inception.

Football continued to prosper into the 70s as clubs built impressive facilities with licensed premises, with finance coming from fundraising and volunteer labour. Augusta-Margaret River was the first fully licensed football club in the country. While nine of the ten clubs had licensed premises on their home grounds, Boyanup-Capel-Dardanup owned the Boyanup Hotel, which they sold around the time the club relocated to Eaton.

The SWNFL itself build an office and meeting rooms at Hands Oval, which were opened on 12 April 1980. Four years later the building was named the Bob Black Pavilion in honour of the long-serving former President.

When Zoning was introduced by the WANFL in 1972, the SWFL was a reluctant partner to the scheme.

South West League clubs were zoned to East Perth and Swan Districts, but over the years restructuring has seen a number of changes. For some time West Perth was part of the South West and more recently Peel Thunder was aligned to the SWFL and West Perth went elsewhere.

In 1977 the SWNFL introduced a Colts competition, but not all clubs have maintained full participation with Donnybrook, Collie and Boyanup-Capel-Dardanup not fielding a team every season. Augusta-Margaret-River missed the first year, but has taken part every season since 1978. The League had conducted a Thirds competition between 1962 and 1964, but due to lack of support by clubs it was disbanded.

The Colts fairest and best medal was first sponsored by the Collie Mail newspaper and is now the Rural Press Medal.

In the early years all of the League games were umpired by WANFL Umpires who traveled each Sunday from Perth to officiate. Local field umpires were appointed to second’s matches, while goal and boundary umpires were mainly appointed at club level. Despite submissions to introduce local umpires to league ranks, the League and most clubs rejected the requests.

A local Umpires Association and panel was formed in 1977 and gradually local umpires were recognized. In 1977 the first local umpire to be appointed under the one-umpire system was Geoff Gibbs. The next year Kevin Nettleton was the first local umpire to officiate in a finals match and by 1986, all League games were controlled by local umpires. What a far cry from the 1960s when the League needed just four umpires each week under the one-umpire system and clubs were responsible for goal and boundary umpires. Today the League appoints umpires to all grades and requires 110 umpires each week, one of only a handful of country Leagues in Western Australia to do so, and the largest outside of the metropolitan area.

The first local umpire recognized in the Football Budget was Ted Nisbett, who would umpire between 1957 and 1971, amassing 111 games, umpiring 10 finals including two Reserve Grand Finals. The all-time Field Umpiring record is held by Kevin Nettleton who at the end in 2017 had amassed 698 games, including 10 League Grand Finals, 7 Reserve Grand Finals and 2 Colts Grand Finals, having made in League debut on 11 June 1978. Harold Membrey holds the record for most games as a Boundary Umpire, amassing 416 games, having made his League debut on 16 April 2000. Jason Crowe holds the Goal Umpiring record and overall record for most games umpired by a SWFL Umpire, having made his debut on 14 August 1994. He has amassed 786 games, including 15 League Grand Finals to the end of 2017.

From the mid-1980s football faced many testing times.

The introduction of the National competition through the AFL and the entry of the West Coast Eagles in 1987 and Fremantle less than a decade later, had severe repercussions to grass roots football, with a considerable decline in crows and a waning of interest. Both the League and clubs were faced with a declining income which put grease pressure on football administrators. Innovative fixturing became necessary and several variations were tried. Saturday football was used with only moderate success and most clubs were not supportive of the concept.
Night football became a viable alternative and the first club to install lighting was South Bunbury at Hands Oval in 1995. The very first night match though, would be played between Augusta-Margaret River and Donnybrook on 25 June 1995. On 27 April 1996, a historic Collie Derby was played under lights with the first match for premiership points at Hands Oval occurring on 4 May 1996. Harvey Brunswick Leschenault followed with lights at Brunswick and Busselton also at Sir Stewart Bovell Park. While not embraced by all clubs, night football has proven a success in attracting crowds and offering an alternative for players.  Night Football would be played at Kelly Park in 2016 with  Harvey Oval having night football for the first time in 2017.

In 1991 the League dropped the ‘National’ from its name and became the South West Football League. In the early 1990’s the SWFL was encouraged to apply for entry to the WAFL with a team for the South West and this was met with divided views. A submission was made, but rejected in 1993 and the proposal lost momentum.
These testing times saw football under pressure from changing demographics of the region, the influence of 12-hour shifts to industrial and mining sites, expanded retail trading and the growth of alternative sports. The changing lifestyle saw clubs facing the challenges and looking at new ways to develop. Throughout the period, the League provided a variety of Football to the South West.

In April 1984 the first WAFL fixture for premiership points was played outside the metropolitan area, at Hands Oval, between East Perth and Swan Districts attracting a crowd of 7000. There followed AFL practice matches at Hands Oval between the West Coast and Adelaide; at Margaret River between West Coast and Adelaide and at Hands Oval with Fremantle and St Kilda.
In 1994, the SWFL hosted the prestigious national youth competition, the Commonwealth Bank Cup. Ten years later in 2004, the SWFL played host to the National Country Championships.
Several WAFL matches have been hosted at Bunbury, Busselton, Collie and Donnybrook, all earning the SWFL praise for their facilities and organisation. In 1999 the SWFL entered the Governor’s Cup and performed well without winning a match. The South West League side was coached by former Claremont player and coach, Darrel Panizza.

In 2009 the SWFL hosted the AFL NAB Challenge match at Hands Oval between Fremantle and Carlton, with a crowd of 10000.

In more than 50 years, the SWFL has maintained a stable administration with only seven Presidents and eight Secretary / Managers. In 1997 the League appointed a full-time General Manager, a move that has been successful and productive. The League’s Tribunal was chaired for more than 40 years by the Fisher family, the late Charles Fisher and son Kelvin, both Life Members of the SWFL.

The League celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2007 and among the celebrations was the naming of a Team of 50 years, honouring the many champions who had played between 1957 and 2007.

In 2009 the SWFL admitted the Peel League team of Harvey Bulls, returning to a 10-team competition.

History will be further made at the commencement of the 60th season of the SWFL, with the advent of a six team Women’s competition, with Harvey Bulls, Harvey Brunswick Leschenault, Bunbury, Carey Park, South Bunbury and Busselton to all field teams in the inaugural year.

The 2017 Grand Final was one of the wettest on record, with Harvey Brunswick Leschenault receiving the unwanted record of the lowest ever score in Grand Final History 2.6.18.

In 2018, two new Women’s teams entered the competition, with Collie Eagles and Eaton Boomers joining the six teams from the inaugural 2017 season, to make an eight team competition.

On 20 May 2018, Goal Umpire Jason Crowe umpired his 800th career game.  On 17 June 2018, the South West Football Leagues most decorated Field Umpire, Kevin Nettleton umpired his 700th game.

Simone Nani takes over from John Vidos as General Manager of the SWFL in 2019.

In 2019, there were several low scores, but none lower than South Bunbury’s who recorded their lowest ever score of just 4 behinds. The season would be close and would come down to the final game of the season to determine final ladder positions.  Augusta Margaret River would cause an upset win at Payne Park over Bunbury, giving the Hawks a historic home final, the first time one has been played at Gloucester Park.   The season would also see the Umpires take on a role in the community, introducing the Match Day Experience for people living with disabilities, with the program embraced by the football community.

In 2020, Covid-19, the world-wide pandemic saw the season reduced to nine rounds, with the opening round starting on Saturday, 18 July 2020.  Donnybrook would field a Womens team for the first time, when they played Busselton.  Sadly, Collie Eagles withdrew their Womens team in the same year.

In 2021, Covid-19 was still prevalent, and a snap lock-down in the Perth and Peel region, had the Harvey Bulls with not enough players to field a League Team.  In a fluid season, round three was moved between round 12 and 13 as a result of an earlier lock-down, with the remainder of the season going to plan, with Augusta Margaret River winning the Grand Final.  Jason Crowe becomes the new General Manager.  28 October 2021 – Dunsborough Sharks were admitted into the competition, with a 7-3 vote by the delegates, with a Colts, Reserves and Women’s team to play in 2022, with a League team to commence in 2023.

The start of the 2022 season was almost de-railed before it began as the WA Labor Government put the whole of Western Australia into Stage 2, Public Health and Social Measures, with the bombshell that crowds were not allowed at Community Football.  After much lobbying the General Manager and the SWFL Executive were able to obtain an exemption to allow 500 patrons to attend while level two restrictions remained – one week as it turned out.  On 2 April 2022, Goal Umpire Jason Crowe umpired his 1000th game in the SWFL at Gloucester Park, provided with a guard of honour by both teams.  A further momentous occasion occurred a day later when Dunsborough Sharks played their first game in the competition.  At the half way mark of the season the South Bunbury Women’s team disbanded after allegations of sexist and racist behaviour, leading to a WAFC Integrity Investigation.  On 13 August 2022, the lowest ever winning score occurred when Carey Park defeated HBL in the Women’s match 0.3.3 to 0.2.2 on a water-logged Brunswick Oval.   The season would end with a thrilling grand final with Augusta Margaret River winning by four points in front of 3532 fans taking the seasons total to 57,032 for the season, a new record. The match itself would record the lowest combined score of just 70 points in fine weather.

In 2023 the Women’s competition expanded to ten teams, with South Bunbury returning along with the Collie Eagles.  It culminated with a premiership decider equal of the 2022 Grand Final, with the result not decided until the last play with Bunbury winning by six points over Busselton.   In August 2023, the Hands Oval Pavilion and SWFL Headquarters were demolished as part of the Hands Oval Redevelopment.

Most Consecutive Games Won

League (26) – South Bunbury & Harvey Brunswick Leschenault
Reserves (40) – Harvey Brunswick Leschenault (2nd Semi Final 1989 – 2nd Semi Final 1991)
Colts (29) – Harvey Brunswick Leschenault (Rd15 2015 – Rd 3 2017)

New Teams A Possibility

With great population increase in Dalyellup and in Busselton – Dunsborough areas and with their increasing junior team numbers that these regions will be looking at continuing the expansion of the SWFL to a 12 team competition within the next decade.  Dunsborough joined the competition in 2022 making the SWFL an eleven team competition.

Commitment to Charity

Through the fifties and sixties there were games played at Hands Oval between combined South West teams and Victorian League sides – Collingwood played a combined South West plus some WAFL stars at Hands  Oval in 1953. Not to mention many Torch Bearers for Legacy matches through the sixties when Victorian & WAFL sides met to help raise funds for charity.

Community Benefits

There is no doubt that Football is more than an entertainment vehicle, with people passionate about the game and their teams and glow in the success that a premiership brings.

The South West Football League promotes a team sport where participants, mainly young men are taught responsibility for looking out for each other, responsibility for preparing correctly, responsibility to be answerable, and enables young men to develop a pathway to higher levels in sport and in life.

There is a consensus among social groups that sport such as football assists with personal development and enables young people to belong, identify with and become part of a Football Club that enables them to learn and succeed in a social environment.

The South West Football League like all other Country & Community organizations is the foundation on which the AFL is built and enjoys its success.

With the rapid increase in population in the South West we have seen the creation of the South West Regional Development Office with an enormous increase in Auskick and Junior Football teams and it is only a matter of time that this increase is translated into Senior Football in participants and spectators attending the game.

Future Directions

South West Football has Future Directions policies in place which will ensure that in this region the game will grow rapidly, in all levels of football predominantly in female participation.

Development of Hands Oval

Hands Oval Re-Development is recognition by the City of Bunbury of the Social & Economic Benefits that the SWFL brings to the City. Increase in AFL /WAFL games are more than likely.

Stage One of Hands Oval Development – Completed

Stage Two of Hands Oval Re-Development – In Progress.
Works commenced in August 2023 with a completion day of September 2024.