From a desert, from the driest continent, from this land at the opposite end of the globe ...

... as remote as could be in the hockey world ...

... came one of the world’s oldest winter sports trophies.

A cool tradition, a dream of champions, and a story we owe it to our children to tell.

Legends of Australian Ice.

[ ICE HOCKEY ] The Tablet at St Paul's

The Second President of the VIHA

The play of the Australians in the few seasons they had been playing the game is a revelation to me. In two years time I am prepared to take a team to Canada fully confident that they will give the best players there all the exercise they want. Ex patriot Canadian, Jim Kendall, captain and coach of New South Wales, receiving the State's first Goodall Cup, Melbourne, 1911. [1]

Philip John Rupert Steele Sr, president of the Victorian Ice Hockey Association from 1911. [1]

THE HUMIDITY WAS SUCKED RELUCTANTLY from the air, and the retreating fogs revealed a small army stretched out on the ice, resting. "You are an arched bow," their coach was saying, "an arrow to a heart." The tone was heavy with purpose and relentlessness, tense and hypnotic, willing them on. "You will not let this past you. You will seize it. You will write history. You will lay down your life, if necessary. You will not leave an honour such as this for those who follow," and each steaming body there knew he addressed them personally, one on one. "This is the dawn of your time. The age of New South Wales. And you will be the State's first Goodall Cup champions".

The Spring day sprang to life with the words still reverberating in the brittle air. It was Wednesday the 13th, in the September of 1911, and the young man born on Friday the 13th, twenty-one years prior, liked the symmetry. Sunbeams spilled through the Glaci roof lights, through open doors and arched windows, through every nook and cranny, lighting up the myriad water particles of the rising steam, and making flickering spots on the battle-scarred frost of the practice ice. In four or five strides, Jim Kendall skated the length of the rink, braking to an abrupt halt in a spray of glistening snow before the wide open rear doors. Before him, laid out like pieces on a chessboard, were the Yarra river and its bridges, the wide, elm-lined streets, the unfinished spires of St Paul's, the domes on the grid, the first skyscrapers, all of it drenched in gold. So this was Melbourne, he thought. Jewel of the South.

Kendall, standing in the middle, and his 1913 Goodall Cup squad that was defeated by Victoria.

Philip John Rupert Steele JP, president of the Victorian association, congratulated Kendall before the large crowd and presented him with the Goodall Cup. Later that evening he would present him with the cup for the interstate mile championship, honouring that victory just as enthusiastically. [1] As the young hockey player replied, Steele's senses were flooded by the image of a tall Canadian standing before his team at practice, arms crossed and silhouetted in the backlight, casting a shadow across half the rink. Later that night, he had scored 4 of the 5 goals that defeated Victoria, 5-3. And this evening, he had netted 6 of 7 before a blow from a stick split his shinbone. The scoring festival finished, 7-5, winning New South Wales its first Cup. Sport was a passion for Steele, even at his age, and he had heard Kenny was as good as any Canadian university player. But nothing could have prepared him for these two monumental games.

Elected second president of the Victorian association that same year, this was his first and the State's third interstate series. Club hockey had begun in 1908, a season earlier than the interstate, and it was at the end of that season that his association had been founded. It was the first ice hockey association in Australia, the first organised league. Steele had lived most of his life in South Melbourne, after emigrating from Ireland in 1868. He had found work in the furniture departments of big stores, mainly Buckley and Nunn in Bourke Street, owned by an uncle of H Newman Reid, developer of Melbourne Glaciarium. [2] In 1889 he established Steele and Co, complete house furnishers. His store was at 195-201 Swanston St, west side, midway between Bourke and Little Bourke, on the site later occupied by Swanston Hotel.

A keen cyclist and rower in his youth, he competed in the Henley Regattas of the 1870s on the River Thames in London. In August 1874, he was invited by the Melbourne Regatta Committee to participate in the International Race in Sydney. He won the maiden sculls that year at the Melbourne Amateur Regatta, today's Australian Henley Regatta, and the senior sculls at the Barwon Regatta, Geelong in 1876. [2] In 1884, he was presented with the "Kindred Sports and Associations" prize of the Victoria Cyclists Club at a dinner for the president, Sir Hartley Williams. Many years later on June 10th 1907, he was invited to a banquet at the Trocadero Restaurant at Piccadilly Circus in London to honour Sir Thomas Bent, "Prime Minister of Victoria". [2] Bent was knighted the following year.

His brother, Harry, also won many sculling races and both were active in much of the sporting life of South Melbourne. [3] Harry was closely associated with South Melbourne Cricket Club in its early years and he owned, trained, and drove many champion trotters, including Never Mind, Australian Trotting Cup winner in 1896. He was a member of the Victoria Racing Club (VRC), the Melbourne Racing Club, formerly the Victoria Amateur Turf Club (VATC), and Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC), and the holder of No 1 ticket for VRC and the VATC for many years. He had also managed the Melbourne Gun Club and Melbourne Athletic Club. [4]

Johanna Albertine Ekman, the daughter of Carl Andersson Ekman and his wife Johanna, was born on the 25th September 1852 at Kristinehamn in Sweden by the shores of lake Vanern. [5] She came to Victoria in 1854, a relative of Reinhold Ekman who established R A Ekman and Sons of Victoria Street, West Melbourne, manufacturer and importer of household items. Reinhold also owned the North Melbourne Coffee Palace and a furniture warehouse at 22 Lonsdale Street between Elizabeth and Swanston, opposite St Francis Church. It later became part of Myer. Steele married Albertine in 1884 [6] and they had four sons at Normanhurst in Denmark Street, Kew.

Frederick Wilberforce Alexander Steele, courtesy Old Melbournians War Service 1914-1918.

The eldest, Fred (Frederick Wilberforce Alexander) was born on 12 September 1885 and educated at Melbourne Grammar School from 1899 until 1901, later enrolling as a boarder at Geelong College in 1903. He became a professional soldier, serving as a Lieutenant in the Australian Field Artillery in 1905 before transferring in 1910 to the British Army's reserve 2nd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, and serving at Jubbulpore in India. [6] When Steele visited his son there in 1912, taking in Burma and Java, his passport was signed by the Governor-General, Thomas Denman [2] and he carried credentials and introductory letters from the Lord Mayor of Melbourne and the Premier of Victoria, William Alexander Watt.

Fred's Bearskin, part of a collection of uniforms donated to the Australian War Memorial by Albertine Steele in 1946, when she was in her nineties. Image courtesy AWM.

A career with the British Army offered Fred the professional soldiering opportunities not available in Australia and that was how he came to own the Bearskin worn on ceremonial occasions with the scarlet full dress uniform. The British had adopted it as a symbol of victory after the Battle of Waterloo a century earlier, when the Grenadier Guards was given the right to wear the headdress of the defeated French grenadiers of Napoleon's elite Imperial Guard. In August 1914, Fred went to France with the 4th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and served at Mons in the first major contact of the British and German armies. A few weeks later he was wounded, but quickly rejoined the Battalion.

Among the first officers to make recommendations for the Victoria Cross in the war, he was promoted to captain and took command of a company, writing home, "I am very fit and happy and enjoying myself. I fancy I must have been lucky. I just managed my exchange in time for this. I have looked forward to active service for so long. At present I am in command of a company and two machine guns that have done well. I was personally complimented by Sir John French." [8]

Philip John Rupert Steele Jr.

Rupert (Philip John Rupert) was born in 1890 and was educated at Melbourne Grammar, 1901-06, where he rowed in the First VIII and competed with the Athletic Team. He went into the family business with Steele and Company and was appointed Second Lieutenant in the 7th Light Horse Brigade in June 1912. [6] He enlisted as a Private in September 1915 in the Australian Field Artillery and served in Egypt and France, departing Melbourne in November 1915 as a Lieutenant in Colonel Grimwade's Field Artillery Brigade.

Red-haired Norman (Norman Leslie) was born in 1896 and educated at Melbourne Grammar School, 1904-15. He was captain of Rusden House, a Prefect and member of the XVIII football, VIII rowing, Rifle and Athletics teams. He was Captain of the XI when it made the world record score of 961 against Geelong College. Like his teammate, Leslie Reid, he joined Melburnians IHC, then left school at the end of Term 1 in 1915 and joined the Flying School at Point Cook. He gained his wings in the Australian Flying Corps and was commissioned in Egypt in October 1916. He served with Reid in 2 Squadron, then 1 Squadron, promoted to Second Lieutenant.

Cyril (Henry Cyril Augustus) was born on 11 June 1891 and also educated at Melbourne Grammar. He played Australian rules football with Melbourne University FC and Melbourne FC in the Victorian Football League. [1] Closest to Rupert, he skated at the Glaciarium, once dressing-up as a hockey player at the Glaci Fancy Dress Carnival in 1909. [10] He worked as a warehouseman at Steele and Co and became a corporal on the Western Front in 1916-17 in the 4th Field Artillery Brigade. He left Melbourne with the same battery as Rupert.

[Top] Norman Steele standing second from left, Melburnians IHC, 1910 [beneath] Norman (standing right), The Headmaster and Prefects, Melbourne Grammar School, 1914. [14]

Fred was killed while leading an attack at Neuve Chapelle on October 26, 1914. He was twice mentioned in despatches by Sir John French for distinguished service, the first MCC Member to lose his life in the War. He has no known grave but his name is commemorated on Le Touret Memorial, France. The second brother, Rupert, had been twelve months on active service when he was hit by shrapnel in sixteen places on November 15, 1916 [6, 7] and died in the 2nd British Red Cross Hospital at Rouen in France on January 8th 1917. His brother, Cyril, was with him at his death, inseparable since they were small boys, [7] until he was buried in the St Sever Cemetery at Rouen.

The third brother, Norman, died of wounds as a German prisoner after his Martinsyde aircraft was shot down and crashed behind Turkish lines at Hareira in Palestine on April 20, 1917. One account said he was found by the enemy trying to write a letter, but died from a fatal shrapnel wound in his side. Another says his charred remains were found and buried one month later by the Australian Light Horse after the enemy had vacated. [12] His name is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial. Cyril, the only survivor of the four, was recalled to Australia from his course at St John's Wood Cadet School to be with his family following the death of his third brother and assist his father in running the family business.

Steele Memorial Ground fronting St Kilda Road adjacent The Lodge and Barrett Gates, Melbourne Grammar School.

Philip Steele was one of the first presidents of the first ice hockey association in Australia. In 1914, Winner sports writer Algie Tause wrote, "the game had made great strides since the Victorian association was formed in 1908... and the sport in Victoria owes much to Mr Philip J Steele, the president of the Ice Hockey Association... his term has witnessed an extraordinary growth in the popularity of the game". [15]

Steele eventually retired from sporting circles, but he was ever generous when appeals were made to him by sporting clubs. He died on April 17th 1926 [3] survived by his wife, Albertine, and one son and his daughter. On Armistice Day 1928, the survivors reconstructed the area known as the Wilderness at Melbourne Grammar, renaming it the Steele Memorial Ground to commemorate the loss of the three Steele boys, at the special place where all four brothers had each made their mark.

Steele + Co store, Swanston Street, Melbourne, 1930s. Now occupied by the Swanston Hotel. Harold Paynting collection, State Library of Victoria

The surviving son, Cyril, became managing director of Steele and Co, married Doris Ellen Duckett, and raised two children in Malvern. [6, 8] He died with his chauffeur, Arthur Jackson, in a speedboat tragedy on Port Phillip Bay in 1939. He had set-off in his $75,000 boat to wave farewell to his niece who was a passenger on a liner for the East. After a long search, his body was found near the mouth of the Werribee River. [9] Cyril was 47 years-old, survived by his wife and two children. The directors of Steele and Co Ltd were still producing record turnovers and modernizing their Swanston Street store years later. They had been with the company since the days of its founder. [12]

Albertine had outlived her family and so the task of preserving the belongings of her fallen sons fell on her. The carefully preserved bearskin headdress is among the collection of uniforms donated to the Australian War Memorial in 1946. [8] The names of her three sons are also commemorated at the Australian War Memorial. In 1958, Albertine was invited to a dinner celebrating 50 years of service to Steele and Co Ltd. [2] She died soon after having lived for over a century.

Steele Brothers, Commemorative Rolls and Honours, Australian War Memorial. Images courtesy AWM.

The day spilled through the cathedral clerestories, through open doors and arched windows, through every nook and cranny, lighting up the myriad particles of the rising dust, and making flickering spots on the marble and tile marquetry floor. Butterfield's final masterpiece caused him considerable grief but it eventually received its main tower and spire to the design of a Sydney architect. It always takes my breath away to step through the giant multi-colored mosaic glass door into the intricate and beautifully vast hall, the cream Waurn Ponds limestone banded with Malmsbury bluestone mined here in Victoria, the tiled dado walls and finely crafted timber roof. I strode down the left passage to a cross beneath which an autumn sunspot was flickering on a raised inscription of John 15:13.

The copper tablet had been erected by the second president of the Victorian Ice Hockey Association and his wife, daughter and surviving son. I watched until the brightness had moved on, then retraced my steps across the tall shadows cast on the marquetry, by all those who ever dreamed they would be champions yet who, for whatever reason, just were not. Back out onto the giant chess board, pausing on the bluestone steps, gazing across the Yarra river — its bridges, the wide, palm-lined promenades, the trams on its grid, the skyscrapers, the Art Centre spire near where the old Glaciarium once stood, all of it drenched in gold.

So this was Melbourne, I thought.

Video (slideshow above): St Paul's Walkthrough

1914 | 1916 | 1917 |

Parts of this article are from the forthcoming biography of Philip Steele soon to be published in the Builders section of the website.


[1] The Argus Melbourne 19 Sep 1911 p 5. Farewell to Visiting Team

[2] Steele, Philip John (and Family), University of Melbourne Archives, Acc No 1975.0120

[3] Record Emerald Hill, Vic Sat 17 April 1926 p 6. The Late P J Steele

[4] The Argus Melbourne 11 May 1942 p 3. Obituary of Mr Harry Steele

[5] Sweden Baptisms, 1611-1920, Index, Family Search, KQ0VXH; FHL microfilm 81,965.

[6] Melbourne Cricket Club Roll of Honour 1914-1918, Alf Batchelder, MCC Library Volunteer, p 22.

[7] Graphic of Australia Melbourne 23 February 1917 p 1.

[8] Australian War Memorial, The Man Behind The Bearskin, 27 June 2013 by Eleni Holloway.

[9] The Argus Melbourne 24 January 1939 p 3. Funeral of Mr C A Steele

[10] Punch 16 Sep 1909 p 35

[11] The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers, Russell Holmesby and Jim Main, 2007

[12] The Argus Melbourne 1 September 1951 p 21. Steele's record turnover.

[13] Australian Red Cross Wounded and Missing, Enquiry Bureau Files 1DRL/0428, Norman Leslie Steele

[14] Melbourne Grammar School World War I Commemoration, 2014

[15] Winner Melbourne 29 Jul 1914 p 10. Great Strides of the Association by A Tause

[16] Stephen Crane, "The Red Badge of Courage", 1895.

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