‘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.

‘J.A’ – THE SPORTING SHOWMAN

John Aloysius Brady was in his early teens when the first indications of a prodigious sporting talent emerged in his lightly-framed body.

His dad, Jack, was a prominent stock agent ; the family resided in Moore Street, and John’s mates at the Wangaratta Tech School spent most of their down-time belting a cricket ball and kicking a footy.

He played a few games of Junior League football, he remembers, before heading down to board at prestigious Assumption College. His only sporting contact with home would be during school holidays, when St.Patrick’s utilised his skills as a fast-medium bowler, and slotted him into their WDCA side.

You don’t crash through a strong batting line-up to take 7/20, at the age of 17, then follow it up a few weeks later with 4/4 in a semi-final, without people sitting up and taking notice.

Unfortunately , it was the last that Wangaratta was to see of Brady, the sportsman, for several years.

Old Jack envisaged a future for the young bloke in the livestock industry and, after leaving Assumption he began his first job, with New Zealand Loan in Shepparton. He was showing promise as a half-forward with Shepp, and had just qualified for his auctioneer’s licence, when an vacancy sprung up in Benalla. A clearance was lodged and the remainder of the season was spent with the Demons.

Things moved so rapidly that by April 1952 he was playing League football.

The colorful career of a North Melbourne champion was under way………..

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Within a couple of years he had amassed a reputation as one of the finest key-position players in the game. Alternating between centre half forward and back, he won North’s Best and Fairest in 1954 and earned the first of his Victorian guernseys.

The great Laurie Nash was asked, early in 1955, for his summation of the best half-dozen players in the game. Brady was one of them.

“He is one of the most natural footballers I have ever seen. A near-perfect build, wonderful pace, and brains put him in the championship class. And his club is definitely playing him in the right position. He could also do well at centre half forward, but in defence he saves North time after time”, Nash said.

Initially, John would catch a train down to Melbourne in time for training on Thursday night, then return home on Sunday. It was taxing stuff.

He began work with ‘Brady & Sinclair’, in Wangaratta in the mid-fifties – a livestock firm operated by his dad and Gordon Sinclair, under the Dalgety logo.

This led to his brief, but eventful sojourn as a Country Week cricketer………..

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Wangaratta had recently won promotion to the Provincial Group and had a side loaded with talent, including a battery of fast bowlers – Max Bussell, Brian Martin and Jackie Beeby. Brady, who had become a prolific wicket-taker with new WDCA club, Magpies, complemented the group.

Wang won one title, and were runners-up in another, during John’s three visits to Country Week . He is one of only 5 players surviving from the side that snared the association’s only Provincial pennant, in 1957. His 11 wickets at 12.27 proved crucial.

His good mate Max Bussell spoke fondly of that Golden era:

“The teams were disciplined and dedicated and benifited from the outstanding leadership of Mac Holten. There were characters, too, such as that terrible twosome ‘J.A’ (Brady) and ‘Shada’ (Stan Trebilcock). They were inspiring performers on the field, but just as remarkable off it.”

“They were in fine form at the Queen’s Bridge Hotel one night, when they had a large crowd in fits, as J.A the auctioneer, and Shada the penciller, auctioned everything, and everybody in sight. It was a true Tivoli performance……..”

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The fifties nurtured many swashbuckling, flamboyant VFL stars – rascals who were prone to play hard on either side of the fence.

But Brady almost walked away from the melting-pot of League football. In late 1956 Wangaratta dropped a bombshell when they appointed him to succeed the legendary Mac Holten, as playing-coach.

The Pies no doubt sensed that they would face a battle to prise away North’s most valuable asset. And so it proved.

North blocked his clearance. “They told me there was no way I’d be leaving and handed me the captaincy,” he recalled the other day. “And they suggested it’d be a good idea to move back to Melbourne.”

He had already proved a fine team player, and now showed outstanding qualities as a leader. A fine mark and excellent kick, he was capable of bursts of brilliance which would delight the crowd and inspire his team-mates.

‘JA’ again represented the ‘Big V’ in 1957 and ’59 and led the downtrodden Kangaroos to two finals appearances in 1958.

North didn’t stand in his way when he told them, at the end of 1959, that he was heading to Ararat on a healthy contract as playing-coach. He had played 118 games, captained the side for three years and was runner-up Best & Fairest in his swan-song season.

He was appointed for 3 years, but lasted only one, at Ararat. “One of the kids had bronchial asthma and the ‘doc’ advised us that the climate didn’t suit her. The coaching job at Shepp United bobbed up and they signed me on for three seasons,” he said.

I told the United officials after my first year……”if we get a good full forward, I reckon we can win the flag. I talked my old mate from North, Jock Spencer, into shifting up. We got him a job at the abattoirs ; his family loved Shepp and he proved a star for United.”

“We won the 1962 flag in a canter. Ironically, Jock only signed for one year, but his family loved it so much they stayed, and two of his boys also proved to be stars for United.”

Bernie Sleeth was a youngster, living on the family farm and just cutting his teeth in Goulburn Valley football, when he experienced Brady’s coaching.

“He had an aura about him – a star-quality – and he could still turn a game on his head. He looked after the young blokes, too, but by the end of 1963 United had fallen away a bit and it was decided that they needed a change.”

” ‘JA’ virtually hung up the boots, but Dookie talked him into playing a few games the next season.I think that was the last time he touched a footy for about 3 years, ” Bernie says.

Until September 1967………

Shepparton United had finished fourth. On-route to the Grand Final they lost four players through suspension and their only ruckman and gun centre half back, both to broken legs.Their Reserves had finished close to the bottom. The selectors were desperate, as they cast around for replacements for the clash with bitter rivals, Shepparton.

‘J.A’ received a ‘phone call. His old club was in a predicament. Seeing that he was still a registered player, would he be interested in helping out ? Of course, he said.

Former Rovers star Eric Cornelius, who played with United at the time, remembers Brady’s inclusion being kept secret until training on Thursday night. Bernie Sleeth decided to test him out in a few marking duels.

“He was immovable once he got the front position, even at his advanced age. I knew he’d acquit himself well,” Bernie said.

Much to the derision of the media and rival supporters, Brady took his place in a forward pocket.

He acted as a protector to young United spearhead Des Campbell, besides helping himself to 4 goals, in a vintage performance.

United had the game well in hand about 10 minutes from the siren, as ‘J.A’ , ever the showman, made his exit. He slowly wandered around the boundary, waving to the crowd and soaking up their cheers and jeers.

The old champ had finally farewelled the sporting arena……….