Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hey, John Victor (Vic) (1912–1995)

by Andy Carr

This article was published online in 2019

John Victor Hey (1912–1995), rugby league footballer and coach, was born on 17 November 1912 at Liverpool, New South Wales, youngest of five children of English-born Joe Hey, hotel keeper, and his New Zealand-born wife Rose, née Taylor. Vic attended Canley Vale Public and Granville Central Junior Technical schools, where he first displayed his rugby league football talents. He represented New South Wales combined schools in 1927, and played junior rugby league in Guildford and Fairfield before signing for Western Suburbs (the Magpies) in the New South Wales Rugby League’s Sydney competition. In 1933, in his first season in first grade for Western Suburbs, he was chosen to represent the State. At the time he was working as an apprentice electrician; he would remain in the electrical trade for most of his career. An injury to Ernie Norman resulted in his selection as five-eighth for the Australian national team (the Kangaroos) on the 1933 to 1934 tour of Great Britain. When he received the invitation, he said that ‘I realise I have been extremely lucky … I’m an electrical mechanic's apprentice, but I received my record shock’ (Sydney Sportsman 1933, 16).  He played in twenty-six tour matches, including three Test losses to England, and scored fourteen tries.

Following the tour, Hey returned to Western Suburbs, playing in the premiership-winning team of 1934. On 16 July 1935 he married Kathleen Mary Rose, a stenographer, at the Catholic presbytery, Guildford. The couple moved to Queensland, where he played for Toowoomba and then Ipswich. He captained the Queensland representative team in 1936, and was selected to play for Australia in three Test matches against the touring English team. During this time, the Heys’ first son, Victor John, died of pneumonia at the age of five months.

In May 1937 Hey signed to play for Leeds in Britain. At the time the transfer fee of £1,400 was the highest paid by an English club for an Australian player. He played as five-eighth and captain, and led the team to Challenge Cup trophies in 1941 and 1942. During World War II he worked as an electrical mechanic in a factory producing small arms and heavy freight locomotives. In 1944 he joined Dewsbury, to represent his father’s home town. He played and coached there for three seasons. At the start of the 1947–48 season he coached and played for Hunslet, while awaiting a passage back to Australia.

Hey joined the recently formed Parramatta club in 1948. He was player-coach for that season and part of the next, then non-playing coach until 1953. His experience in England led to his appointment as the coach of Australia’s national team in 1950. He succeeded immediately, guiding Australia to its first rugby league Ashes series win against Great Britain since 1920. The same year he published a memoir, A Man’s Game, mostly reflections on his time in England. In 1951 he coached Australia to a series loss to France on home soil. After Australia finished third under him in the 1954 rugby league World Cup, he returned to club coaching. He led Canterbury-Bankstown in 1955 and 1956; took over his original club, Western Suburbs, in 1958 and 1959; and coached the country club Cootamundra in 1960 and 1961. In 1962 he ceased coaching to concentrate on his electrical contracting business.

Following the breakdown of his first marriage in 1951, Hey had married Joyce Veronica Wells, née Sanders, on 23 July 1954 at the office of the district registrar, Paddington, Sydney. He died on 11 April 1995 at Castle Hill, and was buried in Castlebrook cemetery, Rouse Hill; his wife, five sons, and one daughter, survived him. Known as the ‘Human Bullet,’ and remembered as a well-built, speedy five-eighth and a strong leader, he had been inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1990. Since his death, he has been acknowledged in the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame, the Western Suburbs Team of the Century, and the Australian Rugby League greatest one hundred players. His son Ken played rugby league for Western Suburbs, Parramatta, and Penrith.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Hey, Vic. A Man’s Game. Sydney: Excelsis Press, 1950
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘League Legend Hey Dies.’ 12 April 1995, 59
  • Sydney Sportsman. ‘“I’m Only an Electrician’s Mechanic, But I’ve Received a Record Shock”: Vic Made Hay While Sun Shone.’ 1 July 1933, 16
  • Whiticker, Alan, and Glen Hudson. The Encyclopedia of Rugby League Players. 6th ed. Wetherill Park, NSW: Gary Allen Pty Ltd, 2007

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andy Carr, 'Hey, John Victor (Vic) (1912–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hey-john-victor-vic-27707/text35300, published online 2019, accessed online 27 June 2019.

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