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The Rabbitohs Tank and the Rabbitohs Sharpshooter

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

I sat down with the Di, who's father was Jack ‘Duck’ Walsh, an Australian Rugby league player who represented the South Sydney Rabbitohs and later the Western Suburbs, between 1937 and 1944. A question still surrounds the nickname ‘duck’, but it is believed that he coined the name because of his waddle.

Di said, “I was the youngest one. I was dragged up in a football house. And then of course, it just went on and on. My husband grew up in Alexandria and was a South Sydney fanatic. I was around football all the time."

Times were different back then as players would have professional careers outside of sport, and playing Rugby League would only be part time. When Jack wasn't playing football, he was a glassblower at Crown Crystal Glass works in Waterloo, where he would create delicate art from frilled cake stands to detailed vases, goblets and decanters to mirrors, and jugs to an array of orange juicers.

"Uncle B [Bernie Purcell] and my Dad [Jack Walsh] were good mates. They were both rogues. In those days, men weren’t like men nowadays, they thought they were the epitome of the universe. They had [big] personalities. People were drawn to them, especially the women. You couldn’t compete."

"They used to call him the ‘tank’. Apart from ‘duck’, that was his name, the ‘tank’. He would have the ball, and I think they would tackle differently in those days, so when he got tackled – he just kept going. At one stage, I don’t think he was completely nude, but he was just about nude. My father wouldn’t worry at all, he would love it really. But he just kept going.”

Bernie Purcell or Uncle B, as he was known to Di, was both an Australian Representative rugby league player and South Sydney Rabbitohs player. Alternatively, to ‘Duck’, Purcell started playing for Western Suburbs before transitioning to Souths, where he won 4 Grand Finals and scored 1,126 points over his longstanding career. After his successful league profession, Purcell moved into a coaching position for the years of 1964-1966.

Before this, he was in admiration of ‘Duck’.

“Bernie was a very good kicker. He adored Duck, but then he surpassed Duck by a long way because he was a good kicker. My word he looked up to Duck, you know, because there was at least 10 years between them. Used to always carry his bag into wherever the games were being held, Bernie did, as a young kid or teenager. And in the end, he surpassed him. That was sad for Duck. Duck would just follow around Bernie then. It was a case of role reversal! I mean everyone was looking to them like heroes. There weren’t as many superhero things on tv or in the theatre, so people would look up to them instead.”

Purcell’s career successfully surpassed Duck’s, but they were still family. However, once you are a part of a sporting household, or even a football household, I guess it will forever run through your veins. Evidence of this occurred at Di’s wedding.

Traditionally, wedding speeches run in the order of ‘father of the bride’, ‘groom’, ‘best man’, followed by any other toasts that family would like to make. Whilst the order was the same at Di's wedding, the subject matter was not about the wedding or the bride, but rather ‘another’ topic.

"At my (Di's) wedding , I thought I was going to have someone say something nice about me, you know? Since it was my special day. One person spoke about my mother, Hazel, being such a good netball player. I was just waiting for the moment they are to speak about the 'lovely bride’. My brother-in-law got up and waved around a telegram he received from his sister in America. Then Bernie [Purcell] got up and talked about a South Sydney game and a Semi Final in 1972. I thought ‘Is someone going to say something nice about me?’ No one did. Bernie stood centred in front of all the guests. He opened his mouth and then described the semi and South Sydney in detail, giving his complete running commentary of the whole GAME.”

In the end, ‘Duck’ helped forge a rugby league path for his nephew Bernie to walk. Throughout their own unique stories, they became champions on and off the footy field. ‘Duck’ powered on throughout life like a tank, and Bernie remained a successful sharpshooter by kicking his team to victory.


'Premiers Again' - In 1948, in front of over 29000 spectators, both Bernie and Club Captain, Jack 'Duck' Walsh, dressed in the black and white shades of the 'Western Suburbs', won the NSWRFL Grand Final. They defeated Balmain: 8-5, adding their 3rd trophy to the cabinet. The game was lead by the Tigers until the final quarter, when a Western Suburbs player broke the line, undertook a 40m sprint and landed on the white chalk.

In the image below, they sit proudly among their team, coach and administrators. Duck is pictured in the middle seated, first row, with Bernie on the left.

This image depicts Duck with the ball and his cousin, Bernie Purcell in the background. They appeared to be a strong team on an off the field, and they highly respected one another.

When speaking of ‘these’ champions, ‘they’ stand above the rest. Of glories old, and records proud, when often put to test. Of fine traditions, history, that others cannot best.

They ‘wore’ the Red and Green.

May you enjoy these stories, laugh a little, and reflect on times gone by. If I can recommend anything, ask a friend to hear theirs, if not – I will.


If you have a story to share or know a person who should tell their story, please email me: CONTACT Thank you

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