Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Brown, David Michael (1913–1974)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

David Michael Brown (1913-1974), footballer, was born on 4 April 1913 at Kogarah, Sydney, son of Denis Brown, stonemason, and his wife Annie Elizabeth, née Hennebry. He grew up alongside Bronte beach, where his parents ran the surf-sheds, attending St Charles's School and later the Christian Brothers' College, Waverley. Despite the loss of the top of a thumb, and a permanently damaged elbow, at school he showed remarkable skill at Rugby football. Unemployed for a time, he became a clerk in the Department of Labour and Industry about 1930 and later worked in the publishing department of the Daily Telegraph.

In 1930 Dave Brown won a place in the Eastern Suburbs first-grade Rugby League team. Next year he was chosen to represent New South Wales against Queensland. During the summer of 1931-32 he suffered an illness which resulted in the loss of all his hair, and for the rest of his football career his leather headpiece was his trademark. In 1932, despite his youth, he became captain of Easts, and represented his State against the visiting English team and Queensland. Selected to tour England with the 'Kangaroos' next year, he proved a phenomenal success as a try-scoring centre-three-quarter and place-kicker: he played in 32 of 36 games, scoring 19 tries and 114 goals for a tally of 285 points which remains unequalled. In Sydney he led Easts in 1932-36 when they came to dominate the club competition. In 1935 he scored 385 points, beating 'Dally' Messenger's 1911 total of 270; it remained the record until 1978 when Mick Cronin broke it. Brown captained the State team and, at the end of the season, led an Australian tour of New Zealand, scoring 74 points in four games, with 10 tries and 22 goals. Against the touring English side in 1936 he became the then youngest Australian captain against England.

In December Brown joined the English club, Warrington, receiving a record £1000 plus £6 per game and a job at £3 per week. Returning after three successful seasons, as captain-coach he led Easts to victory again in 1940 and retired next year. Labelled 'the scoring machine' and 'the Bradman of Rugby League', at his peak Brown combined fast, long-striding runs with exceptionally adept ball-handling and anticipation. Though only 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm), he weighed a solid 14 stone (89 kg). A clean player and skilful captain, he was no selfish accumulator of points, his records stemming from flair and remarkable long-range goal-kicking.

In 1940 Brown ran the Albury Hotel, Darlinghurst, then worked for the Commonwealth Department of Labour and National Service; later he managed the family surf-sheds. In 1959 he was appointed schools-liaison officer for the New South Wales Rugby League. He spent three months in South Africa in 1962, attempting to introduce the code there, but the 1964 Australian tour by a South African team, which he coached, was not a success. A good cricketer, golfer and surfer, Brown enjoyed playing cards, and was a member of the Australian Jockey and Sydney Turf clubs. He died in Sydney on 23 February 1974 of pulmonary fibrosis, survived by his wife Ellen, née Wilson, whom he had married at Hurstville on 20 November 1936; they had no children. He was buried in Waverley cemetery after a requiem Mass attended by many footballers.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Apr 1941, 8 Oct 1950
  • Catholic Weekly (Sydney), 4, 11, 18, 25 Aug 1960
  • Sunday Telegraph (Sydney), 24 Feb 1974
  • Sun (Sydney), 25-27 Feb 1974
  • private information.

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Brown, David Michael (1913–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brown-david-michael-5382/text9109, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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