Every year the Newtown Jets and North Sydney Bears play a commemorative game, the Frank Hyde Shield, battling out a 70 year rivalry on the rugby league field. This year marks 70 years since these two teams meet in the grand final and after a titanic struggle, Newtown were victorious under the leadership of their captain, Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell.
Bumper Farrell was a man who commanded respect on the field and in his job as a policeman, and became a legend at both.
Born in Redfern in 1916 and growing up in Marrickville, Farrell earned the nickname Bumper through his reported habit of picking up discarded cigarette stubs, known as bumpers, from the gutters at age 10. He would take out the remaining tobacco and reroll it in his own papers to smoke. He smoked his whole life, including at half time during his long league career.
He first hit the fields at Kogarah Marist Brothers College, a school that still prides itself on its rugby league prowess. He was soon playing in the Catholic representative side, where he joined Frank Hyde in the team. In 1936, age 20 Bumper took the field for the Newtown Bluebags for the first time in reserve grades, being promoted to the first grade team in 1938.
In a distinguished football career, Bumper played 250 first grade games for Newtown, the most for any player. He captained the team from 1942, retiring eight years later in 1950. Playing front row, Bumper was an enforcer, playing hard and tough and just inside the rules. His hard head tactics were only for the field, with all forgotten once the whistle blew-at least by him.
The big game: 1943 Newtown v North Sydney Grand Final. Bumper stands forward in the white shorts.
His career was dogged however by allegations of biting. In July 1945 in a game against fierce local rivals St George, Bumper was accused by Bill McRithie of biting his ear in a scrum, which was left hanging by a thin strip of skin. Bumper denied the accusation and was finally exonerated at a tribunal the following year. However many believe still that he did bite McRitchie, while equal numbers believe he didn’t. Who knows what happened in that scrum, but he was often referred to afterwards s cannibal.
Despite the controversy Bumper was picked repeatedly for NSW representative and for Australian test teams, in which he played in 1946, 1947 and 1948.
All the while Farrell also held a job in the NSW Police Force. Joining in 1938 he was first stationed along the NSW-Victorian border working in quarantine, trying to stop influenza and polio from spreading into NSW.
Soon he was back in Sydney working as a probationary constable in Darlinghurst, then the centre of Sydney’s underworld activities. Like on the footy field, Bumper quickly earned a reputation for no nonsense responses in his police work.
The Bumper way was rough and ready. He was never shy of a fight and in a time before Tasers, when police used their fists as much as their batons’, Farrell was often in the fore.
He needed to be tough, as his work bought him into the paths of the likes of Guido Calletti, Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine. Farrell was one of the police to attend the shooting of Calletti in August 1939.
He was well tuned to the word on the street, with a healthy collection of informants amongst the criminals and prostitutes. With his up front style Bumper rose up through the ranks until he was officer in charge of the Darlinghurst station in the early 1970s. This was a time when the station was increasingly mired by allegations of corruption and dodgy dealing.
Bumper towards his retirement. Outside Darlinghurst police station.
However there was never a suggestion that Bumper was on the take. Indeed his retirement in 1976 appears to back this up, for instead of leaving with any ill-gotten monies, Bumper took up another job as security guard at Murdoch’s News Limited in Surry Hills.
Bumper died in bed in 1985, clutching rosary beads in one hand like the old school Catholic that he was.