This year signifies 160 years since the formation of Geelong Football Club, and this month the Geelong Gallery will join the wider community celebration of this great milestone with an exhibition of rare, treasured objects and images from the collection of Club Vice- President Bob Gartland in a major exhibition The Greatest Team of All—treasures from the Bob Gartland collection.
Bob Gartland is a passionate historian, and for the past fifty years has collected thousands of items, many of national importance which will now present a rich timeline of the club in an exhibition that will be a truly immersive experience of the mighty Cats from 1859 to now.
“The whole show has been designed around the fact that this year is the 160th anniversary, and it just so happens that a couple of years ago I was introduced to Bob Gartland, who is in his final year as the Vice President of the club,” explains Geelong Gallery Director and curator Jason Smith. “Bob has amassed this extraordinary collection of objects over the last 50 years so we thought that it was an important way to diversify our programming, and certainly showcase the importance of the Cats to the city.
Showcasing the rare, treasured objects and images, from membership tickets and cards, and players’ garments, to premiership medals, a number of 19th and 20th century photography, film and sound recordings, and possibly the first whistle used on an Australian football ground, the collection tell the stories of the Club, and of the lives and careers of its players and supporters.
“One of the real treasures in Bob’s collection is the original letter written by the Geelong Club to Mrs Charles Brownlow after he had died, asking her permission to name an award in her husband’s honour, hence the birth of the Brownlow Medal,” Smith explains.
Alongside following key figures in the Clubs history from Charles Brownlow to Joel Selwood, it also celebrates the Club’s evolution including its uniform design, the “Cats” nickname and mascot, and the successes and stories of the playing group, over 160 years.
With approximately 700 items from Bob’s collection which explores everything from the impact of social change and upheaval including war, the transformation of the city, stadium developments and even Geelong Football Club’s contribution to community life and wellbeing, it’s astonishing that all but one item belongs to Gartland, with the exception being the Brownlow Medal which belongs to the family of the late Paul Couch, who donated his 1989 Brownlow Medal purely for this exhibition.
“There’s a lot of really precious and rare material in Bob’s collection that not only tells the story of the club, but tells a lot about the social history of the club, the people, the players, the fans, and from an art perspective, it also gives us a great opportunity to look at the graphic design changes, especially with 120 years of playing cards. We’ve also got 17 jumpers from 1911 to the present day, and you can see how the design of the jumpers changes over time.
“There’s also an 18-meter long mural. It’s a digital collage that took Bob five months to put together with hundreds of objects and images from his collection,” Smith explains. “It’s basically a timeline where you walk along the 18 meters back in time to 1859. There’s actually a version of it hanging in the private section of the club where the players walkthrough, and this is the second version created for us for the show.”
As an exhibition catering to absolutely everybody, from the cultural historians, to the dedicated Cats fans and local families, and that is set to bring to life the history and contemporary relevance of a club that engenders extraordinary civic pride, Smith explains the driving force behind the exhibition.
“Passion. It’s just sheer passion,” he says of Bob Gartland and his collection. “He’s a Geelong man, he was a football player, and he’s just passionate about the club, and about Geelong. It’s always been his hope that there would be, at some stage, wider community engagement with his collection.”
“It has been my vision for many years to take my collection beyond the Football Club and into the community,” echoes Gartland. “I was delighted when Geelong Gallery committed to the exhibition and hope that it brings many people joy in retracing this mighty Club’s visual and social history.’
While the season now over, it’s the perfect time to take a peek into the rare objects and images from the collection and discover the illustrious history of the mighty blue and white.
The Greatest Team of All—treasures from the Bob Gartland collection is exhibiting at Geelong Gallery until 10 November 2019.