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Indigenous Australia

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Brooks, Walter Woodman (Jacky) (c. 1906–c. 1968)

by Heidi Norman

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Walter Woodman John ‘Jacky’ Brooks (c. 1906–c. 1968), rugby league footballer, was born between 1902 and 1906 at Little Bay, Sydney. His parents were William Brooks, labourer, and Jessie ‘Rosie’ Lynch (d. 1949), the daughter of prominent Gundungurra people William Lynch (Mawialli), shepherd, and his wife Rose Anna ‘Fanny,’ née Fisher. After Fanny’s death in 1900, Lynch moved to an area known as ‘the Gully,’ an important Aboriginal place on the outskirts of Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, where a viable Aboriginal community, relatively independent of State control, was able to grow. A respected elder, Lynch played a role in supporting the small group of Aboriginal families who made the Gully their home, including Rosie and his grandson Jacky. In 1912 Jacky was involved in the rescue of two young friends. The trio had been gathering wild flowers in the Megalong Valley when two of the party had fallen over a cliff. Jacky alerted rescuers and his ‘pluck and endurance’ (Blue Mountain Echo 1912, 6) were rewarded with a medal for bravery.

Brooks began playing rugby league for the Katoomba Federals in 1923, his performances attracting high praise and the prediction that ‘some day he’ll be heard from’ (Dally-B 1923, 5). The following year a reporter was inspired to quote the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson to convey how Brooks ‘electrified the crowd’: ‘like Tennyson’s immortal, [he] “goes on for ever”’ (Blue Mountain Echo 1924, 3). That September he was recognised as the club’s most proficient player and his name was inscribed on the inaugural Federals’ shield. On 22 November 1924 at Katoomba, he married Edith Faith Stubbings, a fellow Gully resident; she died less than two months later during childbirth. Their infant son also died. Brooks continued to play for Katoomba in 1925 and 1926, his skills on the field keeping him in the spotlight. Although he was a ‘well-known aboriginal footballer’ (Blue Mountain Echo 1927, 2), and one of the first Aboriginal men to play rugby league, his Aboriginality was not usually noted in the press, especially in Katoomba, where, on one occasion, he was portrayed as a ‘gallant Etheopean [sic]’ (Blue Mountain Echo 1928, 2). Other regional papers tended to describe him as ‘coloured.’

Moving to the south-west of New South Wales, Brooks played for Griffith in the Tonkin Cup in 1928, the Murrumbidgee Irrigator declaring him the crowd favourite:

A feature of the game was the re-appearance of Jackie Brooks … Brooks, as he deserved, received an ovation when he went on to the field, and excitement was intense every time he gained possession of the ball. He lived up to the expectations of the crowd. (1928, 3)

In August he returned to play for Katoomba in a combined Blue Mountains district team known as ‘the Blues.’ During 1929 the team won seventeen out of twenty-one games. In this strong side, Brooks—the ‘tiger’—stood out, scoring many tries for his team. In a match against Orange, he fractured a rib but refused to leave the field, displaying ‘true football grit’ (Blue Mountain Star 1929, 8). Fully recovered from his injuries by September, he scored ‘the greatest try of the season’ in a game against Granville:

Intercepting a beautiful pass Jackie ran from half way in a most remarkable fashion. With great head and footwork he managed to dodge his many would-be tacklers, and scored right behind the posts. (Blue Mountain Star 1929, 4)

Before selectors for a representative game in 1933, he ‘took a beautiful running catch, and raced through the opposition till brought down … This little flash was one of the bright spots of the match’ (Katoomba Daily 1933, 4). His performance earned him a place as the only Katoomba player chosen to represent the Eastern against the Western Division.

During his time as a footballer, Brooks earned a living as a labourer. In April 1927, realising that he was being paid less than the award rate, he had sued his employer, W. Jenkins, carrier, for £4 13s 9p. The Katoomba Court found in Brooks’s favour. He also worked as a kitchen hand in local hotels and guesthouses, including the Hydro Majestic and the Carrington, sometimes bringing home leftover food for Gully children and cats. Seeking other avenues for his athletic skills and a way to earn some money, he tried boxing in 1933, but only participated in one (highly anticipated) bout before hanging up his gloves in defeat. Yet, even in defeat, his efforts were lauded, the Blue Mountains Times noting that his ‘two-rounds attack … was action and speed with a capital A and S’ (1933, 2). Known for his organ playing, singing voice, dance steps, and renditions on the gum leaf and spoons, he was a popular entertainer at staff balls and football club dinners. He continued to play football and win accolades throughout the early to mid-1930s, finishing his rugby career in 1936 after injuring his leg.

On 19 November 1936, at the district registrar’s office, Hurstville, Brooks married Daisy Smith (also known as Daisy Dennis), née Barker, an Aboriginal woman with connections to La Perouse and Redfern, but the marriage did not last. During the 1940s he formed a relationship with a non-Aboriginal woman, Eileen Rutland. Their children, Jessica, Claude, Graham, Johnny, and Eileen, were removed by the State and placed in foster care, a fate suffered by many Gully families and children during this time. In 1949, while still living in the Gully, Brooks applied for, and was granted, exemption from the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Act. By 1957 residents of the Gully had been evicted by the Blue Mountains City Council, their homes bulldozed to make way for a short-lived motor racing circuit, Catalina Raceway. Brooks lived at Katoomba until at least 1958. Where he went after this is unknown; it is rumoured that he moved to inner-city Redfern where many Aboriginal people were relocating in search of work. He may have died in the late 1960s.

In the mid-1970s nearly all of Brooks and Eileen’s children met for the first time. They had each grown up in separate foster homes. Sporting success continued in their lives with Graham an Australian black belt champion and Claude an Australian weightlifting champion. Brooks is remembered in Katoomba in a panel set into the footpath outside the Carrington Hotel that reads: ‘Jacky’s in the kitchen, he’s always good for a song, star winger for the Blues.’ Former Aboriginal residents of the Gully were instrumental in having it declared an Aboriginal Place in 2002. Brooks’s story is memorialised in the Gully Walk, an interpretative walk that recounts the area’s Aboriginal history.

 

Heidi Norman is of settler and Aboriginal descent. Her matrilineal Ruttley family have lived for thousands of generations on Gomeroi (Gamilaraay/Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi) country in north-western New South Wales. She worked with descendants of Jacky Brooks and visited the places where he lived, worked, and played football.

Select Bibliography

  • Blue Mountain Echo. ‘Federals Down Heath.’ 16 May 1924, 3
  • Blue Mountain Echo. ‘Football.’ 14 August 1928, 2
  • Blue Mountain Echo. ‘Honest Recognition.’ 20 December 1912, 6
  • Blue Mountain Echo. ‘Under the Award.’ 8 April 1927, 2
  • Blue Mountain Star. ‘Another Meritorious Win for BMD Team.’ 21 September 1929, 4
  • Blue Mountain Star. ‘Football: Thrilling Game.’ 24 August 1929, 8
  • Blue Mountains Times. ‘Boxing.’ 7 April 1933, 2
  • Dally-B. ‘Football Flashes.’ Blue Mountain Echo, 24 August 1923, 5
  • Johnson, Dianne. Sacred Waters: The Story of the Blue Mountains Gully Traditional Owners. Broadway, NSW: Halstead Press, 2007
  • Katoomba Daily. ‘Football.’ 4 May 1933, 4
  •   Low, John. ‘Black & Blue: “Jacky” Brooks, an Indigenous Hero of Rugby League.’ Doryanthes [South Sydney Journal of History, Heritage and the Arts] 8, no. 4 (November 2015): 12–21
  • Murrumbidgee Irrigator. ‘Rugby League: Last Sunday’s Match.’ 25 May 1928, 3
  • Smith, Jim. ‘Katoomba’s Fringe Dwellers.’ In Blue Mountains Dreaming: The Aboriginal Heritage, edited by Eugene Stockton, 122–35. Winmalee, NSW: Three Sisters, 1993

Citation details

Heidi Norman, 'Brooks, Walter Woodman (Jacky) (c. 1906–c. 1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/brooks-walter-woodman-jacky-29911/text37026, accessed 30 October 2020.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Brooks, Walter Woodburne
  • Brooks, Jackie
Birth

c. 1906
Little Bay, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Death

c. 1968

Cause of Death

unknown

Cultural Heritage
Occupation
Key Places