“SPORTING ADMINISTRATION…….IT’S NOT ALL BEER AND SKITTLES…..”

W.D.C.A President Alf Kendall, beside Prime Minister Bob Menzies, as he is introduced to players at a Club match in 1962. Member for Indi, Mac Holten, is at far left.

It’s afternoon-tea-time at the Gardens Oval……..I’m procrastinating whether to dive into the array of ‘Sanger’s’…. try the iced Donuts….or have a crack at the sliced Watermelon …..

Meanwhile, the rich history of the B.D.C.A captivates me……. I’m drawn to the Honour Boards, which chronicle the sterling service of Benalla’s legends of the game who, for decades, helped maintain the town’s reputation as a country cricket stronghold.

Keith Sherwill, for instance, was a dominant presence for more than half a century……..His off-sider Tom Trewin – also the local MLA from 1961-‘82 – was Association President for 29 years……..Now, there’s devotion for you….

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I was a mere whippersnapper when I witnessed at first hand, the influence of two Administrators of similar status……

Jack Maroney was already part of the furniture at the Wangaratta Rovers when they joined the Ovens and Murray Football League in 1950.

‘Old Wally’ was a man of action, commanded respect and didn’t mince words, even though, by calling a spade a spade he fell out with the odd dissenter.

Working-bees were his specialty……In typical fashion, he’d be wielding a shovel as he barked instructions, his shirt unbuttoned, slouching dacks precariously held up by a piece of baler twine.

You’d see him towing a set of harrows around the Oval during the off-season….or with several sheets of re-claimed corrugated iron tied to the roof of his company vehicle, obviously destined for a maintenance project at the ground…..

A Livestock Auctioneer by occupation, he began as the Rovers’ property-steward, and became President in 1959, just as the Hawks were entering a Golden Era……When he retired from the Committee in 1977 he’d left a lasting impression.

They named the Clubrooms after John Walter Maroney, to commemorate the mountain of work that he put in at the W.J.Findlay Oval………

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Clem Fisher was a giant of Wangaratta cricket…….During his playing career, he bowled with tons of aggression and, as a prolific opening batsman, loved launching an assault on the quickies……

Despite his forthright manner people acknowledged his unstinting love of the game and eagerness to do what was best for cricket……particularly as a consultant to clubs who were installing Turf pitches in the early 50’s.

He managed to rub plenty of opponents up the wrong way…….many of whom regarded him as a ‘shocking sport’…..a ‘stubborn prick’…..and ‘as tough as old boots’.

No surprise really……He was reared on the family farm, ‘Glen’, at East Wangaratta, where his father John, a fierce competitor, laid down a concrete wicket, and taught his sons the rudiments of the game.

Clem emerged as a star during the thirties, when Wangaratta established themselves as a Country cricket power.

A decade later, whilst still piling up the runs, he was installed for his first term as WDCA President….

When he took a step back after four years at the helm he continued to exert an influence; as Manager of the WDCA’s representative sides, a sounding-board on Association matters, and as a father-figure of the game…….

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Fisher and Alf Kendall, who became WDCA President in 1956, were polar-opposites as personalities………and were destined to lock horns.

Alf hailed from Cumfelinfach, a tiny coal-mining village in the south-east of Wales……Although his family moved to Australia in 1924, he retained a distinct British brogue, and his tall, elegant stature gave him the presence of a Business Professional…..which he was…….

He was posted to Wangaratta in 1943, as an adviser and accountant during the construction of an aluminium factory.

Scrap metals would be melted down in hot mills and sent to Sydney as aluminium ingots, which would be used for making aeroplane parts.

After the war, Bruck Mills, a Canadian firm, took over the factory and Alf was its first employee, then became a member of the company’s executive staff.

When Social competition team Alumatta, to whom he was connected, morphed into Bruck Cricket Club in 1947/48, he was part of the inaugural team which competed in the WDCA.

A handy, economical off-spinner, his modest ability was dwarfed by his intense love of the game and his desire to see Bruck play a prominent role in Wangaratta cricket.

To that end, five years later, Mac Holten, a prominent post-war District cricketer and star Collingwood footballer, who had led Wangaratta to four successive footy flags, was lured to Bruck as its ‘Sporting Adviser’……

The following season, 1953/54, Holten’s brilliant, undefeated 136 piloted the club to their first WDCA flag…….Kendall, who was rising 47, was one of three members of the original Bruck team to feature in the Premiership win……..

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Alf Kendall retired from the playing-field in 1959, but by now his influence on Wangaratta cricket had become far more pronounced…..

He had succeeded a fellow Bruck stalwart, Stanley Messenger Arms, as WDCA President in 1956, with the stated aims of forming an Umpire’s Board, helping to establish a junior competition in the town, and taking Wangaratta to the top in country cricket.

He played a significant role in the first two……..and was at the helm when rain washed out play in the 1957 Provincial Country Week Final, with Wangaratta being declared the winners.

He helped to procure a match against the touring South Australian Sheffield team, which met a North-Eastern XI at the Showgrounds in 1957.

But It wasn’t all beer and skittles for Alf, particularly in the aftermath of the 1957/58 WDCA semi-finals…….

The Semi’s were scheduled for the Labour Day long week-end……A heavy downpour prompted the Association Executive to transfer the second day’s play ( Monday) from the sodden turf wickets, onto concrete ‘tracks’ at South and North Wangaratta.

The result was that Bruck and Magpies won through to the Grand Final………. Old combatants Kendall and Fisher were involved in considerable verbal parrying after it was alleged that the venues had been transferred so that Kendall’s side – Bruck – would not be denied the opportunity of reaching the Final….

Kendall and WDCA Secretary ( and fellow Bruck clubman ) Bernie Morris angrily refuted the claim, which, they said, was a ‘despicable insult’…… Bruck captain Mac Holten, they maintained, was the person who had suggested the change of venues……

Alas, Magpies went on to win their first WDCA premiership, in a thriller – 170 to 164………

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It was a proud moment for Alf Kendall, and Wangaratta cricket, when the city won the right to host Peter May’s touring M.C.C team on the Showgrounds in February 1959. Considerable planning had been undertaken and a brand-new Grandstand, named after Show Society President, W.B.Richardson, was unveiled for the occasion.

Modern-day cricket buffs, who were just approaching their teen-age years on that memorable occasion, can still recall being at close quarters with legends like Trueman, May, Laker, Dexter, Subba Row and Graveney.

But trouble was brewing behind the scenes…….

The Showgrounds landlord, the Wangaratta Agricultural Society, were incensed that they had been short-changed for rental of the ground for staging the big game.

A matter of £6 pounds 10 shillings was at stake…..At the height of the dispute, when criticism was being hurled back and forth, one Show Society committee member described Alf Kendall as ‘one of the most awkward persons I have ever had to deal with’…….

The disputed amount was subsequently waived by the Show Society.

More fireworks ensued the following season, when Fisher was voted out of his position as Association Vice-President.

It had emanated from a flare-up between Fisher and Kendall at the Annual Meeting….. Kendall accused Fisher of not supporting him in his criticism of the Showgrounds Committee of Management….

The barbs continued to fly at the next Delegates meeting, when the Wangaratta and Magpies Cricket clubs forwarded letters attacking Kendall for his criticism of Fisher and Max Bussell.

The President’s response was that: “There was a personality clash last year, and it must stop, as it creates unrest.”………

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Alf Kendall had served an eventful eight years as WDCA President when he passed away, whilst still in office, in September 1964.

His successor was Clem Fisher, who held the reins for a further ten years. The old warrior, whose name is perpetuated on the cricket pavilion beneath the Showgrounds’ Richardson Stand, died in 1978, aged 73……

Kendall and Fisher, despite their their contrasting leadership styles, had guided Wangaratta cricket through a successful – if sometimes controversial – 18-year period…………..

“BOY FROM EVERTON FOLLOWED IN FAMILY’S SPORTING FOOTSTEPS………”

It’s a mid-January WDCA match in the late-sixties, and the fast-medium left-armer has been toiling vainly, in uncomfortably-sweltering conditions.

His subtle away-swing is continually baffling the upper-order batsmen, who have been parrying outside off-stump, or surviving a myriad of confident LBW appeals… …….

It would test the resolve of any bowler, but, being the even-tempered lad that he is, he manages to keep his emotions intact.

Until……not once, but three times in a matter of two overs he entices a flummoxed right-hander to edge the swerving Kookaburra into the outstretched hands of the second slipper……only to see it pop out on each occasion……

After the third , he stands, exasperated in his follow-through, listens to the profuse apologies of the clumsy team-mate, hitches up his well-tailored cream strides with his elbows, looks to the heavens, and mutters:

“Dear, oh dear…..”

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Robin Kneebone was one of the finest country cricketers of his generation …… I’ve often wondered if he may have made it to the next level, considering that he was such an economical, probing, well-coordinated new-ball bowler.

He did, in fact, have a brief flirtation with District cricket, way back in 1962/63……….

As a result of their strong performances at Melbourne Country Week in 1962, Robin and his good mate John Welch were invited to attend pre-season practice with VCA club Fitzroy; mainly for experience, but with the expectation of possibly fitting in an odd game or two in the Seconds.

It gave them the opportunity to rub shoulders with internationals Jack Potter, Peter Allen and Ron Furlong, and State players Bob Bitmead, David Anderson and champion speedster Eddie Illingworth.

Fitzroy and St.Kilda had contested the District Final the previous season, and the re-match was scheduled for the the opening round, at the Brunswick Street Oval.

Robin recalls: “I was flicking through the ‘Sun’ newspaper in Bob Rose’s Sports Store one Friday morning and spotted the District sides…….“ I said: ‘Have a look at this ‘Welchy’ – we’re playing for Fitzroy Firsts tomorrow’…..”

Illingworth was out injured, and, in a surprise move, Kneebone was his replacement.

His resultant figures of 5/28 off 11 overs were greeted by the headlines in Monday’s paper……’Everton Tobacco-Grower rolls his own……..’

His 1/32 in the following game, against Melbourne at the Albert Ground, off a dozen overs, ‘on a wicket as flat as that table’, was also handy enough ….

“But then Eddie Illingworth returned, and I was dropped……..I had a couple of games in the Seconds……and was back playing in Wang by Christmas……”

“Anyway, not long after that, we were flat out on the farm, frantically picking some Tobacco that had ripened quickly……It was ‘all-hands-on-deck’ and my uncle pointed out to me: ‘Your future’s in Tobacco, son’…..you just accepted it back then…..”

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The Kneebone’s are a famous cricketing family.

Robin’s grandad, Eugene, was a legendary figure……Born 150-odd years ago, he was a renowned strongman, athlete and wrestler, who ultimately settled in Bowman’s Forest, grew Tobacco and imposed his love of cricket upon his growing brood of 16 kids.

There were eight girls, whose job was to serve the afternoon tea when the Kneebone’s played their WDCA home games on the Oval at their property, Brookfield.

Eugene would watch the eight boys – and a few of his sons-in-law – from the verandah of the family home, shouting encouragement and offering advice.

He had twirled down his off-spinners until his retirement, well into his mid-sixties, after which he became President of the WDCA in 1929. He held the position through the thirties, at a time when Wangaratta cricket was regarded among the best in country Victoria.

That was partly due to the presence of several of his sons……Eugene was proud of the boys and once proclaimed that : “I’ll back the Kneebone’s against any other family in Australia and, if I had to, I’d get out there and help them myself…….”

Probably the quickest of them was Robin’s dad, Ken, who had a rhythmic action which was described as ‘poetry in motion’. He captured 4/63 against the Englishmen at Benalla in 1936, including luminaries Maurice Leyland, Bob Wyatt, Hedley Verity and Laurie Fishlock,……

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One of Robin’s earliest cricket memories came during a match at the nearby property of Harold Williams:

“Most of the Kneebone’s were playing with Everton by then…..I was only a little tacker …..Grandad had a bit of temper and he and Harold Williams got into an argument. My uncle John happened to be walking alongside the barbed-wire fence when he heard Harold swearing at Grandad……I can still see Uncle John now: ‘Don’t you talk to my father like that’ …..It was on for young and old…..

“Not long after, Everton disbanded and Dad went down to play with Tarrawingee for a few years……..I loved watching him bowling……and hoping like hell someone wouldn’t turn up, so I could ‘sub’ for a while…..”

Robin and his cousin Ian, who also lived on the ‘Brookfield’ property, would practice for ages on the old family Oval.

“Lucerne was now being grown on it…..When it was cut we’d stack up the hay bales, about 8’ high behind the stumps, and on either side of the wicket……That was our practice net…….”

His cricket was just beginning to blossom when he came under the influence of Jock Thomlinson, a lanky left-arm spinner who could weave a web with the ball but was, just as importantly, the captain of Combined Schools.

“I ran Dad out in one of my early games,when we played Tarrawingee……I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry….” he says.

He celebrated the first of his eight WDCA premierships in his debut season (1960/61)……

“Magpies were hot favourites going into the 3-day Grand Final…….and more so when they knocked us over for 72….They virtually had the game stitched up when they replied with 153….”

“But we hit our straps in the second innings, and declared at 7/234, which gave us a lead of 150-odd on the last day…..All they had to do, really, was bat out time and the flag was theirs….”

“It’s amazing what a couple of wickets will do, though…..A bit of panic set in, and all of a sudden we were on a roll.”

“Old Jock was bowling from the northern end of the Showgrounds and the ex-Richmond footballer Ron McDonald, took a swing at him…..The ball seemed to hang in the air for half an hour….I’m thinking, if I catch this we’ll win the Grand Final…….I dropped it….I thought , God, I’ve cost us the game…..”

“I just reached my bowling mark at the other end, got the ball, turned around, and Jock’s there, eyeballing me…..He said: ‘Forget about it….Just knock him over….We’ll win this….”

“And that’s what happened……Next over I bowled him and things happened from there….We’ve come from nowhere to win the flag …”

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The 17 year-old Kneebone captured 10 wickets in the dramatic 14-run victory – 6/22 in the first innings and 4/41 in the second.

He transferred over to Wangaratta for a season, then his friendship with John Welch and several other mates led him to United.

“I was lucky to become part of a Golden Era…..If one of the big guns failed with the bat, someone else would chip in……We had virtually a representative attack………It was a terrific side….”

United completed the hat-trick, and were going for four-in-a-row when Magpies upset them in 1967/68.

“Controversy surrounds the game, as some observers claimed that the pitch had been watered on the final day….” The Chronicle reported.

Nevertheless, United went on to take out another hat-trick of flags, before a classy Peter Nicol century enabled Whorouly to topple them in ‘71/‘72.

On most of those big occasions Kneebone was a key player, concentrating on line and length and seeming to rise to the occasion when it mattered most.

In his final premiership year ( 1972/73 ) he took 5/44 in the Semi and, after Whorouly had started the Final brightly with an 81-run opening stand, ran through the Maroons to finish with 6/40.

He won his second WDCA Bowling Average that season ( he also finished runner-up once and third on three occasions ), but some of his most cherished memories are of North-East Cup and Country Week matches.

“There was always an intensity to those games, and they were great to be a part of – on and off the field…..”

“Little things come back to you, like the day we were in strife at Essendon…..A sudden downpour interrupted play, as it so often did down there, and, after a lengthy delay, a large contingent of players accompanied the umpires to inspect the wicket……”

“The Bendigo players were raring to go, as they’d snagged a couple of early wickets…….One of them prodded the pitch and pronounced : ‘Seems to be pretty hard underneath…’ Geoff Welch scoffed: ‘So’s the bottom of a swimming pool’….Soon after, the umpie said: ‘That’s it for the day, fellahs.’….“

“Hanging on for a draw that day helped us reach the Final.”

Of the nine trips that Robin made to Melbourne Country Week, Wangaratta played off in three Provincial Group Finals, and qualified for another, which was washed out……

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Similarly, he says, he thrived on the competitive edge of the 30-odd North-East Cup matches he played, against Euroa, Benalla, Albury and the like.

“One of my most satisfying afternoons came the year an old team-mate, Terry Hogan, left United to play in Benalla……We were due to meet Benalla in a Cup match and there was a bit of talk going on………The WDCA President, Clem Fisher, mentioned to me: ‘Word’s come through that the Hogan’s ( Norm, John and Terry) are looking forward to getting into you…..Terry reckons he’s going to carve you up….”

“I don’t know whether it was Clem’s way of stirring me up, but I’ve bowled Johnny, got Normie LBW, and when Terry’s come in he’s nicked one to Wayne Lamb at first slip, who got his hands to it, fumbled it, then caught it……He’s lasted about four balls and the Hogan’s have scored about 10 between them……”

Robin was one of Terry’s Victorian Country XI team-mates when the touring West Indies came to Wangaratta in 1969.

“When you play those games you realise what a very ordinary cricketer you are,” he says……”I played Seymour Nurse into form that day……I think he made centuries in the next couple of Tests…..”

“I remember going out to bat, taking guard, looking up, and there’s Lance Gibbs preparing to bowl….You’re that bloody nervous you can hardly hold the bat….”

He finally got to play with Tarrawingee at the tail-end of his career,when he lined up alongside his son Sean for a season…….A nine-year spell as a WDCA umpire concluded his active involvement in the game….

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Robin left school at 16 to begin what was expected to be a life-time’s work as a Tobacco Grower.

“I was 29 when Dad got crook and we had to sell our part of the farm……Luckily, there was a job going at Thompson’s Brickworks, where I stayed for a few years…….. Things started to get quiet in the Building game and, quite by chance, I called out to the Council Depot.”

“ ‘Poss’ Parkinson and John Zeuschner offered me a job as a Relief Sanitary Cart Driver……I graduated to driving the Council Rubbish Truck for 34 years……..Best job I’ve ever had….Loved it….”

Since retirement his most stressful physical activity has involved riding roughly 40km every second day with a group of 8-10 like-minded souls.

“We generally stop at Glenrowan for a Coffee and solve the problems of the world,” he says. “Fran ( his wife) is also a keen cyclist.”

Of course, his other hobby is growing Orchids, which take up a prominent position in the delicately-manicured Kneebone backyard, and have become somewhat of an obsession for a couple of decades.

“Why Orchids ?” I ask.

“I just like the look of ‘em,” replies the old quickie……..

“VALE ROHAN ROBERTSON……..”

The Wangaratta Rovers Football Club is mourning the passing of former player Rohan Robertson, aged 61.

Rohan, a clever, elusive small man with a spear-like left foot pass, played 19 Senior games with the Hawks in 1981-‘82.

The Robertson’s ( dad Keith, mum Gwen, Rohan, Leisa and Shane) arrived in Wangaratta from Mildura in 1976, when Keith was transferred in the Education Department. They made an immediate impact on the sporting scene ; Keith as a fiery, super-competitive fast bowler and combative left-hander, and his sons as promising footballers and cricketers.

The boys played WDCA cricket alongside their Dad – initially with Magpies, before transferring to United…….

Rohan’s cricketing talent was obvious at an early age……As a teen-ager he played in Wangaratta’s winning North-East Cup team in 1979/80 ( besides being a member of the Under 21 team which took out the title in the same year).

He represented Wangaratta at one Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week campaigns.

In a dream four days at Bendigo in 1982 he scored 30 not out, took 5/55 on Day 2, followed up with 52, then crafted an undefeated 98 against Kerang on the final day…..

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The Robertson boys made their way from Wang Junior Football League club Centrals to the Rovers Thirds.

Rohan was the Thirds Best & Fairest In 1978; then moved to play Under 19 footy with Keith’s old Club North Melbourne, taking out their B & F in 1980.

He returned to the Hawks to play some top footy in a brief two-year Senior career before North beckoned him back into the Royal Blue and White.

In Round 3 1985 Shane and Rohan replicated the rare feat of the famous Krakoeur brothers – and excited footy’s trivia buffs – when they made their senior VFL debuts for the same club, on the same day……….

In their case it was at Princes Park Carlton, in front of a crowd of 20,000, including a cheering clan of Wangaratta Little Leaguers who, coincidentally, happened to be playing during the half-time break …….

The kids – and their parents – could hardly believe their good fortune, to have happened upon the classic contest that was to unfold.

It had been nip-and-tuck all day, but the Blues seemed to have the game well in their keeping when they stretched their lead to 16 points at the 30-minute mark of the last quarter.

‘Game Over’, you’d reckon, but North attacked incessantly for the next three minutes, and, in the dying seconds David Dwyer booted a long goal to give them the lead, right on the siren.

The ‘Roos had triumphed 22.15 (147) to Carlton’s 22.13 (145)……It was their first win for the season; also the maiden victory for new coach John Kennedy……

What a day for the Robertson boys, who contributed strongly, both finishing with 15 possessions…….

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Rohan’s League sojourn concluded, after 26 senior games and 7 goals. He was awarded North’s Best Clubman Award in 1986 and his four years at Arden Street included 55 Reserves games.

After a stint with VFA club Coburg, under the coaching of Phil Cleary, he drew the curtain on his playing career.

He continued his active link with North Melbourne, spending several years in a recruiting role…….He was later lured to the Sydney Swans in a similar capacity and also spent time scouting for Port Adelaide ……..

Rohan returned to University in his late thirties, to complete an Accountancy Degree and in recent years had been involved in a number of Building Development projects.

His funeral will be held at the Moonee Valley Racing complex on January 14th.

Deepest sympathy to the Robertson family…….

“A TRIBUTE TO ‘WRECKER’…. JUST ONE OF THE CROWD…..”

A local icon passed away yesterday, aged 93……He’d battled ill-health for some time, but never lost his enthusiasm for all things sport….

We penned this ‘On Reflection’ piece during the 2014 footy season after we caught up with Rex Hartwig at one of his favourite stamping-grounds – the W.J.Findlay Oval…….

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He’s one of those familiar faces you see at Rovers games…..Always good for a yarn about footy; knows the game inside out, this old fellah.

We discuss the team’s prospects and agree that…..’If the big guns can fire today, we’re in with a show.’ He bemoans the fact that they’re turning the ball over a bit…..”But the kids are still learning and they’ll be all right eventually.”

I ask him whether he’d been watching Wimbledon on the telly : “ ‘Til all hours,” he says. “It cost me a bit of sleep, but I’ve really enjoyed it……”

What a stupid question, I reflect later…..This bloke’s a Legend…..He won a Wimbledon doubles title 50 years ago and was a star when Australia was the finest tennis nation in the world…..

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Rex Hartwig grew up with the love of the land in his blood. As a student in Culcairn, he was his father’s right-hand man on the farm during the week and his tennis partner at the Culcairn club on Saturday afternoon’s.

The search for tennis opportunity lured him to Albury, then to Melbourne, where he joined the Spalding company and honed his skills against quality players.

He caused people to sit up and take notice in 1952 when he took out the South Australian singles title. His hard-hitting ground strokes and strong volleying game soon earned him the nickname of ‘Wrecker’.

The plaudits of tennis officianados came his way on his first overseas tour.

Hartwig matched up with Mervyn Rose and the pairing clicked, as they reached the Final of the Wimbledon doubles in 1953 and won the title in 1954.

Playing with Lew Hoad in 1955 he added another Wimbledon crown to his expanding ‘CV’.

Rex had been a member of Davis Cup teams in the previous two years, but possibly his greatest triumph came in the Challenge Round at Forest Hills in 1955.

He and Hoad clinched the Cup for Australia by beating American pair Tony Trabert and Vic Seixas in a doubles match still rated by some as the greatest ever seen in the celebrated history of Davis Cup tennis.

The report of the match said: “……it was fitting that Hartwig, the player of the match, made the final point, volleying past Trabert, who sprawled on the court……Hartwig, in his elation, threw his racquet high in the air and danced across the court to wrap his arms around Hoad……..”

Rex represented Australia from 1953 -‘55, playing six Singles and and seven Doubles matches. He was twice a member of winning Davis Cup teams and playing in one losing Challenge Round.

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He turned professional in December 1955, and in a six-month period, played 101 matches as a member of Jack Kramer’s troupe.

They flew 17,500 miles and drove 37,500 miles, playing on all manner of courts, experiencing sometimes deplorable conditions.

But Rex held his own against Pancho Gonzales, Pancho Segura and Tony Trabert; and later, against Frank Sedgman, on the European leg of the tour.

When Hoad, then Ken Rosewall, turned pro, Hartwig was their opponent on Australasian tours.

In 1958 Rex and his wife Madge invested in a farm at Greta……A couple of years later they settled there for good with their growing brood, realising a dream to return to the land.

Tennis and it’s glamorous sidelights became a distant memory. In those days, when amateur-professional wrangling was rife in tennis, the stigma of being a ‘pro’ meant that he was unable to play locally, even if he so desired.

He eventually sought re-instatement as an amateur and was able to play alongside some of his six kids.

Then came a ‘phone call in the mid-70’s requesting him to join the Grand Masters tour.

Despite being a touch ‘rusty’ he returned to the touring life for five years, playing in front of packed houses in resorts around the world.

It was made more enjoyable because he was able to travel with Madge.

Then it was back to a life of relative obscurity, as he followed the kids’ sporting progress and satisfied his competitive urges by playing local Squash and Table-Tennis, in which he was well-nigh unbeatable.

Rex received an unexpected honour three decades ago when he and Madge accepted an invitation to be guests of the All-England Tennis Club at Wimbledon.

It was a ‘Thank You’ for his services to Wimbledon. The Hartwig’s were feted like true celebrities. They were greeted at Heathrow Airport by a stretch limousine and provided with ‘Five-Star’ accommodation, with all expenses paid.

It was a pleasant break from the daily routine of trudging around the farm at Greta and tending to the prized Poll Dorset sheep which populate its ample paddocks.

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Rex started following the Rovers in 1972, when his son Leigh came in from Greta. He saw most of his 252 senior games and delighted in the five premiership teams in which Leigh was involved.

His daughter Janelle later featured in the Rovers first-ever O & M Netball premiership, in 1993.

Now he and the family watch grandson Tyson, the Rovers’ skipper, and the Ovens and Murray’s premier full back, as he grapples with the ‘Glamazon’ spearheads of the current era.

It’s a long way from Wimbledon and Forest Hills, but the sporting atmosphere still gives the old warrior a kick, even if he’s just ‘one of the crowd’……

“THE LEGEND FROM PELLUEBLA SOUTH……….”

Someone suggested at a recent cricket match in Yarrawonga, that I should catch up with Bruce Wright……one of the characters of local sport……

“Old ‘Monty’ will regale you with plenty of tall tales, and true,” they assured me.

So off I go….

The instructions to reach Pelluebla South were simple, even for me…….“Turn left at Peechelba…go through Wilby……Once you hit the Benalla-Yarrawonga Road veer left for three kilometres or so ……you’ll spot the house….You can’t miss it…..”

Ah, there it is…….

At first sight it reminds me of a scene from an old Western……A weathered 90 year-old is casually leaning against a fence in the back yard…….felt hat turned up at the brim…..walking-stick in hand……casting an eye over his domain……looking about as delapidated as some of the sheds nearby……

He begins reminiscing the moment we shake hands….

“Hang on, Bruce. Can we sit down somewhere, so I can jot this stuff down……And have you got any old cuttings from days gone by….?”

“ Nah, it’s all in me head,”……

I remind him I played one of my first North-East Cup matches against him, at Wilby, just on sixty years ago…..”That’d be right,” he says…….

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A bloke called Peter Peters from Tungamah handed him the nickname, ‘Monty’.

“He thought the peaked cap I wore reminded him of Field-Marshall Montgomery, the esteemed British military leader of the First and Second World Wars……It stuck,”

Bruce cut his teeth in the now-defunct Lake Rowan Cricket Association, which comprised teams from Wilby, St.James, Thoona, Bungeet, Devenish, Tungamah, Lake Rowan, Dookie and Dookie College.”

“ ‘Jacko’, the local butcher, used to roll the wicket at the College…..By golly, could he get a Turf wicket up…..Best wicket in the area…..True as true, it was….”

He recalls he was only a nipper when a truck would pull up outside the farm. He’d jump in the back, sit on one of the bench seats and be taken to line up for Wilby. He later transferred to Tungamah, then spent a few years with St.James.

“You had to tangle with plenty of Hargreaves’, McQualter’s, Willett’s, Gibson’s and Irvine’s in my days,” he says.

“In fact, Eric Irvine was the quickest I’ve seen around here……When that ball left his hand you could hear it whistle…..Boy, could he bowl…..and bat ! ”

“He was bowling one day and Ernie Howells, the ‘keeper and captain, was sitting right up on the stumps…..Eric’s charged in and the ball’s taken his hat off……Ernie wasn’t happy: ‘That’s your last fuckin’ over,’ he snapped…..He was a bit embarrassed, I suppose……It’s a wonder the ball didn’t kill him…”

“Even so, Eric was bowling one day and Cecil Howells, Ernie’s brother, was fielding in slip. The batsman has nicked one, Cecil’s paused from rolling a cigarette, plucked out one hand, took the catch and put the ball in his pocket…..The batsman refused to believe he was out…..until Cecil produced the pill…….”

“The Irvine’s – Bill, George and Eric – were all terrific fellahs and great players, but I reckon Ray – one of the next generation – was the pick of ‘em….”

“Stan Box from Bungeet is another who comes to mind, but I got into him one day…….Hit him over the fence, twice……He said: ‘Have you got something against me Bruce ?’…….’I’m just warming up’, I replied.

“Heck, you must have liked belting the ball, Bruce…..Did you play any defensive shots ?” I ask……”Occasionally,” he replies.

Whilst we’re on that subject, he recalls the day an old chap called Bill Lonie, and his wife, turned up to watch their son playing for Lake Rowan.

“They’d just taken possession of a new green Pilot motor car…….I’ve latched onto a straight drive and it’s hit the top rail of the fence and cannoned into the split windscreen……”

“He spun the wheels and away he went…..never came back to the cricket…..muttered something about: ‘That bloody Bruce Wright….”

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Bruce used to look forward to the annual trip to Bendigo Country Week. He went for several years, originally as a player, then Manager.

“We actually won A-Grade over there one year,” he says.

In one of his first knocks Lake Rowan were playing Barham-Koondrook. As he approached the crease an opposition player proceeded to sledge him.

“Our captain, Jack McQualter, had a word of advice to settle me down: ‘Just block a few ‘Monty’, ‘til you get your eye in.”

“It’ll be right, Jack, I’ll handle it,” I said.

“Anyway, the bloke who’d been stirring me came on to bowl and had that smart-arsed look on his face. I pointed to a tree over near the edge of the highway…..I said: ‘That’s where I’ll land your first ball’ .”

“He bowls, dead on middle stump…..and I’ve lobbed it on the front verandah of a house over the road…….I’ve hit 18 off his first over…The poor bugger couldn’t bowl, field or do anything after that….”

Bruce went to the Country Week meeting one Wednesday night with fellow delegate, Ross Leitch.

“I said to Ross: ‘I’ll do the talking….I’ve got something important to bring up.’……So I spoke to the President: ‘Excuse me, sir. Can I say something……It’s about these umpires wearing sunglasses….The buggers can’t see at the best of times ……What hope have they got of seeing with sunglasses….? It didn’t go over too well.”

“A bloke came up to me afterwards, complaining: ‘What’d you say that for ?’…..’Well,’ I said, ‘I was only tellin’ you the bloody truth.”

“We were coming back to Bendigo after playing at Rochester one day….about 8 of us, in a station wagon. We’d had quite a few beers when a cop pulled us over….”

“He asked us: ‘Who threw that can out the window ?….‘ Young Johnny Leary owned up: ‘I did’. “

“ ‘Where are you staying ? ‘ the cop asked, and we told him the European Hotel, right in the middle of Bendigo. ‘Well, you don’t look a bad mob of blokes; just don’t throw any more cans out, if you don’t mind.’ “

“Ray Irvine said: ‘Geez, ‘Mont’ that was close, wasn’t it ?’ “

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“I’ve spent a lifetime involved with Table Tennis,” Bruce admits,”….but cricket was really the game I fancied.”

When he says a lifetime he’s not exaggerating ……

He was the inaugural President of the Yarrawonga Table Tennis Association, and held the position for 60 years. When he stepped down his son John took over.

Originally, they’d play in a variety of Halls around Yarra, but 50-odd years ago, with the help of the Council, they obtained a grant and constructed a shed at the Showgrounds. It has remained the Association’s permanent home.

Bruce and his great mate Mick Saunders, who has been a near-neighbour for most of his life, represented Yarra at 66 consecutive Table Tennis Country Weeks……”Me and Mick played together for a long time”.

“We were a bit dirty on missing the first-ever Country Week they held, though. They didn’t let us know it was on.”

He also headed over to play in the Wangaratta comp for many years.

“You must be still hitting ‘em okay ?” I suggest.

“Ah yeah. Not too bad.”

“ John ( his son) is better than ever I was, though. He’s played in Canberra, Darwin, South and West Australia….everywhere.”

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Bruce played footy on the wing with Tungamah for a decade or so, then took up goal umpiring. Those who saw him in action with the sticks say that he was one of the more flamboyant Ovens and Murray ‘men in white’.

He had a lot of time for Neil Davis, the ex-Yarrawonga star.

“Came from Berrigan……he was my favourite…..a good player….lovely fellah…..It was wonderful when he coached Yarra to that flag……but tragic that he died so young.

Bruce was also a bit concerned for his health in his younger days.

“I was giving the grog a bit of a hammering……After a good mate, Bill Irvine passed away many, many years ago, I thought I’d better have a check-up…….went to see a specialist in Wangaratta.”

“He laid it on the line: ‘If you keep this up you’ll be dead in three months…….I haven’t touched a drop since….”

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His descendants, the Wright’s and Rose’s lobbed here from Lancefield with everything they possessed, in bullock-wagons, around 1884.

“My Grandma’s surname was Rose……Her dad was a drover, and had 12 kids to his first wife, who died of tetanus…..Then he took in a house-keeper, married her, and had another 12 kids…..”

“Grandad built the house across the road, on a selected block. He once told of the day he saw about a dozen horsemen coming through the bush, from up Benalla way. “

“One of the young blokes asked: ‘Do you mind if we stop a while to rest the horses….And you wouldn’t happen to have a Chew ( plug of Tobacco ) on you, would ya ?”

“Now this is Grandad’s story, mind you: ……He said they had a good chat…… the young fellah cut a little square out of the tobacco, handed it back, and told him how pleased he was to make his acquaintance…..Introduced himself….Ned Kelly was his name…”

“They were off to a place called Jerilderie, he explained. “Grandad invited him to call in on his way back and wished him good luck for the trip……..thought Ned seemed a polite young fellah…..”

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There’s no doubting Bruce’s hero…….It was his Dad, Joseph Albert (Bert) Wright, who was born and raised across the road.

“”Dad enlisted in the Australian Light Horse Regiment in 1914 and travelled to Egypt. He served in Gallipoli, and when he was fighting on the Western Front, was awarded the French Medal Militaire for valour and devotion to duty.”

“He also received the Croix de Guerre, the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.”

“I was eight when he headed off to the Second World War in 1940. He was promoted to Major and served ‘til the end of the War.”

“He paid a visit back to Gallipoli in 1967, but he never talked about the War much to me…….They say he was a great leader…… a very firm man….and a terrific horseman.”

“You know, when he was discharged, they offered him a pension, but he refused to accept it……. said he was only doing his job, and wouldn’t take money from the government.”

Bert must have been a real straight-shooter……………much like his son Bruce…….