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Basketball SA Hall of Fame inductees: Noel Woollacott

IF BASKETBALL SA had recognised the contribution to the sport and promotion of it which the late Noel Woollacott selflessly supplied, he easily would have been the historic first ever inductee into its Hall of Fame.

Not even close. Trouble was, no-one knew the full story.

The inaugural trio of SA greats inducted into the Hall when it first opened were Frank Angove, Merv Harris and Keith Miller.

All three of these great and legendary visionaries, workers and players in our sport were disciples of Noel Woollacott.

While those involved in basketball across South Australia already know Woollacott was the man after whom the district basketball medal for the fairest and most brilliant men's player was named, very few would know his story.

The Woollacott Medal also was the top individual award for women basketball players in the late 50s and early 60s, before Halls soft drink bottlers came on board as a major sponsor and the women's medal became forever differentiated from the men.

Some may know the story to that point, and possibly even know Woollacott was killed in action during World War II. But it was the painstaking work and relentless search for the truth of Noel Woollacott's story that we now know so very much more, and we can thank basketball historian John Spooner for that.

He worked on the project for the better part of two years, uncovering amazing facts about the man. Somebody ought to write a book! Until then, here is Noel Woolacott's story.


Considering the near-endless amount of work Noel Woollacott did for several sports but especially for basketball throughout his extraordinary career, it was no surprise in 1947 when the South Australian Men’s Basketball Association fashioned a medal for its best and fairest men’s player in his honour.

Woollacott (pictured) was a legend in sporting circles across South Australia.

Born on Christmas Day in 1908 in Burra and named after his father Thomas Henry Hillum Woollacott, the seasonally appropriate nickname of Noel stuck because it avoided any confusion between the pair.

The oldest of four children, Noel flourished as a sportsman, playing football for Aberdeen in the Burra League, tennis for Burra and when basketball was introduced in the 1920s, he took it up immediately.

Noel and his brother Roy followed their father to Bordertown after Thomas Woollacott won the contract to build a Vacuum Oil depot there, also building the Methodist Hall but, perhaps more importantly, it was where Noel met Phyllis Threadgold.

Love bloomed, the couple married and lived in St Peters in Adelaide’s east.

In Nhill, Noel won the Wimmera Country Singles championship and a year later, decided to turn pro as a tennis star.

Joining Chalmings Sport Depot in Adelaide as their sports rep, he regularly toured country SA promoting the Woollacott Tennis Racquet and holding tennis camps and clinics before becoming a joint owner in the business.

The historic first basketball match staged in Australia was in February, 1897 and naturally between the YMCA – which, having devised the game, was promoting basketball worldwide – and the OBI in the new OBI building.

The Adelaide Basketball Association formed soon after and into the early 1900s, had six competing clubs – Bankville, Semaphore, OBI, YMCA 1, YMCA 2 and North Adelaide Baptist.

The sport’s progress slowed during World War I when many of the eligible players enlisted, and it suffered through the Depression.

Noel played basketball in the 1930s and spent months into years organising and promoting the sport. He was President of the South Australian Men’s Basketball Association in 1937, two separate competitions underway during this period; the City of Adelaide Men’s Basketball Championship and the South Australian Men’s Basketball Championship.

Within months of the association’s reformation by Noel, more than a thousand men and women were playing basketball at the OBI, Duncan Building in Franklin Street and at other venues.

More than 60 teams competed in the City of Adelaide competition across multiple grades, most of them formed and supported by businesses such as John Martins, Simpsons, Horwood Bagshaw, AMP, Peoplestores, Holden and Clarksons.

Noel drove the expansion and the concept of district-based teams, West Adelaide among the first to form a club.

He not only played, he heavily, enthusiastically and relentlessly promoted the sport and even when he joined the Army as a private in World War II, his passion for the game was evident as he organised the first Interservice Basketball Tournament between various Army and RAAF units.

Noel served in SA’s own 2nd/10th Infantry Battalion, the Adelaide Rifles, fighting the Japanese at Milne Bay, then on the northern side of New Guinea near the Gona Buna region, and at Salamanda.

On January 20, 1943, Noel was killed in action during fierce fighting at Salamanda. He is buried at the Bomana War Cemetery near Port Moresby. His younger brother Fl. Lieut. Roy Woollacott, died several months later when his aircraft was shot down in the Pacific.

His other brother and sister also served in the RAAF, Noel survived by his wife Phyllis and two very young children - Helen and Ronald.

Upon his death Frank Angove said: “Noel will be sadly missed. He was one of our stalwarts and did much to foster the game. All basketballers will be very said to hear of his death”.

The 2nd/10th also left a legacy, two teams from the battalion entering the SA men’s competition in 1946 (one of them pictured right). The club grew and in 1950, became the Norwood Basketball Club, the Flames today continuing to honour its origins by wearing the 2nd/10th badge on their uniforms.

The four pillars of basketball in SA in the pre-War era were Noel Woollacott, Frank Angove, Keith Miller and Merv Harris, the latter trio continuing his work after his passing and the first members of Basketball SA’s Hall of Fame.

Miller also won the first Woollacott Medal in 1947 and Harris won the second one in 1948.

The Woollacott Medal was donated by the Basketball Association of South Australia on behalf of Noel Woollacott’s (Chalmings) Emporium, honouring his service to the sport’s growth and development in the state.

Originally given to the best and fairest player in the District competition, the Noel Woollacott Trophy eventually evolved into the Woollacott Medal and was upgraded to Fairest and Most Brilliant in the early 1970s.

Noel Woollacott’s arrival in the BSA Hall of Fame honours the memory of one of the greatest of our sport in South Australia.

Feb 4

Content, unless otherwise indicated, is © copyright Boti Nagy.