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Wallace, Arthur Cooper (Johnny) (1900–1975)

by J. P. Bodis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Arthur Cooper Wallace (1900-1975), by unknown photographer

Arthur Cooper Wallace (1900-1975), by unknown photographer

State Library of New South Wales, Original : PXE 653 (v.54)

Arthur Cooper (Johnny) Wallace (1900-1975), footballer and barrister, was born on 5 September 1900 at Macksville, New South Wales, second child of native-born parents Matthew Wallace, storekeeper, and his wife Isabel, née Gellatley. He attended Sydney Grammar School where he played Rugby, rowed in three successive winning eights in the Athletic Association of the Great Public Schools 'Head of the River' regattas and was senior prefect in 1919. Resident in St Andrew's College, he studied arts at the University of Sydney in 1920-22, won a rowing blue and excelled at Rugby Union. A slim, dark and elegant three-quarter, he donned the waratah-crested jersey for the 1921 New South Wales Rugby tour of New Zealand.

Awarded a Rhodes scholarship in 1922, Wallace read jurisprudence at New College, Oxford (B.A., 1925) and was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn on 17 September 1925. He gained Rugby blues in 1922-25. Of Caledonian stock, he was chosen with Ian Smith from Melbourne and two other Oxonian pals to play for Scotland. The Oxford three-quarter line proved a major strength in the 1925 Scottish 'Grand Slam'. 'Johnny' Wallace played nine times for Scotland and was in seven winning sides.

Returning to Sydney, Wallace was admitted to the New South Wales Bar on 12 March 1926. He played with Glebe-Balmain and captained the 1927-28 Waratahs' tour of Britain, France and Canada (since 1986 regarded as a fully Australian representative side). His captaincy was a success: Wallace's team played exciting, open football with forwards and backs linking efficiently; they won against Ireland, Wales and France, but lost to Scotland and England.

Back in Australia, Wallace gave up Rugby and became vice-principal of St Andrew's College in 1928. On 5 January 1929 he married Betty Jean Simson with Presbyterian forms at Gunnedah; they were to have two daughters. In 1930 Wallace settled down at his native Macksville as a grazier where he remained for a decade. His interest in Rugby remained active and he coached the State and Australian sides against the 1937 Springboks en route for New Zealand and glory. In spite of the rain, on a very damp Sydney Cricket Ground the New South Wales team played a magnificent running and passing game, thrashing South Africa 17-6, with four tries to one.

Divorced in June 1941, Wallace married Floris Ada Jago, a nursing sister, at Paddington, Sydney, on 14 July. He had been provisionally commissioned in the Australian Imperial Force in 1939, but was discharged next year after being injured in an accident. From October 1941 he served as a captain in the Australian Army Legal Department until 1944, then as hirings officer until 1946. Practising at the Bar in Sydney until 1955, he was admitted as a solicitor on 29 July and worked in the Crown Solicitor's Office until 1966.

A life member and vice-president of the New South Wales Rugby Union, Wallace coached the Wallabies on their 1953 tour of South Africa where he again advocated a 'running with the ball' game. A smoker and a drinker, he died of myocardial infarction on 3 November 1975 at The Entrance and was cremated. He was survived by the two sons of his second marriage.

'Johnny' Wallace may be remembered as the player, captain and coach who helped, in difficult times, to put Australia back on the Rugby Union world map.

Select Bibliography

  • R. McWhirter and A. Noble, Centenary History of Oxford University Rugby Football Club (Oxford, 1969)
  • J. Pollard, Australian Rugby Union (Syd, 1984)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11 Nov 1921.

Citation details

J. P. Bodis, 'Wallace, Arthur Cooper (Johnny) (1900–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wallace-arthur-cooper-johnny-8960/text15763, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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