“THE COLLECTOR……..”

The Aussie flag in the front garden of this neat Yarrawonga residence is flying at half-mast today……..

Understandable……..It’s not even a week since the untimely deaths of Shane Warne, Rod Marsh and Dean Woods rocked the nation……So what sporting ‘nut’ worth his salt wouldn’t offer his tribute to a trio of legends…….

“Fair dinkum………..you’ll be staggered when you see this bloke’s collection of sporting memorabilia,” Robert Tait tells me. “He’s spent a lifetime pulling it together…..”

‘Bert’s’ mate is Ray Humphreys, a Corowa-born ( “I prefer to say North Rutherglen” he quips ), and now retired Post-Master, who spent his working career officiating in Australia Post Offices around the North-East.

Ray’s a 70-plus, talkative , instantly-likeable fellah, who introduces me to his off-sider…….an emerald green Eclectus Parrot which is also certainly not short of a word.

‘Mister Eccles’, he says, ensures that nothing happens in the Humphreys household without his approval…………

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‘Bert’ and Ray go back thirty years or so, to when he was coaxed onto the Yarra Footy Club Past Players & Officials committee . They’re President and Secretary/Treasurer respectively, and are proud of the role that their 240-member organisation plays in supporting the Pigeons.

Of course, the fact that ‘Bert’s’ an old Corowa player, and Ray retains his boyhood ‘Glen leanings, prompts plenty of banter between the two:

“I’m still crooked on one Club,” Ray says……”It came to a head in 1979 (when Corowa and Rutherglen merged)……The Redlegs and Spiders used to be hammer and tongs at one another…..On Saturday arvo they’d brawl and fight, and bash each other…….That night the Corowa blokes would head over to Rutherglen to continue the fight……When they’d meet again, the Rutherglen fellahs would return the ‘favour’……”

“You know what those bastards done ?…….They built a new bridge between Rutherglen and Corowa……You know why ?……..So they could get our money quicker……Then they had the cheek to suggest that we join forces………”

“We saved the ‘Glen,” jokes ‘Bert’……”They were gone……..The old Spiders came and resurrected you…..”

“No you didn’t……..You were a bunch of imposters,” replies Ray. “Just remember, before Federation, Corowa was known as North Rutherglen……”

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Ray’s dad farmed some land between Rutherglen and Howlong…….”Our family was Redlegs and nothing else…..The ‘Glen rarely won when I was growing up……….But we’d say: ‘Oh well, we got beat today but we’ll beat ‘em the next time……Then you’d tune into 2CO to see whether Corowa got beat…..If they did, it’d make you feel good….”

He got the appetite for collecting sports memorabilia when he was a whippersnapper.

An uncle, Ray Renshaw, who never married, would always be invited for Christmas Dinner, and started buying he and his brother a sports book each Christmas.

“The first one he bought me was ‘Slasher Opens Up’ ( by Test all-rounder Ken Mackay ). He gave my brother ‘Captain’s Story’, by Bobby Simpson.”

“I thought: ‘How good’s this ?’…..When I started work I began to put money away each week to buy another book……My library just kept growing……Now I’ve gotta save up and buy the unit out the back, so I can store the 5,000-odd books I’ve got !……..”

He ushers me up to a second-storey room which is a shrine, comprising books, framed items, medals, DVD’s, caps, programmes, cards….You name it, he’s got it…….

“I’ve got a real thing about Boxing,” Ray explains.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s two blokes fighting at, say, the Wangaratta Town Hall…..I go……I score ‘em and all that stuff. I back-track the next day on what I’ve written, and check the judges scores against my scoring….”

“I wanted to see a World Heavyweight title bout……so I flew over to the Phillipines to see Ali and Frazier fight the ‘Thrilla in Manila’, back in 1975………..Doesn’t get any bigger than that….I was gonna make sure I got a decent seat, so I paid $400 (Aus) for one at ringside…..bought 20 T-shirts to give my mates….got all the relevant memorabilia, which I reckon is now worth about $10,000…….”

“One of the great days of my life, it was……”

He headed over to England for an Ashes Tour in 1985 and, when he landed in London, read that the Irishman Barry McGuigan was scheduled to fight Eusebio Pedroz from Panama, for the world Featherweight crown later that night.

“It was being staged at the Queen’s Park Rangers soccer ground. I said to my friends : ‘I’ve got an appointment………So I got on the tube and called in to every pub in the vicinity, asking if anybody had a ticket.”

“A fellah said: ‘Listen buddy, I don’t know how good a seat it is, but you can have it for what I paid for it – 30 pound………..We had a beer together and I got into the fight…….McGuigan’s dad, who was a famous Irish singer, gave a rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ as the two fighters entered the ring……It was an incredible atmosphere…….”

“I bought a T-shirt that night……Said to Marg ( his wife ) a few months ago: ‘You know what’ll happen to this when I pass away……It’ll be used for a feather duster…….So I got it framed…”

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Ray’s collated all his books in sections: Cricket Biographies, Touring Books, General Cricket, Boxing, Football…every conceivable sport.

“I love collecting local sports History books …..”If City Colts or Dederang-Mount Beauty or someone produce their history, I’ll be the first one to buy it….” he says.

“See the end section over there; a fair portion of that is devoted to Essendon……There’s hardly a thing that’s been produced about the Bombers that I haven’t got….”

I notice the life-size portrait of Gavin Wanganeen standing guard in the corner, and some individual portraits hanging above the book-shelves.

“Yeah, there’s 26 of those……..Each of those fellahs played in either, or both, of Essendon’s ‘62 and ‘65 premiership teams…….including the late Ian ‘Bluey’ Shelton, my favourite Bomber of all-time……”

He pulls out a glossy publication, and says it has a special place in his heart…..The history of the Yarrawonga Football Club, published in 2003…….

“It’s as good as any country club history I’ve seen….It took us two to three years to produce. We sold 1,000 copies and could easily have got rid of another 500.”

“The last 18-19 years history of the Pigeons in footy and netball in staggering……We’ll have to think about doing a follow-up soon…….The information’s all being collated…”

Ray proudly tells me he’s just acquired the final volume, to complete his collection of Ring Magazine publications; first produced in 1927.

“To my knowledge mine is only the third collection of its kind in Australia…..Marg got the last volume for me for my birthday….She won’t tell me how much it cost her !…..”

He points to a photo of his favourite boxer…….Jimmy Carruthers.

“I suppose I was at an impressionable age in 1952, when he won the World Bantamweight title. In those days it took 40 or so fights to earn a tilt at a World crown……He beat the South African Vic Toweel in his 14th bout…..Threw 147 punches in 2 minutes 14 seconds before they stopped the fight….”

“You wouldn’t have met a better guy than Jimmie…..A real gentleman. But in saying that, I don’t want to diminish Rose, or Famechon. They were lovely fellahs to talk to.”

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Ray pulls out catalogues and folders of footy cards, dating back to the forties.

“Mum encouraged me to keep them all; from the cereal packets, Petrol companies and the like….I’ve got nothing against the modern-day cards, but I love those from the ‘40’s, 50’s, 60’s…..

They’re real works of art…… I’m always looking out for them…”

Every event he goes to, he makes sure he collects the program….”I tell kids when they come through the gate at Yarra these days: ‘Take your Critic home and put it under the bed……Keep it…You won’t regret it….”

When he heads off to an away footy match……say, to Myrtleford, he might pop in to North Wangaratta on the way for instance, to pick up a piece of their memorabilia, maybe one of their caps…..He has a burgeoning collection of those, from most Clubs he’s been to.

He escorts me downstairs, to the garage, which is chock-a-block with Scrapbooks, Critics, Footy Records, programmes from every game he’s attended, any item he deems worthwhile.

He followed three Ashes cricket Series – 1981, ‘85 and ‘89……..”England is a lovely place to watch sport.” he says. “…I saw every day of that 6-Test Series in 1989, went to Wimbledon, the British Open, watched several Soccer games, and went to the races at Ascot…..”

He has also attended Tests in New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and watched the Aussies play Pakistan in Dubai a few years back.

“I was all set to travel to South Africa to watch the now-notorious Sandpapergate Series, but fell off a ladder and broke my leg. That was fate for you……..”

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I ask this dedicated sporting fanatic for his summation of the best O & M players he’s seen….

“Well, that’s a hard one…..I was brought up with Stan Sargeant and Brian Gilchrist…..How great were they !………..”Robbie Walker….. Billie Gayfer, the old Rutherglen boy…….And what about Kevin Smith; you’ve gotta have him in your side…….”

“There weren’t many better than Jonny McCormick…..Won one Medal and should have won another, except that he ‘did’ his shoulder and only played half a season….”

“Fev was probably the most influential player I’ve seen in O & M footy……behind Bobby Rose, that is…..Both beautiful to watch…..”

As for his Yarrawonga favourites, he singles out Les ‘Salty’ Parish, Johnny Brunner, and stars of the modern-era, Leslie and Ednie…….

“I always had a soft spot for the ‘Red Fellah’ – Noel Long……..Great player, but didn’t win a Club Best & Fairest, so that probably counts against him, I suppose, when you’re judging these things…..”

“But the one, if I was picking my best side from, say, 1972……this bloke would be first picked …….Tough as nails…bottom of every pack….would dish the ball out so that Craig Ernie could bounce it five times and get the breakaway……One of only three players who’s won a Medal, the Goal-kicking and a Premiership………His name is Tim Hargreaves…….”

Ray says maintaining his memorabilia is nearly a full-time hobby…..but immensely worthwhile.

“I love harking back to when I was 13 or 14, to about 29…..You can’t remember what happened yesterday, but you know who won the 1956 Melbourne Cup, who captained Australia in 1964, who won the 1959 VFL flag…….”

“You get a bit of a buzz out of it……I’ve got no idea what the collection would be worth……..The only question is, what’s gonna happen when I go……..”

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