‘A VARIED NETBALL ( AND SPORTING ) LIFE……..’

A long piece of galvanised iron piping, with Netball ring attached at the regulation height of 3.05 metres, is cemented into an old oil drum at the rear of the Plough Inn Hotel.

A youngster’s attention is focused on shooting goal… after goal…. after goal, despite having an errant football occasionally booted in her direction by brothers Pete, Mick and ‘Turt’………or sometimes having to intervene in the scuffles of her five other siblings.

This is the ‘playground’ of the growing Nolan clan. It’s Tarrawingee’s ‘Centre of the Universe’ and watering-hole of the town’s sporting teams.

As time goes by, the kids become part of everything that goes on in Tarra. They ‘sub’ when the cricketers are a fielder short, train with the footballers, belt tennis balls on the cement courts – and, in the case of Toni, occasionally fill in with the Netball team………….

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Toni is just 12 when one of the tiny town’s netball stars, Mavis Farmer, asks, after one of those fill-in games for the Bulldogs, whether she’ll be able to play every week.

“But wouldn’t that be against the rules. Don’t you have to be over-14 ?” she asks. “Don’t worry about that,” was the reply. “I’ll have a yarn to your mother.”IMG_3189

So begins the sporting career of Toni Wilson……………….

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Sixty years later, we’re chatting in the Wilson’s gazebo, a couple of decent ‘Waldo’ torpedoes away from the ‘Plough’. Sprinklers chit-chit-chit away behind us…..Boof, the 15 year-old family dog stretches out beside Toni……………..

She loved all sports, she says, but particularly Netball.

After leaving home to study politics and economics at Monash, she was ‘roped’ in to play with rivals, Melbourne University Blues. Someone had enterprisingly got hold of an ID and registered her under an assumed name.

A netball icon, Lorna McConchie – the coach of Australia’s first-ever touring team – was in charge, and Toni made her mark, playing Defence, learning plenty, and fitting into a strong side.

When she met VFA footballer, and school-teacher Chas Wilson, they moved to Mildura…….and she kept playing.

Maureen Weightman, matriarch of a famous sporting clan, immediately recruited her to Swallows, the netball team closely linked to Imperials Footy Club, with whom Chas had thrown in his lot.

Theirs was a mid-week competition, and Swallows, who were all-powerful, won a string of premierships. By now, she also had three youngsters in tow, but Chas kept an eye on them, to allow her to keep playing.

“The boys were pretty active at this stage. Chas used to take them down to the football club’s Sunday morning barrels, and they loved knocking around with the kids of the other footy dads,” she recalls.

“That’s where ‘Wal’ got his nickname. He’d always be wrestling, and family friend Dale Weightman nicknamed him “Waldo von Erich”, after one of the star performers in ‘Ringside with the Wrestlers’.”

When the family decided to settle back in Tarrawingee, Toni took over as playing-coach of the Netball team. Greta was the dominant side of the era, and the ‘Dogs were just unable to bridge the gap, finishing runners-up in three successive years.

Mick and Joe were already playing with the Rovers, and when Andrew (Wal) also made the move from Tarra in 1989, Toni decided it was time to start following them.

And, like any mum, she rode the fortunes of her boys, who were stars in a Golden Era for the Wangaratta Rovers.

Chas joked about the day Mick took a mark deep in defence, copped a knock from his opponent, and then tried to stage for a free-kick.

“He was lying there, and Toni jumped the fence and ran onto the ground. She was a typical Mum ; she tried to see the whole game, but inevitably she saw her own first.”

Toni reckons that’s not quite right. On that occasion, she says, she feared Mick had been seriously injured.

Mick and Joe were part of ‘Burt’s Babes’, who stormed to the 1988 flag. ‘Waldo’ shared the glory of the ‘91, ‘93 and ‘94 premierships with them. Also, in a first for the O & M, they played in an inter-league match together, against the Riddell League.

Following brilliant careers, the boys were all rewarded with membership of the club’s Hall of Fame.IMG_3196

After one of those flag triumphs in the nineties, someone hung a poster on the front fence at the Findlay Oval : ‘Thank God for Edna Daniher……and Toni Wilson….’IMG_3197

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She and Chas were enjoying a great ride, and had become deeply involved in the Club.

But when the Ovens and Murray Board took the initial steps to inaugurate a Netball competition, Toni was invited to share in the discussions.

“It had surprised me actually, that, although netball was a really vital part of the culture in minor-leagues, the Ovens and Murray hadn’t already given thought to introducing it,” she says

She had seen what a contribution the O & K Netball Association, which had officially kicked off nearly forty years earlier, had made towards enhancing the community aspect of the Ovens and King League.

“Sandy Thomas was the secretary of the O & M at the time, and was a major instigator in getting the concept up and running. And Janelle Hartwig, who had come to the Rovers from Greta, became the first Netball secretary. Janelle did a lot of work in the initial stages.”

“Some of the clubs were fairly lukewarm. In fact, it was the non-Border clubs who really pushed for a Netball competition.”

“We impressed upon the Board that footy needed to add another dimension, to make the League more family-oriented. Introducing Netball was a perfect way of doing it.”

“Families would embrace it. Wives, girlfriends and sisters could play netball at the same grounds as the football team was playing. It would become a real family day.”

So the Ovens and Murray, in 1993, became the first Major League to implement Netball. The stipulation was made that all 10 clubs must have A and B-Grade teams, and that, within three years, they have netball courts within the confines of their grounds.

Besides becoming the inaugural O.M.N.A President, Toni took on the role as coach of the Rovers’ A and B-Grade sides.

The A-Grade team went through the 1993 season undefeated, then outpointed North Albury in both the Second-Semi and Grand Final.IMG_3194

 

 

They lost just three matches in ‘94 and again got the better of North in the ‘big one’, winning 47-45 in a tight affair.

The B-Graders also had a good line-up, and finished Third and runners-up in the first two years.

“To be quite honest, a drover’s dog could have coached the group of girls we had,” Toni says.IMG_3192

“We were pretty lucky to have some really good players who were sisters or girlfriends of Rovers players, or came from traditional Rovers families. And they all just jelled together perfectly.”

Toni coached the A-Grade team for a total of eight seasons, spanning 1993-2004. Her five years in charge of the B-Graders was highlighted by their first premiership, in 1999.

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The Wilsons are a unique combination. Their lives have been heavily intertwined in sport, and they have a better ‘feel’ for it than most.

In the early nineties, the first maths project Chas would give the kids at West End Primary of a winter’s Monday morning, was the task of doing up the O & M netball ladders for Toni.

When she was coaching, Toni would see less than a half a game of footy, and would have to rely on Chas to provide the post-mortem of the game, including a ‘critique’ of the three boys’ performances.

Both served lengthy stints on the Rovers Board. Toni was co-opted in 2000, at a period when the Hawks were still clawing back from a near-crippling debt, and financial prudence was the order of the day.

She took a step back from the Board in 2008, after nine years. She had earlier handed over the responsibilities of Rovers Netball to the younger breed.

Additionally, after 12 years as OMNA President, she felt it was time to retire . “It’s important to know when to move on and let someone with fresh ideas take over,” she said.

Toni’s marathon spell in the game had seen her rewarded with Life Memberships of Tarrawingee, the Ovens and King League, the Wangaratta Rovers and the Ovens and Murray League.

She became involved in her new pastimes – Golf, the garden – and keeping tabs on the six grandkids.

They’re already making their mark in sport, so there are exciting times ahead.

Toni follows the Hawk closely, and still helps out at a few catering events or Club functions.

Like the one that’s on tonight. But she’ll be a Guest of Honour at that.

You might have heard ; she’s being inducted to the Wangaratta Rovers Hall of Fame……………..IMG_3198

 

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One thought on “‘A VARIED NETBALL ( AND SPORTING ) LIFE……..’

  1. Peter Keogh

    Kevin, you recently wrote a story about Kevin Mack. My brother Gerard sent it to me and I write to tell you my story about Kevin.
    Kevin was our baker delivery man, visiting ours (Olive Street) and many homes in the West End side of Wangaratta in the early 1960s. Very early in the mornings he would drop bread on our doorstep and drive to the next home. One morning I asked Kevin if he would give me one of his old footy jumpers. He agreed and for many weeks thereafter I would jump on my bike and ride the streets until I found him and asked ‘Did you bring it today?’ We’ll eventually he did and I treasured it for many years, wearing it only occasionally. I joined Victoria Police in 1969 and moved to Melbourne and Kevin’s jumper stayed with me.
    About 40 years later I visited Wodonga Police Station and eventually met Kevin’s son and I recanted the story above. He said that the Pies ahead sold all his old gear many years previously when they were raising money for the club. The next time I visited the station, Kevin (junior) took me to his father’s home where Kevin unwrapped the package that I had brought with me. With much surprise and recognition he lifted his jumper and I described to him how he had given it to me when I was a young kid. To say he was completely ‘blown away’ would be an understatement.
    The jumper, woollen with plastic number 30, with collar was returned to it’ rightful owner.

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