THE DAY FAME TOUCHED GRAEME DAWS

To those in the bike game, it is colloquially termed ‘The Warrnambool’

It’s a gruelling, tortuous test of physical and mental strength, where upwards of 240 riders contend with the howling cross winds which sometimes batter Victoria’s western coast, on the 166 mile (266km) journey from Melbourne to Warrnambool.

Some of the sport’s legendary figures have been unable to conquer the challenges of Australia’s oldest ( and the world’s second oldest ) one-day race.

But if you take time to scroll through the 99 winners of the famous event, you’ll find a few romantic tales of the ‘battlers’ who have risen from obscurity to enjoy their moment in the sun.

This is one such story……….
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The ‘Warrnambool’ has been a scratch event since 1995 and now attracts the nation’s best road riders. But prior to that – going back to 1895, in fact – part of its charism was that it was a handicap race. A serviceable club rider with plenty of stamina and a tidy mark, could, with a bit of luck, stand a real chance of victory against the ‘guns’.

Thus it transpired, on a threatening late-September day in 1959, that a 19 year-old shy introvert, Graeme Daws, rode into the history books.

A Wangaratta contingent had headed off to Melbourne that morning. Daws’ new dark blue Volkswagen was loaded to the hilt. His three mates – Charlie Larkins, Peter Laverty and Jack Sommer – were on board, with plenty of gear and three bikes in a rack at the rear.

“Dawsy was concerned that he couldn’t get the car to go any faster than 50 miles per hour and it was really chugging up the hills. So he pulled into the ‘Volksy’ dealer on the way and asked him what was wrong,” Charlie Larkins recalled the other day.

“The bloke said : ‘Look, you’re chock-a-block and you’ve got four people on board, what do you expect. It’s a Volkswagen, mate. It would’nt pull the skin off a rice custard ! ”

“Well, we made it with time to spare. Graeme had followed his second-cousin Russell Hiskins, when he finished runner-up the year before, so he had a good idea of what it entailed. But, of course, that’s no substitute for experience. ”

Daws was a cycling fanatic and was used to chalking up long hours in the saddle. He took a month off work to prepare for the race and covered more than 5,000 miles in pursuit of his dream. Consequently, he dropped a stone in weight and, fitness-wise, was ‘cherry ripe’ when the big day arrived.

Even so, his form chart didn’t look all that good. He had failed to finish in his previous three races and, considering the quality of the opposition, was given no chance. He was such an outsider that his name was mis-spelt on the official program.

It was with a mixture of trepidation and nervous excitement that he set off from Flemington with his fellow out-markers. They set a good pace, although, at the half-way mark, near Colac, there was a strong group of riders just 11 minutes behind them and seemingly set to gobble them up.

Heading towards Terang the Wangaratta boy was suffering leg cramps. Then, as he reached into his jumper-pouch for his flask of brandy and orange it fell and was run over by a passing car.

Now in danger of the road-rider’s greatest bane – hunger flatness – he was saved by another rider, Bob Whitford, who lent him his own flask for a drink. Then the rains came, which also refreshed him somewhat.

For the last 70 miles of the race Daws and the other three cyclists in his group rode on their own, although the following bunch had whittled the margin down to two minutes, as the leaders headed into Warrnambool and sprinted down Raglan Parade, to the line.

Whitford looked like getting the honours, but couldn’t withstand the young legs of Daws. The lead changed a couple of times, much to the delight of the crowd of 2,500 who roared, as the lad drew away to take the coveted race by a bike-length.

“There’s always a fair bit of excitement in the aftermath of the event, as you can imagine. Graeme was the ‘King of Warrnambool’ and everybody wanted a piece of him, ” says Charlie Larkins, who rode in three ‘Warrnambools’ himself.

“But he didn’t hang around long. After the presentations we grabbed a dozen bottles of beer, squeezed into the Volksy and headed home.”

“Graeme was riding at Tocumwal the next day and I was the handicapper for the event. For most of the 700-mile round trip we never needed to say much because Peter Laverty, who could talk under water, kept us entertained, skiting about how good Dawsy’s ride was.”

Graeme Daws never again scaled the heights of that memorable ‘Warrnambool’ win, which earned him a purse of 256 pounds; although he did take out a 3-day Benalla Ensign Tour and the McMillan Memorial 30-miler the next year.

He loved fishing and shooting, but it was his incredible passion for cycling that was never extinguished. Right up to the time of his death, in 2008, at the age of 68, his daily ritual was a long ride on the back roads of his home town.
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#     Bespectacled Jack Sommer made it two in a row for Wangaratta when he triumphed in the 1960 ‘Warrnambool’. He had finished fifth to Daws the previous year and did much of his training for this race with his club-mate and good friend.FullSizeRender

Sommer, of Dutch origin, was only 23 and a relative novice at the time, but proof of his dramatic rise up the cycling ladder was that he was given a tough ‘mark’ of 15 minutes. He overcame fierce winds and two storms to win by half a wheel.

Sommer later rode with some success in European six-day races and was the 1962 Wangaratta Wheelrace winner. In more recent times, he ran a large floor-covering business in Albury.

#   One of sport’s most uplifting stories was that of Barry Burns, the Vietnam veteran who returned to Wangaratta a broken man. He decided to channel his mental demons into physical pain and reached tFullSizeRenderhe top with a series of outstanding cycling performances.

Paramount among these was his courageous ride from scratch in the 1987 ‘Warrnambool’. He was yielding considerable distances to the frontmarkers. There was an attack at Terang and Burns went with it.

He went with three other attacks, then picked his moment and just went away from the field. “I felt like I was floating”, he said later.

His ride from scratch, to win the race by three lengths, was monumental, considering that it was achieved at the grand old age of 41.

#   Long-time ‘Warrnambool’ devotees still rave about the performance of Dean Woods in the event in 1990. Starting from scratch, and with a roaring tail wind at his back , he established a race record of 5 hours 12 minutes, whFullSizeRenderich will, in all likelihood, never be broken.

Woods, Wangaratta’s most decorated sportsman, was one of Australia’s greatest-ever track riders, but it was a Herculean effort to win the Blue Riband, for the fastest time in the toughest road race around.

In 1993 he spreadeagled the field to take out the event from scratch, in a time that that was 2 hours 24 minutes slower than the record he smashed three years earlier. But he earned the plaudits of bike fans for the grit and determination that he showed.

#     Brendan McAuliffe became the fifth Wangaratta winner of the classic when he took it out in 1995. He had just returnFullSizeRendered from a 9-week tour of the Dutch cycling circuit and obviously got under the handicapper’s guard, as he was given a generous ‘mark’ of 60 minutes.

The 18 year-old, possibly the youngest-ever winner of the race, exploited this to the fullest and raced brilliantly, sprinting 300 metres from the line to collect the $5,000 prize.

McAuliffe’s victory sounded the death knell for the ‘Warny’ as a handicap event and it has operated with a massed start from that point onwards.
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FOOTNOTE: Graeme Daws was the recipient of the Russell Mockridge Memorial Trophy, which was struck for the first time in 1959, to honour the legendary Australian cyclist. It was Graeme’s proudest possession.

Before his death he requested that it be given to his great friend Charlie Larkins. A priceless heirloom, it’s a constant reminder to Charlie, of a cycling trail-blazer.

And, as the riders line up on Saturday for the running of the 100th Warrnambool, he’ll be reminded of that day in 195FullSizeRender9……………

THE COP WHO STAYED

Here he comes, busily hobbling along, with that recognisable gait. Reminds you of an old rodeo rider. His knees are stuffed…..one of the legacies of a legendary footy career.

You notice that everybody says g’day to him. He has a lived-in face and ready smile. In days gone by he would launch into that wholehearted, throaty laugh and unveil a couple of missing teeth. He would once only insert the ‘falsies’ on special occasions, but nowadays they’re a permanent fixture.

He’s probably the biggest personality in the Club, is Andrew Scott. The young players know him because he’s always around the place doing something. Those of an older generation revere him for the way he could turn a game of football on its head and for the effort that he’s continued to put in since hanging up his boots 30-odd years ago.

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Scotty is a Sorrento boy, born and bred. He was somewhat of a childhood prodigy at the Mornington Peninsula club and in 1969 played a key role in their senior premiership team.

After winning the ‘Sharks’ Best & Fairest in 1971 he was invited to Hawthorn and became only the second Sorrento player to break into VFL senior ranks when he made his debut against St.Kilda in Round 11, 1972.

It was the era of zoning in the VFL and Hawthorn were lucky enough to have the plum Mornington area, from which they plucked stars of the calibre of Leigh and Kelvin Matthews, Michael Moncrieff, Peter Knights, Kelvin Moore and Alan Martello.

Hawthorn were the reigning premiers and were continuing to mould a line-up which would remain at, or near, the top throughout the seventies. Scotty felt privileged to be among such hallowed company and grateful for the six senior games he played in 1972 and ’73.

“I’d have liked to stay longer, but I wasn’t good enough”, he replies when people ask him about his brief sojourn at Glenferrie Oval.

He returned to Sorrento for a season, then, for a bit of a change in lifestyle, decided to head to the bush in his employment as a policeman.

It would, he thought, be a good idea to get away for a couple of years to broaden his horizons.

He put in for a transfer to Wodonga, but was beaten for the position. Wangaratta was his second choice and, soon after finding out he was successful he was bombarded by the Magpies and Rovers, both desperate to convince him to sign.

The Hawks won out and have always regarded the Scott signing as one of their greatest recruiting coups.

Within 12 months he had a Morris Medal draped around his neck and a premiership to his name. And he had become an immense favourite with Rovers fans, who loved this bloke with the knockabout nature.

He was a natural ruck-rover, but had been at the club only a month, when Rovers coach Neville Hogan swung him to centre half forward, as cover for the injured Darrell Smith. There he stayed for a couple of years.

Old-timers likened him to the great Royce Hart, in the way he would float across the pack to take courageous, and spectacular, marks. He played a big man’s game in the most difficult of all positions on the ground, despite being a slender 6’1″.

The Rovers played in Grand Finals in each of his first six years at the Club, winning four of them.  The major hiccup came in 1976, when Wangaratta ran over the Hawks, an occasion which some of his Magpie matesstill hark back to.

“It was with particular satisfaction that we did a job on them the following season”, he recalled in a nostalgic flashback to the days of yore .

“But the one that really stood out for all of us was knocking off Benalla, the virtually unbackable favourites, in 1978. They’d only lost once all year, to us, early in the season. It was all over by half-time. We really came out revved up.”

Benalla’s coach on that fateful day was Billy Sammon, a fellow O &M Hall of Famer, who has always waxed lyrical about Scotty, the footballer.

Sammon coached the O &M to a 56-point victory against the VFA in 1975, as Scotty turned in a terrific display at centre half forward. From then on he was an automatic choice in inter-league sides and a particular favourite of Billy.

Neville Hogan was concerned that his star was becoming worn down by continually giving away weight and height to opponents in the key position. He swung him onto the ball, with an occasional foray up forward.

Scotty didn’t miss a beat. He won the Rovers B & F in 1977 and ’80, finished runner-up in the Morris Medal in 1978 and was third on two other occasions.

And there were the 248 goals that he kicked in his 181 games with the Hawks, including a ‘day-out’ when he and Neville Pollard each booted 10 against Lavington.

Additionally, what value do you place on a fellow who is the life of the show and vital to the cameraderie of the playing group. Priceless, I’d say.

Of the memories that flood back, I recall the famous No.6, delivering a right jab, which travelled just inches, yet changed the complexion of a semi -final against North Albury in 1982.

The victim was champion Hopper John Smith, who had been cutting the Rovers to pieces. The two old warriors met in mid-field, both with similar intentions. Scotty got in first….Smith’s influence waned….the Hawks ran out winners by 16 points.

He retired in 1985, but continued his unstinting involvement.   The myriad of official roles he has been saddled with include ……Assistant-Coach, Chairman of Selectors, Board Member, Past Players President……

He was enlisted by coach Laurie Burt to test the suspect Mark Frawley shoulder in the lead-up to the 1988 Grand Final. As the old bull, who hadn’t seen any on-field action for three years, squared-up against the stripling in front of the Hogan Stand after training, a few onlookers watched the action.

He showed his famed aggressive intent in roaring in to bump Frawley a few times but came off second-best. The harder he tried the further he bounced off and the more distressed he was becoming. Finally, he nodded to Burt: “I think he’s right “.

Scotty is most comfortable soldiering away behind the scenes. His imprint is on all of the building projects that have been undertaken at the Findlay Oval over the last couple of decades. But two of which he’s been particularly proud have been the construction of the mezzanine floor in the foyer and the recent completion of the luxurious Balcony, the O & M’s best viewing spot.

He made a huge decision in the nineties, to ditch the police uniform for ‘tradie’s’ overalls, as Wangaratta’s oldest plumbing apprentice. He then went on to run his own business and become a TAFE plumbing teacher. Just another couple of strings to the bow of the charismatic all-rounder.

There is no more passionate, nor a greater defender of the Hawks than Andrew Scott.

He’s done a fair job for a blow-in !

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Scotty (right), with fellow Hawk Morris Medallists, Bob Rose, mNeville Hogan & Robbie  Walker.
Scotty (right), with fellow Hawk Morris Medallists, Bob Rose, mNeville Hogan & Robbie Walker.

” ‘BRYANY’ ARCHMAN FIGHTS THIS SESSION……..”

Most of my ‘allowance’ for the Show or the Carnival, during my mis-spent youth would go towards admission fees to the Boxing Tent.

Always situated near the old peppercorn trees on the Ovens River side of the Showgrounds, I would be drawn to it by the thump, thump, thump of banging drums. Boxers paraded on a platform in front of a bright mural depicting some of the legendary fighters of the past, as Roy Bell or Bill Leech challenged some of the local boys to ‘take a glove’.

It was always great theatre. Eventually blokes would emerge from the crowd, engage in a bit of repartee and be given a huge roar, as they climbed onto the platform to be matched with a sneering, hard-bitten usually-Aboriginal Troupe member.

One bloke would occasionally put up his hand and get involved in the mandatory sledging and goings-on. I couldn’t wait to get inside and see him belt one of these brash outsiders. As I joined the throng filing into the tent, the drums would start beating again to the accompaniment of : “Your local hero ‘Bryany’ Archman fights this session”……….

 

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Bryan Archman’s father, was arguably Wangaratta’s greatest-ever wicket-keeper/batsmen. His mum was a Canny and dad, Frank worked as a driver for Canny’s for a few years prior to the war.

Bryan played junior footy and cricket, but the first seeds of a love-affair with the noble art were sown when a fellow called Steve Last urged him to have a go at the boxing bag that was set up in his back-yard.

Soon after, his dad bought him a pair of boxing gloves and he began having work-outs at the local Youth Club, run by well-known book-maker Ray Parkinson and an old blacksmith, ‘Sooner’ Jones. He had regular sessions with the likes of Ralphy and Eric Tye and reasoned that he was pretty good with his fists.

So a boxing career was born.

He had one of his first bouts at the age of 12, on a program at Benalla, organised by the Youth Club and was outpointed by a Shepparton youngster called Carlos . The same Maxie Carlos, of course, was destined to become a famous Australian lightweight champion.

From that point on he was smitten, much to the disappointment of his mother, Mary, who had visualised him following in his father’s cricketing footsteps.

Bryan eventually moved to Melbourne in his employment as an apprentice with the Railways and continued with his boxing.

He won amateur Golden Gloves titles in Under-Age divisions, then turned pro, soon after he had finished National Service.

And just to keep the peace with his mum, who he knew would be horrified to know he was fighting professionally, he decided to change his his name.

That’s when he became Archie Bryant.

In those days Festival Hall was the regular boxing venue on a Friday night, followed by a wrestling-boxing program on a Saturday night. ‘Archie’ won his first three-rounder on points on a Saturday night, won by a cut-eye decision the following Friday , and the next night won again on points.

“So I had my first three fights in eight days and got 7 pounds per fight. At the time I was earning 10 quid a week as a boilermaker “, he told author Jack Finlay.

Between 1957 and 1961 he had 31 fights and earned a ranking at one stage, as Australia’s sixth- ranked middleweight.

Archman was one of 25 former boxers whom Finlay interviewed for his book, ‘Fighters’. I spoke to him earlier this week.

“Archie was tall for his weight and trained hard. He was a fine counter-puncher and good on his feet. He reckoned he boxed like a dancer and danced like a boxer!”

“But his moment of truth arrived when one his workmates, ‘Curly’ Muir, who was an unofficial bookmaker at Festival Hall set him straight. ‘Curly’ told him …’As long as your backside points to the ground, you’ll never be a champion. You haven’t got the killer instinct and you don’t punch hard enough”….

“Archie said: …’Here was a bloke who’d seen every fight in Melbourne for the last 20 years and knew all there was to know about the caper, and he’s telling me this…”

Archie joined the Police Force in 1959 and continued in the fight game until 1961, when he retired from pro boxing.

So Archie Bryant reverted to Bryan Archman.

He continued his active involvement  by putting on police boxing and wrestling events throughout the state.

And, of course, he still had plenty of unofficial fights.

He showed boxer dogs and toured around the country Shows with them. To earn his petrol money home he would saunter over to the tent and have three or four fights, cheered on by the parochial home crowds.

With his dog-exhibitor’s tag on his lapel, people were sure that he was fair-dinkum and they’d get very excited when he approached the canvas tent.

“Of course it was all arranged and we pulled our punches, but everyone seemed to have a good time”, he recalled.

Now long-retired, Bryan Archman lives in Camberwell. Fighting is in his blood and his pulse stirs when he sees a good ‘stoush’.

It brings back memories of the days when he was ducking and weaving at Festival Hall and even when he was belting that old punching-bag in Steve Last’s backyard………
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