Bert Renfrey reached the top levels of Australian football in an extraordinary career that embraced seven senior clubs and four states. He represented South Australia 11 times and captained the invincible 1911 Carnival team that whipped Victoria by 43 points in Adelaide.
Twice runner-up in the Stawell Gift, Bert was a strapping athlete who always played his football hard and fair. He was aged just 17 on debut with an unsettled Norwood in 1896, if later newspaper reports are correct, and then played two seasons with North Adelaide. In 1899 he joined his older brother, Len, at Norwood and almost immediately earned selection on the full back line of the SA team which lost to Victoria by 34 points at the MCG on 1 July.
Bert moved to Broken Hill in 1900. He played in West Broken Hill premiership teams in 1900 and 1901 but missed a third flag when he finished the 1903 season with West Adelaide, his brother's new club. In 1904 the mercurial Bert was in WA, playing with Boulder City in the Goldfields Football Association.
In 1905 he linked up with an old Norwood compatriot, the West Perth captain Bill Plunkett, in a successful premiership campaign. Bert, 185 cm and 86 kg, played 41 games in two seasons with West Perth. Two decades later a WA commentator wrote: "It is doubtful if we have produced a more dashing effective half-back during the present century than Bert Renfrey. In stature a giant, in speed a greyhound, and couldn't he bounce the ball! It was quite a common sight to see him bringing the ball from the half-back line right up to the forwards. He was so powerful that it was difficult to stop his progress from the front, and it was a hopeless cause giving chase."
After 15 games with St Kilda in 1907, Bert returned to West Broken Hill in 1908 and represented NSW in the Jubilee Australasian Football Carnival that year.
Recruited by Sturt as captain in 1909, he was captain-coach from 1910 to 1913. After West Adelaide upset Sturt in the 1913 finals, several players accused Bert of "playing dead". With five team-mates refusing to play with him, he was sacked by the committee but reinstated the following evening and took part in the next match, won by North Adelaide. After the game, Bert was involved in a fight with prominent Sturt player Arthur Heinrichs and never represented the club again. Nevertheless, with a record of 56 games and 16 goals, he was later named on the interchange bench in Sturt's Team of the Century.
Bert coached South Adelaide in 1914 and 1919. In between he enlisted in the First AIF on 4 January 1916 and was discharged at his own request on 31 August 1916. After football, the one-time tram driver became a bookmaker.
Born in Adelaide on 5 May 1879 to Senior Constable William Renfrey and his wife Mary Jane (Percy), Bert married Ethel Maud Percy in 1921. They had a daughter, Mary Lois (Sinclair), and a son, Ronald. Bert Renfrey died in Adelaide from self-inflicted gunshot wounds on 29 April 1940.
* Important sources: Wikipedia; 'Spectator' in The Express and Telegraph 14 July 1911 p 6
P Robins Dec 2018