Hugh Robert DIXSON

Year Inducted 2015

Administrator 1885 – 1893

West Australian Football Association President & Secretary

The man chiefly responsible for Australian Rules football becoming the first organised code in Western Australia lived in the state for just a few short years. When he died in Sydney in 1940 - nearly 50 years after leaving WA - his pivotal role in West Australian football history was largely forgotten.

Like several other Australian Rules founding fathers, Hugh Robert Dixson was born in New South Wales (near Forbes) but he grew up in Adelaide where his father was a successful tobacco merchant. Hugh Dixson attended strong footballing schools Scotch College, Melbourne and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide and came to Perth in 1884 aged only 19 to work for J W Wright & Co, the engineers who had just completed the Guildford to Chidlow section of the Eastern Railway.

Rugby and the “Victorian Rules” football codes both had adherents in Perth and Fremantle but both were unorganised and played only on an ad hoc basis. As a devotee of the Victorian game, Dixson saw a major opportunity and immediately set about forming a new Victorian Rules club. This event occurred at the Criterion Hotel in Hay Street on 2nd May 1885 and perhaps unsurprisingly the new club was called Victorians although most of the members were actually from South Australia.

Two days later Hugh Dixson seized the moment and took another decisive step. With the Fremantle, Perth Rovers and Victorians clubs all declared supporters of the Victorian Rules, he called the clubs together to form a controlling Association. Club representatives met at the Criterion Hotel on Friday, May 8, 1885. Frank Stafford, the new president of Rovers, was elected to chair the meeting and told delegates that an Association should have been stared years earlier.

Someone read out the rules of the Adelaide and Suburban Football Association and these were agreed to with some minor changes. The delegates called their new body the West Australian Football Association (WAFA), a name which was retained until March 1907 when it became a League. Hugh Dixson was made secretary of the new Association and Fremantle mayor Barrington Wood was chosen as president.

Great interest was added to the football season when a premiership competition was organised. Fixtures were arranged and published for the whole season - a novel idea that the Victorian Football Association, which had been formed in 1877, only adopted six years later. Dixson undertook to provide a Challenge Cup to become the property of the first club to win it three times.

WA Football Scratch matches were played so that the local players could familiarise themselves with the Victorian Rules. On May 19 Western Australia played “The World” (non-WA born players) on the Esplanade and Hugh Dixson filled the impressive position of Captain of The World.

The first WAFA premiership match was played between Rovers and Victorians on Saturday 6 June 1885 on the Esplanade. The Victorians team was skippered by ex-Norwood man Alex Rankin, but included the enthusiastic Hugh Dixson. In the third official fixture when Fremantle played Rovers in Perth, Hugh Dixson umpired the match as his final contribution to this first season of Victorian Rules. He sailed three days later for Adelaide on the SS Franklin.

At 19, Dixson was a very young founding father, but his role in setting up a properly organised Victorian Rules competition was decisive. His position as secretary of the WAFA was filled by Walter James, later to become Premier of the State.

The WAFA continued through some difficult seasons before Hugh Dixson reappeared in Perth in 1891 to establish a branch of his father's tobacco business. He was promptly elected to the ceremonial post of president of the WAFA and staying for three years, he married a Fremantle girl Sarah Fothergill.

Almost immediately thereafter, in mid-1893, the couple returned to Adelaide and HR Dixson moved on to a substantial business and professional career. He was elected as an Adelaide City Councillor and served in the South Australian parliament from 1901-1904. In 1905 he moved to Sydney and formed Sun Newspapers Ltd and the following year his horse Poseidon was the 4/1 winner of the Melbourne Cup.

In 1907, Hugh Dixson changed his surname to Denison to avoid confusion with his uncle Sir Hugh Dixson, and in 1923 he was himself knighted. In 1938 Sir Hugh Denison formed Macquarie Broadcasting Service with 15 radio stations.

Sir Hugh Denison was a significant philanthropist and largely financed Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expedition and subscribed generously to the Australian Red Cross Society among other causes. He was renowned as a gifted public speaker and as an approachable and courteous man. When he died in Sydney at the age of 85, the death of Sir Hugh Denison passed largely unnoticed in the state that he had done so much to organise and promote the football code that has become the chief persuasion for so many – Australian Rules Football.