” ‘PEABO’…….THE POOR MAN’S WARNER…….”

It’s a Thursday morning……mid-January, 1994………….

A few spectators have braved the elements for this Country Week clash, and are scatttered under the shade of the cypress trees surrounding North Bendigo Oval. That will provide find some respite from the oppressive sun which tends to belt down on the central Victorian Gold-Rush city at this time of year.

An unlikely pairing of openers stroll to the crease…..One is strongly-built, tubby, laid-back….a veteran campaigner. His partner – a chirpy midget – twirls his bat, and flexes his shoulders like a seasoned pro…..despite looking barely old enough to be exposed to brutish new-ball bowling.

It’s obvious that what he lacks in size, he sure substitutes with confidence………

But what’s exercising the mind of the Red Cliffs quickie, who’s methodically shining the ball on his creams ?…… He’s probably ruminating on what has been a gruelling week: “I’ll get the joints moving with a couple of ‘warmer-uppers’…….then crank up and let a few rip at this little prick …..”

The speedster is forced to duck in his follow-through, as the first delivery is driven straight back at him and races to the boundary…..The second is square-cut past a fielder at point, who hardly has time to move…..The final ball of the over, directed at the tiny bloke’s throat, is pulled for four, one bounce, into the backward-square fence……….

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Darren Petersen threshed his way to 138 that day, and, as so often happened when he was on song, guided his side to victory.

For those of you who didn’t experience ‘Peabo’ in full flight ( and what a rollicking ride it was if he was on your side)……think David Warner.

They share similar characteristics……….Sandy-haired, ebullient, perky, left-handed rough-nuts who grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck…….and sometimes flirted with controversy.

‘Peabo’, like Warner, usually took the run-rate out of the equation, because once he got to 20-or so, you knew the Score-Board would be ticking over with a flurry……….

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My innocuous career was grinding to a halt when the little fellah came to my attention. He’d become accustomed to spending his afternoons around the Rovers’ A-Grade matches, bat in hand, dropping unsubtle hints that someone might like to throw a few down to him…….. helping to demolish the Afternoon-Tea…..and possibly visualising himself mauling the bowling out on the centre-strip of W.J.Findlay Oval……

That would be after dominating Under 14’s cricket in the morning, where he’d bat for as long as permitted, send down his maximum eight overs, then take over the ‘keeper’s gloves for the remainder of the innings.

Little wonder that he scooped up the Player of the Year Award, and two years later repeated the feat in the U.16 comp.But the cynics suggested that he’d get sorted out once he reached Senior ranks:

“Takes too many risks”……. “You can’t keep playing that way and get away with it.”……..”Anyway, he’ll most likely lose interest and drift off……..”

They were wrong, of course………..People under-estimated his fascination for the game. And he had a priceless asset – an eye like a dead fish…….

At 14, he made his A-Grade debut with Rovers-United, and progressed steadily, as the Hawks won successive flags in ‘95/‘96 and ‘96/‘97.

‘Peabo’ soon won the begrudging die-hards over, but a blistering century against a much-vaunted Corowa attack convinced them that he was a special talent. The following year he scored 205 of Rovers-United’s 2/361 against Bruck, and followed it up with an unbeaten 135 at Beechworth.

His love-affair with Bendigo Country Week included four ‘tons’, but it was a breezy 89 at Kennington Oval that came to the attention of one bystander.

Burly Merv Hughes was conducting a Clinic in the nearby nets, and made enquiries about the diminutive dynamo creating havoc in the middle.

His team-mates dubbed it a ‘Meeting of the Minds’; the Aussie Test team’s ‘serial pest’ engaging in a tête-à-tête with his Wangaratta counterpart !

The result was an invitation for ‘Peabo to try his luck at ‘Big Merv’s’ District Club, Footscray.

He spent a season with the Bulldogs, and played 5 First XI games; numbered among them one sparkling half-century. But a knee injury, which he suffered whilst playing footy with Greta, required rehab……..Dreams of a long District career were put on the back-burner, and ultimately fizzled out.

Those oft-mentioned physical dimensions proved a barrier to his football ambitions. But he was a skilful, and more than handy player, and figured prominently in Greta’s 1999 flag, when they withstood a desperate last-quarter challenge from Moyhu to hold on by five points.

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I haven’t caught up with ‘Peabo’ for a few years. He’s become somewhat of a cricketing nomad, since the days of his not-so innocent youth, but when we spoke last week he was looking forward to saddling up for another season – his 30th in senior ranks.

Yes, he’s still a wicket-keeper/batsman……. still carving out the runs…….still enjoying it.

By the way, I asked, how many ‘tons’ have you scored….”Just a minute, I’ll count ‘em up. I’ve got ‘em jotted down on my thigh-pad.” (Short delay)………“Are you there, KB…….. Thirty altogether.”

I enjoyed a front-row seat to the ‘Peabo Show’ when he was coming through the ranks with Rovers-United, and can compare only Corowa’s ruthless ‘Psycho’ Carroll to him for entertainment-value in the WDCA. Most of the 2700-odd runs he scored with the Hawks before he moved on to North Albury, came at a rapid clip.

He announced his arrival at Bunton Park in ‘01/‘02 when he and another ex-Wangaratta boy, Greg Daniel, shared a 205-run second-wicket stand. ‘Peabo’s’ contribution was 173*.

It was a successful era for the Hoppers, who were either challenging for – or winning – flags when he was with them. The first of his ABCA Cricketer of the Year Awards came in 2003/04. By the time he’d won his second, he’d transferred to East Albury, where he scored 803 runs in ‘06/‘07, and helped them to a flag.

In his time in Albury, the little fellah also represented Victorian Country in a National Carnival at Lismore, and was a representative regular.

His move back to Wangaratta was timed to perfection, when he played in a flag with Bruck, but he had no sooner settled down, then was off for a season with the Bendigo Cricket Club.

Mention the Petersen name to anyone from over that way and they’ll no doubt refer to his knock in the 2010 Country Week Provincial Final:

“Man of the Match Petersen strode to the wicket in the 37th over, and for the next 11 overs the match was his,” reported the Bendigo Advertiser. “He attacked from ball one, blasting the Kyabram attack to all parts of the picturesque Albert Ground.”

“His first 50 came off just 34 balls…..Ben Gunn was on 57 when Petersen joined him, but such was the dominance of the pint-sized left-hander, he forged past Gunn just before he was dismissed.”

“Petersen eventually fell for 77 off 49 balls, with seven fours and two sixes.”

When he returned to Bruck, he found that the landscape of WDCA had altered, and that out-of-town clubs Yarrawonga-Mulwala and Beechworth had now become the pace-setters of the competition……….New teams, Benalla, Delatite and Ovens Valley were also capable of providing formidable opposition.

But shades of the old ‘Peabo’ were on show in a riveting semi-final clash at Hargreaves Oval in 2012/13.

Minor Premiers Yarra-Mul posted a challenging 9/209, and had reduced Bruck to 4/34 when old hands, Petersen and Jon Hyde, came together in an effort to restore their club’s fortunes.

Their stand of 160 took Bruck to within an ace of victory. When ‘Peabo’ was dismissed for 91, the salvage job was almost complete. The dependable Hyde, 69*, effortlessly guided them over the line with 10.5 overs to spare.

The following week, Bruck, who had strung together five successive wins to sneak into the finals, completed a remarkable turn-around by defeating Beechworth in a riveting Grand Final.

The Wanderers opted to send their opponents in to bat on a sporty pitch, and had them in dire straits at 6/47. Again it was the veterans – Petersen (38), Adam McNamara (37) and Andrew Balfour (27), who rescued Bruck, and helped them to 164.

Then some tight, disciplined bowling kept the pressure on the Wanderers, who fell 21 short. It completed a memorable finals campaign. Lengthy celebrations ensued for what proved to be Bruck’s last title.

‘Peabo’ moved on again, three years later, to take up an ill-fated role as captain-coach of CAW cellar-dwellers, Wodonga Raiders. The partnership was doomed almost from the start, and it was no surprise when he sought fresher pastures at rival club New City the following season.

By now his son Miles, a gifted ‘keeper/batsman like the old man, was coming through the ranks at East Albury. Early in 2017/18 he broke through for his senior debut at the age of 13; presumed to be the youngest-ever debutant in the competition’s 159-year history.

His 492 runs for Templestowe included three half-centuries and a brisk 121, which proved that, at 44, the super-veteran was still seeing ‘em like watermelons…………….

Another shift – this time to Melbourne – saw ‘Peabo’ throw in his lot with Ferntree Gully Association club Knoxfield. Last season, due to an alteration in his living arrangements, he transferred to the Box-Hill Reporter competition, still playing as a keeper/batsman.

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I took on the task of toting up a few of his career-stats, which proved mind-boggling – 14 clubs ( Rovers-United, Bruck, Woollen Mills, West End, Greta, Footscray, North Albury, East Albury, Wodonga Raiders, New City, Bendigo, Knoxfield, Forest Hill, Templestowe ), representing four Associations, achieving countless honours….

But the run-tally proved beyond me. “Have you got a rough idea how many runs you’ve chalked up,” I ask.

“No idea,” was the reply. Well, my guess is that, of the hundreds of games ‘Peabo’ has played, he’d be over the 25,000-run mark……and counting………….

“BASTARDS, BITCHES & BLOODY GOOD PEOPLE……”

A short fellah, obviously an ex-hoop, greets me as I alight from the ute and sidle up the driveway of a Killawarra property.

“G’day…. Ernie’s my name. Gaye’s kickin’ around here somewhere. I’ll round her up.”

This leads to my introduction to Gabrielle Gauci Marchant ( née Mullins ), racing trail-blazer, passionate industry advocate, extraordinary achiever…… and true character.

She’s sure blessed with the gift of the gab……And her partner Ernie (Marchant) obviously concurs. At one stage he wanders past and interrupts: “Geez, Gaye…You haven’t drawn breath for about an hour…..Old mate here can’t get a word in ! “

I don’t mind….I suggest she’s got enough anecdotes to write a book about her career in racing……”Yeah, and I know what the title will be”, she quips…. “’Bastards, Bitches and Bloody Good People’”…….

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Her grand-father Gordon Green was a former Carlton captain and represented the ‘Big V’ after heading to the ‘big smoke’ from St.James in 1911. Her nephew, Luke Mullins, played a handful of games with Collingwood in 2004, then participated in dual premierships back home, with Wangaratta. Her three brothers made their mark in footy, cricket, tennis and baseball.

But there was no doubting Gaye’s sporting loyalties. It was probably through the influence of her older sister, Cathy, who was a keen Pony-Clubber, that she became entranced with horses….from the age of about seven.

A crusty old horse-dealer, Jack Gerrand, owned a paddock near the Swan Street Bridge, in which he usually plonked a few unbroken, feral ponies that he’d just bought.

“I couldn’t resist it,” she recalls. “I pinched one, started riding it down the street and Jack spotted me. He said: ‘ I’ll tell you what, I’ll let you ride these ponies. You’ve got three weeks to break ‘em in’…..I had no idea how to do that. They used to throw me off and I’d get back on and ride them around town.”

“Jack would take me to the Horse Sales to sell the ponies. I’d jump on their rumps and crawl through their legs and he’d spruik: ‘Look how quiet these kids ponies are.’……Once he saw how keen I was on horses I went everywhere with him.”

Gaye would turn up at the The Pony Club on a different horse every rally. They shifted their operations to the middle of the Wangaratta Racecourse, but her eyes diverted to the statuesque horses over at Alby Pilgrim’s stables.

“He had this big grey called Robber Chief. I waited until everyone left, then climbed on him and had a ride. I realised then that my life was going to centre around horses.”

Well-known local horseman Lackie Ritchens saw her trying to wrest control of a pony that had bolted, on the Hume Highway. He shook his head and said: “Gaye…you’re gonna get killed one day’

He wasn’t far off the mark. She was hit by a car, and broke several bones. But even that didn’t deter her dream of being a jockey.

She had started penning letters to the Victorian Racing Club from the age of eight, enquiring how she could become a jockey.

Year after year they went unanswered……. until she received her first reply, from Clarrie Bennetts, the VRC Publicity Officer, who advised that : “….As you are only 11 it is going to be four years or so before you can take the necessary steps to become a registered lady jockey.”

If nothing else, Gaye was persistent. She wagged school around her 15th birthday, caught a train and tram, found her way to the headquarters of the VRC, at 415 St.Kilda Road, and sought an interview with the legendary Jack Purtell.

“He sent me to see John Byrne (Head of Licensing), who gave me a bit of a hearing. I convinced him that I‘d been riding trackwork for Hal Hoysted since I was nine, was ready to be a jockey, and that my boss had sent me down. After making a phone call, they kicked my bum, put me on the tram and sent me back to Wangaratta.”

“Hal was very good to me. He used to say: “I think you’re fighting a losing battle. They’ll never licence a girl. But I’ll help you as much as I can.”

A few weeks later the VRC sent a letter to Denis Gray, who had taken Gaye under his wing. They had agreed to release the first-ever articles of Apprenticeship for a Victorian female jockey. Her dreams had finally been answered.

“I’d driven them mad. They were probably relieved to get me out of their hair,” Gaye says.

“Denis Gray was a top jockey, who had recently retired to be a Trainer. He was everything to my riding career. After my first gallop I wanted to ride in races then and there. But he made sure I was ready, before then allowing me to go to the next stage. He probably pulled his hair out as he was training me, I was that stubborn and determined……….”

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Gaye had her first two rides as an apprentice at Wodonga in June 1980. They set up stop-gap changing facilities for her in the Ladies Toilets. But she rates it as one of the most exciting days of her life.

She rode successive winners at Benalla at her second meeting. One of them was on Scampy Lady, for Bob Hahne.

“She was also my first ride in ‘town’, a couple of weeks later, starting at 330/1 in the Auerie Star Handicap. In the barriers on either side of me were Roy Higgins and Harry White. That made me nice and ‘toey’,” Gaye says.

She continued to ride regular winners, and was 17 when she chalked up the best of them, piloting Rover’s Girl to an all-the-way win in the Albury Base Hospital Cup.

The brilliant ride drew praise from hardened racing men, who’d seen the 2/1 favourite Tantero, with Bob Beasley aboard, attempt to get a run inside her, 200 metres from home. Rover’s Girl fought on again to win by half a length.

“One morning we were standing around the fire-drum at trackwork when I asked Denis if he’d mind me spending a couple of weeks in Melbourne. I picked up the Herald-Sun form-guide and looked at the metropolitan trainers’ Premiership Table and on top was A.A.Armanasco, so I said to Denis: ”I’m gonna ride trackwork for this guy’. He laughed and shook his head.”

“I found my way to 34 Boran Road, Caulfield, and knocked on the big brown doors of this place. Venerable old Angus, answered the door. I said: ‘Hi Mister Armanasco, my name’s Gaye Mullins from Wangaratta. I’m apprenticed to Denis Gray…..I’ve only got a few more trials to go, and I’d like to ride work for you for a couple of weeks. You don’t have to pay me anything. I just want to learn…..”

“It was an eye-opening experience. The long and the short of it was that when I out-rode my Claim in the country, Angus invited me to spend the last year of my apprenticeship with him. Denis consented, so it worked out perfectly.”

Gaye had ridden 86 winners from 895 starts when she retired as a jockey after completing her apprenticeship. In that same year, 1984, she married Mick Gauci, who’d been courting her for six years.

Mick landed a contract to ride in Mauritius, and with infant son Danny in tow, she also headed over to the beautiful Indian Ocean Island nation. She spent time pre-training horses for the Gujadhur stables, and was sent over to South Africa to trial horses before they were purchased.

“I found out there were bigger places than Wangaratta on the map. They were good years, good money….It was a lovely place, and we had lots of fun.”

“But we went our separate ways when we returned home. He was a city boy and I was still a country girl. He’s a loveable rogue, Mick….but we’re still good mates………..”

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Gaye and Danny returned home to Wangaratta. She applied for – and was granted – a Trainer’s licence and set up ‘Forbern Lodge Racing Stables’, named after her dad -and keenest fan – Bernie.

With a stable of up to 14 horses, she was flat-out, doing all the odd jobs and maintenance, and riding as much trackwork as she could…..That’s when Ernie Marchant came into her life:

“He stopped off at Wang, en route to Sydney, after finishing a very successful apprenticeship in Melbourne. He hung around for a few days to ride Jovial Dancer for Roger Hoysted, in the Albury Gold Cup.”

“Roger also had a chestnut mare, Natural Wonder, on which Ernie won a few races….So he decided to settle here…..He’d ride past my Stables on Roger’s horses and, I think, felt sorry for me because I had all these horses to work……..”

“He asked me if I’d like him to jump on a couple…..we just clicked….He never left…..”

“Ernie has the same passion for horses as me. I’m proud of his achievements. He was a top Apprentice in Melbourne and rode roughly 1060 winners…..including many in Singapore and Malaysia…”

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Illness struck in 1994, when Gaye was diagnosed with Bone Cancer. When she began chemotherapy she decided to reduce her stable to just three horses. One of those was her all-time favourite, Dancing Jug.

“I used to want to ride him in track work all the time, but I’d be so weak I’d have to stop and have a rest around the course. He was such an inspiration to me……He gave me the incentive to get out of bed every morning.”

“ ‘Juggy’ won 16 races – 2 Tatura Cups, a Wodonga Cup, a Wangaratta Cup…lost by half a head in another Wang Cup…won for me in Adelaide….. He’d go out on Saturday and throw his heart over the line and chase it…..and if he didn’t win he’d give it a shot.”

A week before she went into remission, in 1996, Gaye was thrown off a horse in Adelaide, and broke both legs, an arm and her jaw. “They’d warned me not to break a bone in this period, but luckily, all is okay now,” she says.

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She notched up 147 winners during her 10-year training career, then, on the recommendation of champion trainer Lee Freedman, enjoyed a two-year stint as assistant-trainer to Michael Kent in Singapore.

During her time in racing, Gaye felt a strong leaning towards the lesser lights of the industry – the strappers, stablehands and assistant-trainers, track-riders, Race-day attendants and the like……

This led to her and Ernie setting up ‘Equine Goals and Dreams’, a non-profit organisation aimed at helping people who have the dream of working with horses.

She also assisted Wangaratta TAFE in the preparation of work-based training programs, and was part of a working-party that helped launch the National Centre for Equine Education, in Tone Road.

She also joined another group, under the auspices of the VRC:

“We got together and began listing all of the jobs that are part of the industry,” she said. “We ascertained that there were 45 different occupations that you could obtain qualifications for. We gave them job descriptions and set down the skills that were required for each job. Out of that came the very first racing courses…..It just grew and grew…..Then each of the states combined to devise the ‘National Racing Industry Training Package.”

In March 2013 she was selected to attend a Super Trades Mission in the Middle East, representing the Victorian Equine and Racing industry.

Later that year she was invited to be a Guest Speaker at the HH Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nhyan Global Arabian Racing Festival conference in Abu Dhabi, to address a room of 400 people from 80 countries.

An agreement was subsequently drawn up between countries to formulate a world’s best-practice approach to Equine skills training, known as the International Federation of Horse Racing Academies..

In another tribute to her standing in the sport, she received a Fellowship to attend a study of Racing Industry Training in the United Kingdom, following the release of her paper on The Australian Thoroughbred Industry.

Gaye’s determination to obtain some recognition for Stablehands and strappers (the lowest-paid of any employees in the racing industry), saw her spend a year or so as an Education and Training consultant with RVL.

“After getting around, speaking to them, it was obvious that they felt an insignificant part of the racing picture,” she said.

So she became a driving force behind the introduction of the Victorian Thoroughbred Employee of the Year Awards.

She was invited to South Korea to consult with their National racing authorities on Best-Practices around stables, horsemanship, stable-management practices and nutrition.

“The object was really to give them an idea where they sat on the international stage, as they’d only been racing for 25 years. They were very receptive, and it was a great experience,” she says.

She left the Korean Racing Authority with a detailed dossier, ‘The Changing Face of Korean Racing – Sensible and achievable solutions to advance racing in South Korea to a higher standard’.

Ernie went to South Korea as assistant trainer for Brian Dean, and they opened the first foreign stable in Seoul.

On return to Australia Gaye and Ernie jointly headed up John Sadler’s Racing Stable at Caulfield until August last year, when Ernie had an horrific accident, riding trackwork. They are both back on their farm whilst he recuperates.

It seemed, to the outsider, a long time coming, but in 2015 Gaye was honoured with the Victorian Wakeful Club Lady of Racing Award……..The tiny girl from Wangaratta, who used to clamber aboard feral ponies almost fifty years earlier, had come a long way……………….

P.S: Gaye still retains her passion for horses, and is a Sales Representative for Hygain/ Mitavite Feeds.

“THE HOPPER WHO FLEW TO THE SUNSHINE STATE ……..”

Whenever Kevin Weule’s Parkinson’s affliction begins to give him the ‘irrits’ he grabs his paint brush and begins to work feverishly on a portrait.

“Funny,” he says, “When I got the first symptoms of this prick of a thing in 2007 my hands used to shake like hell. Then I took up Portrait Painting…….It was amazing how that seemed to stop the tremors. It became my hobby……..I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Ovens and Murray fans of the sixties might remember ‘Turkey’ as a feisty North Albury defender – slight of build, but big on attitude……..one of the all-time favourites of Bunton Park’s resident cheer-leader Kenny Bruce – the bloke responsible for that timeless catch-cry: ‘Go Hoppers, Go, Go, Go……’

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They dubbed him with his famous nickname when he was playing Midget footy with North Albury.

“The coach promised us some Turkey if we won our Grand Final. All we got was chicken…

I started whingeing and asking where the turkey was………So I’ve been ‘Turkey’ ever since,” he says.

He was born in Brunswick nearly 77 years ago. When his dad moved the Weule clan to the Border, and began operating Lavington Car Sales they gravitated to the nearby North Albury Footy Club.

Turkey rose through the ranks, and made his senior debut in 1961, aged 17, under the coaching of the great Donny Ross, who’d returned home after a fine career with Footscray.

“Rossy played the game hard and fair, but could get fired up. He took exception to something a Myrtleford player did one day; chased him into their dressing rooms and got stuck into him. By gee he was cranky……”.

Ross was succeeded as coach by big-names Graeme McKenzie, Ian Aston, Ralph Rogerson and, finally, John Sharrock, during Turk’s time in Green and Gold, but they were unable to lift the Hoppers into the upper echelon.

“We usually finished about mid-ladder ( and snuck into the finals twice, I think ) despite having some brilliant individual players like Stan Sargeant, ‘Sam’ Donovan, David Sykes, Geoff Doubleday and Bobbie Barker. It’s just that we never had enough of ‘em.”

But by the mid-sixties Turk was rated among the League’s star defenders. He played the first of his seven rep games for the O & M in 1966, in front of 12,000 fans at Bendigo’s QEO. Inter-League footy was a big deal in those days, and sides usually contained their share of recently-retired VFL players.

The VFL introduced country zoning in 1968, and he was one of a handful of O & M players to be invited down to train with North Melbourne.

After performing capably in practice matches against Carlton and Collingwood, he was named in the back pocket for another pre-season game – against an O & M rep side, coached by Mick Bone.

“I was picking up a few kicks, too. But ‘Boney’, the bastard, sneaked an extra couple of blokes up forward in the third-quarter. Keith McKenzie was North Melbourne’s coach at the time…..He was yelling out …’Pick up your man, Turkey…..Pick up your man……’.”

“The umpie got wind of it and stopped the game for a head-count…..and two of the O & M fellahs sneaked off…….”

As luck would have it, a week later, Turk’s foot got tangled up in an Arden Street pot-hole and the resultant broken leg put paid to his dreams of the big-time………He headed back home to Bunton Park.

In the meantime, he took over his dad’s business.

“My brother Peter had been killed in a car accident near Corowa, and it broke Dad’s heart. He never really got over it. We ended up selling the land and everything up, and I went over to work at Baker Motors ……….

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It was late 1970…….Turk was considering an offer to coach Ganmain. He’d chalked up 161 games for the Hoppers and thought it was time to test himself. Almost on cue, he received a call from powerful Brisbane club Coorparoo.

Their Patron, Jack Handasyde – an ex-Corowa lad – flew down to interview him, and painted a rosy picture of the Club and its prospects. By the time Jack had climbed into the plane to head home, Turk had accepted the job as playing-coach of the ‘Roos.

“Old Jack was a very convincing, self-made man. He’d moved up north in his younger days , got into selling cars and built up his business, Handasyde Motors, to be one of Brisbane’s biggest. He was passionate about Aussie Rules – and Coorparoo – and didn’t mind putting his money where his mouth was.”

So Turk and his wife Marg packed their belongings and headed north with, he reckons, the princely sum of $1,200 to their name.

“Jack offered me a job as a Car Salesman. I stayed with him for the next 30-odd years…….Best move I ever made…….I loved the car game; it was the makings of me.”

Unbeknowns to him, he was replacing a QAFL legend, Wayne Stewart, who had coached the Roos to a flag in 1968, followed by successive Grand Finals.

Stewart had crossed over from his original club, Mayne, and was renowned as a tough, ruthless defender. As a youngster he’d tried his luck at St.Kilda and was named in the senior side for the opening round of 1961. But the QAFL refused to grant him an interstate clearance, and he returned to the Sunshine State, where he was to become a 289-game star.

“He was hugely admired, both for his demeanour, and his courage in playing with just one kidney. He played his career with a leather guard protecting that kidney,” Turkey recalls.

“The Club made a mistake though…..They should have brought me in a year later. Instead, they gave ‘Stewie’ the arse,” he says.

“Was he shitty,” I ask.

“Nah, the type of bloke he was, he’d have said to them: ‘Give Kevin a go’. But it took me half a year to get the players on side – to thinking my way. They were pissed off with the job being taken off ‘Stewie’, who remained a great support to me as a player………”

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I happened to play against Turk two or three times when he was at North Albury. But the first time I was introduced to him was on the way to idyllic Stradbroke Island, where Coorparoo’s playing list – and recruits – were being ferried over for a Training Camp.

Brisbane was the first port-of-call on my Northern Sporting Safari, and by the end of that week-end Camp, I was stiff and sore, heavy-headed, and had signed with the ‘Roos.

Turk had many virtues as a leader. He possessed a breezy, quick-witted personality and was an inspirational player. I loved his style and believed he had the ideal components to coach.

The Roos moved to their new headquarters, Giffin Oval, that season, but before the finishing touches were added to it, ‘The Gabba’, complete with dog-track, Moreton Bay Fig trees and a hotch-pot of stands became our home ground.

But Turk was unable to drag the side; a mixture of expat Tasmanians and Vics ( a few of them from the O & M ), along with the diehard regulars, any higher than the middle rungs of the ladder in his time at the top.

He quickly adapted to Queensland footy, though, and became one of its big names, earning his first State guernsey in 1973, against South Australia. His fellow Roos Bill Ryan ( the high-flying ex-Geelong star), winger Chris King and the full back, my brother Denis, were also part of the side, which fell to the Croweaters, by 26 points – 19.16 to 15.4.

The QAFL judiciary became well-acquainted with Turk in his sporadic appearances before them. He recalled one instance after a fiery clash against arch rivals Mayne:

“We were playing over there one day, when a bloke threw a full can of beer at me. It missed me and hit Wayne Stewart on the back of the head.”

“I just dropped everything and decided: ‘That bugger’s gotta go.’ I jumped the fence, climbed three rows of seats and knocked him on his backside…….He came up again, like a little puppet, and I hit him again…….”

“So I go back on the ground and the umpie comes up and says: ‘I wasn’t game to go near you before, but I’ve gotta report you Turk’………….”

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He played 116 games with Coorparoo and, after retirement, remained heavily involved with the Club, which experienced its next period of glory in the mid-eighties, when it snavelled two flags. A young Jason Dunstall, the Roos’ greatest-ever product, ruled the goal-square in that era.

With his three kids ( Daniel, Benjamin and Ziade ) blooming and business burgeoning, Turk threw himself headlong into selling cars.

Eventually he ran his own Car Yard, and also co-founded and operated hugely-successful Queensland Motor Valuations with old mates Jack Handasyde and Bernie Thiele.

For 21 years he became the familiar voice of ABC Radio (Qld and Tasmania), as the host of his own motoring show. He would advise listeners on the value of their car, how to go about purchasing a new vehicle, and answer their queries.

His love affair with North Stradbroke, which began with that first footy training camp back in 1971, was entrenched years later, when he and Marg built a house on the Island. They sold it after a couple of years, but now have a 30-foot Van in which they stay once or twice a week………..

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Kevin Weule stays abreast of the fortunes of his old club, and was chuffed to be invited back to Bunton Park in 2018, as one of the initial Inductees to North Albury Football Club’s Hall of Fame.

His mind wandered back more than half a century , to those days when he was the General of the Hoppers’ backline…..And, when the siren blew, would thrive on the laughs and cameraderie of team-mates and opponents alike. That, he reckons, is what footy’s all about……..

‘THE NEW PONSFORD…….’

Alec Fraser had just begun to exhibit flashes of his precocious cricket talent in the mid-1920’s when the good judges handed him a moniker – ‘The Next Ponsford’……..

Bill Ponsford, the thick-set Victorian, was every kid’s idol in the pre-Bradman era. An opening batsman and run-scoring machine, his deeds have been forever immortalised by the naming of a Grandstand in his honour at the MCG – the scene of many of his triumphs.

Alec’s performances fell well short of the legend to whom he was compared, but nevertheless, he was to carve out a brilliant sporting career in his adopted home town………….

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Born and raised in Albury, his parents were Highland Dancing enthusiasts. Alec was just four when his father passed away, leaving his mum to single-handedly raise the four Fraser siblings.

There was never any chance of the lad, nicknamed ‘Tony’, pursuing the noble art of Highland Dancing……….he was enraptured by football and cricket, at which he showed exceptional promise.

Wangaratta Football Club first made contact with him when he was playing with Albury Rovers, in the Albury & District Football League.

After starring in premierships in 1926 and ‘27 alongside future triple-Brownlow Medallist Haydn Bunton ( who was two and a half years younger), Alec moved down the highway to join the ‘Pies, who teed up a job for him at the Co-Store in May 1928.

Wangaratta’s fortunes had plummeted since their glorious, unbeaten Premiership of 1925. A mass exodus of players – added to a financial crisis – forced them into a solid re-build. The first signs of a revival were shown when Fraser, and two other newcomers, Jim ‘Coco’ Boyd and Stan Bennett bolstered the side.

Against the odds, they held onto fourth spot – and a finals berth – despite going down by 29 points to St.Patrick’s in the final round. The arch rivals re-engaged the following week, in the First Semi-Final, and the ‘Pies held onto a smidgeon of hope of causing an upset.

Alas, disaster struck. St.Pat’s booted 30.12 to 9.8, with the dynamic, unstoppable, future Richmond captain Maurie Hunter snaring 19 goals. It remains the highest score, and biggest Semi-Final winning margin in O & M history………..

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19 year-old Fraser had certainly lived up to expectations at his new Club, and was selected in the Ovens and Murray team which played a VFL rep side at the Showgrounds in mid-season.

With five minutes remaining in a classic contest, O & M led by a point, but the VFL steadied, to win 16.15 to 15.14 . Skipper Harry Hunter, ‘Coco’ Boyd ( 5 goals) and old Albury Rovers team-mates Bunton and Fraser were their stars.

Whilst Bunton was lured to VFL football amidst a much-publicised recruiting frenzy which resulted in Fitzroy procuring his services in 1931, Fraser’s elevation came about in low-key fashion.

He received letters of invitation from Hawthorn, St.Kilda, Fitzroy and Footscray and, despite anguishing about making the move, agreed to turn out with the Saints.

They arranged employment at Leviathon Men’s Store in the City, but from the moment he arrived Alec was decidedly uncomfortable. He made a promising debut against Collingwood, and followed up with strong performances in losses to Footscray and Carlton, then headed home.

Wangaratta had, in his absence, begun a two-year hiatus in the Ovens & King League. The champion mid-fielder was warmly welcomed when he returned, mid-season. He figured in their successive O & K flags, and took out the B & F in 1932.

When the Pies resumed their place in the O & M in 1933 he was installed as vice-captain to the eventual Morris Medallist Fred Carey, and played his part in a nail-biting, pendulum-swinging Grand Final.

With the aid of a strong breeze, Border United led by 18 points at quarter-time, but the Pies proceeded to kick seven straight in the second, to hold sway, 7.2 to 4.4 at the long-break.

United again took over, adding 5.4 to three points, to take a 16-point lead into the final term, which developed into a pulsating affair. With the seconds ticking away, Wang doggedly preserved a seven-point lead, then United fought back with a late goal. They continued to attack strongly, but the siren blared, to signal a famous one-point Magpie victory.

An adaptable player with a good turn of pace, Fraser was initially tried as a winger, but gravitated to the midfield, where he was to stay for the next 14 years. His fitness, which he worked on assiduously, was maintained by competing in occasional district Athletic Carnivals.

He proved a loyal side-kick to the great Fred Carey, and the pair guided Wangaratta to another flag in 1936. Surprisingly, the Pies slumped, and won just two games the following year, to collect the wooden-spoon.

This heralded the arrival of a new coach, Norm Le Brun. Wang rebounded strongly to convincingly outpoint Yarrawonga in the 1938 decider. “It was the greater all-round strength and teamwork of players like Ernie Ward (6 goals), Norm Le Brun and Alec Fraser that took them to the flag….” the Border Morning Mail reported.

The nomadic Le Brun departed after one more season, and 11 applicants signified their interest in the plum Wangaratta coaching post.

Fraser was appointed, for the princely sum of two pounds 10 shillings per week. There were many obstacles ahead, with the season being played against the backdrop of World War 2, but the League heeded the Prime Minister’s call to ‘carry on regardless’.

It was hardly an ideal scenario for a rookie coach to be thrust into. The Pies found the going hard in this condensed 10-game season, and bowed out of the finals when knocked over by Yarrawonga in the First Semi.

It was an anticlimactic conclusion to the O & M football career of a 203-game Wangaratta champion……..

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One of the first people to make Fraser’s acquaintance upon his arrival in Wangaratta had been a rough-hewn ‘cockie’, Clem Fisher.

The pair were to become as ‘thick as thieves’ as footy team-mates in 1928, but more to the point, also went on to establish themselves as undoubtedly Wangaratta’s greatest-ever opening batting combination.

They were poles apart as personalities.

Fisher could bluntly be termed a ruthless, ‘win at all costs’ cricketer who had no qualms about bending the rules of the game if it meant victory could be achieved.

Fraser was his direct antithesis. Universally admired as a true gentleman, he was a quietly-spoken, well-respected, humble soul.

And whilst Fisher would assert his dominance at the crease early, and was inclined to bludgeon the bowling, Fraser was a stylist, with excellent timing – a caresser of the ball.

Alec had already provided a glimpse of his class by becoming the first Century-maker on the newly-laid Showgrounds wicket in November 1928. It was the first of 15 centuries and 37 half-centuries he scored in WDCA cricket, many of them carved out on this strip of turf he was to call his own. He went on to compile 7131 runs in Club matches.

He collected his first WDCA batting average in 1932/33 and the last in 1954/55, when he averaged 69.7, at the ripe old age of 46.

He and Clem ‘clicked’ as a pair when they first came together at Country Week in 1929, and thereafter rarely failed to give Wangaratta the start they needed.

Their stand of 243 against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 took Wang to a total of 2/319 ( Fraser 158*). Three days later, Alec retired on 119, in a score of 8/393. The Fraser/Fisher unbeaten partnership of 250 against Wimmera in 1937 remains a WDCA Country Week record.

His five ‘tons’ and nine half-centuries at Melbourne were a contributing factor to the three CW titles that Wangaratta clinched during their Golden Era of the thirties.

With the drums of War beating loudly, sport was put on the back-burner, but Alec’s application to join the Army was denied because of his flat feet.

Instead, he, his wife Bess, and their two young daughters Noeleen and Desma moved to Melbourne in 1942, where they took over a Greengrocer’s shop in Whitehorse Road, Balwyn. Alec played with the local Sub-District side, winning the batting average in two of the six years in which he played .

On their return to Wangaratta, he operated a Mixed Business on the corner of Baker and Rowan Streets and again threw himself headlong into local sport.

He accepted the captaincy of the newly-formed St.Patrick’s Club. Some observers rated a century he made ( 104 out of 173 ) in the 1949/50 Semi-Final as his finest WDCA knock. St.Pat’s had finished on top of the ladder, and rated their chances of winning the Grand Final, but had to share the flag with Wangaratta when bad weather ( and the encroaching football season ) brought a halt to proceedings.

Alec played his last WDCA season in 1955/56, with new club Magpies, an offshoot of the Wangaratta Football Club. As its Secretary and elder statesman, there were glimpses, in a handful of games, of the Master of the crease that he had proved to be for over two decades………..

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The shy, teen-ager who arrived in Wangaratta as an unproven commodity in 1928, departed the playing field as a WDCA Life Member and Hall of Fame inductee ; a Wangaratta Football Club Life Member and Team of the Century centreman.

Alec Fraser passed away in 1983, aged 74……..

‘BARRIE BEATTIE’S SPORTING JOURNEY………..’

He was a typical boy from the bush, thrust into the hurly-burly of city life when he moved down to combine his education with pursuing employment opportunities.

Having settled into lodgings at Flemington, he entertained thoughts of finding a Club nearby, which might cater for his twin sporting passions.

That was how, on a mid-February day in 1964, he found his way to the Western Oval, headquarters of the Footscray Football and Cricket Clubs………..

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Barrie Beattie was toiling away on the family farm at Thoona when the Wangaratta Rovers were first alerted to his footy talents.

Aged 16, he was playing for his local team, Glenrowan-Thoona. A Taminick ‘cockie’, Duncan McLean, Hawk star Neale’s dad , saw him play in the Club’s only win for the season, against Dookie College, and liked the look of the raw, well-developed kid with the handy ‘pair of mitts’.

The Rovers lured him the following season, and found work for him at the Wangaratta Abattoirs.

“It wasn’t the greatest job. I was a sort of jack-of-all-trades, but didn’t mind it at all, and I was loving playing footy under Bob Rose,” Barrie recalls.

In between four fleeting senior appearances, he was one of a crop of youngsters who took the Hawks to a Reserves flag in 1962.

He, and several of his team-mates had improved rapidly, and formed the core of a senior line-up which Rose’s successor, Ken Boyd, began to mould the following season.

Beattie ‘snagged’ 48 goals ( including a season-high of nine against North Albury ) to win the Club goal-kicking. He seemed to play ‘taller’ than his bulky 6’2”, 83kg frame, and opponents found him difficult to outmanoeuvre in the air.

He had also made a considerable impression in local cricket, as an accurate fast-medium bowler and solid middle-order batsman.

His 9/17 in a North-East Colts match drew plaudits, as did some strong performances at Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks.

‘Here’s a fellah who could be at the forefront of local footy and cricket for years to come’, the wise judges predicted…………..

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But it wasn’t to be.

“Bill Woods, the Council Meat Inspector, pulled me aside at the Abattoirs one day, and said: ‘Look son, you don’t want to be hanging around here for the rest of your life’,“ Barrie recalls.

“I did a bit of research, and found out that, if I started a Meat Inspector’s Course in Melbourne, and passed everything, I could qualify in 12 months. So I landed a job as a clerk at William. Angliss Meats and organised to do the Course on Monday nights and Saturday mornings.”

He represented Wangaratta at Country Week in February ‘64, then moved down permanently to the ‘big smoke’ the week after.

“It was my good fortune to meet Bill Mobbs, the City of Footscray’s Meat Inspector……A terrific bloke….He became my mentor….He also happened to be the Chairman of Selectors at Footscray.”

“Bill said: ‘Why don’t you come down and have a run with us.’”

“He was also connected, unofficially, with the Cricket Club. He added: ‘…..And, if you’re gonna play footy here, you might as well play cricket with Footscray.”

Four senior games in three years hardly constitutes a momentous VFL career. but fate can sometimes intervene…….and it certainly did in Barrie’s case.

He was selected to play his first senior game, against Hawthorn in Round 11, 1964

“It’d been raining all week, and continued during the game. Glenferrie Oval was a mud-heap. I was 20th man, and finally got onto the ground with about two minutes to go…..It was the most inauspicious debut you could imagine.”

His next opportunity was meant to be in the 1965 season-opener against Geelong, at Kardinia Park. But a meat-worker who wasn’t concentrating, sliced a tendon in Barrie’s finger. His arm was in plaster for three weeks whilst the wound healed.

He finally got his chance when he was named at full forward against Richmond a few rounds later, on Queen’s Birthday Monday.

“I was up at 6am, worked ‘til mid-day, then knocked off and headed to the Western Oval. It was really the fruition of a dream, running onto the ground in front of a crowd of 28 or 29,000 including a few old Rovers team-mates, and my girl-friend ( now wife ), who’d come up by train from Geelong.”

“After the game I took Erica to watch a movie at the Brooklyn Drive-In, then dropped her back to Geelong. On the way home I’ve dozed off, ran off the road at Werribee and had an accident. That put me out of action for quite a while, although I recovered in time to play in the Reserves Finals.”

He managed two more senior games, in mid-1966 – the last of them a solid two-goal performance in the ‘Dogs’ 21-point win over Melbourne – but felt he struggled to regain full confidence after his accident.

“I think (Teddy) Whitten lost a bit of faith in me after that. It was decided that I probably didn’t cut the mustard as a League footballer,” Barrie says………….

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He spent eight years with the Footscray Cricket Club, occasionally coming on first-change in a formidable attack, which included Test players Ron ‘Pappy’ Gaunt and Alan Hurst, veteran left-armer Arthur Day and the slippery Tony Lee.

“They were a great club….really friendly. When you consider we also numbered the Joslin boys (Les and Graeme), left-hander Ken Eastwood, old all-rounder Arthur Dean and a handy tweaker, Tommy Seal, among our ranks, it was a handy side.”

“I loved my cricket, and one of the highlights of my time there was captaining the Second XI to a flag around ‘70-‘71.”

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After being delisted by the ‘Dogs, Barrie continued his footy career with VFA club Yarraville, and spent a couple of seasons at Tongala, as an ex-Radius player.

Opting to play closer to home, he followed a few mates to Parkside, in the Footscray District League, in 1970.

And when the incumbent coach relinquished the job at the last minute, he was asked to step into the breach.

In his first season as coach he took out the FDFL Medal and Club B & F. The Parkside Magpies were within a whisker of snatching an unlikely flag the following year, when club legend Lindsay Murphy lined up for a shot at goal 50-55 metres out, after the siren.

“It was against Spotswood, our arch rivals. Lindsay didn’t quite make the distance……We went down by three points.”

“I coached for five years and played on for one more. They were a great Club. I returned there many years later, and took on the Presidency.”

After moving on to play with Aberfeldie for two and a bit years, he hung up his boots mid-way through 1975, aged 31………

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Barrie spent more than five years working for the Commonwealth Government, taking on the responsibility for Meat Inspections at prominent exporters such as Angliss, Borthwicks and Gilbertson’s .

“My old mentor Bill Mobbs suggested to me one day: ‘Barrie, you don’t want to be a Meat Inspector for the rest of your working life. Have you thought about doing something else ?’ “

“I’m not sure, Mr. Mobbs,” I replied.

“He said: ‘If you like, I’ll arrange a meeting for you with the Town Clerk of Footscray, Bill Swaby’.”

“I didn’t even have my Leaving Certificate, so I had to study some subjects to obtain my Matriculation. That would enable me to enrol to do a Diploma of Education ( Local Government) Certificate at RMIT.”

Barrie started at the Essendon Council as a clerk, and qualified as a Town Clerk in 1972. He won a Scholarship to study Local Government, which took him to the USA, Canada and the UK. Ultimately, in 1979, he was appointed Essendon Council’s Manager/ Town Clerk.

He spent 17 years at the Council before taking a job with the State Government, then moving on to become Executive Director of the City Manager’s Association, a professional development group…………..

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After leaving the Essendon City Council Barrie resumed his active involvement with the Bulldogs.

“I’d followed them from afar, but didn’t want to be accused of a conflict of interest whilst I was working at Essendon.”

He was asked to join the Board in 1986, and served through possibly the most turbulent period in the history of the Footscray Football Club…….. To put it bluntly, he says, it was a matter of just trying to exist.

He was the Club’s VFL Director for three years, and accepted the ‘poison chalice’ of the Presidency in early 1988. To illustrate how highly-charged were the emotions of the supporters at the time, he recalls a meeting that was held at the Footscray Town Hall:

“Our Ground needed major improvements, but we had no money……..And we were advised by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade that the John Gent Grandstand was a Fire-trap……It wasn’t feasible to keep playing matches at the Western Oval……. I was doing my best to try to explain the reasoning behind transferring our home games to Princes Park……..”

“The supporters were cranky……. I reckon I’d have been lynched, only that Simon Beasley (who was still playing) stood up and defended the Board’s decision….Gee it was tough…….We just couldn’t get the message across ……….”

“Nick Columb took over from me in early-1989, and was in charge when all the amalgamation stuff with Fitzroy was happening. I remained as the Club’s VFL Director until 1990.”

The winds of change, of course, swept through in late-1989, when the ‘Save The Dogs’ campaign re-activated the Club and ensured its long-term survival as a separate entity.

Barrie Beattie regards his role during this tumultuous time as an ‘unforgettable experience’. He remains a keen Bulldog member and still gets to as many games as he can.

What an eventful journey it’s been for the boy from Thoona……………