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Francis Michael (Frank) Farrell (1916–1985)

by Andy Carr

This article was published:

Francis Michael (Frank) Farrell (1916-1985), footballer and policeman, was born on 19 September 1916 at Surry Hills, Sydney, second child of Sydney-born Reginald Farrell, jeweller, and his Scottish-born wife Margaret Theresa, née Wynne. Frank was educated at the Patrician Brothers’ school, Redfern, and at Marist Brothers’ Boys’ School, Kogarah. His nickname, `Bumper’, originated in high school, where he surreptitiously smoked cigarette butts, known as `bumpers’. He played junior Rugby League for Marrickville. Graded in 1936, he made his début for the Newtown Rugby League Football Club’s first-grade team in 1938.

On leaving school, Farrell had been an apprentice boilermaker. He worked at Garden Island Dockyard, but felt he could better himself by joining the police force. His first post, in 1938, was that of a probationary constable at Darlinghurst, where `sly grog’, illegal gambling and prostitution were rife. Soon the enemy of crime leaders such as Matilda (`Tilly’) Devine and Kate Leigh, Farrell joined the vice squad in 1943. He married Phyllis Dorothy Mary Read (d.1981), a draughting assistant, on 11 November 1944 at St Brigid’s Catholic Church, Marrickville.

A tough, inspirational front-row forward, Farrell had been appointed captain of Newtown’s first-grade side in 1942. He led Newtown to the semi-finals consecutively from 1943 until 1948; the team won the grand final in 1943 and was runner-up in 1944. Between 1946 and 1951 Farrell served as Newtown’s captain-coach. On his retirement from football in 1951, he had played 250 matches for the club, 205 of them in first grade.

Controversy befell Farrell’s playing career on 28 July 1945. A St George front-row forward, Bill McRitchie, who sustained an ear injury which required extensive skin graft surgery, accused Farrell of biting. Farrell faced an official inquiry before the New South Wales Rugby Football League and a disciplinary hearing at the Police Department. He pleaded not guilty, explaining that he wore false teeth and that he had left them in the dressing room. Both tribunals exonerated him. Nevertheless, the incident coloured his career, overshadowing even the four Test matches he played for Australia in 1946 and 1948, and his twelve appearances for New South Wales between 1939 and 1950.

Farrell’s toughness was equally apparent in his profession. He developed a reputation as an uncompromising plain-clothes policeman. With the rank of detective sergeant, he was appointed chief of the vice squad in the Darlinghurst division in May 1965. After the squad was disbanded, he moved to suburban uniform duty at Collaroy in October 1966. He then worked at Eastern Suburbs, Manly and Central police stations. His return to Darlinghurst in January 1973 as inspector third class (second class from August), resulted in more visible policing and fewer violent crimes. In 1976 he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service. He retired in September, an inspector first class in command of 230 officers.

Involved with the Newtown club in an administrative capacity since his playing days, Farrell helped to establish the Newtown Leagues Club Ltd. His imposing, bulky frame, cauliflower ears and oversized hands were the delight of Sydney newspaper caricaturists. Survived by his two daughters and two sons, he died of myocardial infarction on 23 April 1985 at Warriewood and was buried in the Catholic section of Mona Vale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • T. Williams, Out of the Blue (1993)
  • A. Whiticker and G. Hudson, The Encyclopedia of Rugby League Players (1999)
  • L. Writer, Razor (2001)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 Feb 1946, p 8, 26 May 1965, p 4, 20 Jan 1973, p 8, 25 Aug 1976, p 2
  • Sporting Life, Aug 1948, p 14
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 22 Apr 1970, p 83, 15 July 1974, p 11, 24 Apr 1985, p 58
  • Herald (Melbourne), 10 Aug 1974, p 21
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 28 Jan 1981, p 1, 24 Apr 1985, p 4
  • New South Wales Police News, Aug 1988, p 19
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Andy Carr, 'Farrell, Francis Michael (Frank) (1916–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 September, 1916
Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


23 April, 1985 (aged 68)
Warriewood, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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