‘HENERS’ – SCHOOLBOY CHAMP TO COUNTRY FOOTY ICON……

The old champ has just turned 36…..The finish-line is starting to loom large on his stellar footy career …..The dreaded ‘R-word’ even crosses his mind….But can he possibly eke out another season from his aching body, and maybe, just maybe…..get to savour the one thing that’s eluded him – premiership glory.

The newly-appointed coach ( to whom he’s just handed the reins ) re-assures him: “Keep fit…..and we’ll see you in March.”

Two years later, he retires – to the acclaim of an appreciative football public – as a dual-Premiership player……….

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There’s hardly a more respected figure in Ovens and Murray circles than Jon Henry. As a player he was a Rolls-Royce – capable of performing at either end of the ground with equal-proficiency……. A celebrated goal-kicker who admits that centre half back was probably his favourite ‘possy’ .

His role in transforming a Wangaratta side – which plumbed the depths of six successive wooden-spoons, faced near-oblivion, then ascended to the top – is one of local footy’s Cinderella stories.

But of equal significance is his universally-recognised standing as a ‘quality bloke’……..

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‘Heners’ hails from Kamarah – 20km west of Ardlethan, 60km north of Narrandera, 12km east of Moombooldool.

At first thought you’d anticipate living on a 3000-acre Sheep and Wheat property in this outpost of Central Riverina would throw up a few obstacles for a ‘sporty’ kid, mad on his footy and cricket.

But his dad Bob, who captained NSW Country as a keeper-batsman against touring West Indies and MCC teams, and played footy with the Ardlethan Stars, gave him every opportunity.

“As a kid, Bob spent hours throwing cricket balls to me,” Jon recalls. “And we’d always follow Ardlethan in the footy, first in the South-West, then the Riverina League.”

“There was a Tin Mine in Ardlethan, and that’s where a lot of the football imports from down south were handed a job. One of my early memories was of Kevin Grose, a big, muscly, tattooed fellah who arrived as a coach, from Collingwood, via North Heidelberg.”

Bob Henry had completed his schooling at Scot’s in Sydney and the family were big on education. Considering that they were a fair way from anywhere, it was a given that the three Henry kids would attend Boarding School.

Bob had watched a young Rod Coelli star for Ardlethan on one of his visits home from Kilmore’s Assumption College. He’d also closely followed the career of Neale Daniher, who was from nearby Ungarie, and is one of ACK’s finest products.

So he regarded it as a great fit for Jon to spend the remainder of his schooling at the famous sporting nursery.

“It’s ironic, harking back, considering Neale’s very public health battles, that Bob and my auntie Margaret (Mum’s sister) also passed away after long battles with Motor Neurone-linked illnesses,” Jon says.

He concedes that the regimentation of Boarding-School took a bit of adapting to after the laid-back lifestyle of the farm. But he grew to love it, and established friendships with many kids who have become his best mates.

Assumption was to be his home-away-from-home for six years, but Jon did manage to fit in a couple of matches with Ardlethan.

“I haven’t got great memories of the first of them. I was 15. It was my senior debut, and Ardlethan’s final match in the South-West League; a miserable, wet day at Marrar Oval, Wagga, and I was knocked out by one of the Carroll boys.”

Renowned sporting guru Ray Carroll ( no relation ) had a massive influence on Jon through the latter part of his time at ACK.

“Ray was a very intense coach,” he says. “What he instilled in you was loyalty, not letting the jumper, or your mates, down. His style worked because he had kids for two – or three – years at the most.”

Jon had played most of his junior footy in defence, but in Year 11 Carroll swung him up forward. It proved a master-stroke. Assumption went on to win successive Herald-Sun Shields, losing just one game in two years.

In his final year he sat on a season-tally of 191 goals going into the final game, at Parade College. He booted 10, to give him the double-century in just on 30 matches.

He reckons his best win in footy came at the Junction Oval that year. “We played Melbourne High, which had 14 AFL-listed players, including Andy Lovell, Matty Knights and Steven Tingay. We got up, in the wet, by six points. It was a ripper.”

Jon captained Assumption in both football and cricket, and was named in their Cricket Team of the Century two years ago.

Besides leading them to the APS footy crown in 1988, he also captained them to the cricket flag, against Mentone Grammar.

“We’d had a really good side the year before, but Mentone knocked us off. Their skipper was a kid called Shane Warne. He was a ‘lad’, even back then, and I had a bit to do with him; played in APS rep sides with him.”

“The last time we spoke was at Melbourne Airport. We were just starting to make our way in our respective sporting journeys. He was heading over to have a crack at County cricket; I was off to Brisbane to play footy. We hung out for a while and my parting words were: ‘Well, see ya mate. Hope things turn out okay for you.’…… The rest is history……..”

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The Sydney Swans had access to country NSW recruits in the eighties. To their detriment, particularly with stars like John Longmire and Wayne Carey, they sold off some of their talent to rival, scavenging clubs.

They negotiated to ship Jon Henry to Carlton.

So the boy from Assumption lined up in the summer of 1989, to try his luck with the Blues – and play District cricket.

He recalls the solitary First X1 District game he managed among the 20 or so Seconds matches he played for Carlton.

“ I was listed as an emergency for a Cup-Day game against Footscray. They said: ‘Just show your face before the match; we don’t think we’ll need you.’ I took that literally. My mates and I had hardly any sleep, and were intending to duck off to the Cup meeting.”

“I walked into Princes Park and the coach, Steve Cashen, said: ‘Mate, the flu’s gone through us. You’ll have to play.’ So here I am, four hours later, with a big head, facing Test paceman Tony Dodemaide….hooping the ball on a green-top.”…..”I only made a couple, and never got another opportunity……”

Jon enjoyed his two years of football at Carlton, despite missing senior selection. He got to play with a few of the stars from the Golden Era, like Buckley and Hunter ( with Rod Ashman as coach ) who were in their final year, and formed a strong Seconds side.

The Brisbane Bears then picked him up in the 1991 pre-season draft, where he renewed acquaintances with Robert Walls, who had been in charge when he first lobbed at Carlton.

“Hard man, Wallsy,” was his assessment of the decorated four-club coach. “He rode me hard, but then, he was tough on everyone.”

Jon had arrived late for the pre-season and experienced a rough run with injury, playing just eight Reserves games – and a handful with their feeder club, Southport.

He moved back to the farm at the end of that season, having now passed up on his AFL dream.

Throwing himself into a full summer of cricket – on the turf in Wagga on Saturdays and Creet Cup matches with Ardlethan/Barellan on Sundays – he was rewarded with NSW Country selection at the National Carnival.

But a close friendship with an old Assumption mate, Damien O’Keefe saw him land in Wangaratta, soon after………….

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Jon admits he struggled early on with the ‘Pies. It was possibly a matter of adapting to O & M footy. But in mid-season he was plonked in front of the big sticks and proceeded to raise eyebrows.

He surged up the goalkicking ladder, with several big hauls, including bags of 15 and 12, and, with 88 goals, took out the 1992 Doug Strang Medal.

The following year, the enigmatic, theatrical Brian Walsh guided Wang to within a kick of the Grand Final.

“It was a huge disappointment, because a lot of the blokes we had, like ‘Chimpy’, Robbie Richards, ’Keiry’ and ‘Crimmo’ had been around for quite a while and never got to play in a ‘Granny’. That hurt ‘em. I felt some responsibility for it because I missed late goals and kicked 2.5 in the Prelim.”

“I always felt I owed the Club after that. It was probably the catalyst for me heading back years later .”

Jon had been a regular O & M rep in his four years at Wang. Despite his footy success, one of his reasons for coming to Wangaratta was to attempt to join the Fire Brigade. He had two cracks at it but fell short.

He decided to head overseas in ‘96, and upon his return, began a Drafting Course in Melbourne. East Ringwood became his new club.

His three years at East, he believes, gave him a great lead-in to be a playing-coach. “They were no tougher at the ball than in the O & M, but there was a lot more off-the-ball stuff,” he says.

He learned heaps off his assistant- coach David Banfield. “He was the first guy that really challenged me. He was all about the team: ‘What are you doing to make others better ?’ he’d say. He prompted me to think about the game completely differently. And I learned to take on feedback”

“Sometimes you’re lucky to come across the right person at the right time……..

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East Ringwood were loath to lose the man who, in three brilliant seasons, had made such an impression that he was selected in their ‘Team of the Half-Century’.

But he was headed back to Wangaratta, principally for employment as a Civil Draftsman, but also to help the revive the spirits of his old Club, which had fallen on hard times.

Appointed Assistant-Coach to Col McClounan, they were unable to stem the bleeding in the first two years, as they won just four games.

‘Heners’ was handed the ‘Poison Chalice’ when he took over the coaching job in 2002 – the ‘Pies’ ninth leader in eleven years.

They’d had a good scout around, but decided to appoint Henry. The clincher for Jon was that he was a great mate of Jason Lappin, who was looking to move back to the ‘bush’.

“ ‘Lappo’ had the name, was also a great player, and had a few contacts; players like key forward Damian Lang and a few others,” John says.

In his first year as coach there was slight improvement, but another wooden-spoon ( the sixth-straight) lobbed at the Norm Minns Oval.

“But we slowly started to gather the core of a solid senior group around us. We also landed Leigh Symons, ‘Boofa’ Carmody and Matt Byers in the first couple of years.”

The Henry philosophy on coaching is that the bloke in charge is important, but it’s equally-crucial to have six or so good senior players who are ‘fair dinkum, train hard and are on the same page’.

“That’s the key. They have the biggest influence on the younger players. When the disappointments come, they’re the blokes who get out on the track, train harder, drive the group and don’t make excuses. That builds your culture.”

He concedes that being an O & M playing-coach was a massive commitment, and challenge.

“There were people at Wangaratta, like Peter Whittlesea and Russell Canning who did heaps of work off-field in those hard times…Then Paul Challman came on board……….”

“But one of the biggest game-changers for us, recruiting wise, was when Jon McCormick came home from Carlton in 2005. He’s the best that I’ve played with outside the AFL.”

“I remember when he did his knee in front of the Grandstand that year. I turned around, saw him, and my heart sank……Even without him, we played in a Prelim….won our first final in 12 years.”

McCormick missed all of the next season, Henry’s last in charge. He’d decided earlier in the year that it was time to hand over the reins. Jason Lappin was his logical successor.

‘Heners’ had always loved training, but says, as a coach you don’t always get to enjoy it, because you’re organising things.

“Robbie Richards, one of my confidantes, told me: ‘The most enjoyable year I had was the year after I stopped coaching.’ I took that on board.”

“That’s when ‘Lappo’ said: ‘I’ll see you in March.’ Best advice I’ve ever got.”

So, over the next two seasons, Jon Henry went along for the ride. He became a key ingredient, possibly the inspiration, in triumphant Magpie sides which swept to successive flags – a 51-point win over North Albury in 2007 and a 32-point triumph against Lavington in 2008.

He retired with 210 games and 448 goals to his name in the Black and White guernsey and was inducted to the O & M’s Hall of Fame in 2016.

He has continued to help the Magpies in any way he can, either as Senior Runner, working the Bench, and just being around the place.

His daughters, Ella, Jessie and Rose play Netball with Wang, and his wife Paula is a keen follower of the Club.

The four-time Inter-League co-coach fulfilled another ambition when he was accepted into the Fire Brigade in 2010.

“I was rapt. In a lot of ways it’s good that I missed out the first time I applied, as I wouldn’t have been able to coach,” he says.

“Things just panned out nicely………….”

‘I WONDER WHATEVER HAPPENED TO……………’

I guess it’s the best part of 55 years since our paths last crossed…….

We first drew breath on the same day, at the Wangaratta Base Hospital……only hours apart, and more than likely within screaming distance of one another.

He attended St.Patrick’s Primary School; I was next door, at the ‘uppity’ Convent. When we both moved on to Champagnat College for our Secondary education, sport became the thread that again linked us.

We weren’t ultra-impressive in the class-room, but most play-times and lunch-breaks were spent competing at something or other…..including probably attempting  spectacular, Teddy Whitten-type ‘grabs’ in kick-to-kick …….

The other day, an email arrives. He’s just come across a yarn – ‘J.A – The Sporting Showman’ – a profile of his brother, which I penned back in 2016. He thanks me for rekindling the memories of a swashbuckling career.

That gets me thinking: ‘I wonder whatever happened to Bernie Brady ?…………’

So I decide to track him down………

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I’m peering at a photo of the College’s First 18 whilst we’re yapping. We’re not sure what year it is, but he’s in the front row…..the tall, blonde-haired kid with a ring of confidence.IMG_4499

“I still hark back to those days,” Bernie says. “We had a coach called Brother Gordon, who didn’t pretend to know a lot about footy. But he was such a good bloke that we were keen to do our best for him.”

“Everybody just called him ‘Speed’. He was an untidy-looking, hulking fellah, and also ran the College farm. He’d spend the early morning down at the Dairy, come back to school, throw his long, flowing black habit over his work-clothes, and be ready for a day in the Class-room.”

“My dad, who was a Stock-Agent, used to sell the Murray-Grey cattle which ‘Speed’ reared, so they had a fair bit to do with one another.”

I remind Bernie of the time we tangled with the formidable Assumption College – a clash at Kilmore which was akin to David trying to slay Goliath.

It was bitterly-cold, and the huge Pine Trees which hovered over the Ground were still dripping from the overnight moisture, as we meekly trod onto the frosty turf. Then the Assumption kids pranced out and performed their ‘War Cry’, which, it has been alleged, casts a spell over opposition teams.

“We were almost petrified, and what a belting we copped,” he says. “But a few of their side went on to play League footy. They were a fair combination.”

Bernie also played in Junior Magpies 1963 WJFL flag, but at the end of Year 9, took his dad’s advice, diced school and moved to Albury to commence a Wool-Classer’s course.IMG_4482

And that was where our lives diverged.

I remained riveted, for the most part, in Wangaratta. He embraced the challenges of the wide, wide world beyond………..

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He never got around to playing a senior game with Wang, for which he seemed destined, but spent a season with Albury Reserves when he was recruited to Murray Weideman’s emerging line-up.

A move to Melbourne, which was the next step in his Wool-Classing education, saw him gravitate to Collingwood, who could see the potential in an uncoordinated 6’4” bag of bones. The ‘Pies reasoned that he must possess some handy footy genes; being the baby brother of a former North Melbourne champ.

Bernie began with the Under 19’s, who played curtain-raisers to VFL matches, and was lucky enough to share in the win that the ‘Pie fledglings had over Essendon in the ‘65 Grand Final.

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Bernie Brady is presented with his guernsey by Collingwood President, Tom Sherrin.

Satisfied with his progress, Collingwood included him on their Final List the following season.

‘Woods’ fans need no reminding of the heart-break that befell them in late-September 1966, when St.Kilda’s Barrie Breen jagged a winning, wobbly point in the dying stages of one of the greatest of all Grand Finals.

But earlier that day, just as the last of the 101,655 fans were settling into their seats, an equally dramatic climax was being reached in the Reserves decider.

With just 47 seconds left, Collingwood led by a point, after their mop-haired spearhead Peter McKenna snapped a goal. Moments later a highly-touted young Tasmanian forward, Royce Hart, flew high to mark on the outer flank. His shot, aided by the breeze, sailed through to give Richmond victory by 5 points.

Brady – who had come off the bench to replace Len Clark early in the game – starred, and was named among the Pies’ best in a game that had been cruelly wrenched from their grasp.IMG_4462

The highlight of the six years that Bernie spent at Victoria Park – besides the seven finals he played – came in Round 9, 1968, when he was named for his senior League debut.

“I was always behind a few big blokes, particularly Len Thompson, ‘Jerker’ Jenkin, Vaughan Ellis and Terry Waters, in the queue, but finally my chance came at the Lake Oval, against South Melbourne.”

“As luck would have it, I’ve come off the bench, twisted an ankle within 10 minutes, and spent the rest of the day on the pine,” he recalls. “I never really got close again. But in all seriousness, I always regarded myself as  just a plodder.”

Bernie was 19 when he married Roz (“the best sort in Wang”). He’d drifted away from Wool- Classing and Collingwood lined him up with a job at AMP, ‘flogging’ and collecting insurance. That didn’t excite him much , but when he got behind the wheel of a truck and headed off on his first road trip, he knew it was right down his alley…………….

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He admits that footy was put onto the back-burner a touch when he started driving trucks.

He’d linked up with Noel Griffin, his mate ( and brother-in-law ) from Wangaratta, and they decided to re-locate, with their families, to Brisbane around 1972. Their business association was to last, through thick and thin, for more than 30 years.

Loading refrigerated goods in and out of Queensland had been a long-term issue for companies, and the boys reasoned that if they were on the spot up there it would create an opportunity to grow their business.

So ‘Refrigerated Roadways’ kicked off as a two-man operation, which expanded rapidly, to be transporting fresh fruit, vegetables, confectionary and the like, for all of the major national companies.

Bernie was talked into playing footy for a S.Q.A.F.A club, Acacia Ridge, but found it difficult to get to training. He’d arrive home from a lengthy road trip just in time to saddle up for the week-end’s game.

The SQAFA was a step below the top division of Brisbane footy, but still pretty competitive, and he was regarded as one of the big guns of the competition. He captained Acacia Ridge  in one of the four years he spent with them before reluctantly hanging up his boots. The rapidly-changing profile of the code up north spelt curtains for the proud club, and it has long since disappeared from the scene.

‘Refrigerated Roadways’, meanwhile, continued to surge ahead, and Bernie moved into the role of General Manager for some time.  In 1982, the company took a giant step forward when The Costa Group was incorporated as a partner. 

Early days, annual revenue had been around the $1.5 million-mark . At the time ‘Refrigerated Roadways’ eventually sold to TNT (later Toll Holdings) in 1995 it was regarded as the largest refrigerated carrier in Australia. Revenue had rocketed to $107 million.  There were 971 people on the payroll, including 170-odd sub-contractors.

The following year Noel and Bernie invested in several properties – a total of 2,200 acres –  specialising in the production of Table Grapes.

‘The far-flung properties,  at Ti-Tree (N.T), Mundubbera (North-West Qld), St.George (Western Queensland), Menindee ( south-east of Broken Hill), and Kenlee (near Swan Hill), were chosen to provide a convenient harvesting time-frame.

This enabled the company to maintain a continual supply to chain-stores and the general market.

 ‘Table Grape Growers of Australia’ proved stunningly successful. Six years after its birth, the company was bought out by the Costa Group. Once again, the boys had backed a winner……..

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Bernie retired in 2005, after spending a couple of years as a Transport Consultant. He and Roz reside on a 21-acre property at Munruben, 32km from Brisbane. The Logan River flows nearby. Their two sons, Greg and Rod, are also based in Brisbane.

Life’s been pretty good, he reckons. They’re mad-keen on travelling and have negotiated three round-Australia trips in their Motor-Home. They’ve only just returned from a Northern Safari, to Cooktown.

Occasionally , Bernie’s mind wanders back to his old home town, and the blissful days when he was one of the kings of the sporting scene at Champagnat. It’s been a journey and a half…………….IMG_4483

FAMILIAR FACES AMONG A.C.K CRICKET GREATS…..

A rare night out for me usually entails a Pot and Parmie at the Pino, with Moira and a few of the kids.……

So it’s with some trepidation tonight, that we’re treading this elaborate staircase, adorned with marble balustrades and plush carpet. We’re headed for Crown’s swanky Palladium Ballroom – long-time venue of the Brownlow Medal-count and former home of the Logies.

It’s akin to a second-rate bush nag being thrust into a Group One Classic at Flemington.

The occasion is Assumption’s 125th Gala Dinner, at which they’ll be inducting several of the famous Kilmore College’s high-achieving alumni to their Hall of Excellence.

Another feature of the night – and of particular interest to me – is the unveiling of their ‘Cricketers of the Century’.

In the meantime, we’re downing canapés and pre-dinner drinks and watching celebrated Old Boy Billy Brownless natter to arriving guests on the blue carpet……IMG_3740.

There are in excess of 600 guests expected, and, as we cast around, we spot a few of the school’s illustrious sporting products……You never forget that craggy face…. It’s the inimitable ‘Crackers’ Keenan….there’s ‘St.Francis’ Bourke, the ex-Richmond legend………we notice former Collingwood defender Peter McCormack……….. Shane Crawford is buzzing around, as usual. ‘Crawf’ joined footy’s elite at this very venue when he snared the Brownlow in 1999…………..

One super-veteran, decked out in a light sports coat and shuffling around with the aid of a ‘walker’, button-holes us. He must be well into his nineties and almost takes a tumble as he leans forward. Surely he’ll struggle to see out the evening……

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The function is every bit as classy as anticipated…….Good meal, impressive speakers…….. And we’re among chatty, warm company……… When it comes around to inducting the eight people who have achieved excellence in various walks of life, it’s humbling to gain an insight to the journeys that they have undertaken.IMG_3735

A standing ovation is reserved for the final nominee – Neale Daniher – whose four-year campaign to raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease has warmed the hearts of the nation…….

Shortly after, another ‘notable’ is introduced to the crowd, and it’s obvious, from their reaction, that he’s held in the highest regard. He’s somewhat of an institution at Assumption.

His name is Ray Carroll……………..

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Still boasting a full head of hair and wearing dark glasses ( obviously  his eyesight isn’t too flash these days), he belies his 81 years. It’s acknowledged that he’s the most successful cricket/football coach in the history of Australian college sport.

Amazingly, he spent 53 years at Assumption, devoting himself to the betterment of kids’ education, both in the classroom and on the sporting field.

Ray grew up in the tiny Western District town of Hexham, situated about 14km from Mortlake; son of a stay-at-home mum and a rough-hewn but kindly dad, who was a shearer and occasional tent-boxer.

From an early age his twin passions were cricket and footy. He played Country Week cricket; trained with, and followed the fortunes of Mortlake’s formidable Hampden League side, but had his eye on a career as a Teacher.

His first job, though, was as a cadet surveyor. When an opportunity bobbed up to attend Teacher’s College, he grabbed it with both hands.

I like the story he tells of graduating, at the age of 21:

“Out of the blue I was told there was a vacancy at Kilmore. I’d never heard of Assumption. When I arrived for an interview, Brother Sylvester, who was the principal, said: ‘I suppose you can teach…… and I hear you like football and cricket…..You can start on Monday.’ “

“On the first morning, Br.Sylvester told me I was in charge of a class of 65. I mentioned that I didn’t have any text books. He handed me a strap and a cane and said: ‘The boys’ll have books….Just keep one page in front of ‘em…..’ ”

The Carroll philosophy in life has been to “always treat people the way you’d like to be treated, and treat them with respect.”

He took charge of Assumption’s First XI team in 1967, and became the First 18 coach in the mid-70’s – the first lay person to accede to the role.

He was a mentor, and a second dad to a lot of kids, especially those who struggled with the transition from the open spaces of, say, life on a Riverina farm, to boarding school at Kilmore.

When he began coaching the First XI he was not much older than many of the boys, but down through the years, coached their sons – and in a handful of cases – grandsons.

Apparently the Carroll coaching methods never changed. He felt no need to tweak them, as they still proved stunningly successful, but time marches on, and he finally, reluctantly, stepped away in 2011.IMG_3739

He’s an icon of Assumption, and it’s obvious that he has maintained contact with most of his old pupils. They all seem eager to renew acquaintances………

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One of the countless sportsmen who came under Ray Carroll’s influence was Jon Henry. The boy from Kamarah, situated between Moombooldool and Ardlethan in the central Riverina, once kicked 201 goals in a season for Assumption.

He captained both the First XI and First 18, and recalls his coach being big on loyalty. “He preached playing for the school and sticking together. Ray’s a lovely fellah, and was ultra-competitive. I really think cricket was his first love, though.”

“ But on the footy-front, I remember we clashed with Melbourne High at the Junction Oval one day. They had about 16 Thirds-listed Melbourne players in their side, and Ray emphasised how important it was to gain the upper-hand. He had us really fired up. We came out and knocked them off. It was one of the best wins we had in my time there…….”

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I run into Peter Tossol, who’s reminded of his boarding days at Kilmore: “We were having an impromptu game of cricket in the dorm late one night,” he recalls. “ I’ve grabbed the bat and shaped up as Simon O’Donnell begins to steam in down the corridor to bowl to me.”

“I said: ‘Righto, O’Donnell, bring in on.’ Just then the door opens and one of the Brothers is there, arms folded, with a stern look on his face. He grabbed the bat and gave me a couple of whacks across the backside. Simon also copped a couple, for good measure.”

Toss says he used to bowl first change in the First XI, whilst O’Donnell would wreak havoc with the new ball. “He was positively fearsome at times. Simon had both openers out hit wicket one day, trying to get out of the road. He did all the damage. When I came on all I had to do was mop up. What a player he was as a school-kid……”

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I’m predicting ‘Toss’ and ‘Henners’ to to be walk-up starts in this team of ‘Cricketers of the Century’. And there’s no doubt that Simon O’Donnell, Assumption’s greatest cricketing export, will be named skipper.

So it transpires.

O’Donnell, Test cricketer, veteran of 87 one-day internationals and a star of Australia’s 1987 World Cup victory, gets the captaincy nod.

His deputy is Peter Ryan, a talented right-hand batsman of the late sixties and seventies. He played 84 games of District cricket with Fitzroy, and moved to Queensland in 1971, where he appeared in a couple of Sheffield Shield games.

The team is announced, to much acclaim:

SIMON O’DONNELL (c). ( Class of 1980)

PETER RYAN (v.c). (1969)

NEALE DANIHER. (1978)

PETER CRIMMINS (1965)

RAY POWER. (1982)

NILDO MUNARI. (1957)

STEVE GEMMILL. (1987)

JASON SMITH. (1990)

PETER TOSSOL. (1980)ack dinner

JON HENRY. (1988)

JAMIE SHEAHAN. (2008)

JARROD TRAVAGLIA. (1998)

DAVID JOSS. (1932)

JOHN BAHEN. (1962)

TALLAN WRIGHT. (2010)

DES PURDON. (1942)

The experts claim that it’s a ‘ripper’ side. I’m familiar with the bulk of the names, and naturally, it was great to see Wangaratta ‘imports’ Tossol and Henry being called to the stage, along with former Rovers footballer Jamie Sheahan.

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Jamie Sheahan, with a ‘Hanger-on’.

Six members of the team played League football and several progressed to Premier cricket throughout Australia and to English County cricket. Four of them still play, including 48 year-old Steve Gemmill, who, after five years at North Melbourne, returned home to Cobram to carve out a fine career.

Again, the charismatic Daniher received a huge reception. It was said  of the talented left-hander, that a berth as a Shield or international player, awaited him. Fate decreed that his future lay in football.

Similar tales such as this, continued to unfold ….It was my type of night  ………….toss&henry

‘THE CHEERFUL POCKET DYNAMO……’

Jack Dillon is renowned for his story-telling. He doesn’t mind coating his yarns with a liberal dab of ‘mayonnaise’, but this one, he assures me, is spot-on…..

It’s 1950….Six o’clock closing…The Wang Rovers players have received two or three calls to down their last beers and climb on the bus,  after a match at Corowa.

Jack gets distracted in the meantime -yakking as usual. To his dismay, he sights the bus moving off……He can’t capture anyone’s attention……lateral thinking is required……….

He chases after it and manages to get a grip on a ladder at the back, hanging on for dear life, as it gets a full head of steam.

It’s only when the singing begins as they hit the Three Chain Road, and someone calls out for his rendition of the latest Slim Whitman song, that they realise he’s gone missing.

The driver heeds the call, slows down and prepares to turn back. “Was I relieved !” Jack says. “I’ve climbed off the ladder and run to the front of the bus, just as the door opens. I made out I was puffing and panting, and said: ‘Gee, you bastards took some catching !”

“I dunno whether it went over all that well……….”

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Jack’s one of just four players remaining from the Rovers’ first-ever O & M side, which copped a shellacking from Wangaratta in April 1950. He’s only 5’5” – about the size of Tony Liberatore – and would surely have played with the same amount of spunk as old ‘Libba’.IMG_3331

My dad, who was his first coach when he joined the Hawks, aged 18, reckoned he was worth a game, even if it was just for the happy environment he helped create………….

Sixty-nine years later, he’s still a bubbly, effervescent personality. He lives by the philosophy, that you’ve got to treat every day as if it’s your last. “One day,” he says, “you’re gonna be right.”

A born showman, who doesn’t need to have his arm twisted to perform. I ask him when it all started.

“I was only a little tacker – about 10. We were at a concert and one of the acts, an Irish tenor, didn’t turn up. The old man piped up and said: ‘That kid of mine will fill in. I’ll get him up’. I think I sang ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’ and it went over okay………”

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Jack was brought up in Seymour; at least for a portion of his childhood, anyway. His father worked for the Railways and the family moved around a fair bit. He says their chooks got so used to the sight of removalists’ vans arriving that they would lie down, with their legs in the air, ready to be tied up and bundled onto a truck.

He went to Assumption College for a couple of years, and it was at the esteemed football ‘nursery’ that he developed his love of the game.

The Brothers were impressed with his footy and athletic ability, but also thought he might be a potential candidate for the religious life. Jack gave it consideration. He’d also contemplated a career in the Navy, and ran both propositions past his dad , who quickly put the kibosh on the ideas.

“He said: ‘If you want to wear a uniform, join the Railways. And I can’t see you walking down the street with your collar on back-to-front., I think you’re the marrying type’,” Jack recalls.

So he worked as a railway porter for a while, and starred with his home club. He was a cheeky rover and had the knack of finding the footy. Seymour won the Waranga North-East flag and he was runner-up in their Best & Fairest.

An old family friend, former Carlton player Frank Martin, suggested he should have a run with the Blues. He showed a bit too, but a selector, Harry Bell, took him aside one day: “Look son , you can play alright, but you won’t make it. Get up the bush. Clever little fellahs like you can make a good quid, ” he said.

It coincided with him scoring a job driving a truck to the Victoria Market and picking up fresh fruit and veggies for delivery along the Hume Highway. Later, his boss, Jack Bynon – a champion bloke in Jack’s opinion – bought a cordial factory in Wangaratta, and asked him to work there as a driver.

“Jack Bynon got tied up with the Rovers – and that’s how I ended up there,” he says. His first spell with the Hawks covered three seasons, but he hadn’t been looking after himself all that well, and copped a bout of yellow jaundice.

“They told me I needed a change, so I headed to Yaapeet, over in the north-west of the state, where an old uncle of mine had the Post Office.”

He started having a kick of the footy, and palled up with a team-mate, Len Manson, to buy some land on the edge of the Little Desert, for one pound ten and an acre.

“Heck it was dry country. We came across a 14 year-old frog that hadn’t learned to swim…..the rabbits used to carry a cut lunch !”

“We tried to grow crops, and there was a lot of Murray Pine timber on the property, which we cut up. We managed to eke out a living; then you’d pick up a bit of work on the farms of neighbouring cockies.”IMG_3327

“Yaapeet had a pretty good side; we played in two Southern Mallee Grand Finals. If you went all right one of the supporters might sling you five quid or so. Saturday nights we lapped up the free beer and pies.”

Jack headed back to his driving job with Bynon’s and again stripped with the Rovers in 1954, but the following season, was lured to the Kiewa Valley, driving heavy transports on the SEC’s Hydro-Electricity project.

There were some colourful characters up there, he says, particularly when they’d get together for Games Nights after knocking off work on a Friday. “If you had a win on the two-up you’d catch a taxi down to the races and try to turn it into a fortune, backing something at 33/1.”

He was part of the Bogong side which created history that year, when they won their only Ovens and King flag. They were well out of contention after eight games, then won their next 10 to clinch the double-chance.

The Grand Final was a thriller. Bogong were leading by two points when Beechworth’s coach Timmy Lowe – a good mate of Jack’s – had a shot for goal just as the final siren blew. The ump decreed that, even though he had split the big sticks, the siren had just beaten him to it.IMG_3326

When the Hydro scheme finished, he picked up a job in Melbourne, working on the underground water mains. He was travelling back to play with Milawa each week, mainly because he was now going with Peta, his future wife, and things were starting to get fair dinkum.

“But I decided to ‘snatch’ the job. Here I was, on the verge of getting married, with no job. As luck would have it, there were Country Championships on in Wang that week-end and I ran into Ted Leehane, the Mansfield coach, at Mass on the Sunday morning.”

“He said: ‘Are you still getting a kick…… I want a rover.’ I couldn’t get over quick enough. They got me a job as a tally clerk at Figlan’s Mill, provided a house and asked if I’d also coach the Reserves.”

He played some of his best footy with Mansfield – including starring in a Grand Final – until a ‘gammy’ knee, which he did against his old club, Seymour, began to cause him a bit of grief.

When he and Peta returned to Wangaratta, Jack was coaxed out to Greta. He lasted half a game before the knee went again. “Matty Rohan ( his doctor ) told me my footy days were over, so that was it,” he says.

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There was no time to be idle for the pocket dynamo. His working CV over the years has included a lengthy stint as a Welder, a Barman, Wood-cutter, driver of semi-trailers, petrol tankers, graders, interstate transports, and school-buses.

He also operated a Petrol Depot for several years, at about the same that Peta took the plunge and started her own Hairdressing Salon – ‘Top T’ Toe’ – which became a focal point in town.

Of their nine daughters – Jacqui, Peta-Lyn, Bernie, Sue, Gaye, Clair, Monica, Carmel, and Sally – six did their Hairdressing apprenticeships at Top T’ Toe and the other three worked there at various times.

Jack had almost abandoned his long-held ambition that a son might follow in his footsteps and wear the Brown and Gold.

He was tickled pink when the baby of the family, Matty, made his senior debut in 1993.

Three of the grandkids – Darcy and Mitch Booth and Liam Cook – are now with the Hawks, and another, Frazer Elliott, played for two or three seasons.IMG_3330

Now that he and Peta have slowed up a bit, there’s time to keep tabs on the 29 grandkids and the 11 ( so far ) great-grandkids.

And concentrate on his sporting pursuits, which involve golf and bowls. He’s back hitting the golf ball reasonably consistently now, after a shoulder op, but admits he’s never been able to reduce his handicap below 22.

They say he means business on the bowling green, where he has played Pennant for Wangaratta for several years.

It’s probably the only time you’ll see a frown creasing that cheerful countenance…………IMG_3325

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE AXEMAN…

“Axemen….Stand by your logs……..”

The booming voice of Jack O’Toole, was the signal to temporarily down the knife and fork and abandon your half-eaten roast lunch………. The latest edition of the World of Sport Championship Woodchop was underway.

“Ready……Go……1, 2, 3……”

And henceforth, some of the best-known names in one of the most physically-taxing of all sports, would furiously hack their way through a 350mm log on Channel 7’s iconic program during the seventies and eighties.

Ron Harding was just one among the host of Axemen – like David Foster, Gary Smith, Laurence and IMG_1346Martin O’Toole, Len Bennett, Gary Hewitt, Tommy Bartel and Jason Wynyard, who entered our lounge-rooms on a wintry Sunday afternoon .

Like most of them, Ron owned a huge personality, a huge physique….and a huge thirst.

They were the days when they would compete in deadly earnest in blue-ribbon events at the Melbourne Show, drink together all night and resume hostilities the next morning – thankfully without the necessity to be put on a breathalyser.

It was sporting camaraderie in its purest form…….

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This legend of the bush wasn’t exactly born with the smell of gum-leaves in his nostrils.

His father, Ted, was a policeman and the family moved around the state a fair bit. His brother Bryan recalled the day Ted and the boys were doing some gardening at the Wycheproof police residence, when toddler Ron fell flat on his face – unable to move.

He was a victim of infantile paralysis (Polio).

After twelve months in Bendigo Hospital, and some tender care from the family, he recovered, but one leg was still affected .

” As a young bloke, Ron was a fine left-arm bowler. He had a wonderful, rhythmic action, swung the ball and bowled with pace, ” Bryan said. “But his crook leg was a problem, and he gave cricket away”.

His mum dreamt of the day Ron would attend Assumption College. Luckily, Ted received a posting to Kilmore and her prayers were answered.

The only trouble was that he hated school with a passion and didn’t get on all that well with the brothers. One of them, in despair, was moved to utter: ” You and rabbits will be the ruination of this country.”

Nevertheless, they invited him to train to be a Marist Brother. He lasted twelve months before bowing to the inevitable – it wasn’t his caper.

Instead, he started a woolclassing course, deviated to be a rouseabout (picking up for the shearers), then shore sheep for a few years.

He thrived on all of the hard work, but still, life was a bundle of laughs for this bloke with the superbly-honed sense of humour.

He was inspired by his grandfather, Bill McMahon, a tough old hombre with an incredible work-ethic, who used to test himself by throwing large redgum sleepers on his broad shoulders – a task usually carried out by two men.

For a while, Ron and his sweetheart Margaret took over the running of the Kilmore East pub, which had been operated by his father after he retired from the police force.

Known as ‘The Middle East’ because of its rowdiness, it was a popular meeting-point, mainly because of the ‘Mine Host’s’ conviviality and his bride’s catering skills.

Ron and Margaret moved to Wangaratta in about 1968 when good friend Tommy Bartel suggested he give him a hand with his sawmill contract at Stanley.

And the rest was history. They raised five kids ( Alison, Brendan, Dan, Ronnie and Fabian) and Ron got on familiar terms with just about every bit of bush land in the vicinity, felling all sorts of timbers with axe and chainsaw.

But it wasn’t all plain-sailing.

“For a bloke who knew the bush backwards, he was an accident waiting to happen,” joked Brendan, who in later years, taught youngsters about the care that was needed in operating timber machinery. ” I used the old man as an example of what not to do.”

“The trouble was, he was left-handed, and all the machinery was designed for right-handers. The wonky leg didn’t help, and he got himself into all sorts of strife over the years.”

The most notable came when he was picking up tree-heads. A limb swung back, hit his tractor – and ‘scalped’ him, as well as damaging a neck vertebrae.

He sat in his ute, holding his neck and head up while his barely teen-aged son Ron drove to the nearest telephone box and rang for an ambulance to meet them at Tarrawingee. On the way, he kept reminding Ronnie : “Go easy over the bumps, boy.”

He lay flat on his back at the Austin Hospital for about six weeks, with his head stitched up and tongsIMG_1347 in place to keep his head still. His surgeon shook his head, as he gave the prognosis : “Ron, how you weren’t killed, I do not know.”

But the rapier-like Harding wit always stood him in good stead.

He was having a cleansing ale in the Pinsent Hotel one day, when an old girl spotted him and offered an uncomplimentary jibe : “Goodness you’re getting a gut on you, Ron. If that was on a woman, I’d say she was pregnant.”

“It was…and she is,” was the lightning retort.

He once asked the barman in a Beechworth pub if he could bring in a friend. “No worries”, said the barman, barely lifting his head, as he washed some glasses.

The next thing, the door of the Empire Hotel swung open, and Ron led a horse into the tiny bar, much to the mirth of the clientele.

He was one of a gaggle of local poachers, who kept the ‘Fisheries and Wildlife’ representatives of the day on their toes. He managed to stay one step ahead, until he was spotted carrying a couple of birds into his Hallett Crescent backyard.

“I’ve got you this time, Harding,” the inspector blurted. Calmly, Ron pointed to the aviary that, he explained, was a haven for injured birds that he had rescued and would nurture back to full-health before re-releasing into the environment.

Despite the suspicions of the inspector, Ron had survived again.

After a strenuous day at an Everton block, he stopped in at the Plough Inn for a quiet one or two and had hardly slaked his thirst when a couple of local detectives walked in the door and proceeded to have a bit of a chin-wag.

“Just noticed your truck out the front, Ron. How ya going.”

“Buggered, Get the boys a beer, thanks Pete.”

“Nah, nah, it’s right. Not while we’re on the job.”

Ron disappeared and returned minutes later. “Sure you won’t have one ?”

“No we’ll keep on the move. See ya .” They were back in no time. “Harding, you bastard. Get that blue heeler out of the police car, or we’ll shoot the bloody thing.”

“Not until you drink that beer I’ve bought you………….”

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Ron’s kids thought it was Christmas when he’d take them down to World of Sport. In the company of legends of all sports and munching on complimentary Herbert Adams pies, they’d be fussed over by everyone, including their dad’s great mate, Jack O’Toole.

It was no wonder that the boys all became Axemen and strove to emulate the feats of their old man, who, in his day, numbered nine North-East aggregate championships among his achievements.

A hell of a character, was Ron Harding, who passed away a couple of weeks ago and left behind 1001 stories of a colorful life.