William Harrington Atack was exhausted. A Canterbury rugby referee, he had spent hours running up and down yelling himself hoarse at players
At some point he put his hand in his pocket where the whistle for his sheepdogs was and an idea struck him. He used whistles on them, so why couldn’t he use whistles on rugby players?
Hoping they did not think he was treating them like dogs, at the next game he refereed, in June 1884, he got the teams to agree.
And for the first time a whistle, so common now, was used in a game of rugby.
The International Rugby Board, in 1892, made it a requirement for a referee to carry a whistle (although there were only 10 accepted usages for it.)
Atack was born in England in 1857. He, his parents William, a painter, and Mahala came to New Zealand in 1959 aboard the Cornwall, along with his sister who did not survive the trip.
Atack was an excellent student, going to Christ’s College, often winning scholarships.
He was an excellent rugby and cricket player, representing Canterbury at cricket after leaving school.
He also won a university scholarship but instead opted to go into journalism, starting at the Lyttelton Times in 1875. He was a dedicated sports reporter.
In 1886 he married Ada Mackett and moved to Wellington where he became the general manager of the United Press Association - which later became the New Zealand Press Association. He held that job for an astonishing 44 years.
It was during his tenure that UPA took the huge step of ordering its first typewriter.
Atack retired from the NZPA in 1930 aged 74, and died in 1946, aged 89. He was cremated at Karori Cemetery.