FAREWELL TO A PAIR OF STAR DEFENDERS…..

The famed hostility between the Magpies and Hawks had just reached its zenith when Bernie Killeen and Bob Atkinson made their way into Ovens and Murray football.

They were to become sterling defenders for their respective clubs.

Killeen, the high-marking , long-kicking left-footer, held down a key position spot for most of his 13 years with Wangaratta. ‘Akky’, wearing the Number 33 of his beloved Wangaratta Rovers was a back flank specialist, uncompromising, hard-hitting and renowned for his clearing dashes upfield.

Both passed away in the past week or so, after lengthy illnesses……………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Bernie Killeen returned home from St.Patrick’s College Sale in 1956 and walked straight into the Wangaratta side. He was just 17.

Dame Fortune shone upon him, as the Magpies were in the throes of developing a powerful line-up . His form was solid enough to hold his spot in the side and bask in the glory of the ‘57 Grand Final, alongside such experienced team-mates as coach Jack McDonald, Bill Comensoli, Graeme Woods and the veteran ‘Hop’ McCormick.

It was an unforgettable day for Killeen, who was named on a half-forward flank. Wangaratta came from the clouds, thanks to a last-minute goal from champion rover Lance Oswald, to overcome Albury by two points.

This early taste of success would have given Bernie an inkling that that it was to be a forerunner of things to come.

Fate intervened. Four years later, a debilitating knee injury struck him down. He spent most of 1961 on the sidelines, and could only watch on as the ‘Pies scored a huge win over Benalla in the Grand Final.

Killeen fully recovered, and reached his peak in 1963, when was rated among the finest centre half backs in the competition. He took out Wangaratta’s Best & Fairest Award and the Chronicle Trophy, and represented the O & M against South-West League.

Perhaps his most memorable performance came in the 1964 Second Semi-Final, when he was like the Rock of Gibralter in the key defence position, pulling down 19 towering marks against the Rovers. It was a bad-tempered match, with the ‘Pies pulling off an upset, to march into the Grand Final.

A fortnight later, when the teams again tangled, Killeen found himself matched up at the opening bounce by Hawk coach Ken Boyd, whose intent was to niggle, and put the star off his game.

Boyd later moved into defence, but as the match progressed, Bernie found himself continually out of the play. The Rovers’ strategy was obviously to prevent him from ‘cutting them off at the pass’ as he’d done so effectively in the Semi.

Wang fell short by 23 points – the first of three successive heart-breaking Grand Final losses.

Bernie Killeen was a model of consistency over 13 seasons and 226 senior games with Wangaratta. He was installed as a Life Member of the ‘Pies in 1966…………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

As an angry, milling group of players swapped punches in the second quarter of the 1972 Ovens and Murray Grand Final, one of the central figures in the melee slumped to the turf.

His face was splattered in blood……. He tried in vain to resist the efforts of trainers, who were trying to escort him off the ground….. Eventually, sanity prevailed.

It was always going to be Bob Atkinson’s last game in Brown and Gold. But it wasn’t supposed to finish so abruptly ! At least, when he’d gathered his equilibrium after the game, his team-mates consoled him with the news that he’d added a sixth premiership to his collection……………

…………………………………………………………………………………………………..

‘Akky’ arrived at the City Oval in 1959 – a product of the South Wanderers. If there seemed to be a touch of maturity about the swarthy apprentice Motor Mechanic, it was understandable. During the last of his four years with the Junior League Club he’d already announced his engagement, to Fran, his future wife.

Young footballers of the modern era wouldn’t be so accepting of the patience that he displayed, as it took the best part of five years before he was able to nail down a permanent senior spot.

Maybe it was the proliferation of talent at the Club that saw the youngster deprived of opportunities…… Bob Rose may possibly have felt that he’d developed bad habits that needed rectifying…….like continually trying to dodge and weave around opponents.

Whatever the reason, Rose was unable to tailor a suitable role for him.

After making his senior debut in 1960, he’d played 49 Reserves, and just 26 Senior games.

His rejuvenation came in 1963, when Ken Boyd inherited a side bereft of many of its stars. His challenge to the younger guys was to place their stamp on the Club. In ‘Akky’, he found a player who relished responsibility, and jumped at the opportunity of shutting down dangerous opposition’s forwards.

‘Boydie’ also admired his aggressiveness and spirit. He urged him to attack the ball……..”And if anyone happens to get in your road, just bowl ‘em over,” he said. The re-born back flanker didn’t need too much convincing, and responded by finishing runner-up to Neville Hogan in the B & F.

This ‘Vigilante’ of the backline had some handy sidekicks in ‘Bugs’ Kelly, Lennie Greskie and Norm Bussell who were all football desperadoes.

The Rovers won 15 games straight in 1964, before hitting a road-block. They dropped the next four matches and were seemingly on the road to nowhere. That they were able to recover, and take out the flag was a tribute to Boyd and the character of his players.

They repeated the dose in 1965, again taking down Wangaratta in a tense encounter. The fierce opening of the Grand Final was highlighted by an all-in brawl, which saw a few Magpies nursing tender spots. Twice, in the dying stages, Wang had chances to win the game, but they fell short by three points.

The Hawks remained there or thereabouts for the next three years, including contesting the 1967 Grand Final.

But Bob had an itch to coach, and when lowly King Valley came knocking in 1969, he accepted their offer. The Valley had finished last, with just two wins, the previous season. They’d never won a flag.

‘Akky’s’ arrival coincided with the construction of the Lake William Hovell Project. Several handy recruits landed on their doorstep almost overnight.

It enabled them to sneak into the finals in his first year. But 1970 was to provide Valley supporters with their finest hour.

After thrashing Milawa in the final round, they went to the top of the ladder, but their confidence was eroded when the Demons turned the tables in the Second Semi.

The Valley made no mistake in the Grand Final. It’s handy when you have a full forward like Ray Hooper, who boots 11 of your 14 goals. Hooper, a burly left-footer, was a star, as was his fellow Dam worker Tony Crapper.

‘Akky’ was inspirational, and with the scent of a premiership in his nostrils, drove his players in the last half. His old Rovers team-mate Barry Sullivan also held sway in the ruck, as King Valley stormed to a 34-point victory………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Bob returned ‘home’ to the Rovers, and lent his experience to a youthful side, under the coaching of Neville Hogan. The following year he was appointed vice-captain.

“It was probably the best thing that happened for his footy at that stage of his career, as he got fully involved,” recalls Hogan. “The discipline he showed provided a great example to our young players.”

One of those was Terry Bartel, who was a fellow car-salesman at West City Autos. ‘Akky’ once recounted the story about Bartel telling him he couldn’t be bothered driving to Yerong Creek to represent the Ovens & Murray in an Inter-League game:

“I’m probably going to be sitting in a forward pocket all day. I don’t reckon the other pricks will give me a run on the ball,” said Bartel.

“You never let anyone down. Jump in that car and get up there,” I told him. “I’d give my left Knacker to play in one of those games. You don’t know how lucky you are.”

“And, you know, the little bastard’s gone up and kicked 9 goals……..”

Bob capped a fine 1971 season by finishing fifth in the B & F and playing a key role in the Rovers’ 19-point premiership victory over Yarrawonga. He’d lost none of his venom, and at a critical part of the game upended Pigeon ruckman, the formidable Jimmy Forsyth.

‘Akky’ lived ‘by the sword’. He knew that retribution might come one day, and when big Jim flattened him twelve months later in his swansong game, the 1972 Grand Final, he accepted that as part of footy.

After such a hesitant start, he’d made a huge impression at the Rovers. He’d played 175 senior games, figured in four senior and one Reserves flag, was a Life Member, and had earned a reputation as one of its finest-ever defenders.

He succumbed to the temptation of coming out of retirement two years later, when he played several games with Tarrawingee.

Finally, though, ‘Akky’ decided it was time to pull the pin……………

A LIFETIME PASSION FOR MOTOR SPORT

Jeff Whitten and his wife Betty are among the first people I run into when I arrive at the cricket each Saturday.

Understandably so….considering that three of their grandsons are an integral part of Rovers-United-Bruck’s A-Grade side. As each of them have grown up with a bat and a shiny red Kookaburra in their hands , I presumed that Jeff was also something of a fanatic.

“Not really,” he says. “I come along to support the boys and their mates, but I’ve never really understood the intricacies of cricket. Motor sport is my passion.”

For as long as he can remember, anything that’s propelled by a Motor has sparked his enthusiasm. It’s even prompted him to write two books, and co-author another, with his son Pete.

That’s a labour of love !… I suggest having a yarn about his involvement in the Sport, but he initially baulks at the prospect……. doesn’t want to be seen as ‘blowing his bags’, he explains. A few days later I’m out at his home, surrounded by a treasure trove of Memorabilia and North-Eastern Car Club scrap-books…………

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

As a lad who was drawn to anything relating to cars, Jeff’s interest was obviously piqued by the tales of the characters who abounded in post-war Wangaratta. In that swashbuckling era, risks were taken, and blind eyes turned.

…..Like the time local legend, Bill Higgins, accepted a wager that he could drive his 1922 Bentley Tourer along the Murphy Street footpath, from Callander’s (now the Post Office) to Snadden’s Corner (Hollywood’s). He won the bet, but in the process, was rebuked by the constabulary, with a warning not to attempt similar acts of audacity……

…….What about the celebrated record attempt, undertaken in the late forties by two Wangaratta personalities, Ted Gray and Jack Cox. Here’s a condensed version of the story that Jeff recounts in one of his publications:

A group of men had been chatting in a local hotel when the conversation turned to how fast a car could travel from Wangaratta to Melbourne. Ted Gray drained the last drop of ale from his glass, planted it on the bar and told the small group in a confident tone: “I’ll do it in less than two hours.”

A boast became a bet, and hundreds of pounds changed hands during the next few days. Speculation raged around town. On the day of the attempt Wangaratta’s taxi fleet did a roaring trade, shuttling people to the ‘S’ Bend just south of Glenrowan, for 2 shillings a time. Many spectators thought the Alfa Romeo may fail to negotiate the sharp turn over the railway line. Visions of a wrecked car, hurtling over and over, were probably foremost in the minds of those who were waiting there.

That evening, more than 1,000 people lined Murphy Street as Gray, the Australian Land Speed Record Holder, and his passenger Jack Cox, a Faithfull Street engineer, sat waiting in the Alfa Romeo. The moment the Post Office clock struck 5.30 the Alfa’s engine roared and the pair took off, accompanied by the cheering of the crowd. All along the route, thousands stood in the darkness, shuddering with cold, and expectation.

Telephones ran hot, as people sought updates. In many places the Alfa, with Gray at the wheel, exceeded 110 miles per hour, while Cox hung on for dear life. The car clipped the railing on the sharp bridge over the river at Seymour, but sped on and recorded 112mph over Pretty Sally.

The railway-gate keeper at Tallarook had been bribed, to make sure that he kept the gates open at a certain time.

With misty rain falling, Gray spent much of the trip peering over the top of the windscreen, ensuring he wouldn’t tangle with cars and transports that hadn’t yet turned on their tail-lights. It enabled him to reach Bell Street, Coburg, in record time.

The trip from Bell Street to the Melbourne GPO took six and a quarter minutes. The pair pulled up in front of the Post Office exactly one hour and 59 minutes after leaving Wangaratta.

Jack Cox climbed out of the car, knees still shaking, while Ted Gray acknowledged the cheers of the crowd………..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A few years later, 10 year-old Jeff Whitten gazed longingly across at the Common, fronting Greta Road. He lived close-handy, in Ryan Avenue, and was following the progress of construction of Wangaratta’s first motor racing-track on the old Aerodrome site.

It was 1953, and the newly-formed North-Eastern Car Club had approached the Council to grade the Airstrip, and carve out a track, which would enable them to conduct car and motor-bike racing.

Jeff’s dad, Bill, was the local Estate Officer, in charge of the construction, upkeep and collection of rentals of the rapidly-expanding Commission Homes in Yarrunga. It was a demanding job, which offered little time for relaxation – certainly not, in his opinion, for mindless pursuits such as watching cars belting around a dusty dirt track.

“So I never got around to attending a Meeting at the old Aerodrome,” Jeff says. “They say it was an interesting course, which could be either very dusty, or – if it rained – very muddy. After four years the Club decided to take up an offer to move out to the Tarrawingee Recreation Reserve.”

By now he was dead-set keen to witness the action, but there was one problem. He was still some time away from getting his licence; meetings were held on Sundays, and his family, being strictly religious, were pedantic in their observance of the Sabbath.

Thus, if he couldn’t pick up a ride, he’d have to jump on his bike and make the seven-mile trek out to Tarra.

And that’s what happened when he excitedly pedalled out to the first meeting, on a sweltering November day in 1957.

He recalled the scenario many years later:

“All roads leading to Tarrawingee were choked with traffic, and volunteers had a difficult job manning the gates, controlling the parking and feeding the hungry hordes…..The crowd exceeded 7,500, but there were many others who slipped in through the hessian-lined fences for free.”

“There was a (then) Australian record 28 races on the day, for sedans, sports cars, and racing cars; a calendar of events previously unheard of. One hundred and forty cars were listed on the program.”

“It was such a huge success that the North Eastern Car Club decided to run two meetings per year. Well-known names like Lex Davidson, Alan Moffatt, Bob Jane, Norm Beechey and Peter Brock subsequently competed on the 2km track, which received approval from driver’s and spectators alike.”

“One of the features became the final race of the day: ‘The Butcher’s Picnic’, when anyone, in any sort of vehicle could enter. For instance, Minis raced against Cooper Jags.”

Jeff’s first car was a Morris Minor Convertible, which he later traded in for a 1957 Morris Minor 1000. He could now make the trip via the Ovens Highway in style.

But, he says, the work required by Club members to maintain the earth and oil-based track, and erect safety barriers and fences, stretched their resources to the limit:

“The continued maintenance of the track meant more working-bees and expenses and a decrease in enthusiasm by members. Sadly, the track succumbed to the inevitable. It couldn’t compete with the new bitumen-sealed tracks like Hume Weir, and, of course Winton, which had opened in 1961……”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

After seven action-packed years, the Tarra circuit eventually bowed out in 1965, and the NECC decided to focus its attention on Rallying and Trials. Jeff joined the Club seven months later.

He’d been reading about Car Trials that the Club was conducting in the area: “I remember sitting in my Morris Minor one Sunday morning, watching as cars in a Trial left Spargo’s Service Station in Parfitt Road. I thought to myself: ‘I’d like to get involved’. “

Soon after, he volunteered to help out on a Control for the North-Eastern Rally. Other controls followed. When he competed in his first event, an Autumn Trial, driving his Mini DeLuxe, he and his navigator, Roger Wood, were able to finish outright Fifth. He was hooked…….

The Club also conducted a series of Trials Schools – short Sunday afternoon navigational exercises which covered 80 to 100 miles.

“They were great events for encouraging beginners, and I was lucky enough in my initial year with the Club, to win the trophy for First Outright Navigator. It was the start of my long association with Trials and Rallying.”

“I was also interested in directing Club Rallies. There are many tales to be told of finding impassable roads, getting bogged regularly and arriving home late at night after getting stuck in the bush.”

“The sixties and seventies were our Golden Years of Rallying. The turning-point came, though, when the Government decreed that we weren’t allowed to enter softwood forests. We used to have a Rally every second week-end back in that era, “ Jeff says.

But the NECC remains strong. Their Headquarters – and Club-House – are still out at Tarrawingee. Membership remains at about 240. Jeff has had four different stints as President. He, Betty and Peter are Life Members of the Club.

Jeff produced ‘From Sump Oil To Dust’, a history of the first 50 years of the North Eastern Car Club, released in 2008. Another publication ‘A Rock and a Hard Place’, details the history of the Barjarg Motor Racing Circuit.

He and Pete, who is equally-besotted with the sport, co-produced ‘How to start Rallying – (An Australian guide to the world’s most spectacular Sport)’.

Jeff Whitten’s 64-year association with one of Australia’s oldest Car Clubs shows no signs of abating. His contribution to Rallying was recognised with an Australia Sports Medal in 2000, and induction to the Australian Rally Hall of Fame in 2015.

Next February, he and Pete will also be presented with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport’s ‘2019 CAMS Service Award (Media) for long-term distinguished service to motor sport.

Just reward for a life-time of devotion…………

'ENIGMATIC CAREY , A STAR OF THE DEPRESSION ERA…'

Wangaratta’s rise to sporting prominence during the Depression era coincided with the flourishing careers of a handful of champions.

Not many of them, though, could match the feats of curly-haired Herbert Wesley Carey, a dynamic footballer, explosive all-round cricketer and enigmatic personality……..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Carey’s parents transplanted their large family to Wangaratta from Devon Meadows (near Cranbourne) in the late twenties.His dad, Walter. like so many of his generation, had tried his hand at anything; from Gold-Mining, to tobacco-growing, to Carpentry. It was whilst panning for gold that he incurred syenite poisoning in his knee, which left him with a stiff leg for the remainder of his life.

With nine kids ( he and wife Margaret lost another son, Walter Steane, in his infancy ) he found that Building was the most appropriate way to sustain the family. The boys – George, Fred, Bill, Bert and Stan – possessed a variety of skills, but Bert became his principal helper.

The Carey’s would go on to construct many houses in the West End area, including a couple in Steane Street, which was named after the second Christian names of Walter and the baby son they’d lost.

Wangaratta Football Club happened upon a recruiting bonanza when the Carey gang hit town. The five boys all played together at various times. When former Hawthorn player Dermott O’Brien quit as coach mid-way through their first season, 1929, the adaptable Fred was appointed in his place.

One of the key players at his disposal was Bert, who was equally at home whilst on the ball or up forward.

Bert stood 5’10” and weighed 75kg, and had already sampled VFL football, having played five games with Fitzroy. But, at periods over the next nine years, he would prove well-nigh unstoppable in the Black and White guernsey.

He gave Magpie fans an early sample of his brilliance when he booted 13 goals in their 92-point thrashing of Rutherglen.

Bert signalled his cricketing ability in his first WDCA game with newly-formed East Wangaratta, finishing with figures of 5/8 and 6/1 and producing a belligerent innings of 85 against Footballers.

A left-arm bowler of considerable pace, he could swing the ball both ways (sometimes too much) and proved a more than handy batsman in the middle-order. Little wonder, with Bert in the side complementing the redoubtable Fisher brothers, they became a power. After a one-wicket win in the 1928/29 decider, East again took out the flag the following year.

Carey teamed with Brookfield speedsters Ken and Harry Kneebone to form a lethal new-ball combination in representative cricket.

His first Country Week, in 1929, was a raging success. He captured 20 wickets at an average of 5.6, including successive hauls of 7/21 and 5/39. He was to become a cornerstone of the Wangaratta attack, and produced some astonishing performances.

In his best individual effort, in 1933, he snared 6/11, 5/39, 5/24, 4/57 and made an undefeated 40, following this with 4/67 in the Final, which Wangaratta duly won.

His wicket-taking record over nine trips to Melbourne (1929-’37) has never been bettered, and was a factor in Wangaratta’s tally of 21 wins, 4 losses and 7 draws over that period.

In a move which inflamed tensions between the rival clubs, Bert switched from East Wang to Wangaratta in 1933/34, and was able to add another two premierships to his collection, giving him five WDCA flags in total……..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Carey’s uncanny goal-kicking skills made him a vital part of Wangaratta’s football success. He was averaging in excess of five goals per game in 1930, before he was shut down in a vital clash against West Albury. The ‘Pies lost the game, but he bounced back with hauls of 8 and 11 against Rutherglen and Corowa.

Wangaratta had incurred a financial loss of 275 pounds, after also covering the 50 pound debt of sister club, Rovers. There were concerns about the club’s ability to field two teams, so they decided to affiliate just one side in the Ovens and King League.

They comfortably won the 1931 Grand Final. Carey capped a fine season by kicking his 85th goal – a new O & K record – which was boosted by an incredible 21 goals in one match, out of a team total of 25.32. It still remains the highest individual score by a Wangaratta player.

The’Pies’ second successive O & K flag in ’32 prompted an invitation to return to the Ovens and Murray League. Much to the chagrin of the O & K, who claimed that they were again being ‘used’, Wang duly re-affiliated.

Not only that, they re-asserted their dominance, and were sitting on top of the ladder, unbeaten after five matches.

And they did it without Bert Carey, who had been lured down to Hawthorn. He booted five goals against St.Kilda in the opening VFL round and followed it with another ‘bag’ of five against North Melbourne.

He had 16 goals in six games before advising the Mayblooms that he was returning home to Wangaratta.

This was the icing on the cake for the ‘Pies. But despite finishing atop the ladder, they fell to Border United in the Second Semi Final.

They bounced back in scintillating fashion, booting 20.10 to Corowa’s 8.4 in the Prelim, with the double-pronged forward targets, Len Nolan (10) and Bert Carey (8) having a field-day.

The following week Wangaratta lined up against Border United in the Grand Final. The teams were evenly-matched, but Border took a 16-point lead into the final term.

Nolan, Bill Brown and Carey soon had the opposition defence under pressure, and with two minutes to play, Wang had gone to a seven-point lead. A Border goal lifted the hopes of the favourites, but time ran out and Wangaratta hung on to win a classic by one point.

It was a triumph for the Carey family, as coach Fred (the Morris Medallist) had led from the front and Bert, with three goals, again illustrated what a big-game player he was……

…..………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Controversy seemed to dog Bert Carey, despite his star status as a player. No more so than when he was included in the Wangaratta side late in the 1936 season. He’d been missing for most of the year, having decided to take up umpiring.

Two players, Jim Gorman and Len Irving, refused to play alongside him. He had, they said, taken the place of a team-mate who’d helped the side into the ‘four’.

Wangaratta subsequently reported them to the League. Their argument was that there had been a shortage of players when Carey was selected, and: “he had been ready to go umpiring when asked to play against Rutherglen.”

After a lengthy delegates meeting, Irving and Gorman were disqualified for the remainder of the 1936 season for their refusal to play.

Carey proved more than handy in the ensuing finals series. Wangaratta fell to Rutherglen in the Second semi, but bounced back to kick 18.20 to 11.11 against Wodonga in the Prelim.

The old-timer showed his worth by snagging seven majors, as the Bulldogs found it difficult to counter he and the burly Charlie Heavey up forward.

In another gripping Grand Final, Wangaratta turned the tables on Rutherglen, to take out their third O & M flag. It was a contest of the highest order, as Wang, despite kicking poorly in the final term, held on to win by 20 points.

Bert Carey had just turned 32 when Hawthorn called on him in the early rounds of 1937. Playing in the centre, he proved his class in four games. But injuries prevailed, and mid-way through the season he again returned to Wangaratta.

This was to be his swansong. After a handful of games the career of Bert Carey was over. He had played 104 games and booted 423 goals for the ‘Pies……

” ‘ASHO’S’ STILL PLOUGHING OUT THE RUNS……”

The cricketing gods smiled fondly upon Wayne Ashton one sunny, early-October day in 1995……

The spotlight had been trained on the softly-spoken, new-boy in town, as he prepared for his A.B.C.A debut with Wodonga. His reputation as something of a run-machine preceded him; now the good judges would make their own prognostications.

It was to prove some sort of initiation for Wodonga’s opponents, the Tallangatta ‘Bushrangers’, who had recently been admitted to the competition.

They would concede a mammoth 4/502, as the Bulldogs flailed them unmercifully. Ashton’s contribution ?…..An unbeaten 270, including 34 fours and three sixes.

The left-hander’s name had been indelibly etched into the record-books of Border cricket………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

At 48, ‘Asho’s’ still scoring runs. He now plays alongside his 14 year-old son, who’s an up-and-coming right-hand bat and leg spinner.

The thrill he gets out of lining up with Will, he says, is a reminder of the old days, when he used to stroll onto the Goorambat Oval in the footsteps of his father, John.

That’s where it all began…….

Tiny Goorambat is a dot on the map, perched in prime wheat and grazing country, 16km from Benalla, and in the vicinity of St.James, Devenish and Thoona.

They’d traditionally fought above their weight, in cricketing terminology , and had won their share of flags in the strong Benalla competition. Players of the calibre of the Cleary’s, Trewin’s, Steve Siggers and, of course, medium-pacer Johnny Ashton, had been long-time stars of North-East cricket.

Wayne was only a toddler when he started following his dad, but when the ‘Bat’s were a man short one day, they slipped him into the A-Grade side…..He was just 12……

He served an apprenticeship in the lower grades for a couple of years, but it was evident that the fluent stroke-maker was going places when, aged 15, he scored 148 in an A-Grade match against St.Joseph’s.

Two years later, he helped Benalla pull a Bendigo Country Week Final out of the fire with a majestic knock at Golden Square.

Gisborne had amassed a defendable 5/223, and when they snared four early wickets, the assessment of the experts was: ‘Game- Over.’ Ashton then proceeded to take charge. He was 150 not out when Benalla reached their unlikely target.

The inimitable Keith Sherwill branded it “ without any doubt the best knock I’ve witnessed in country cricket over the years.” He went on to point out that his earlier innings that week had been 34, 72, 70* and 15, giving him a total of 341 for the Series, at 113.66.

“Also,” added ‘Sher’, who was prone to pen the most flowery turn of phrase: “I’m certain it won’t be the last time that a dazzling piece of willow controlled by Ashton is responsible for a three-figure innings………”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Wayne had previously represented Collingwood in the U.16 Dowling Shield Carnival. So, when he moved to the city to commence his Radiography studies, he was invited to throw in his lot with their Premier Cricket team.

They were busy times. He played Amateur footy; firstly with Banyule, then North Old Boys ( where he won a flag in 1993). Cricket was pretty full-on, and he had to fit all of that around his studies. But he recalls it as a terrific experience.

His progress at Collingwood was steady. Starting in the Fourths in his first season, he scored a century when promoted to the Thirds, then settled into the Second XI after the Christmas break.

A ‘ton’ in his opening Seconds game made the pundits sit up and take notice, as did the 470 runs he plundered in the post-Christmas period.

But for one reason or another, he wasn’t able to crack it for a First XI game at Victoria Park, despite some consistent form and the role he played in a Seconds flag in 1990/91.

After spending four years at Collingwood, he was approached by South Melbourne, who dangled the prospect of playing First XI cricket in front of him.

“I’m glad I moved to South,” he says. “ They’d recruited Gus Logie, the West Indies batsman, who was a really down-to-earth fellah. He didn’t drink or smoke, and just loved his cricket. I certainly learned a lot from him.”

Wayne played six First XI games in his season with the Swans, including a ‘Country-Round’ match against Ringwood at the Norm Minns Oval………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

After qualifying as an Accredited Radiographer in 1992, he had spent some time working in city Hospitals. But he was on the lookout for an opportunity to sneak back to the bush. When a job offer presented itself in Albury, he snapped it up; thus commencing his association with Border Medical Imaging.

Almost on cue, Keith Sherwill subtly dropped the hint to Wodonga stalwart Bob Craig that there was a handy recruit in the wings.

“That suited me ideally, because I was living in Wodonga. They were a great club, the Bulldogs, and made us most welcome,” he says.

Over the years we mere mortals in Wangaratta have sniggered at the tendency of the Border’s media to almost ‘Deify’ their star cricketers. When Ashton began to cut loose in the early rounds of ‘95/96, they were almost having heart palpitations.

He went to the Christmas break with a total of 522 runs on board. Following his maiden hand of 270*, he had scored 158 against New City and 101* in the reverse encounter with Tallangatta. By season’s end, he had convincingly won the A.B.C.A Batting aggregate.

The highlights of his time at Wodonga were the three Club championships they won, and the premiership he captain-coached in 1998/99. That tied in neatly with the Reserves footy flags he’d collected with Wodonga, and Wodonga Raiders………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

‘Asho’ heartily agrees that you never tire of winning flags. He’d already picked up his share, but Lady Luck was about to land him in the midst of another ‘Golden Era’.

A transfer in employment saw him re-locate to Wangaratta and throw in his cricketing lot with Wangaratta-Magpies.

The ‘Pies had been there, or thereabouts, in the dozen years that had elapsed since the traditional rivals merged. They’d snatched two flags, and been ultra-competitive, but often fallen just short.

The tide was about to turn.

They scrambled into the 2003/04 finals by just a handful of runs, but Ashton produced his finest WDCA innings when he overpowered a lively Bruck attack in the Semi-Final. His 107 enabled them to reach 7/284.

The pressure of chasing a huge total told on Bruck, as they battled the over-rate and tumbling wickets, to fall 88 short.

The following week, they matched up against their nemesis, Corowa. The Roos’ batting had proved their Achilles heel all season, and again they wilted. Wang-Magpies lost only four wickets in cruising past a target of 93.

It was a triumph for a side of seasoned veterans and talented youngsters.

Darren Grant, one of those old-timers, spent plenty of time watching ‘Asho’ at close quarters.

“He was exciting to watch, for sure,” says ‘Daz’. “When he was in full cry, he was destructive; very strong square of the wicket……a bit unorthodox…..but he had all the shots.”……”And,” he adds, he had a real cricket brain. He was a terrific player for us.”

The ‘Pies won the next two titles, then another in 2007/08, when they proved too strong for Rutherglen. That gave them four flags in five years.

Wayne made six trips to Melbourne Country Week -five of them as captain – and guided Wang to the Division 3 title in his last season at the helm.

He also captained them to two North-East Ensign Cups, giving him the rare honour of playing in Cup wins with Albury, Benalla and Wang.

After working at the Base Hospital for six years, he became a Principal of ‘Wangaratta X-Ray’ in 2008. The need to spend extra time on an expanding business prompted him to step away from cricket.

Two years later, though, he began a two-year spell as coach of the Wangaratta Rovers Reserves, a job he threw himself into wholeheartedly.

He completed his hiatus from cricket in 2016, when he took up the invitation to play alongside his son Will, in Rovers-United-Bruck’s C-Grade side.

He proved the dominant player in the competition, winning a hat-trick of Awards as the competition’s Best Player, and sharing the last two flags. This season, with Will continuing to develop, and earning promotion to A-Reserve, ‘Asho’ decided to join him.

The old champ, whose 24 centuries and 10 premierships have provided him with a plethora of career highlights, still enjoys eking out a few runs.

But he gets a bigger kick out of seeing Will and his mates making their way in the game. If he can help them, he says, that’ll be just fine……….

‘DANNY RECALLS THE NIGHT HE CLINCHED THE BELT ….’

“Dan ! How ya goin’ ”.

There’s a pregnant pause on the end of the line, followed by a muffled, querulous : “Who’ve I got here ?”.

“ Remember me ?… Kevin Hill……What are you up to ?.”

“Ah… KB….To be quite honest, I’ve been on the drink this week-end……Relaxin’…..I’m pretty good at that, you know…………”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I’ve got hold of Danny Carey in a round-about way. He’d originally made contact with the Chronicle, to find out if they could rustle up some clippings pertaining to the fleeting boxing career he pursued back in the eighties. Sorry, they said, but we’ll jot down your phone details, and give them to a fellah who might be able to chase something up………..

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

So that’s how Dan and I happen to be involved in this somewhat garbled conversation.

He’s now domiciled at Taree, a town on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, about 15km inland…. Says he’s been roaming around for a few years, but now resides in a Caravan, in the local Showgrounds’ precinct….

Just before I rang he’d knocked the top off another long-neck, he tells me, having returned from helping to round up a few horses They’ve been spooked by the plumes of smoke from the bushfires, which are looming ominously over the landscape.

“How long have you been in Taree, Dan ?,” I ask. “A bit over two years, but I hit the road a long time ago. When things turn a bit sour I just move on……..”

He’s whiling away the time by listening to some of his favourite Country and Western singers: “Ever heard Tom.T.Hall’s ‘Homecoming’ ? When you get off the phone you should google it up. And while you’re at it, listen to another one of his: ‘The Ballad of 40 Dollars’.”

He’s got a fancy for most of the Slim Dusty repertoire , in particular ‘Ballad of the Drover’. When I ask how that one starts off, Dan bursts into a rendition:

‘Across the stony ridges, across the rolling plain,

Young Harry Dale the Drover comes riding home again,

And well his stock-horse bears him, and light of heart is he,

And stoutly his old pack-horse is trotting by his knee………’

Dan had a lot of respect for his dad – also called Dan.

“He was a serious bugger, and fairly hard. But he had that way about him that you didn’t know whether he was jokin’ or not.”

“Dad’s was the last funeral I went to. I don’t like ‘em much. Don’t trust myself……. Might get all emotional and punch someone.”

When he queries me on some of the old local identities he knew, I mention that many of them have now passed on. “F……’, they’re all droppin’ off,” he quips.

Dan’s revelling in this bit of a chin-wag. Even though he’s now nudging 60 there’s no doubting that memory of his………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Dan was a strongly-built kid with recognisable footy talent when he arrived out at Moyhu in 1975. He reminds me I was his first coach. That probably proved to be a hindrance to his prospects of ever being a champion, I suggest…..

But he was good enough, and strong enough – at the age of 15 – to hold down a key position, which was a feat in itself. I found, for all his devilment, he was a good kid who you couldn’t help taking a shine to…….even though he was easily distracted and his training habits weren’t quite up to scratch.

After a couple of seasons with the ‘Hoppers he moved to Tarrawingee, back to Moyhu for another three years, over to Greta, then finally, back to Moyhu.

He reckons he saddled up in about 130 senior Ovens and King games, with the highlight being the Best and Fairest that he picked up at Moyhu in 1979.

Dan says he gained a fascination for the boxing game through watching the ever-popular ‘T.V Ringside’ on Monday nights.

“When I suggested to the ‘old man’ I’d like to have a go at it, he said: ‘Danny, it’s a ridiculous sport….. Blokes dancing around trying to belt each other in the head………But it’s so intriguing…….’ “

He started training under local legend Rossy Colosimo. They were an odd couple. Ross was short, muscly, and a fitness fanatic, who was the local symbol of the sport.

He treated his protege’, who towered over him, with plenty of ‘TLC’ and did his best to impart his fountain of knowledge to the feisty youngster. He particularly emphasised to this ‘loose cannon’ that he needed to be fair dinkum, and had to make a few sacrifices if he was going to make a go of it.

Dan got off to an unflattering start to his career with a loss on points in a three-rounder, to a tough old slugger – Billy Jones.

But his next four bouts were full of promise – three wins and a draw – which led to an offer to be matched up with cagey Reno Zurik, a fit, quick New South Welshman who had 51 fights to his name.

Their meeting at Beechworth, was Carey’s first 10-rounder, and Zurik showed the benefit of his experience to finish on strongly in the final rounds. The points decision was decisive, and led to him putting his Riverina Heavyweight Title on the line in the re-match at the Wangaratta Indoor Stadium, eight months later………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I remember it vividly. The Rovers had put their hands up to promote the ‘Boxing Extravaganza’, which was originally the brainchild of the late Denis Wohlers.

‘Mouse’ was an ideas man, but reckoned that ‘dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s’ was a job best passed on to someone else. That’s why, by the end of the night, I had aged a couple of years.

The early signs were promising. We were encouraged by the numbers who were rolling up to this strongly-advertised eight-bout program.

The first hitch came when, with time ticking away, there was no sign of the contingent of six Riverina boxers – including one of the principal attractions, Reno Zurik. Just as panic stations were setting in, and tempers were becoming frayed, four of them ambled in with their manager, a cagey old pro from Walla Walla called Kevin Kennedy. “Sorry fellahs,” he said, “two of the boys from Culcairn didn’t make the trip.”

“Shit…..Ah well, Thank Goodness most of you are here; now we can get on with the show,” we proclaimed.

“Have you got the Doctor organised,” said Kevin Kennedy. “What ?…..there’s been no mention of needing a Doctor.” “That’s one of the Boxing Regulations” he snorted……. “You must have a Doctor on hand……If there’s no Doctor, there’s no Fight Night.”

I reached for the ‘phone to ask a favour of the only person who might be a slight chance to pull us out of this predicament. Miraculously, Dr.Bruce Wakefield said he’d be down in a jiffy .

By now it was getting on, and the big crowd had become restless. So was our MC, Peter McCudden, who was rushing around wondering what he could say next, to pacify his audience.

“Tell ‘em we’re not far off starting,” we said. “I mentioned that 20 minutes ago,” he replied.

Eventually, the first Prelim got under way, and the 700-strong spectators were mercifully forgiving. They were soon roaring themselves hoarse as the night unfolded. It was an ideal prelude to the ‘Big One’ – Zurik versus Carey………………

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

German-born Zurik looked every inch the seasoned campaigner when he slid through the ropes, accompanied by a ripple of polite applause. The ‘local hero’ followed, a minute or so later.

Strongly-built, liberally-tattooed, and with an air of confidence, big Danny shed his Purple and Gold Greta footy guernsey, and raised his gloved-hands, to huge acclaim. He knew that, of all the moments in what had been to date, an unfulfilled sporting career, this was the one he’d remember forever.

But there was a job to do, and he used his height to advantage in pummelling the champ in the early rounds.

He certainly had the ascendancy. In the fifth, he unleashed a powerful right, which rocked his opponent.

Even so, the dogged Zurik fought back. The contest was evenly-matched until the ninth round, when Carey, finishing strongly, completely asserted his dominance over the fourth-ranked Australian Heavyweight contender.

Eighty seconds into the final round it was all over. Carey knocked the champ to the canvas and the referee, Max Carlos, stopped the fight – Carey by a TKO.

Danny soaked up the adulation of the home crowd, and the esteem of holding the Riverina Belt. 18 months later he again tackled Reno Zurik in a six-rounder at Wagga. This time his canny opponent was too good, and gained a unanimous decision on points.

That was the beginning of the end for Dan, who, in several succeeding bouts, never again scaled the heights to which he promised to ascend.

But even so, he can’t help harking back to that memorable July evening in 1981, when he became the toast of Wangaratta……….