‘THE STORY-TELLER…….

(By Simone Kerwin)

The subject of this article will be aghast when he sees it published. But he’ll get over it. This is his sporting story………

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It’s one of those 40 degree Wangaratta days; the kind that make you feel as though you could sizzle as soon as you step outside, or melt into the concrete like a dropped ice-cream.

You’re just relaxing into the air-conditioned comfort of your car when you round the bend into Evans Street, and spot him. Though it’s possibly the hottest part of the day, he’s jogging along behind a mower in front of the W.J.Findlay Oval, headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the oppressive heat.

It may appear to the outsider to be some kind of exercise in self-flagellation, a bit of manual labour as self-discipline. However, those close to KB Hill know that what brings him to this point is a combination of dedication, community pride, and the opportunity to clear his mind and allow words to fall together as they bring his latest story to vivid life.

For, while he wears a range of hats (as loving patriarch, faithful parishioner, businessman, passionate Bulldogs fan, history-keeper, sports fanatic, and devoted servant of the Wangaratta Rovers Football-Netball Club and Rovers-United Bruck Cricket Club), the role for which he’s becoming best known is that of story-teller.

Dad began his blog, KB On Reflection: The Random Jottings of an Old Sports Buff, in late-2013 as a challenge to himself to produce 52 pieces in 52 weeks.

He did just that, bringing the stories of local sporting champions to a new audience, and to those who delighted in reminiscing about the performances of stars they knew as mates, family members, neighbours or idols.

Then, prompted by the positive response, he kept going beyond his initial brief. Despite regularly questioning his ability to find and tell a great story, he’s still at it, to the delight of his fans – of which I’d claim to be one of the most fervent.

I clearly recall the moment when I recognised that my dad was a brilliant writer. Of course, I’d been part of the audience for his storytelling skills as he told us about his adventures playing footy in Queensland and the Territory, and about growing up with his five brothers.

But one day I happened upon a piece he’d written for the Wangaratta Historical Society. This story transported me to the Wangaratta Showgrounds velodrome, and the early days of eventual Olympic gold medallist Dean Woods.

For those familiar with the world of Harry Potter, it was as if I had gained access to Professor Dumbledore’s pensieve, and been fully immersed in the events of the past. And I was hooked.

Dad’s command of the English language is masterful, but also gentle enough that his prose engages not only those of a literary bent, but anyone who simply enjoys reading a good story – and isn’t that all of us? His style is completely natural, that of a self-taught wordsmith with an intimate knowledge of his core subject: the sporting life of the Wangaratta district.

That thirst for that knowledge began when he was just a toddler, trooping around the ground that would become his spiritual home, behind his father and hero, Len.

Len had been a premiership player with the Wangaratta Football Club in 1946 – fresh from his World War 2 service – before he agreed to coach and play for then-Ovens and King league club Wangaratta Rovers.

He led them to their first flag in 1948, then encouraged the club to join the neighbouring Magpies in the Ovens and Murray league.

He stepped back from playing to join the committee and help sculpt a successful environment at what would become the Findlay Oval. After joining the O&M in 1950, the club won its first O&M flag in 1958 under star coach Bob Rose, whose services Len had helped secure.

Another 14 senior premierships followed over the next four decades, and the club expanded with time to include netballers, who added to the success.

Dad’s arrival on the scene in 1947 – the third of six sons born to Len and wife Margaret (Madge) – was timed perfectly to allow him to witness the build-up to that Rovers success, and to knock around local cricket grounds watching his highly competitive father in action.

He developed a passion not only for what was happening on-field, but for the people around the contests, and the friendships and rivalries they developed. I think the colour and atmosphere on the periphery has always been almost as important to him as the game itself.

Dad is a master of humility and self-deprecation’ The ‘about the author’ section of his blog says ‘His boyhood dream was to be a champion footballer and cricketer. He fell spectacularly short’.

In fact, he sells himself spectacularly short. For not only has he been a servant to the executive and behind-the-scenes aspects of the two sports he loves most, he did exhibit some talent on the field.

While footy and cricket were his bread and butter, the young Kevin and his mates would have a crack at any sport, and enjoyed following the national and international proponents of all pursuits.

Dad honed his skills in the backyard of the Hills’ Maxwell Street home. With six boys in the family who had watched their Dad wring every ounce from his sporting contests, you can only imagine there must have been some hard-fought matches of backyard cricket and a few ‘speckies’ attempted during willing kick-to-kick sessions.

KB officially began his footy career with the Wangaratta Junior League’s South Wanderers, and after graduation from junior ranks, pulled on his beloved brown and gold for the first time in 1964 .

He played in the Rovers’ grand final loss to Wodonga in 1967, and in 1970 he was a member of the Rovers’ Neville Hogan-led grand final team which tackled Myrtleford at the Wangaratta Showgrounds.

The latter resulted in the Saints winning their first and only Ovens and Murray flag, but recollections of those at the game include KB’s strong marking at centre half forward, and his “no-nonsense” approach to physical clashes with his Saints opponents.

He missed the chance to take part in a Rovers’ premiership in 1971 when he embarked on what he says was a plan to play footy in every state of Australia. He spent a season in Queensland with Coorparoo, where his brother Denis also landed, shortly after.

He then travelled over to play for Nightcliff in Darwin, where many would be surprised to know the famously affable KB was suspended for two matches for verbal abuse…the competitor inside always emerges.

He returned to the North East in 1972, and set about assisting his mate, John Welch, in rejuvenating Ovens and King club Tarrawingee.

The Bulldogs won the flag in 1975, but by then Kevin had moved on to coach Moyhu, the same year he married ‘the girl around the corner’, Moira Clohesy.

Dad’s mentioned before on his blog that Moi “had an inkling of what she was in for…when she discovered two books in our honeymoon luggage – ‘Fingleton on Cricket’ and ‘The Australian National Football League Coaching Manual’.

She seamlessly shifted from coach’s wife to mum when I arrived in the October of ’75′

She says I should have vivid memories of the Moyhu Hotel facade, as the two of us spent a fair portion of my babyhood sitting in the car out the front, waiting for Dad after games. He was reappointed to the Hoppers’ top job in 1976, which was to be his final year at the helm.

From there, life got even busier. The late 1970s saw the start of Dad’s administrative work for the Rovers, including as secretary from 1977 to ’79, as the Hawks claimed a hat-trick of flags. Meanwhile, he and Mum welcomed three more kids to their brood: Jacqui and Ross as ‘Irish twins’ in the January and December of 1977, and Stephen early in 1979.

Dad was also involved in the advent around this time of a key Rovers fundraiser in Monday night bingo, which continued to run until 2014 and raised almost $500,000 for the club’s building fund over 37 years. He also helped oversee the Thursday night Rovers sweep for 34 years.

Mum and Dad experienced the toughest time possible for any parent when Stevie succumbed to leukaemia in August, 1980 – just two days after the birth of their fifth child, Kerrie.

An experience which could understandably rip a couple apart only galvanised Mum and Dad’s bond, as they called deeply on their faith to draw them and their young clan through.

Four more daughters, Anna, Lauren, Paula and Justine, arrived to complete the family over the next nine years.

We could have been a netball team if any of us had been as serious about playing sport as Ross was, but we passionately followed the games our Dad loved, and were all indoctrinated by KB to adore the Rovers and view the Magpies as a necessary evil.

If you’ve ever seen KB Hill at his scoring post at the cricket, you’ve seen a man in his element. The kids and I dropped in to say g’day one Saturday last season when he was stationed at a Rovers-United Bruck game at the Barr Reserve.

We were perched behind him waiting for a break, to have a quick chat. There he was: shoes off, his array of coloured pens at the ready, and keeping an eye on every ball while still managing some friendly banter with the opposition scorer – possibly even researching his next blog. I have a feeling, as much as he loves footy, that cricket would win a battle for his heart.

As with footy, Dad’s introduction to cricket began by following in Len’s footsteps at Rovers, his involvement even extending to assisting and then taking over – with Denis – curating duties on the wicket at the Findlay Oval.

We all have memories of sitting on the roller while Pa or Dad prepared the pitch, and to this day, I think twice before setting foot on a cricket wicket, with Pa’s gruff “Uh, uh, uh!” echoing in my ears from the times I made to run on the pitch as it was being watered after games.

We quickly got the idea it was hallowed ground. KB also assumed the mantle of ensuring all was in order for afternoon tea – the urn boiled and the milk in the fridge – for many years, just another of those behind-the-scenes roles he prefers.

Onfield, Dad played with Rovers Cricket Club for about 25 years, and was part of A grade premiership teams in 1980-’81 and 1984-’85 with the likes of Jock Lowry, Geoff Billman, Rod Davis, Jimmy Radford and Stuey Marshall.

A medium pace bowler and left hand bat, his cricket career famously included facing West Indian quick Wes Hall when the Windies visited Wangaratta to play a Victorian Country XI in 1969.

KB could probably recite most WDCA records by heart. However, he’s reluctant to draw attention to the fact he holds the title for the association’s highest innings in an Ensign Cup match. His 151 against Lake Rowan in 1964-’65 just keeps him in front of son-in-law Duane Kerwin’s 144 against Euroa in 1993-’94.

At an official level, KB served as WDCA treasurer between 1974-’75 and 1978-’79; was made a life member in 2002.

He is the association’s long-time historian, a role which has involved him producing a series of albums, The WDCA Diaries. They include records and stories of leading players, told in his inimitable style, and have earned him accolades from Cricket Victoria.

It could be said that recording sporting stories in this manner is KB’s life work. For as long as I can remember, he’s been painstakingly working his way through bound copies of the local paper to ensure he has all the finer details about sport in Wangaratta included in his extensive files.

It’s this passion for and knowledge of local sport which has developed his reputation as one of the city’s key historians. Local newspaper sports editors know he is a valuable resource when they’re writing about highest scores, winning streaks, and games played, especially as they can be confident in the accuracy of the information he provides.

His natural affinity for words and stories developed through his role as sports editor at the Chronicle Despatch in the ’60s. His expertise was later sought by former City of Wangaratta Mayor Bill Findlay when he compiled ‘The Hawk Story’, and the pair also collaborated on ‘The Hawks Hall of Fame’, as well as many well-received articles in The Chronicle, before the advent of his blog.

Dad’s eagerness for sporting feats and milestones to be recognised has seen him form part of Hall of Fame selection committees for the Rovers, WDCA and O&M.

For many years, he has been known to present 100-gamers at the Rovers with a carefully-curated collection of news articles in which they’ve featured during their careers with the Hawks, all coloured-in with the signature style he initially tried to claim was his daughters’. They are always gratefully received, and have become part of the club’s folklore.

That’s the public side of KB. Those of us lucky enough to be part of his inner circle are privy to some extra special aspects of his character.

There are the impromptu songs he composes on the spot to delight or spotlight his kids and grandkids; the speeches at weddings, birthdays, Christmas gatherings and other occasions, which are always brilliant despite his reluctance as an orator; and his ability to cover everything from religion and philosophy to current affairs and celebrity gossip in kitchen- table chats.

In recent years, he’s attended university graduations, school assemblies and grandparents’ days, and brushed up on his knowledge of basketball, netball, gymnastics, and even dance, while following his family’s pursuits.

Then, of course, there are the phone calls. The grand-kids know that if they’ve had a big day, whether it be sporting, academic or otherwise, it’s likely the home phone – which rarely sounds in these days of mobiles – will be ringing that evening, and “that’ll be Pa” at the other end of the line wanting to hear all about it.

If only every kid had that sort of cheerleader in their lives. I’ll be forever thankful that I have.

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