‘THE NEW PONSFORD…….’

Alec Fraser had just begun to exhibit flashes of his precocious cricket talent in the mid-1920’s when the good judges handed him a moniker – ‘The Next Ponsford’……..

Bill Ponsford, the thick-set Victorian, was every kid’s idol in the pre-Bradman era. An opening batsman and run-scoring machine, his deeds have been forever immortalised by the naming of a Grandstand in his honour at the MCG – the scene of many of his triumphs.

Alec’s performances fell well short of the legend to whom he was compared, but nevertheless, he was to carve out a brilliant sporting career in his adopted home town………….

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Born and raised in Albury, his parents were Highland Dancing enthusiasts. Alec was just four when his father passed away, leaving his mum to single-handedly raise the four Fraser siblings.

There was never any chance of the lad, nicknamed ‘Tony’, pursuing the noble art of Highland Dancing……….he was enraptured by football and cricket, at which he showed exceptional promise.

Wangaratta Football Club first made contact with him when he was playing with Albury Rovers, in the Albury & District Football League.

After starring in premierships in 1926 and ‘27 alongside future triple-Brownlow Medallist Haydn Bunton ( who was two and a half years younger), Alec moved down the highway to join the ‘Pies, who teed up a job for him at the Co-Store in May 1928.

Wangaratta’s fortunes had plummeted since their glorious, unbeaten Premiership of 1925. A mass exodus of players – added to a financial crisis – forced them into a solid re-build. The first signs of a revival were shown when Fraser, and two other newcomers, Jim ‘Coco’ Boyd and Stan Bennett bolstered the side.

Against the odds, they held onto fourth spot – and a finals berth – despite going down by 29 points to St.Patrick’s in the final round. The arch rivals re-engaged the following week, in the First Semi-Final, and the ‘Pies held onto a smidgeon of hope of causing an upset.

Alas, disaster struck. St.Pat’s booted 30.12 to 9.8, with the dynamic, unstoppable, future Richmond captain Maurie Hunter snaring 19 goals. It remains the highest score, and biggest Semi-Final winning margin in O & M history………..

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19 year-old Fraser had certainly lived up to expectations at his new Club, and was selected in the Ovens and Murray team which played a VFL rep side at the Showgrounds in mid-season.

With five minutes remaining in a classic contest, O & M led by a point, but the VFL steadied, to win 16.15 to 15.14 . Skipper Harry Hunter, ‘Coco’ Boyd ( 5 goals) and old Albury Rovers team-mates Bunton and Fraser were their stars.

Whilst Bunton was lured to VFL football amidst a much-publicised recruiting frenzy which resulted in Fitzroy procuring his services in 1931, Fraser’s elevation came about in low-key fashion.

He received letters of invitation from Hawthorn, St.Kilda, Fitzroy and Footscray and, despite anguishing about making the move, agreed to turn out with the Saints.

They arranged employment at Leviathon Men’s Store in the City, but from the moment he arrived Alec was decidedly uncomfortable. He made a promising debut against Collingwood, and followed up with strong performances in losses to Footscray and Carlton, then headed home.

Wangaratta had, in his absence, begun a two-year hiatus in the Ovens & King League. The champion mid-fielder was warmly welcomed when he returned, mid-season. He figured in their successive O & K flags, and took out the B & F in 1932.

When the Pies resumed their place in the O & M in 1933 he was installed as vice-captain to the eventual Morris Medallist Fred Carey, and played his part in a nail-biting, pendulum-swinging Grand Final.

With the aid of a strong breeze, Border United led by 18 points at quarter-time, but the Pies proceeded to kick seven straight in the second, to hold sway, 7.2 to 4.4 at the long-break.

United again took over, adding 5.4 to three points, to take a 16-point lead into the final term, which developed into a pulsating affair. With the seconds ticking away, Wang doggedly preserved a seven-point lead, then United fought back with a late goal. They continued to attack strongly, but the siren blared, to signal a famous one-point Magpie victory.

An adaptable player with a good turn of pace, Fraser was initially tried as a winger, but gravitated to the midfield, where he was to stay for the next 14 years. His fitness, which he worked on assiduously, was maintained by competing in occasional district Athletic Carnivals.

He proved a loyal side-kick to the great Fred Carey, and the pair guided Wangaratta to another flag in 1936. Surprisingly, the Pies slumped, and won just two games the following year, to collect the wooden-spoon.

This heralded the arrival of a new coach, Norm Le Brun. Wang rebounded strongly to convincingly outpoint Yarrawonga in the 1938 decider. “It was the greater all-round strength and teamwork of players like Ernie Ward (6 goals), Norm Le Brun and Alec Fraser that took them to the flag….” the Border Morning Mail reported.

The nomadic Le Brun departed after one more season, and 11 applicants signified their interest in the plum Wangaratta coaching post.

Fraser was appointed, for the princely sum of two pounds 10 shillings per week. There were many obstacles ahead, with the season being played against the backdrop of World War 2, but the League heeded the Prime Minister’s call to ‘carry on regardless’.

It was hardly an ideal scenario for a rookie coach to be thrust into. The Pies found the going hard in this condensed 10-game season, and bowed out of the finals when knocked over by Yarrawonga in the First Semi.

It was an anticlimactic conclusion to the O & M football career of a 203-game Wangaratta champion……..

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One of the first people to make Fraser’s acquaintance upon his arrival in Wangaratta had been a rough-hewn ‘cockie’, Clem Fisher.

The pair were to become as ‘thick as thieves’ as footy team-mates in 1928, but more to the point, also went on to establish themselves as undoubtedly Wangaratta’s greatest-ever opening batting combination.

They were poles apart as personalities.

Fisher could bluntly be termed a ruthless, ‘win at all costs’ cricketer who had no qualms about bending the rules of the game if it meant victory could be achieved.

Fraser was his direct antithesis. Universally admired as a true gentleman, he was a quietly-spoken, well-respected, humble soul.

And whilst Fisher would assert his dominance at the crease early, and was inclined to bludgeon the bowling, Fraser was a stylist, with excellent timing – a caresser of the ball.

Alec had already provided a glimpse of his class by becoming the first Century-maker on the newly-laid Showgrounds wicket in November 1928. It was the first of 15 centuries and 37 half-centuries he scored in WDCA cricket, many of them carved out on this strip of turf he was to call his own. He went on to compile 7131 runs in Club matches.

He collected his first WDCA batting average in 1932/33 and the last in 1954/55, when he averaged 69.7, at the ripe old age of 46.

He and Clem ‘clicked’ as a pair when they first came together at Country Week in 1929, and thereafter rarely failed to give Wangaratta the start they needed.

Their stand of 243 against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 took Wang to a total of 2/319 ( Fraser 158*). Three days later, Alec retired on 119, in a score of 8/393. The Fraser/Fisher unbeaten partnership of 250 against Wimmera in 1937 remains a WDCA Country Week record.

His five ‘tons’ and nine half-centuries at Melbourne were a contributing factor to the three CW titles that Wangaratta clinched during their Golden Era of the thirties.

With the drums of War beating loudly, sport was put on the back-burner, but Alec’s application to join the Army was denied because of his flat feet.

Instead, he, his wife Bess, and their two young daughters Noeleen and Desma moved to Melbourne in 1942, where they took over a Greengrocer’s shop in Whitehorse Road, Balwyn. Alec played with the local Sub-District side, winning the batting average in two of the six years in which he played .

On their return to Wangaratta, he operated a Mixed Business on the corner of Baker and Rowan Streets and again threw himself headlong into local sport.

He accepted the captaincy of the newly-formed St.Patrick’s Club. Some observers rated a century he made ( 104 out of 173 ) in the 1949/50 Semi-Final as his finest WDCA knock. St.Pat’s had finished on top of the ladder, and rated their chances of winning the Grand Final, but had to share the flag with Wangaratta when bad weather ( and the encroaching football season ) brought a halt to proceedings.

Alec played his last WDCA season in 1955/56, with new club Magpies, an offshoot of the Wangaratta Football Club. As its Secretary and elder statesman, there were glimpses, in a handful of games, of the Master of the crease that he had proved to be for over two decades………..

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The shy, teen-ager who arrived in Wangaratta as an unproven commodity in 1928, departed the playing field as a WDCA Life Member and Hall of Fame inductee ; a Wangaratta Football Club Life Member and Team of the Century centreman.

Alec Fraser passed away in 1983, aged 74……..

‘MEETING THE GHOST OF LOCAL CRICKET…..’

The whitish pitch shimmers in the brassy sunlight……Fielders dawdle listlessly on a vast, scorched outfield…….Batsmen opt to ‘dig in’ rather than play their shots…….The quicks struggle to summon the effort to muster that extra yard……..

Cricketers and spectators alike appear drugged by the oppressive heat of this stinking mid-summer’s day……..

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I’m drawn to this solitary figure, leaning against the huge gum tree at the northern end of the ground ……

I’ve got to know all the identities around local cricket, but this fellah doesn’t ring a bell. I know I’m starting to get on a bit, but he’s positively archaic.

He sucks on a blade of grass, totally entranced by what’s happening out in the middle.

We get yapping…….Initially, he doesn’t appear keen on being distracted, but he loosens up after a while, his eyes misting over as he studies the technique of the young left-hander.

“See how he fiddles outside the off stump…..Doesn’t use his feet….I had that problem, you know. Took me years to get out of the habit.”

“Ah, it only seems like yesterday I was out there…. Course we had rolled dirt, then concrete, to play on. Not beautiful tracks like this one.”

My gentle prompting seems to kick his memory into over-drive…….

“Ever heard of Charlie Heavey?”, he says. “Made 299 in a day, over on the Showgrounds. I made sure I watched every knock he played. Geez, he could bat.”

“He hit the ball so hard that day, that a few of his sixes landed in Edwards Street ….We all  reckoned he should have played Test cricket, but Charlie liked a good time and upset a few of the snotty- noses when he went to Melbourne.”

Yes, I reply. By all reports he was a beauty.IMG_0829

“Too right. He was the best around at that time and was also downright dangerous when he decided to let ‘em go with the new ‘cherry’.”

“But heck, son, there were plenty of good players in those days…….Like Alec Fraser…. Lovely chap, Alec…Made a power of runs up the order.”

“He opened with Clem Fisher in Wang’s rep teams, and what a combination they were ! Put on 300-odd in one match at Country Week.”

“Funny, you know. They were polar opposites. Alec was a gentleman….Always giving encouragement and a bit of advice to the youngsters….Played the game as it should be played.”

“But Clem was a bloke who knew how to create a stink on the cricket field. Nice enough chap to talk to….did heaps for cricket…..but once he crossed that line he was an old bugger…..He’d resort to anything to get you out…..It’s a wonder he didn’t get punched on the nose a few times……..”IMG_2256

By now, my mate has taken his eye off the going’s-on in the middle. It’s almost as if he’s watching a flickering highlights tape and describing it to me.

I ask him his opinion of a latter-day batting hero – Barry Grant.

“Funny you should mention it. He reminded me very much of Alec Fraser, with his technique and defence. Both of them were very hard to dislodge once they got settled. His temperament was a touch more bristly than Alec’s…..Didn’t like going out. Not too stylish, but more of a run-machine. He and his brother….I just forget his name for a sec….Darren, that’s right….They were great players for a lot of years.IMG_3150

“Yes, I’ve seen ‘em all. Those Nicoll’s out at Whorouly…….Don’t know what it was in the water out there, but they were master batsmen. You had four champion brothers – Wils, Ron, Ernie and Vic. People used to debate about who was the pick of them – Wils or Ron. I couldn’t seperate them.”

“Wils used to smoke a roll-your-own when he was batting. He’d plonk it behind the stumps and have a puff between overs…….’Didn’t have much style.”

“They used to tell the story about him walking out to bat at Country Week one day, wearing a pair of black socks tucked behind his pads, and puffing on a fag. An opposition fielder slung off about this ‘country yokel’, and he proceeded to score a century in no time.”

“A few of the Nicoll progeny turned out all right, too. I had a lot of time for the chap who had polio and batted with a runner. Did a terrific job….Lex, I think it was….”IMG_0412

“Talking about families, you had the Kneebone’s from Brookfield. I suppose you knew they fielded their own family team in the local comp.”

“They lived for cricket, and got their competitive instinct from their old man.”

“I thought Ken was the pick of ‘em. He had a run-up that was smooth as silk. Did well against the Poms at Benalla one year. But a few experts rated Harry just as quick. Frankie Archman kept up on the stumps to most bowlers, but he had enough sense to stand back to those two.”

By now this mystery-man has me gob-smacked, having touched on all the names down through the ages in Wangaratta cricket – Carey, Trebilcock, Lidgerwood, Charlie Ladds, Thomlinson, Beeby, Bill Hickey, Sid Docker, Max Bussell, Rosser…….IMG_1022

“I thought he might have played for the state, that  fellah. He had the ability and played some good hands out on this ground. He got close when he went down to play District cricket, they tell me……”

His mate was nice and slippery when he was in full flight  – Welchy – with the curly hair. Had a bit of shit in him, too. Course his knees went on him in the end.IMG_0180

“And the boy Broster – the left-hander- who played a few games for the Vics, I’d have preferred him to serve more of an apprenticeship before he got his chance. His Shield career was virtually over before he’d got started.”

“You’d have seen his dad bat when he was in his prime, wouldn’t you. Golly, he could play, and his grandpa, Alec, was terrible hard to get out.”

“I watch these kids coming through now and think: ‘Have they got what it takes to go on ?’ “

“All of the Welch’s were handy, and  Hilly’s still making runs down at Camberwell. Surely he deserved a chance in the State side. But, I suppose they must have seen a shortcoming in his game.”IMG_1024

I mention the changes that have taken place in the modern era. Like the local competition now expanding its horizons to include Mansfield, Benalla, Rutherglen and Bright. And the great teams, and players, from Corowa, Yarrawonga and Beechworth that had plenty of success in recent decades. I’m surprised that he’s all for it…..IMG_0882

“Well, you’ve got to embrace change, son. On the same note, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be watching the  lasses playing cricket. Terrific………”

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That steel trap of a mind doesn’t miss a beat, and when he diverts again to tell me about Billy Henderson scoring a big 100 in a Final, he describes his cover and straight-driving as if he was there.

“When was that ?” I ask.

“Oh, back in the 1890’s,” he replies.

We have barely paid any attention to the cricket, so engrossed are we in his reminiscences. But the umps lift the bails to signify the tea-break and, momentarily distracted, I turn to resume our journey into the past.

But he is hobbling down the bank and out of sight.

“Hey, just a minute, do you remember………..”IMG_1549

‘GREAT CRICKETER…………..ORDINARY SPORT……’

His portrait hangs in a position of prominence in Wangaratta’s cricket headquarters.

It’s the classic stance of a right-hand batsman – upright, comfortable, with a glint in his eye. The look of defiance is seemingly inviting the bowler to ”bring it on – if you’re good enough”.

He was the scourge of all opponents, this gnarled, crusty codger, who was an unforgettable character and a mainstay of local cricket for over 50 years.

Many adjectives were applied to Clem Fisher by opponents whom he rankled, including : ‘shocking sport’, ‘tough as nails’, ‘stubborn’ and ‘pig-headed’.

He knew, for instance, how to get under the skin of my father, who waged war with him on the field for a couple of decades. Dad once overheard him make a snide comment, something like – “they can’t handle the pressure, those Hills” – and never forgot it.

He would ‘up the ante’ when Clem strolled to the crease, and invariably grab the ball himself, in an endeavour to ‘get rid of the bastard’.

Yet, like everyone, he was full of admiration for the contribution that ‘Old Clem’ made to the game, and for the ‘father-figure’ he became to young players when he finally hung up his boots……….

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Clement Roberts William Fisher was born in 1905. His idol was his father, John, who once took 10 wickets in an innings for Whorouly, and played for 53 years.

The Fisher boys were tutored on a concrete wicket at the family property, ‘Glen’, at East Wangaratta. Clem played his early cricket with Tarrawingee, and later, with Everton-based Brookfield, alongside his cousins, the Kneebones.

With an enthusiastic old man and an uncle, Eugene Kneebone, who detested losing, it was no wonder the young bloke developed a competitive streak which was almost beyond compare.

Brookfield transferred from the O & K to the WDCA in 1926/27 and the three Fisher brothers combined with the Kneebone family to make up the team.

Clem was a noted all-rounder. He bowled with plenty of aggression and, with bat in hand, produced a resolute defence and a good range of shots.

In the style of a true opener, he loved taking up the challenge to the quickies, and it was in this role that he was to become renowned.

His first trip to Country Week produced successive knocks of 61 and 91. He relished the good Melbourne wickets and would become a key figure in the famous Wangaratta sides of the 1930’s.

The Fishers formed a new team, East Wangaratta, in 1928 and played their home games on a ground shaped on the family property.

They immediately became a power, partly because they recruited vigorously, with some of Wangaratta’s stars joining their ranks.

East Wang edged past Wangaratta to win an exciting Grand Final by one wicket, in 1928/29. They repeated the dose the following year, prompting Clem to boast that East was capable of defeating a team comprising the rest of Wangaratta.

The challenge, issued through the ‘Chronicle’ prompted an outcry from many cricket ‘officianados’, including his old antagonist, Tom Nolan, who despised the ‘arrogant’ tone of the letter.

Clem further fuelled the fires with another outburst, saying in part that: “…….the challenge was issued in friendly spirit. The Wang chaps are good cricketers as long as they are winning. But when they strike top opposition they drop their bundles……”

He had to eat his words, as East were well beaten in the keenly-anticipated match-up.

Widely regarded as the district’s best all-rounder, Clem guided his club to another flag in 1931/32.

In the semi-final the following year, he clubbed a dashing 127 before being run out. But, as the game wore on, Wangaratta gained the upper hand and needed a manageable 123 to win.

The ‘Chronicle’ reported that “……..they faced hard going against the bowling of Clem and Clyde Fisher. The former gave the batsmen little chance to score, most balls being of the Larwood variety, and bouncing over the heads of the ducking batsmen. Time was called with 4 down for 105.”

“Just how far players can go is a matter for cricket regulations. Spectators gave unceasing barracking to East Wangaratta. In two hours only 20 overs were bowled.”

Wangaratta protested and East Wang were suspended for the rest of the season.

The opening partnership that Fisher formed with Alec Fraser served Wangaratta admirably in representative cricket.

Although opposites in personality and batting technique, they melded perfectly at the crease and the runs usually came in a flood.

Their 304-run partnership against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 remains a Country Week record. On another occasion, in 1937, they flayed the Wimmera attack with an unbroken 250-run stand.

Wangaratta won three Country Week titles during the golden ’30’s, with a side which played hard and celebrated keenly – winning 30, drawing 3 and losing just 6 of its matches in the decade.

People were busily picking up the threads of day-to-day life at the cessation of World War II, and cricket was not a high priority. For Fisher, though, it was at the top of his list.

The WDCA was slow to start, and eventually cranked up in late 1946, with Clem at the helm.

His forthright manner no doubt alienated a few and he wouldn’t have been much of a help in patching up the testy WDCA – Social cricket relationship, which was simmering at the time.

But his love of the game was contagious and he was a hands-on President for four years. He was a valuable consultant to clubs who were installing turf pitches in the early 50’s and kept a watchful eye on their development.

Although Clem’s Country Week playing days had drawn to a close, he continued to make the trip as manager. As guardian of a playful group, he was bestowed with the nickname ‘Pimp’ for his vain efforts in trying to curb their nocturnal activities.

He did heaps of behind-the-scenes work to help secure the visit of Peter May’s Englishmen in 1959. Besides his sundry other duties he produced a ‘pearler’ of a wicket. It was no fault of his that the ‘Poms’ spoilt the party by routing the Country XI for just 32.

He resumed the WDCA presidency in 1964, succeeding Alf Kendall, a prim-and-proper Englishman, who liked to see cricket function according to the text-book.

Fisher was rough and ready, his bush upbringing prompting him to bend a few rules and call a ‘spade a bloody shovel’.

He had not long retired from playing, aged 57, and was still the Showgrounds curator, but for the next 10 years slipped easily into his role as the ‘elder statesman’ of local cricket and president of both the Wangaratta and North-East associations. He was a key figure in luring the West Indies to the Showgrounds in 1969.

But appreciated just as keenly was his attendance at the WDCA matches every Saturday.

Like clockwork, his green Chev would chug into the ground and Clem would alight, smoke in hand, to survey the proceedings.

He had excellent rapport with the younger players and would delight in conversing over a few beers after stumps. The boys joked that he would climb into the old ‘chariot’ late at night, turn it onto automatic pilot and it would miraculously find its way back home to East Wangaratta.

What wasn’t so funny was the unwitting part he played in the 1967 Provincial Country Week Final.

Wangaratta was chasing a formidable Euroa target and had got away to a reasonable start on duck-opening eve.

Clem was absorbed in the game, but was distracted by the shuddering realisation that he’d run out of cartridges.

What to do ? His first thought was to conscript lower-order batsman Billy Fitzgerald to chauffeur him into ‘town’ to pick up fresh supplies.

Delayed in heavy traffic, they arrived back much later than expected, to the news that the game was over. Wangaratta had lost a succession of quick wickets, and ‘Fitzy’ was also out – Absent (0) !

Clem Fisher died in 1978, but every so often his name crops up when old-timers yarn about the legends of the game.

The tales about Wangaratta’s ‘Mr.Cricket’ could fill a book………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TIGE’S ABIDING PASSION

One of my trips to Melbourne Country Week, as an impressionable teenager, was spent in the company of ‘Tige’, ‘Pimp’, ‘Blinker’, ‘Trebly’ and ‘Shada’.

‘Blinker’ was a local Businessman and former wicket-keeper, who had ventured down to watch one game and, instead, remained for the series. He mentioned, semi-seriously, that he needed to use ‘White Nugget’ to touch up the collar of his shirt. As the week progressed he looked decidedly unkempt.

‘Shada’ caught up with us each afternoon, in the company of his ‘cousin’, a shapely brunette, who never left his side. One of her other ‘attributes’ was that she could go beer for beer with him at the after-match, which doubled as a sort of past-players’ re-union.

‘Trebly’ was the effervescent team-lifter, who only needed to open his mouth to have you in stitches. ‘Tige’ was his ‘straight man’ , the team captain , whose magnetic personality made him a hit with his young charges – and those old-timers whose company he savoured……

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‘Tige’ was Max Bussell, the man who the experts plump for as one of Wangaratta’s greatest-ever cricketers. In the years of my adolescence he was the all-rounder I strove to be.

Let me give you a thumbnail sketch of the ‘Tige’ I sometimes watched from beneath the peppercorn trees at the Showgrounds, when he was in his prime during the mid-to-late 50’s.

He was well-proportioned, with blond, curly hair; a fast-medium bowler with a rhythmic, beautiful action. At the point of delivery he had a slightly round-arm action, which induced both swing and accuracy.

He strode to the batting crease a’ la’ Keith Miller and possessed a dose of the cavalier style of the Test legend. After an initial settling-in period, he could unleash the full text-book of shots.

In the winter he was also an all-rounder, doubling up as a ‘book-end’ full back and full forward in some of the superb Wangaratta sides of the time.

In effect, he was ‘The Package’.
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Max was 14 when he made his WDCA senior debut with Railways, who were to change their name to Wangaratta within a season. He came under the influence of hard-bitten veterans like ‘Cappy’ Richens, Tom Nolan and ‘The Pimp’ – Clement Roberts William Fisher.

He became Clem’s protege’ and the ruthless edge that he developed on-field was a result of ‘Pimp’s’ tutelage. So too, was his knowledge of making turf wickets and the knack of relaxing in the company of team-mates and opponents alike, after a game.

His dad, Seddon, had played football with Clem at Wangaratta, and there was never any question that his sporting future was destined to be shaped at the Showgrounds Oval.

Within two years, aged 16, Max was to begin his lengthy love affair with Melbourne Country Week.

“I couldn’t wait to get down there. Having been told about the feats of Charlie Heavey’s hitting and bowling, how far Bert Carey could swing the ball, the speed and guile of Frank Archman, as he stood up to Harry Kneebone’s express pace….it was every bit as good as I expected. To me it was like a country player’s Test Match”, he once recalled.

“You played on the really good grounds like Prahran and at afternoon tea, a top player such as Sam Loxton would welcome everyone to the club. It was a great experience”.

He soon became recognised as a bush champion.

The day that undeniably stamped him as a player of class came in the A-Grade CW Final of 1954. He and fellow speedster Jackie Beeby quickened pulses and created havoc as they ran through a strong Shepparton batting line-up.

Max finished with 8/27, but modestly gave Beeby credit for applying pressure at the other end. It prompted approaches from a few District clubs around this time, but he opted to stay put in Wangaratta and continue his employment with the oil company he had joined from school.

Mac Holten, his captain in that title-winning side, was, besides Clem Fisher, a major ‘guiding light’ in his sporting career.

He rated Mac the shrewdest sporting person he had met. Bearing in mind that he played under him in football and cricket for several years, it’s little wonder that he adopted all of his strategies.

Max made 22 trips to Country Week as a player. His highlight – besides that 1954 title – was being part of Wangaratta’s only Provincial championship, in 1957.

He succeeded Holten as captain in 1960, and 15 years later, aged 42, made his last appearance, as a middle-order bat and guileful slow-medium bowler.

My father, who was a long-term protagonist, always rated himself a chance to pick Max up in the gully early in his innings. He must have had some success way back, because I never actually saw the champ fall for the trap that Dad would meticulously set.

Clashes between Rovers and Wangaratta in the 50’s always had that extra edge, as there were some really tough nuts in both sides. It stemmed, I think, from a chance remark from ‘The Pimp’ that fell on burning ears : “they’re no good when the chips are down”.

Max was usually in the middle of the action and was, naturally, a star  in club cricket. He once took 14/24 in a match against Moyhu Green (7/16 and 7/8), which included a pair of hat-tricks.

Such performances became fairly regular when he was at his peak, and made him an automatic selection for any representative matches that were held in the area. He lined up against the South Australian and Victorian Shield sides, twice against the Englishmen and captained a Victorian Country XI against South Africa at Benalla.

Peter Pollock, the lethal Springbok quick gave him a thigh full of bruises, as Max hung around to score a gutsy 27. He handed Pollock the accolade as the fastest bowler he ever faced.

Some team-mates who saw him pull Wangaratta out of deep trouble at Bandiana in a North-East Cup semi against Upper Murray in 1966 would plump for that as his finest knock.

Coming to the crease after the tumble of early wickets against quality bowling, he hammered an unbeaten 101 out of 195 to guide his team to victory.

Max was another product of the prolific South Wanderers junior football ‘nursery’. His transition to O & M ranks coincided with Wangaratta’s Golden era and, after a steady apprenticeship, he became a regular senior player in 1952.

The grace and style that epitomised his cricket, was also on show in the football arena. A long, probing kick and possessive of a safe pair of hands, he found himself at full forward in the 1952 Grand Final, after booting 5 goals in a Preliminary Final victory over Albury.

The Pies finished on a little stronger in the final term to overcome Rutherglen by 20 points and clinch their fourth successive flag.

Max lined up at full back in the gripping 1957 Grand Final against Albury; the match hanging in the balance until a Lance Oswald snap for goal , literally in the dying seconds, tilted the game Wangaratta’s way.

The Magpie ‘swing-man’ hung up his boots, aged 27, at the end of the 1959 season He had played 103 senior games and was awarded Life Membership. He was finding it increasingly difficult to train and was now the co-proprietor of a Fuel Distributorship.

Instead, he focused on golf as his winter pastime and took to the game with zest. His graceful swing of a wood and iron earned him the nickname, ‘The Natural’, and he spent time as Waldara’s  Club captain.

But Max emphasised that cricket was his abiding passion.

A trip down memory lane with him in latter years would produce a romantic twinkle in his eye, as he  recalled great games, players and performances……and some of the 101 anecdotes which he could relate with the ease of a good raconteur.

‘Tige’, a Wangaratta sporting legend, passed away in 2011.IMG_0917IMG_0918

CRICKET’S SWASHBUCKLING HERO

There have been few better – or more colorful – players in the history of Wangaratta cricket than Charlie Heavey. Certainly none could have been as swashbuckling.

His five and a half seasons produced displays which, even today, are spoken of with awe.

To examine the Heavey phenomenon we need to delve back a touch over 80 years………..
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….
Frank Archman, the brilliant wicket-keeper/ batsman, is walking along Murphy Street one hot January day when he spots a chap of striking build, obviously a newcomer to town, and looking every inch a sportsman.

Ever-eager to recruit a player for his club, Archman can’t resist the temptation to sound him out, especially when he notices that he’s wearing an Essendon Cricket Club blazer.

Yes, the newcomer replies, he does have a hit, and yes, he’d be interested in coming down to training at the Showgrounds tonight.

What a fluke recruiting coup !

From the time he rolled his arm over at the Showgrounds nets, Archman and his team-mates knew that they had a real ‘find’ on their hands.

It turned out that he was a Shepparton boy. He’d established quite a reputation over there before being invited to move to the ‘big smoke’ to play cricket with Essendon.

He was no slouch with the Bombers either, scoring the season’s fastest District century in his first season, and revealing his potential as an all-rounder. His performances were substantial enough to earn him a spot in the Victorian Second XI.

But he had no sooner established himself in District cricket, than he was back in his beloved ‘Shepp’, reportedly falling out of love with the city.

He continued to enhance his reputation as one of the Goulburn Valley’s finest sportsmen and, in his final year with Shepparton Footballers, took 101 wickets. In an astonishing all-round double in the Haisman Cup Final, he scored 141 and took 8/23 against Tatura.

So how did he lob in Wangaratta ?

Well, Charlie explained, his dad was an executive with the Vacuum Oil Company and had suggested that the lad should “clear out for a while” and move to Wangaratta, where he would be under the watchful eye of an old friend, Norm McGuffie.

Heavey loved the outdoors and was happy to drive an oil tanker around, rather than be stuck in an office. Wangaratta suited him down to the ground.

Standing 6’3″ and weighing 16 stone, he was an imposing physical specimen – a Colossus amongst his new team-mates.

Wngaratta cricket’s ‘Golden Era’ of the thirties was enhanced in no small part by the contributions of Heavey. He had a languid bowling action which generated great pace. He was a batsman of style and immense power, a brilliant fielder and a keen competitor.

Charlie’s capacity to socialise prompted the comment that he’d have been an even better player had he not been so partial to an ale.

There was one occasion that no-one would have blamed him for tucking into a ‘frothy one’. He set a new WDCA record in his momentous innings of 299 at the Showgrounds during the 1936/37 season.

In a team total of 388 (the next highest scorer made 34) he hit 34 fours and 11 sixes in a knock which showed no mercy to the Eldorado attack.

He hammered 32 off one over and 29 off another and two of his sixes landed over the tin fence which bounded Edwards Street.

Legend has it that he actually scored 301 and that the Eldorado scorer, in a fit of pique, pinched two runs off his total so that he’d be deprived of the triple-century.
Just for good measure, Heavey snaffled 6/54 and 2/38 the following week.

The luckless Eldorado were also on the end of another Heavey onslaught in the 1935/36 Final, when he scored 187 of Footballers’ 8/634, and took 3/31.

He made 3137 runs and took 224 wickets in his five seasons of club cricket. He scored nine WDCA centuries, five of them in excess of 140.

Charlie revelled in the companionship of Country Week and his capacity to swing the ball both ways and produce telling innings’ under pressure, lifted his team-mates.

His performance in a match at South Melbourne one day, prompted state selector Jack Ryder to opine in that evening’s Herald: ” If Heavey would come to Melbourne he would be a definite acquisition to Victorian cricket “.

CharlieIMG_0837 used a giant lump of willow which he christened “Big Bertha”. He was an intimidating batsman at the crease, but was really a genial soul.

Wangaratta took out the A-Group title in 1936 and vice-captain Clem Fisher we moved to say at the mayoral reception on the team’s return: ” This has been our best Country Week performance yet.”

“Charlie Heavey captained the side brilliantly and, whenever we were in a bad position, Charlie was able to pull things together with his batting and bowling.”
Heavey won selection (along with another Wangaratta player, Ken Kneebone) in the Victorian Country XI team which played the Englishmen at Benalla in 1937.

Not to be shackled by the occasion, he raced to a quick 30 before he was stumped by George Duckworth.

The veteran ‘keeper sought him out after the game and suggested that, should Heavey feel inclined to come to the ‘mother country’ for a season, he would arrange a suitable club for him.

Charlie took up the offer and enjoyed considerable success in League cricket, scoring the ‘double’ of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in his 6-month stay.

What his trip to England did, unfortunately, was to bring down the curtain on a scintillating football career with Wangaratta.

He had been among the O & M’s glamour players of the thirties. A strong-marking forward and a beautiful kick,he was a deadly-accurate shot for goal.

He booted 109 goals in 1935 and starred in the 1936 premiership team, which was led by Fred Carey.

Heavey’s final WDCA season was interrupted by the outbreak of war in 1940 and he went away to serve in Darwin.

Upon his discharge he re-located to Melbourne and was recruited by the Melbourne Cricket Club. Despite being on the wrong side of 30 and now carrying a burdensome 17 stone, he proved a decided acquisition in his two seasons with the Demons.

That was the last anyone from Wangaratta  heard of him, until the Country Week Final of 1954, when local speedsters Max Bussell and Jackie Beeby were cutting a swathe through the Shepparton batting line-up.

High up in St.Kilda’s Blackie-Ironmonger Stand, a voice bellowed out for all to hear:  “Pad ’em up two at a time”.

It was Charlie Heavey.

Charlie later retired from his long-term employment with the Vacuum Oil company, and moved, with his wife, to the sunny climes of Maroochydoore, in Queensland, where he died of cancer in 1981, aged 75.IMG_0835