” ‘THE TANK’ – A HUMAN WRECKING-BALL……..”

Richie Castles, former Milkie, footballer, cricketer, pigeon racer, trotting trainer and true character, finds serenity these days, on the seat of his Ride-On Mower………

The knees that supported his roly-poly frame throughout a brilliant footy career are ‘stuffed’, he says…..So that puts paid to too much physical activity……Nevertheless, he thrives on the chore of keeping the seven and a half acre property, where he and wife Margaret reside, in fine fettle…..

I remember him being a powerhouse in defence during a fine era for Benalla……Back-pocket players of the late-50’s/mid-60’s were typically dour, stingy types whose main focus was to keep resting rovers under wraps and dish out the occasional back-hander………

Richie, though, was a dasher, in the mould of Brad Hardie, or a modern-day Daniel Rioli…..

“If I thought I could get the ball I’d go after it” he says….”It wouldn’t matter if it was from here to that pigeon-cage over there…..I wouldn’t give a bugger if there was anyone in my way; I’d run over the top of ‘em to get it….”.

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His older brother Charlie was an Austral Wheelrace place-getter, and the youngster once had aspirations of following him into cycling.

But he loved footy – and Benalla – with a passion……..”As a kid I used to ride my bike from one end of the Showgrounds Oval to the other; depending on which end we were kicking.”

“One of my heroes was Jack Spriggs, who played a bit like Leigh Matthews……’Spriggsy’ would land the ball on the chest of Morris Medallist Kevin Hurley with the precision of a surgeon…….Geez he was a good player.”

“He kept an eye on the local Junior League and knew all the good kids…..He milked a few cows at Swanpool and was appointed coach out there…….tried to get me to go with him…He said to mum and dad: ‘I’ll look after him’…….He would’ve, too, but I was hell-bent on playing with Benalla…..”

Richie walked straight into the Benalla senior side in 1957, aged 17, holding down the back pocket position with the aplomb of a veteran.

His mum’s brother – triple Brownlow Medallist Dick Reynolds – was coaching Essendon and invited him down to train, and play a couple of practice games with the Bombers the following year.

“There was a car-load of us and they’ve talked me into going to Luna Park after the practice match……It was 11 o’clock before we left for home, and I’ve ended up rolling my Ford Mainline Ute on the bend at Avenal…..”

“Charlie had ridden at the North Essendon Board Track that night and, coincedentally, found me lying on the road……I thought I was done…”

His progress in recovering from a broken pelvis, and a couple of other injuries, was slow but sure…… he was walking within six weeks……..and was everlastingly grateful to Benalla’s Head Trainer Tim Shanahan.

“He was a marvel that bloke….the best around……He had such a good reputation that half the O & M players came to him for treatment…..They’d offer him a bottle of beer or something, for getting them back on the track….”

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Richie’s family owned one of the three Dairies in Benalla, and he’d left school at 15 to begin a career that lasted more than 50 years.

“It was my life…..I’d start at 1.30am, seven days a week, with a Horse and Cart…..350 houses…..and get back to the Dairy about 7am……..I was running a bloody marathon every day; no wonder I was fit…..”

“Then, on training nights, I’d ride the bike over to the Showgrounds and run a few laps, waiting ‘til the boys arrived.”

But you’d question his fitness when you saw him run onto the ground……His socks would droop down around his ankles, and he looked podgy and overweight….After all, his playing weight was 13 and a half stone, which was more than ample for his 5’8” frame to carry.

No wonder they called him ‘The Tank’……He was a human wrecking-ball when in full flight……

Billy Luck coached the Demons in the year Richie returned from injury…..then was succeeded by ex-Fitzroy winger Vin Williams in 1960.

That was, he reckons, his best year of footy.

He’d spent a month of his holidays doing another pre-season at Essendon. When he returned he was fighting fit….and did it show……The local Menswear store donated a Pelaco shirt for Benalla’s best player each game…..and he won nine of them !…..as well as comfortably winning the Club B & F….

Benalla were hanging precariously to fourth spot – two points ahead of Myrtleford – when they faced the Rovers at the Findlay Oval in Round 18.

The equation was simple….they had to defeat the Hawks, as the Saints were certainties against winless Rutherglen.

In the dying seconds of an exhilarating clash, Benalla booted a goal to reduce the margin to a single kick……As the ball was being relayed back to the centre, the siren blew, and hundreds with their ears glued to 3NE’s coverage could hear a voice in the time-keeper’s box: ‘Oh, No, No….’

The timekeeper had accidentally pressed the button for the final siren, instead of the time-on button…..The game had finished 12 seconds early.

Benalla protested and the match was re-played the following week….This time the Hawks prevailed by eight points…..

In the meantime, the customary Morris Medal vote-count had been conducted following Round 18……. Rovers coach Bob Rose polled two votes in the Demon-Hawk clash, to take out the ‘gong’ by one vote, from Castles.

There was some contention that votes should have been cast for the Re-Play instead of the abandoned game……in which case Castles, who starred in the re-play may have won the Medal.

One journo opined: ‘There are some who feel that Richie Castles has been handed a raw deal.’

Richie quickly moved on from the controversy. He reflected: “I didn’t play for individual awards. It was history, as far as I was concerned…”

He also remembers the re-play for the ‘blue’ that started 20 minutes into the first quarter:

“ ‘Rosy’ had given Terry Putt a short right to the jaw which travelled about six inches….Fortunately for Bob the umpie didn’t see it……He jumped in to soothe things down and asked ‘Rosy’ what had happened……….”I think he fainted’ was his reply…..”

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Dick Reynolds had, by now, taken on the coaching job with SANFL club West Torrens, and Richie headed over to spend a season in Adelaide.

“I lived with Dick and Auntie Jean, in this palatial two-storey mansion, just up from Adelaide Oval….provided by the wealthy Torrens President, Ossie O’Grady….tennis court…maid’s quarters upstairs…the lot.”

“They got me a job at Industrial Springs, on Port Road, but I had to spend four weeks’ residentially qualifying before I was eligible to play,” he says.

“We had a great win over Port Adelaide in the final round, then faced Norwood in the First Semi, in front of 45,000 fans……Unfortunately, we all went bad on the same day…..stage-fright, probably…..”

“I loved the footy over there, but had a blue with the boss at work and told him to ‘stick the job up his arse’, loaded up the ute and drove all the way home…….hit the Shepp Road about 6am on Christmas Day…..”

His timing couldn’t have been better…..Benalla were about to embark on a run which would take them to successive flags…..

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They had a crackerjack combination in ‘62…..well-balanced and adaptable. Strong big men like Ike Kulbars and Terry Putt; key forwards Neil Busse and burly Ian Hughes; defenders Alf Sikora, ‘Dinger’ Langlands and Graeme Lessing and a classy centreline of Brian Bourke, ‘Curly’ Hanlon and Ronnie Hayes……

“We knocked off the Rovers mid-season in one of the first matches that Ken Boyd played for them after returning from disqualification. He was in Benalla selling insurance the following week and called in to the place where my brother Charlie worked. Conversation naturally turned to footy…..”

“He said: ‘Fair dinkum, they had one bloke who couldn’t run because his knees were all bandaged up ( that was Hughsie ) and there was another fat little bloke in the back pocket…….The fellah that couldn’t run, with the bandaged knees, kicked four goals and the fat little prick stopped ten’…. “

“Charlie said: ‘You’re talking about my little brother’….”

“We beat Corowa by a point in a thrilling Second Semi and the Grand Final was a real tight battle all day…….We trailed the Rovers by a couple of goals at half-time, 5 points at three quarter-time, and they still led by 10 points with just a few minutes to play.”

“They’d switched ‘Boydy’ into the ruck and he was giving them plenty, but they were tiring. We slowly gained the ascendency and booted three goals to hit the lead…..I can still see Johnny Hogan snapping the final goal, to seal the game….. The sound of that siren gave me my greatest thrill in football.”

The Demons’ won in more emphatic fashion in 1963, but not before they’d survived a draw against Myrtleford in the Second Semi-Final, won the replay by 6 goals, then awaited a confident Corowa in the Grand Final…

It was still anyone’s game at lemon-time, as the Spiders trailed by just 13 points……But they failed to score in the last quarter, whilst Benalla booted 8.3, to win by 64 points.

The celebrations raged, and Castles, who’d again played a major part, was in the thick of them…..

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Richie says he hasn’t touched a drop of the demon drink for more than 30 years, but more than made up for it when he was playing.

“I’d have one or two, then want to drink the keg……There we’re plenty of times I went on the milk-run still under the weather…….Just as well the horse knew when to stop……How the hell I didn’t fall off I’ll never know…….”

He says he still holds one record, of which he’s not terribly proud…..

“We’d earned a week off after winning the ‘62 Second Semi, and someone donated an ‘18-gallon keg’ which we proceeded to drink after Tuesday night training…….Much, much later, it was decided it’d be a good idea to drive to the Friendlies Oval to see who could record the fastest lap…..”

( Richie had been playing First XI cricket with UFS since he was about 14, so he was familiar with the lay-out of the ground.)

“I was in my Volkswagen and it was as wet as buggery…..we started broadsiding around there….One of the fellahs had winter treads on his Holden, and ran straight up the guts, through the turf wicket…..Johnny Burns, in his blue Customline, got bogged to the boot….”

“The bloke in the railway signal-box dobbed us in……We caused a fair bit of damage and the cops nabbed us……We had to attend the police-station the next day, to have the riot act read to us……”

“Vin Williams ( our coach ) and Charlie Chiswell ( President ) got us out of strife, but we had to pay 100 quid and roll the surface with an old concrete roller…….”

“It’s a wonder you weren’t locked up, “ his wife Margaret quips…..

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Richie had been finding it difficult to combine the milk-run with his footy commitments. He pulled the pin on his career in 1965, aged 25, after 115 terrific games with the Demons.

Instead, he concentrated on his racing Pigeons – a life-time hobby which he only gave up three years ago. He also pre-trained Trotters.

“The pick of them was Madison Square, which I leased to Corowa coach Frank Tuck. He won 8-10 races with it…….When Mum had a stroke the trotters went by the wayside…..

In the mid-eighties his brother-in-law Alan Beaton – a 1963 premiership team-mate – convinced him to coach one of the Under-14 Junior League teams – Benalla Tigers.

“I think they give me the hardest kids to handle…..We won 2 games the first year, then took out the next 2 flags.”

“Geez, some of ‘em were bastards…..but I loved it……If there was mud and slush I’d let ‘em fight in it…..We had one young bloke called ‘Harro’…..He was only about 12; smoked, rode a bike, had a girl on each arm; from a split family….skinny legs and arms….a real candidate for Pentridge, I thought…..But he was respectful to me, and always called me Mr.Cas’”

“Anyway, he disappeared off the scene….I asked his Aunty years later what he was up to….She said: ‘You wouldn’t believe it. He’s up in Queensland, married, with a couple of kids and has his own business, as a Painter and Decorator…..’ “

After retirement, Richie spent a few years on the Benalla committee, and also served as a Selector…..He still enjoys his footy and closely monitors the progress of young fellahs, as they come through the ranks……….

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P.S: When the O & M announced its ‘Team of the Century’ in 2019 Richie Castles was named in the Back Pocket…..He deems it a huge honour to have been included among a group of the finest-ever players to have graced the competition………

“TRADITIONAL RIVALS SQUARE OFF AGAIN……..”

It was the throwaway comment that helped re-ignite one of country football’s keenest rivalries………

The Ovens & Murray League had just suffered a shock 15-point loss to Goulburn Valley, in cold, wet and slippery conditions at the W.J.Findlay Oval, in early June, 2003.

GV jumped the O & M in the opening quarter, making a mockery of the conditions, and slammed on five goals, to open up a commanding 23-point lead at the first change.

They maintained that ascendency for the remainder of the game.

Gleeful Goulburn Valley diehards celebrated…….For the second time in four years they’d knocked O & M out of the Country Championships in the opening round……

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Their exuberance touched the nerve of Ovens & Murray General Manager Leigh Elder:

“We’re still Number One,” he retorted.

He pointed to the O & M’s unparalleled record of four successive titles, from 1996-‘99 as proof of their standing among Country football’s pace-setters……….

“I think he’s clutching at straws,” scoffed Elder’s opposite number, GV’s Eric Bott.

“It’s a bit of a joke, really……….In my opinion the O & M is back in the pack with us…….We hold the upper hand……The O & M can say what they like………”

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The Border-Mail’s football editor David Johnstone penned a sober assessment, in the game’s aftermath, under a heading : LEAGUE IN SHOCK AFTER FLAGSHIP SINKS:

“The Ovens and Murray League was in mourning yesterday.

“The flagship representative team has been bundled out of the Victorian Country Championships in a first-Round encounter by the Goulburn Valley for the third time in a decade.

“The latest loss doesn’t go close to the pain experienced in 1993, when the GV sent O & M tumbling back to Division Two of the Championships, but the sting was clearly obvious in the rooms afterwards.

“The O & M expects ( as opposed to hopes ) to win the championships every season, and when these expectations are not met the mood is predictably sombre.

“Opposition teams consider this attitude arrogant, and delight in defeating the O & M.

“The Shepparton News yesterday trumpeted the GV’s win with a screaming front-page headline: ‘ONE MAGIC MOMENT’ and an accompanying lead story………..”

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The battle for football bragging rights in the Murray-Goulburn region began 92 years ago………..

Of the many competitions in vogue at the time ( every tiny village boasted a team of their own ), the Goulburn Valley and Ovens and Murray Leagues were the stand-outs.

If you were a star in either League in those days, chances were you’d have received a typed letter from almost all of the VFL clubs, inviting you to do a pre-season…….Such was their strength , players could be plucked from playing with Albury, Wangaratta, Shepparton or Kyabram one week, to lining up with Footscray, Fitzroy or Melbourne the next………

In the end, many of them became legends of the game………

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To settle the debate about which was the stronger of the Major Leagues a match was designated for the Wangaratta Showgrounds on June 6th 1930……..Admittance was set at 1/6d and all profits would be channeled to the Wangaratta, Corowa and Goulburn Valley Hospitals.

Every O & M team, barring East and West Albury ( who were opposed that day ) was represented.

The scribes predicted that, despite the absence of several stars from the two Albury clubs, Ovens and Murray would have too much overall strength, and should win comfortably…..It certainly began to pan out that way:

“Throughout the first three quarters, O & M seemed to have a bit in hand…….It came as a surprise in the last quarter when the boys from the land of tinned fruit and big wheat crops, came out and practically took charge of the game……

“The lead changed regularly. The visitors, though, seemed to have a bit in hand in the last quarter……

“Eventually, they grabbed a lead of seven points and held it for the last few minutes…..”

Final Scores: Goulburn Valley. 2.4, 6.7, 10.8, 16.14 (110)

Ovens & Murray. 4.5, 8.11, 14.11, 15.13 (103)

A return ‘bout’ came 22 years later, in the Semi-Final of the first Country Championship series, at Ballarat.

O & M cruised to a 9.18 – 5.7 victory, and went on to defeat a wayward Bendigo: 11.11 to 8.21, by eight points, to clinch the title…………..

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The Leagues next met on Queen’s Birthday week-end, 1961, when the ‘Caltex’ Country Championships were revived after an absence of four years……

O & M travelled to Narrandera, where they comfortably defeated the South-West League on the Saturday.

The keenly-anticipated second-round clash with Goulburn Valley came two days later, at the Wangaratta Showgrounds.

For youngsters like myself, it was the closest thing to live VFL footy that we’d seen. I can recall sneaking into the Magpies’ clubrooms to watch the O & M prepare, and counting nine former League players pulling on the Black and Gold guernsey.

The selectors suggested that the captain-coach Bob Rose, who’d been playing under extreme difficulty, might consider pulling out of the game, but ‘Mr.Football’ wouldn’t have a bar of it.

Scarcely able to hobble, he argued that once he got onto the ground he’d be right: “ The way those blokes upfield deliver the ball, I should be okay,” he said.

And so it proved. O & M ran away to win: 13.11 to 8.8 in a high-standard clash. Wangaratta’s champion forwards Bob Constable (7 goals) and Ron McDonald (4) shared the goal-kicking honours:

The O & M side lined up as follows:

Backs: Brian McKoy (Wodonga), Bob Ronnfeldt (Rutherglen), Ray Thompson (Rovers)

H. B : Harold Davies (Rutherglen), Jim Sandral (Corowa), Ken Ellis (Yarrawonga)

C: Brian Bourke (Benalla), Don Ross ( Nth.Albury), Terry Burgess (Myrtleford)

H.F: Lionel Ryan. (Wodonga), Ron McDonald (Wang). Stan Sargeant (Nth Albury)

F: Neville Waller (Wang). Bob Constable (Wang), Bob Rose (Rovers)

Foll: Lindsay Cooke (Wodonga), Kevin Mack. (Wang). Les Clarke (Rovers)

19.20: Len Sherlock (Benalla), Bill Gayfer (Rutherglen)

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Forty-eight years after their first victory over the O & M, Goulburn Valley registered their second triumph, winning 17.12 to 15.8 at Benalla, in 1978.

In a classic encounter which ebbed and flowed, O & M were unable to restrain GV forwards Terry Keenan ( 6 goals), Des Campbell (3), and massive Bernie McCarthy; and received great service from Graeme (Josh) Kendall and dynamic rover Gary Cooper.

Steve Norman booted five goals for the O & M, who trailed by two points at three quarter-time, but couldn’t withstand a five-goal last quarter burst from the Purple and Golds.

Enraptured GV President Jack Arthur invoked Churchillian language to laud his players:

“The Goulburn Valley is very, very proud of you players…….I’m sure we can say this is one of our finest hours…..”

GV went on to clinch the Country Championship.

The following players wore the O & M guernsey:

Backs: Chris Porter ( Rovers ). Brian Symes (Benalla). Kevin Richardson (Wodonga)

H.B: Daryl Henderson (Ruth ). Merv Holmes (Rovers). Evan Connick. (North Albury)

C: Jim Britton (Wodonga). Eddie Flynn (Rovers). Gary Paxton (Albury)

H.F: Steve Doolan (Ruth). Reg Gleeson (North Alb). Les Parish (Yarra)

F: Peter Sharp (Wodonga). Steve Norman (Rovers). Jim Hooper (Benalla)

Foll: Rod Page ( Myrtleford). Andrew Scott (Rovers). Vin Doolan (Rutherglen).

19.20: Robert Tait (Yarra). Peter Howard ( Myrtleford )

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In 2001, the Leagues struck a perpetual Trophy, honouring two long-serving players – Ovens and Murray’s Mick Wilson and GV’s Stephen Ash. The winning team would hold the ‘Wilson-Ash’ Shield……..It pin-balled between the old rivals for the next decade…….

With the increasing difficulty in maintaining player interest in the Country Championships, the VCFL introduced a seeding system in 2010.

Ovens and Murray and Goulburn Valley, the two recognised powerhouses, were seeded 1 and 2 respectively.

They met at the Lavington Oval, with the honour of being the State’s Premier League at stake……..A relentless GV outfit blew O & M out of the water with 7 unanswered goals from late in the first quarter.

The O & M were unable to muster enough scoreboard pressure to seriously threaten GV……Shepparton United man-mountain Jason Eagle exploded in the second quarter, taking several strong marks on Kade Kuschert.

He converted with 3 majors, before finishing with 4……… His efforts were the catalyst for a GV scoring spree which effectively wrapped up the Wilson-Ash Shield before half-time……For a team comprising the O & M’s finest players, the home side made too many simple errors, especially in delivery to the forward line, whilst GV were consistently able to find loose men due to their willingness to run harder………

GOULBURN VALLEY: 3.4, 8.9, 10.13, 12.16 (88)

OVENS & MURRAY. : 4.4, 4.5, 6.8, 9.10 (64)

BEST. G.V: B.Murray, T.Durward, T.Sheldon, N.Gieschen, K.Height, G.Campbell.

O.M: M.Pendergast, J.Mackie, M.Wollington, S.Meyer, D.Leslie, D.Maher, Z.Jones.

Ovens and Murray wrested the Shield back when the team’s next met – seven years later – at John Flower Oval, Wodonga, in 2017.

And what a pulsating contest it turned out to be…….

There was nothing in it all afternoon, with the home team’s biggest lead being only 17 points, which came early in the final term.

O & M would have put the game to bed had they converted a shot that would have put them 22 points up. But they couldn’t deliver the knockout blow.

GV then took charge, nailing the first three goals of the final quarter to regain the lead for the first time since the second term.

However, in the dying stages, goals to O & M’s Lachie Howe and Ben Speight sealed a thrilling seven-point win.

The next instalment of the Wilson-Ash Shield will be held this Saturday, at Mooroopna. Of the 25 matches which have been played between the arch rivals. O & M have won 15, to GV’s 10……This is a summary of their meetings:

1930: GV. 16.14 (110). d. OM. 15.13 (103)

1954: OM. 9.18 ( 72). d. GV. 5.7. ( 37 )

1961: OM. 13.11 ( 89). d. GV. 8.8. ( 56 )

1965: OM. 9.16 ( 70). d. GV. 8.5. ( 53 )

1967: OM. 16.15 (101). d. GV. 10.12.( 72 )

1971: OM. 22.4. (136). d. GV. 8.10. (58 )

1978: GV. 17.12 (114). d. OM. 15.8. (98)

1979: OM. 12.14 (86 ). d. GV. 11.10.(76)

1980: OM. 19.11 (125). d. GV. 14.9. (93)

1981: OM. 14.19 (103). d. GV. 12.11 (83)

1983: GV. 13.18 ( 96). d. OM. 10.12 (72)

1987: OM. 21.16 (142). d. GV. 12.15 (87)

1990: OM. 19.13 (127). d. GV. 15.11 (101)

1993: GV. 21.12 (138). d. OM. 9.12 ( 66)

2000: GV. 14.27 (111). d. OM. 15. 9 ( 99)

2001: OM. 22.18 (150). d. GV. 14.9 ( 93)

2003: GV. 8.5 ( 53). d. OM. 4.14 (38)

2004: GV. 9.4. (58). d. OM. 6.9. (45)

2005: GV. 11.8. (74). d. OM. 3.4 (22)

2006: OM. 11.5. (71). d. GV. 2.4 (16)

2007: OM. 12.10 (82). d. GV. 12.7 (79)

2008: GV. 6.6 (42). d. OM. 6.5 (41)

2009: OM. 20.7 (127). d. GV. 12.8 (80)

2010: GV. 12.16 (88). d. OM. 9.10 (64)

2017: OM. 12.14 (86). d. GV. 11.13 (79)

N.B: Matches in 2004, ’05, ’06 and 2008 were of two-quarters duration and were part of a Round-Robin Tournament.

‘….A SPORTING FANATIC ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE…….’

When the lights are dimmed, the last race has been run, and the crowd has dispersed at the Norm Minns Oval on Saturday night, no-one will be more relieved than Graeme Taylor.

The esteemed, storied Wangaratta Carnival; the pride and joy of the town since it’s official birth in 1919, will have been nursed over the line for its long-awaited Centenary staging.

Just as a gnarled veteran stumbles on the last leg of a marathon distance run, the Carnival has survived seemingly mortal wounds which would have put paid to lesser rivals, has risen from the deck, shaken the dust from its ‘silks’, and battled on.

With the reminder of countless former glories coursing through its veins, and the tape within sight, it has, like a true ‘pro’, gathered its equilibrium and dashed to the finish line……..to the acclaim of all concerned……….

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Graeme Taylor’s a local, born and bred. He can re-count the deeds of ‘Patto’, Toleman, Oliver, De Coite, Pate, O’Toole, Dunbar, Waddell, Foster …….and the locals: Clarke, Woods, Grealy, O’Keeffe, Pasquali, Harding, Vincent, Boulton, Petts, Guerin, and countless others.

He can remember clambering to gain a vantage spot, and pushing his way through crowds, which sometimes numbered close to 10,000 on the Monday night of Australia Day week-end. As excitement peaked for the staging of the plum cycling and athletic Finals, he couldn’t help feeling, with a sense of pride, that few other events on the sporting calendar could generate this atmosphere.

As an all-round sporting fanatic he felt drawn to ensure that the Carnival should prosper; and that he might be able to play his part.

That’s how he came to be involved with the Athletic Club in 1973……..

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In his childhood dreams Graeme was Bob Rose, Les Gregory and Sid Patterson all rolled into one.

He visualised having the football on a string, threading bullet-like passes onto the chests of leading team-mates …….Dodging and weaving, and executing feats of brilliance with the dexterity of a ballet-dancer…….And imagining the roar of the crowd rising to a crescendo, as he stormed past a pack of riders in the race for the line…….

In reality, he was destined to be, like most of us, a battler, who was to make his substantial contribution to sport from the other side of the fence……..

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He was a wee tacker when he was caught up in the razzmatazz surrounding Bobby Rose’s arrival in Wangaratta.

He was one of the 20-plus mascots – all wearing the No.1 Brown and Gold guernsey – who used to lead the Rovers onto the ground. He’d sit inside the boundary fence at each game, enthralled, as the Hawks’ will o’ the wisp winger Les ‘Nipper’ Gregory ( his favourite player ), who could turn on a three-penny bit, weaved his magic.

When he was old enough for Junior League footy he stripped with Tigers, and was lucky enough to participate in their 1968 flag, thanks to the presence of a handful of future stars – Steve Norman, Geoff Schwind and Richie Allen.

He recalls playing alongside the Lipshut boys – Philip and Geoff. “They were the sons of the local doctor, Keith, and really talented players. ” I’m not sure how much footy they went on to play, but I know they made their mark in prominent careers as country solicitors,” Graeme says.

“The other memory I have of my Junior League days was our coach, Bob Rowlands. Our eyes were always fixed on ‘Bluey’ when he was delivering his address…….He was a hot-gospellor in the fashion of Barassi and Alan Killigrew……….

Graeme thought of heading out to the Ovens and King League: “But I wasn’t much chop as a player, so I took up umpiring for four years or so, and did a bit of coaching in the Midget League.”

“My full forward was tiny Darren Petersen – who was the Gary Ablett of Midget footy. He came to me one day and said: ‘I can’t play anymore…..I’ve lost my footy boots.’”

“That was disastrous news for the kids. They knew we wouldn’t win if he wasn’t in the side. I then performed my greatest coaching feat. I said: ‘Don’t worry, I guarantee I’ll round up a pair for you……….”

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Cycling has always entranced him.

“I can just sit and watch bike-racing for hours on end……..When we lived in Ryan Avenue I’d jump on the bike and tear down Perry Street…….with the old man following me with a stop-watch.”

“Again, when it came to competing, my enthusiasm far outweighed my ability……..”

“But I’ve been a regular at the Tour Down Under, the Bendigo Madisons, a few Sun Tours and several Austral Wheel Races.”

He was also imbued with a passion for horse-racing at a young age: “I felt no qualms about wagging School whenever the Wangaratta Cup Meeting came around,” he says.”I had to be there.”

He wrote a Racing column in the Chronicle for many years, and originally became involved in horse ownership roughly thirty years ago, with shares in a handy galloper called Arctic Crown. He was also involved in a couple with a good mate, Pat Heffernan.

The buzz of racing has taken Graeme to every State, and both islands of New Zealand; to 10 Darwin Cups, and to outlying places such as Kalgoorlie’s Boulder course.

“It’s a great social thing. For instance, I originally headed over to the Warrnambool Autumn Carnival with Barry and Jeff Clarke and the late Les Brown. There’s now a contingent of 20-odd Wang fellahs who enjoy the experience . It’ll be my 50th Warrnambool trip this year.”

“I think the biggest thrill I’ve had, personally, was when a horse that Barry Clarke and I owned, called King of Dudes, won the Grand National in 2015.”

A fascination for Jumps Racing led Graeme to get to make the acquaintance of Warrnambool trainer Aaron Purcell.

“We’ve had about 20 horses with Aaron, I suppose – mainly from England, France and Germany. It’s been a fantastic run; we must have had 30-odd winners, and 18 have been on Metropolitan tracks….. Our last winner was on Boxing Day…. Takumi, in the last race at Caulfield.”

“Some of those involved in the syndicates we’ve had include Shane Flynn, Bernie McBain, Andy Hamilton, Wendy and Pete Lester, and Rovers footballers Shane Gaston and Luke Peters. Our most recent purchase was an import called Fiji, which is yet to race in Australia .”

Graeme admits that Golf was probably the sport that he adapted to most easily. He took it up in his late teens and has been a regular at Corowa, Howlong, Yarrawonga and Wangaratta over the years, reducing his handicap to single figures. He still plays whenever the opportunity permits………”

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But recently, his principal focus has been on ensuring that the Centenary Carnival runs without a hitch.

47 years have elapsed since he joined the Athletic Club and discovered that his forte’ was Sports Administration.

“Ken Jasper once told me that, in the good old days, there was a waiting list of people seeking to be drafted onto the 20-person Carnival Committee . Ken was nominated by Keith Bradbury OBE, a fellow state National Party politician, who was President at the time. Distinguished local Accountant Frank Ballantine, his off-sider, had been Secretary for 14 years.”

Long-serving officials have been the hallmark of the Club. The inaugural President, Arthur Callander, held office for 26 years. For a good deal of that period ( 21 years ) his Secretary was Matt O’Donohue, a former League footballer who was enticed to the town and stayed.

So solidity has been the name of the game.

When Graeme became involved, he spent countless hours assisting the late, great Norm Minns.

“Norm really taught me all about Ground preparation,” he says. “We were always down there, changing the sprays at all hours of the night, and rolling the Gift track. He was my biggest influence – or inspiration – if you put it that way.”

Graeme was employed as a Draftsman with the old Shire of Oxley ( he was there for 22 years, until it was absorbed by the Wangaratta Rural City), and proved to be the right man for the job when the decision was made to seal the Bike Track.

He did all the design work, drafted the plans, specifications and Contracts with Wilkinson & Brock.

“The total cost of the project was $40,000. We had a interest-free loan from the City Council, but really, the Club was financially sound at that time, because were were attracting crowds of around 20,000 for the three days of the Carnival.”

“Wangaratta’s was the only major dirt track left in Australia. We could see that the only way for the future was to get it sealed. It stood the test of time.”

The pre-cursor to the sealing of the bike track provided one of Graeme’s most vivid memories. It came a year earlier, in the Wheelrace Final when five riders were involved in a spectacular crash. The referee blew the whistle and declared a ‘No-Race. He ordered a re-run without the fallen riders.

Three of them protested. A bitter dispute followed, before they were re-instated and the Wheelrace, was taken out by Lavington’s Greg Featonby almost an hour later …………

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Highlights such as this got Graeme thinking……. “There have been 1,001 incidents over the years, which have involved many of Australia’s sporting greats. Surely it’s worth documenting this rich tapestry of events before they get lost in the passages of time.”

Thus, they have provided the fodder for the excellent booklet, which he’s almost completed : ‘A History of the Wangaratta Sports Carnival – 1919 to 2021’.

It’s been a labour of love, he says, particularly when his research brought up memories such as 1974, when the lights went out in the final lap of the Aces scratch race.

“Bob Whetters, one of the fallen riders, recovered to win the Wheelrace on the Monday night, but not before nine of the 16 riders had been fined for collusive riding.”

“And even though it was before my time, the 1954 Gift Final was one of the most exciting . Chiltern’s Des Shelley dead-heated with Olympic Gold-Medallist, the Jamaican Herb McKenley. Herb was all for splitting the prize-money, but Des opted for a re-run, which he won. And, incidentally, he took out the Wodonga Gift the following week, just pipping McKenley on the line.

“It was always fantastic when a local boy got up in the Gift, or Wheelrace Final. The crowd loved it.”

“Of course, many of Australia’s greatest Wood-Choppers have been attracted to the Carnival, and proved great crowd-pleasers. The Tug-o-War events also provided plenty of highlights back in their heyday.”

It has been an exercise in nostalgia for Graeme, who has decided to bow out at the completion of this Carnival.

He still works part-time with the Murrindindee Shire ( he’s been there since he was with the North East Catchment Authority). And besides, there’s plenty to do in his role as Secretary of the Wangaratta Rovers Football Club.

But at the moment he’s putting the finishing touches to the Carnival booklet, which is expected to be available in early- February.

It’s well worth the read……..

” ‘HAWK EXPRESS’ BRINGS 1960 CUP BACK HOME…….”

Sixty years ago this week Roley Marklew enacted a boyhood dream, the details of which are still clearly embedded in his mind……

He’d been thrown into the Wangaratta Rovers senior line-up mid-way through the 1960 season, aged 16. His first assignment was to replace the injured full back Lex James. His opponent ?…….One of the Ovens and Murray League’s glamour players, celebrated North Albury spearhead Stan Sargeant.

A solid performance led to him being tested in a variety of positions; back flank, back pocket, forward flank, a turn as a ruck-rover, …….It was a sort of apprenticeship on the run……and who better to nurture him than the legendary Bob Rose.

After just nine senior games Roley had cemented his spot in the side……But as the days rolled on towards the Grand Final, doubts start to creep in.

He’d heard tales of selectors sometimes opting for an experienced old-timer, in preference to a raw kid like himself, who may be prone to suffer ‘stage-fright’ on such a momentous occasion….

He needn’t have worried………. Bob Rose assured him after training that he had a role to perform……He was in……But that didn’t stop him mentally rehearsing the game, over and over………

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By the time the ‘Hawk Express’ pulled out of the Wangaratta Railway Station, bound for Albury, excitement in the Rovers camp was at fever-pitch.

The train was chock-a-block with players, wives, girl-friends, officials…and a couple of hundred supporters, all wearing some sort of Brown and Gold paraphernalia.

Roley couldn’t help but be swept up in the atmosphere of the day, particularly as every second person was wishing him all the best……..

He couldn’t wait to get onto the Albury Sportsground and spring into action……………………..

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The recruitment of Bob Rose in 1956 had provided the impetus for the Rovers’ ascension as an O & M power. They’d been more or less an irrelevance during their first six years in the league, but the Collingwood champ’s arrival enticed record memberships and crowds, fostered enthusiasm and acted as a magnet for recruits.

The premiership that transpired in 1958 was the reward…….1960 would, hopefully, provide ‘redemption’ for the close-shave the Hawks had suffered against Yarrawonga in the previous season’s decider…………

Coleraine’s Lex James, who was rated one of country football’s finest defenders, was added to an already imposing list. Greta winger Brian Hallahan, and a strongly-built key position player from Moyhu, Billy McKenzie, shone out, as did a batch of Junior League hopefuls, including devil-may-care backman Bob Atkinson from South Wanderers and, of course, young Marklew, the blossoming utility from Combined Churches.

There was a steely resolve in the Hawk camp during the season, as they swept to a dozen conclusive wins; the most ruthless of them a 103-point belting of Albury – 15.20 to 0.7.

But they were ‘off the boil’ against middle-rungers Corowa in Round 13, and trailed by 32 points mid-way through the last term. A withering five-goal burst left them one point shy at siren-time.

That was the only blemish on the road to the finals. But a slight hiccup occurred in the Round 18 clash with Benalla.

The Demons went down by a goal in a riveting encounter, which left them out of the finals by a mere two points. After it was revealed that the siren-button had been accidentally pressed 12 seconds too soon, the match was ordered to be re-played.

It was a case of ‘déjà vu the following week. This time the margin was eight points – also in the Rovers’ favour. Benalla’s season was over……

The backdrop to the controversial finish was that Bob Rose’s three-vote game in the original clash secured him the Morris Medal – one vote clear of Benalla’s back-pocket dynamo Richie Castles.

So the Hawks finished four wins clear of second-placed Wodonga. The two clubs had developed an intense rivalry since Collingwood mates Rose and Des Healy had arrived to lead the respective clubs.

The teams were locked together at three quarter-time of the Second Semi, but the Hawks steadied in the final stanza to prevail by two goals, and march into their third successive Grand Final.

They awaited the Bulldogs, who overcame torrential rain, and a persistent Yarrawonga, in the Preliminary Final…………..

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A record crowd, the majority of them leaning towards the unfancied Wodonga, saw the powerful Rovers at their best, in a game that was never really in doubt.

Roley Marklew fondly recalls the humbling experience of running out alongside some of the finest players of that era………

“You had ‘Long John’ McMonigle, a tall, lean fellah who would be instructed to belt the ball clear of the packs. I’ve never seen anyone dominate the centre bounce like him. Sometimes the ball would land in the arms of the centre half forward. He was such a docile person, but when he got fired up he could do anything.”

“Les Clarke was the vice-captain. He’d been there since the Club joined the O & M….An inspirational player………And Lennie Greskie, who was just a young rover at the time, and ended up as a tough back pocket.”

“Max ‘Pigsy’ Newth, was an ex-rover from Greta. He was just 5’6”, yet played as a decoy full forward and kicked a lot of goals.”

“I was privileged to play alongside all of them…….and what a thrill it was to watch the ‘Bob Rose Show’ from a vantage spot………….”

Leading by 25 points at half-time, the Rovers’ pace and aerial supremacy made it hard for the Dogs to even get a sniff. Small men Johnny Hawke and Des Healy, who had been key factors in Wodonga’s recent good form, were well held, and they had no answer to the magical Rose.

Reg Pendergast had the unforgiving task of being assigned as his ‘shadow’, but ‘Mr.Football’ was unperturbed, and was well-nigh unstoppable, booting 4.6 and assisting in a few other scoring sorties.

The tired Dogs were unable to conjure anything which would reduce the margin. They trailed by 30 points at three quarter-time and, after a lack-lustre final term the scoreboard read: 11.17 to 8.13.

Rugged Ray Burns, who chimed in with three majors, did loads of heavy work around the ground, whilst irrepressible left-footer Neil McLean showed his class at centre half forward.

McMonigle and his ruck partner Ray Thompson held sway in the ruck. Wingers Les Gregory and Claude Rogers were on top, and centreman Tony Chambeyron saw off three opponents.

The Chronicle reported that: “……….There were tears in Rose’s eyes as he was carried from the ground, spattered in confetti and stripped down to his shorts. The Hawk supporters had watched in awe whilst he and his 19 team-mates had effected what amounted to a slaughter,” …………

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More than 1,000 adoring fans waited patiently back at the Wangaratta station, to acknowledge the triumphant Premiers.

They arrived nearly two hours late; held up by a goods-train derailment at Wodonga.

“It was an amazing atmosphere when we pulled in,” Roley recalls. “ The Brass Band was performing and each player was cheered as we touched down on the platform…..Then they serenaded us down to the ground, where the celebrations were in full swing.”

If that wasn’t enough to whet the appetite of a football tyro, he saddled up for the Rovers against VFA premiers, Oakleigh, in a highly-publicised Challenge-Match the following week.

Big money was allegedly wagered on the game by some of Oakleigh’s financial backers, who were willingly accommodated, but it became a boil-over, as the Hawks won in a canter, by 73 points…………

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The good judges predicted that Roley Marklew was destined to be one of the Rovers’ greats.

They were ultimately to be proved correct, but in the meantime, like many a highly-touted youngster, he experienced his share of ups and downs.

After failing to fulfill his early promise, he moved to Tarrawingee for three seasons, regained his zest for the game, and played in dual premierships, in 1963 and ‘64.

Back with the Hawks in 1966, a ruptured spleen and punctured lung cost him most of the season. But once fit, he showed that he had become a more mature and well-rounded player, applauded for his desperation, adaptability and hard edge.

Opposition fans had a different slant on him ; often taking offence at his inclination to dish out punishment. But, to his credit, he was rarely put off his game when the time came for retribution.

As a ‘Collingwood six-footer’ he was handed various roles, sometimes giving away inches to key position players, but compensating with fierce endeavour.

The best footy of Roley’s career was possibly played in his last five years with the Hawks. Positioned mainly as a half-forward, he was more than many back flankers bargained for.

As an ‘elder statesman’ of the 1971 and ‘72 premiership sides, he ‘grew another leg’ when finals-time arrived.

The last of his 162 games with the Club came in the 1973 Preliminary Final loss to North Albury.

Invited to coach North Wangaratta for two seasons, he spent a third as a player and wound up his career by kicking six goals in North’s 95-point demolition of Beechworth, as the O & K Hawks cruised to the 1976 flag.

After playing 300-odd games, and often incurring the wrath of opposition supporters, many fans saw it as rather ironic when Roley warmed to the idea of becoming a ‘Man in White’.

He umpired for 14 years, and of the 500 or so games he handled, a good portion of them were at senior O & M level. As you’d imagine, he was a target of opposition supporters whenever he was allocated a Rovers match.

One of his footy highlights came in 1986 when Rick, his 16 year-old son was elevated from the Thirds to play the first of his 229 senior games with the Rovers. From that point on Roley ceased umpiring and became a fixture at the Findlay Oval.

You’d find him filling in as a goal-umpire, assisting the medical staff, and doing maintenance jobs around the Club.

His match-day usually started before 8am and involved loading up the Thirds equipment-trailer to head off to away games. A swag of kids passed through the ranks in his time, not least of them his grand-son Alex, who carried on the family tradition by moving up to make his senior debut in 2013.

Many of the youngsters Roley closely monitored over the last 30-odd years didn’t kick on, others become stalwarts of the Brown and Gold, striving, as he did, to emulate the glory that came his way back in 1960 ……………

‘ONE OF NATURE’S GENTLEMEN….’

Old Bill Findlay never got around to laying down his pen.

Even as emphysema was ravaging his lungs, and making life near-unbearable, he was putting the finishing touches to a book on Wangaratta Turf Club’s history.

They launched it in the presence of a room full of dignitaries, and local racing personalities. But Bill wasn’t there…..It would have irked him to miss out on regaling a captive audience with some yarns of the past. After all, he was as fluent in public-speaking as he was with the written word.

Unfortunately, a couple of months earlier – in December 1985 – this local legend had passed on…….

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Bill saw an incredible amount of change in his 84 years.

He often recalled the excitement of early 20th-century Chiltern, the town of his birth, when gold was the magnet which drew hordes of people to seek their fortune in the mines dotted around the area.

He remembered sitting beside the cobblestone highway, watching the first Motor Car tootling through Chiltern, en route to Sydney ; and the happy times of his childhood days at the Presentation Convent.

His working life began in 1917, with the Postal Department in Culcairn and a couple of surrounding Riverina towns. It was interrupted during the Great Depression when he was employed by the Forests Commission.

He threw himself into this work, organising the ‘Sustenance Gangs’ of unemployed people who were desperately trying to eke out a living and support a family.

He recalled the miserable sight of proud men walking aimlessly back and forth along country roads……Roads to nowhere……

That impacted him heavily , and undoubtedly fanned his interest in fighting inequality.

He had a stint with the RAAF during the War and, soon after hostilities finished, obtained a permanent position with the Postal Department in Wangaratta…….And that’s where he stayed.

He dabbled in politics – with a strong leaning towards the ALP. Dad, who was a great mate of Bill’s, privately reckoned he was too nice a bloke to become embroiled in this dog-eat-dog environment. When the ‘Split’ occurred in 1955, Bill put his principles before ambition and swung his support behind the Democratic Labour Party.

He thus sacrificed any lofty political aspirations he may have held, but it typified his honesty and integrity. It was also characteristic of him that he remained on good terms with those who had now become his political foes.

He stood on six occasions for State and Federal elections. As an impressionable lad, the sight of Bill’s photo in political hand-outs and newspaper articles in the fifties made me think he was a larger-than-life personality.

Was this the same ‘Old Bill’ who would negotiate his trusty (rusty) bike, his only mode of transport, to and from his Vincent Road residence to the Post Office, proffering a hearty greeting to all and sundry….. Or absorbedly suck on his pipe as he watched his beloved Rovers in combat ?

One of his Rovers acquaintances, Mannie Cochineas, provided his flash black Pontiac to transport Bill throughout the electorate when he was campaigning. Hopefully voters didn’t get the impression he was a toff, as he swanned around in style. Nothing could have been further from the truth………

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Bill was passionate about footy. His enthusiasm for the game was fostered as a whippersnapper, when his father used to take him to watch Chiltern, who were then part of the O & M, in action. He had his Red and White heroes and played well into his thirties.

When he and Mary and their two daughters settled in Wang he drifted towards the Rovers, and became an integral figure in the early history of the Club.

He spoke of those dark days of the late 40’s-early 50’s. “I often look back and wonder how those big-hearted men carried on,“ he would say.

“Beset with financial difficulties and, in fact, existing from Saturday to Saturday, they never whimpered. Their love of the game ( and often a hand in their own pocket ) was all that kept the Rovers afloat.”

“The future for the Club, at one stage, looked as bleak as London on its foggiest morning, But thankfully a loyal supporter, Greg Spurr, gave a personal guarantee of 400 pounds, interest-free, to be repaid at their convenience.”

As the Club Secretary, he appeared, with fellow delegate Ollie Batey, at the crucial Ovens and Murray meeting which was to decide whether the Hawks – and Myrtleford – would be admitted to the League in 1950.

“When delegates began quizzing us, I nervously fingered the club Bank Book. We were accepted into the O & M with no money, but a till full of confidence.”

He reflected on the state of the Oval which the Hawks took over in 1953: “ The Clubrooms were in such a dilapidated state that any self-respecting swaggie would turn up his nose at the thought of camping there.”

Bill’s habit was to write copious notes and keep statistics about anything pertaining to the Rovers: Games played…….. Goalkickers,……..Thumb-nail sketches of club identities…..and relevant fortune-changing events…..He also wrote match-reports of the Hawks’ games for the Chronicle.

The arrival of Bob Rose in 1956 flushed out a legion of new followers. Bill suggested capitalizing on this new-found support by producing ‘Hawk News’, which kept fans abreast of club gossip, provided Team Lists and displayed the day’s Racing Guide.

He was the editor of this publication which sold, at its peak, 800 copies per home game. Unfortunately the life of ‘Hawk News’ was nipped in the bud after one season when the O & M complained that it had badly affected sales of their official organ, ‘The Critic’.

Sundry other interests competed for the attention of Bill Findlay. He was Secretary of the Trotting Club ( for 21 years ) and the Cycle Club, a member of the Athletic Carnival committee, the King River Trust, Old People’s Welfare committee, the Wangaratta Debating Association and the Postal Worker’s Union.

He was a highly sought-after Adjudicator, Debating coach and Guest Speaker.

Soon after he retired from the Post Office in 1962, Bill offered himself up as a candidate for Council. A desire to give something back to the community to which he had become so attached prompted him to serve for thirteen years

Considering the respect he commanded, it was no surprise that he became a highly-popular figure in local government, and wore the Mayoral chains for two terms.

When he stepped away from Council Bill quipped that: “It’s time to give the armchair critics a go.”

That now gave him ample time to devote to his hobby – writing. Besides the afore-mentioned History of the Racing Club he also put together the History of the Wangaratta Trotting Club (1976) and co-wrote, with fellow-councillor and friend Bill O’Callaghan: ‘Wangaratta 1959-1984 A Silver City’.

He retained his involvement with the Rovers as Treasurer of their Past Players Association, and initially floated the idea of publishing a book to commemorate the Club’s 35-year O & K/ O & M history.

The culmination was ‘The Hawk Story’, which saw the light of day in 1980. Without being too immodest, he would probably have claimed its launch as one of his finest hours.

Flushed with success, this prompted a follow-up: ‘The Hawk Hall of Fame’, which surfaced two years later……

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Bill ( at this stage in his eighties) and Mary were by now domiciled in ‘up-market’ Chomley Avenue, just around the corner from the Hill’s. My regular visits would follow a similar pattern: “Ah, Kevin,” was the greeting. “Mary, would you mind whacking the kettle on……( rubbing his hands together) Now, what have you got for me ?”

Then we’d hurtle down memory lane…….

I made an off-hand remark one day, about a premiership that Chiltern had just won against Milawa. The match had garnered some bad press and the O & K footy public was in outrage at the alleged heavy-handed tactics that had been used.

This brought an immediate retort from the old fellah, who couldn’t suppress the fierce pride he still held for the town of his birth.

We’d discuss our mutual fascination with writing. I’d mention a particular subject and he’d start hunting around: “Now I think I’ve scribbled down something here that could help you……”

The result is that I still have reams and reams of notes that Bill handed over.

He was an uncomplicated man, with great faith, completely imbued with the philosophy of ‘doing the right thing.’

So, if you happen to be driving down Evans Street and cast a glance at the sign at the entrance to the ‘W.J.Findlay Oval’ spare a thought for one of nature’s gentlemen…………

(With help from Phil Nolan)