Hi Riff Raffers,
Who holds the title of Collingwood’s ‘Crackajack’ Collier? No it’s not either of the footballing brothers Albert or Harry from the late 1920’s through into the thirties. It is Australian Mouth Organ Champion from the same period, Albert and Harry’s cousin, Harold. Harold’s father, Harry Edward Collier was the brother of Albert Augustus Collier, father of Albert and Harry. All resided in the inner city suburb of Collingwood.
Albert and Harry were worthy contenders for the title of ‘Crackajack’ Collier as in the entire history of the VFL and AFL (up until 1989 known it was known as the Victorian Football League, from 1990 onwards as the Australian Football League) they are the only set of brothers to have won the coveted Brownlow medal, awarded in recognition for the best and fairest player for the competition. Both played for the Collingwood Football Club when they were known as ‘The Machine’, winning several premierships including four in a row, which has never been replicated by any other club. Albert debuted for the Collingwood Magpies at the tender age of fifteen. He won the Brownlow in 1929. His brother Harry won his fifty nine years later, retrospectively! In 1930 three players tied on four votes (an umpire awarded one vote per game) as there was no provision for a tie it was decided not to declare a winner. The commission stepped in an awarded it to the player who had played the least number of games and that was Stan Judkins from the Richmond Football Club. To add further insult to injury a vote was thrown out for Collingwood as the player couldn’t be identified due to the umpire having just written, Collier. When asked later which one he stated the small one, which was Harold standing at 5ft 8, Albert measured 5ft 11.
As famous as these two were they weren’t the ‘Crackajack’ Collier. The title had to go to their cousin, Harold Collier, National Mouth Organ Champion twice over and who exclusively used Allan’s ‘Crackajack’ harmonicas. He was ‘Crackajack’ ambassador and champion soloist winner of the 3LO open in 1927 and he would win again in 1936. Harold had found himself banned from some events when he revealed that he had used a ‘Crackajack’ harmonica in Boomerang (Alberts) sponsored events. Albert’s music house in Sydney had the popular ‘Boomerang’ range of harmonicas which were in direct opposition to Allan & Co music house of Melbourne who sold the ‘Crackajack’ models. Harold, after winning his first title, worked tirelessly for Crackajack and Allans. In 1928 he managed the ‘Melbourne Crackajack Mouth Organ Orchestra’. He would also form, manage and conduct women’s and children’s bands including the highly successful ‘Melbourne Ladies Crackajack Mouth Organ Band’. Now that’s a mouthful.
There were other football connections with the ‘Crackajack’ harmonica than just the moniker Collier. In the 1920’s the harmonica was packaged with a Football Team Colours card and they also featured in advertisements in the match day publication, the ‘Football Record’.
One seen here from 1930 has a Collingwood player (it may even be Harold, who we believe played football, but not at the same lofty heights as his talented cousins) sitting cross legged blowing a ‘Crackajack’ harmonica. The other from a finals record of the same year displays footballers preparing to mark the ‘Crackajack’ mouth organ. The model shown here has the distinctive cover plate that helped us verify it’s manufacturer, F. A. Rauner. Learn how this was discovered in a previous article here at ‘Quest’. One interesting anecdote featuring the Melbourne Ladies Crackajack Band was when they led the funeral of Thomas Harris, President of the VMOBA (Victorian Mouth Organ Band Association). Thomas passed away on the 25th of January 1934. He was participating in a social cricket match at the Kew cricket ground when he grabbed a fantastic diving catch and then suddenly collapsed and died. The funeral notice in ‘The Argus’ newspaper requested bandsman (I presume this was generic for bands-women as well) to bring organ in key of ‘G’. The fifteen Ladies of the Crackajack band wore orange jumpers with cream skirts and beret. They played ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ and Harold marched in front, conducting proudly in evening attire.
In the band that day was a young Nellie Dowdle. At the 1939 Australian Championships Nell would be crowned Ladies Solo Champion. Her prize consisted of both cash and the Collier Cup and not only did she receive the cup from Harold, but as Ray Grieve put it, “and indeed Harold Collier himself when they married the following year.” Nellie had joined the band in 1932. The ladies band would practice once a week and perform every Sunday night for half an hour on 3KZ radio. They played at venues that included the Melbourne Zoo, HM Prison Pentridge (Ladies Section), a church service and as previously mentioned they led a funeral. When Nell was asked why the instrument was so popular her reply was simply, “it cost two shillings and sixpence.”
The Collier dynasty, with brothers Albert and Harry and cousin Harold during the 1920’s and 30’s had enormous impact not only in Collingwood, but also for the State Of Victoria. Harold’s impact traveled even further, it went nationwide. He was the nations ‘Crackajack’ Collier.