“REDLEG REGGIE REFLECTS……….”

For a large portion of his (almost) 79 years neighboring Barkly Park has been his second home.

Even now, most days he’ll uncoil his lanky 6’6” frame from the comfort of his favourite lounge chair, stroll down from his Harris Street home, and check out that nothing untoward is going on at his old ‘stamping ground’.

Reg Edwards is a Rutherglen institution.

In bygone days he plundered mountains of runs as a left-hand opening bat, plucked marks from the heights, and booted goals from near and far………………..

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Reg and his wife Wendy remain ardent sport fans.

They like to fit in a couple of rounds of golf a week, and utilise their subscription to Fox Sports to the full.They rarely miss a ball of Test or One-Day cricket in summer, and watch almost every AFL game on offer……

Reggie’s a died-in-the-wool Sydney Swan…………

That’s surprising in one respect, because in his younger days he continually resisted the efforts of Swans to lure him to South Melbourne’s Lake Oval.

For five or six years, when he was ranked one of country football’s most likely types, he’d be coaxed to pre-season training, or practice matches, often travelling down with ex-South player Don Star and a handful of prospects from the region………..

“I was working at All Saint’s Winery when they first turned up to see me,” Reg says. “Carlton were showing some interest at the same time, and had arranged to come up the next week-end…….They were a bit dirty when I told them I’d signed with South.”

When he finally pulled on the Red and White Guernsey early in 1964 the papers trumpeted him as ‘the rangiest full forward to ever hold down the position for South……..’

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What a stage to make your debut !…….. In front of a bloodthirsty Magpie crowd at Victoria Park………And lining up on an old Rutherglen boy, Teddy Potter…….

“He didn’t make me feel welcome………didn’t say a word to me,” Reg quips……….

“I used to pride myself on my kicking for goal, but missed a couple of ‘sitters’ from 30 yards out, straight in front………finished up kicking 1.4……..”

“In the third quarter I flew high, climbed all over Ted’s back and just failed to hold on to the mark…….South player Graeme John picked up the crumbs and put it straight through the big sticks……..In the meantime, the umpie had blown the whistle and given the free kick against me……..”

“ John ran back and abused shit out of me ………I thought: ‘If that’s League football you can stick it up your jumper.”

“They wanted me to play at Geelong the following week…….But I said: ‘No…. I’ll stay at Rutherglen, thank you……….”

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Reg was 11 when he experienced one of his most memorable sporting moments – the Redlegs’ famous 1954 O & M premiership victory.

He remembers proudly wearing a wide red Tie, emblazoned with the image of a Rutherglen footballer, as he cheered on the star players – coach Greg Tate, Joey Gilfius, ‘Butch’ Hawking, Les and Doug Jones, Leo Mantelli………

“ ‘Spudda’ Tate was magnificent; the best Rutherglen player I’ve seen. Our full forward Kevin Gleeson was pretty ordinary overhead, but ‘Tatey’ used to hit him on the chest every time…….”

“They tell the story that, at one ‘Pleasant Sunday morning’, someone bet ‘Tatey’ he couldn’t hit the goalpost five times out of six attempts, from 30 yards out……He went out and did it….”

By the time Reg was coming through, the glory days were well and truly over at Barkly Park.

He played a year in the Reserves, aged 16.

“I was at full forward, and the ball just didn’t go down there…….I reckon I played three-quarters of the year without getting a touch ……….An old trainer, Bert Miller, would often greet me coming off the ground: ‘Missed out again today, Reg’………..“

He spent a season with Springhurst, in the Wangaratta Junior League, under the coaching of a savvy ex-League ruckman, Ron ‘Horse’ Bywater, then walked straight back into the Rutherglen senior side, where he would remain a fixture for the next decade.

Stationed like a giant light tower at full forward, he proved an instant success, booting six goals in his second game, against Albury.

“There were a lot of characters at the Club in the sixties, and it was a good place to be a part of, even if we didn’t have a lot of success………We approached every season with optimism …..”

“ I never got too downhearted, but put it this way, if we won seven games in a season it was a good effort…..” he says.

“ I know opposition teams didn’t look forward to meeting us over here, though, particularly if we got our tails up early……..”

Wendy, who was there for most of Reg’s career, reflects: “No matter how many times they lost – or by how much – we’d be there on the fence, patting them on the back…..saying ‘Well done.”

I remind Reg that the hospitality at the after-match was always a feature at Rutherglen, as the teams inevitably ended up propping at Frank Ferrari’s Poacher’s Paradise Pub until all hours.

“Yeah, Frank was heavily involved with the footy club, and was a terrific bloke…… He could sure tell some stories, which were usually coated with a liberal dose of bulldust ………….”

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Former St.Kilda centre half back Harold Davies (‘a really good player’) was Reg’s first O & M coach, followed by hot-gospeller Ray Horwood, who had spells as non-playing coach either side of ruckman Bob Hay.

“Bob hailed from Tasmania, and came to us via St. Kilda….. taught me more about ruckwork than anyone.”

He admits that full forward was always his favoured position, but he morphed into a more than capable ruckman.

One old foe recalls: “Surprisingly, for a bloke of his height, Reggie was pretty agile………..He was equally adept at palming the ball with left or right hand – and could jump off either leg.”

He wore the O & M guernsey against Bendigo and Hampden Leagues in 1966, and had pulled down a handful of marks the following year, in a clash with Waranga North-East when a broken cheekbone prompted his exit from the game just before half-time.

The honour of representing the League was a rare highlight for fellahs like Reg, who were regularly deprived of the opportunity to play finals. ………

He deliberated painstakingly about leaving the battling Redlegs when Howlong offered him their coaching job in 1969…….Rutherglen held firm and refused his clearance applications.

Despite their rebuff the Spiders again came knocking in 1970…….this time he was free to pursue his coaching ambitions…………..

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“I used to ruck all day, and was the only import in the side, except for one bloke – Barry Mullarvey, who travelled from Albury, but played all his footy at Howlong,” he says.

“Gee, it was terrific to be winning regularly…….It was also pretty handy that we had five O’Halloran brothers playing……..”

“We used to pick the side and put it up on the wall of the pub every Thursday night……I remember before the ‘71 Grand Final old Mick O’Halloran (their dad) walked over, looks up at the team, comes over to me and says: ‘Well, I’ve done my bit; the rest is up to you ! ’……….“

And they went on with the job, after it was evenly-poised at half-time.

“I was the only bloke getting paid ….I got $40 a week, and thought I was getting a fortune….I handed $5 of it every week to ‘Jacko ‘ (O’Halloran) who was our best player……”

“In the Grand Final we played him at centre half forward and he kicked 4.8……He won the Azzi Medal that year with a then-record 34 votes. On one flank was his brother Peter (another Azzi Medallist), and on the other was a kid called Brian Lester, who was back from school in Sydney.”

“He played the last three home-and-home games and picked up the maximum 9 votes in the Azzi……Not sure whether he ever played after that season….”

The Spiders took complete charge in the third quarter of the Grand Final against Walbundrie, and led by 45 points at the last change: “Reg Edwards continually forced the ball into the open spaces which enabled his speedy mates to sweep it up……..There were O’Hallorans everywhere, as Howlong opened up a match-winning lead…..” reported the Border Mail.

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Reg settled back into the Rutherglen side after a fulfilling three years as coach of Howlong, and continued his role as one of its key components.

He’d played under one of football’s great journeymen – Frank Hodgkin- before he left, but Frank had moved on to North Albury and his brother Bob was now in charge of the Redlegs.

“Frank was still a terrific player, even though he was in his twilight years….. He was causing us trouble down here one day, before Bob lined him up in the third quarter and flattened him……All Bob said at three quarter-time was: ‘I got old Frank off the ground……Now we’ve got this mob stuffed…..”

Despite tough-man Bob’s best efforts – and those of his successor Vinnie Doolan, the ‘Glen still failed to rise above the lower rungs of the ladder………Conversation began to turn towards an unlikely merger with their much-despised neighbors…..Before the end of the decade Corowa-Rutherglen had come into being.

Reg wasn’t able to hang on to play an active part in the merge. He finally hung up his boots in 1975, after 189 senior games. He’d booted 337 goals, had been captain, Reserves coach, and was entitled to recognition as one of Rutherglen’s finest products.

“I was happy for it to eventuate (the merger)” he says. “I didn’t think Corowa would have a bar of it, because we certainly didn’t like one another.”

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The Edwards cricket career lasted almost as long as did his long-term employment at the Rutherglen Research Station.

He began with Rutherglen during their highly-successful era in the Rutherglen Cricket Association, before moving over to play with his footy mates at Lake.

He was a prolific opening bat in North-East Cup cricket and for a period of 10 years or so at Melbourne Country Week.

“Rutherglen cricket was really strong in those days. The Association comprised Corowa, Buraja, Lake, Howlong, Balldale, Barnawartha, Chiltern and Rutherglen.”

“When Corowa left to join the Wangaratta Association it knocked the RDCA around and it never really recovered.”

Through it all Reg has remained a passionate cricket follower. He rolled the wicket for many years, has filled just about every task possible at Barkly Park and pokes his head in each week to watch the locals play in the WDCA.

One of sport’s true personalities is Reggie Edwards……………

“……….. BE HOME BEFORE DARK……”

The bloke on the door ushered me into the dressing-rooms on that wintry day in 1961.

The opportunity for a starry-eyed 13 year-old to catch a glimpse of the cream of the Ovens and Murray, limbering up for the clash with Goulburn Valley, was too good to miss.

Those icons of the game looked even more imposing in their Gold and Black guernseys :

‘…’.There’s Donny Ross, the former Footscray centreman….and the red-haired rough-nut, Lionel Ryan.…..Burly ‘Pascoe’ Ellis looks pretty calm and collected…… So does the coach, Bobby Rose, who’s offering a few pearls of wisdom to individual players, like Harold Davies and Kevin Mack…..’

‘High-marking, long-kicking Ron McDonald played League footy last year.…… His club-mates, Neville Waller and Bobby Constable are yapping with him…..’Bushy’s’ in such good form he has pushed the prolific goal-kicker Stan Sargeant out to the forward flank today…….’

‘Who’s the slightly-built kid sitting in the corner ? Heck, he’s got the looks of a choir-boy……must be no more than 18 or 19…..Ah, it’s Billy Gayfer from Rutherglen……..’

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Fifty-seven years later, Billy is hazy on the finer details of that game, but recalls what a thrill it was to represent the O & M. He had to pull out two or three other times with injury, he says. Playing in a struggling side, it was like a Grand Final when you got to wear the prized inter-League jumper.IMG_3358

We’re at the Gayfer residence. You can see Barkly Park in the distance – the home of the Rutherglen Football Club. It’s an Oval chock-full of history and was virtually the hub of the Ovens and Murray in the gold-mining and pre-WWI days.

The mighty Redlegs picked up thirteen premierships in just 22 years, and were all-powerful. Their next flag came in 1935, under the coaching of ex-Essendon player Jack Hiskins. One of the match-winners in that game was Bill’s dad, Harry Ledwin Gayfer, universally known as Mick.

An intense distaste of the city prevented Mick from playing League footy, despite assurances that he’d make it without a doubt. He was chased by Collingwood, Melbourne and Footscray, but couldn’t bear to leave home. A bad knee injury finished his career, aged 21.

He remained involved with the Club, and passed on his fervour to his son, who made Barkly Park his second home. The only stipulation his mum gave Bill was that the wood-box needed to be filled before he left – and he had to be home before dark.

“I’d spend four nights a week down there, having a kick, watching the boys in action, then eventually being invited to join in some of the training. I lived for footy.” he recalls. “Greg Tate ( the coach ) kept an eye on me. He was a terrific fellah.”

In 1954, under Tate, Rutherglen won their last – and probably most famous – premiership. “I can still remember it. Mum and dad heading off to Albury in the family ute…… My sister and I in the back…..We were as happy as Larry on the way home….”

Bill was slotted in for his first Reserves game that year, aged 13. Unfortunately, when he made his senior debut two years later, the Club had begun a downward spiral.

“The coach was the only one who got paid. There wasn’t too much money around in a small Club like ours. In fact, we had to pay 2 bob a week into the Provident Fund. But we were a tight-knit mob, and were always hard to beat at Barkly Park; sides didn’t like coming here. And our fanatical supporters used to sometimes boot us home.”

A lack of depth proved to be the ‘Glen’s problem. They were always competitive, and had a few stand-outs who would keep them in the game for long periods before being worn down. Players like lanky Reggie Edwards, who was ever-dangerous up-forward; Ken and Barry Baker, Ian Auldist, John Tafft and Ron ‘Yankee’ Milthorpe…..IMG_3360

But Gayfer was the star and the midfield was his spot. He could also be thrown onto the ball with instant results, and – despite a slender frame and his height of five foot ten and a half – spent time at centre half forward.

The first task of opposition sides was to ensure they shut him down. But he was rarely beaten.

“He was a brillIant centreman……” says Neville Hogan, who had a few tussles with him during the sixties. “….had great stamina, always racked up plenty of possessions, and did a lot of damage with them.”

The year Hogan took out the Morris Medal – 1966 – Gayfer finished fifth. It was the closest he came to winning the coveted gong, despite being perennially tipped as one of the favourites.IMG_3363

Bill won his first Rutherglen best and fairest in 1960, and also saluted in 1962, ‘63, ‘66 and ‘69. As one of the O & M’s young guns in the early sixties, he was strongly pursued by several VFL clubs. Like his dad, the wrench of leaving home proved too strong.

He signed a Form Four with Collingwood at one stage. They suggested he spend a week down there training with them. But when it came to booking accomodation, they told him they couldn’t afford it.

Later on, Graeme McKenzie, the North Albury coach and former Fitzroy captain, pushed him in the Lions’ direction. Bill played on a half back flank in a practice match, alongside the legendary Kevin Murray, and went okay, he says.

As was the norm in this era, VFL clubs named their official lists on the eve of the season. Bill picked up the ‘Sun’ on the Monday morning to find himself on Fitzroy’s Final List.

But he had no further contact from them, and remained a Redleg……….

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Bill was around 25 when he finally made the move from Rutherglen, to accept a coaching appointment at Balldale. He was later lured out to Brockelsby as playing-coach. “We looked a chance to play finals, but lost a few handy players in the latter part of the season, and bombed out,” he says.

So he headed back to Rutherglen to complete his career, and help out by coaching the ‘two’s’.
With a growing brood, and flat-chat with his work as a builder, footy, as ever, was his outlet.

His wife Rosemarie says that Bill’s pre-match ritual was to do a spot of ‘craying’ down at the Murray River, then have a steak for brunch, washed down with a couple of sherries……,”Got the blood flowing,” he says.

 

When he retired at the end of the 1970 season he had chalked up 175 senior games with the Redlegs – without ever playing in a Final.

He received recognition for his illustrious career in later years; being named in both Rutherglen’s 1950-1978 ‘Best-Ever’ Team and Corowa-Rutherglen’s Team of the Century. He was inducted to the Ovens and Murray’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
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But Bill and Rosemarie’s football involvement was far from over. With eight kids – Michael, John, Tony, Susan, Peter, David, Ben and Will – their time was pretty much consumed with sporting activities. The boys all learned the fundamentals at Barkly Park, but their careers diverged.IMG_3364

Rosemarie says she’d sometimes attend four games of footy a week-end – whether it be Coreen League juniors, O & M, Bushrangers or beyond. “Our 16-seater Bus came in handy for transporting kids to games,” she says.

Bill used to take the mickey out of local die-hards whenever they’d start to spruik about the Mighty Magpies. But he had to change his tune once his eldest son became entrenched in the Collingwood line-up.

Michael was to become a close-checking, highly-effective backman during his eight-year, 142-game stint at Victoria Park. He figured in the drought-breaking 1990 Premiership and when delisted at the age of 28, soldiered on for several years in country football.IMG_3343

“He had great concentration, Michael,” says Bill. “People labelled him as a ‘stopper’, but when he left League footy he became a really attacking player. He won the Medal as the best player in a National Country Carnival.”

Tony, a strong ruck-rover, and adept with both feet, was a key player in good Corowa-Rutherglen sides for years, and later coached Rutherglen and Tatura…… “Had a bit of shit in him…” Bill adds.

Peter made his name as a half back flanker with North Old Boys, Redan and Hamilton. David, who once trained at Hawthorn, later played with Ringwood and Banyule.

Will, after starring in defence in the 2003 TAC Cup Grand Final, was surprisingly passed over in the Draft of that year. He went on to play with South Adelaide, Keysborough and The Basin.IMG_3334

When Michael’s time was up at Collingwood, he was enticed to Tatura by his his old Collingwood team-mate Paul Hawke. The G.V Bulldogs took out the flag in 1995. Also in the side was a 20 year-old David Gayfer.

Three years later, when Tat appointed Tony as captain-coach, he guided the side to another title, sharing in the triumph with Michael, and Peter – who was working at Echuca.

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Bill Gayfer coached heaps of kids in junior footy over the years. But he has no doubt who was the stand-out. I’ll let him tell the story:

“I got a phone call from Christine Longmire one Friday night, asking if her son could be squeezed in for a game with our Coreen League junior side.”

“How old is he Christine .”  “Thirteen,” she said.   “Sorry, he’s too young.”

“Oh, come on Bill.”    “Okay then, send him along.”

“As soon as I saw John Longmire, I knew he was going to be something special. And he was one of the nicest kids you’d ever meet.”

“Ironically, he ended up keeping  Peter out of the side…………”IMG_3367