‘BARRIE BEATTIE’S SPORTING JOURNEY………..’

He was a typical boy from the bush, thrust into the hurly-burly of city life when he moved down to combine his education with pursuing employment opportunities.

Having settled into lodgings at Flemington, he entertained thoughts of finding a Club nearby, which might cater for his twin sporting passions.

That was how, on a mid-February day in 1964, he found his way to the Western Oval, headquarters of the Footscray Football and Cricket Clubs………..

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Barrie Beattie was toiling away on the family farm at Thoona when the Wangaratta Rovers were first alerted to his footy talents.

Aged 16, he was playing for his local team, Glenrowan-Thoona. A Taminick ‘cockie’, Duncan McLean, Hawk star Neale’s dad , saw him play in the Club’s only win for the season, against Dookie College, and liked the look of the raw, well-developed kid with the handy ‘pair of mitts’.

The Rovers lured him the following season, and found work for him at the Wangaratta Abattoirs.

“It wasn’t the greatest job. I was a sort of jack-of-all-trades, but didn’t mind it at all, and I was loving playing footy under Bob Rose,” Barrie recalls.

In between four fleeting senior appearances, he was one of a crop of youngsters who took the Hawks to a Reserves flag in 1962.

He, and several of his team-mates had improved rapidly, and formed the core of a senior line-up which Rose’s successor, Ken Boyd, began to mould the following season.

Beattie ‘snagged’ 48 goals ( including a season-high of nine against North Albury ) to win the Club goal-kicking. He seemed to play ‘taller’ than his bulky 6’2”, 83kg frame, and opponents found him difficult to outmanoeuvre in the air.

He had also made a considerable impression in local cricket, as an accurate fast-medium bowler and solid middle-order batsman.

His 9/17 in a North-East Colts match drew plaudits, as did some strong performances at Bendigo and Melbourne Country Weeks.

‘Here’s a fellah who could be at the forefront of local footy and cricket for years to come’, the wise judges predicted…………..

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But it wasn’t to be.

“Bill Woods, the Council Meat Inspector, pulled me aside at the Abattoirs one day, and said: ‘Look son, you don’t want to be hanging around here for the rest of your life’,“ Barrie recalls.

“I did a bit of research, and found out that, if I started a Meat Inspector’s Course in Melbourne, and passed everything, I could qualify in 12 months. So I landed a job as a clerk at William. Angliss Meats and organised to do the Course on Monday nights and Saturday mornings.”

He represented Wangaratta at Country Week in February ‘64, then moved down permanently to the ‘big smoke’ the week after.

“It was my good fortune to meet Bill Mobbs, the City of Footscray’s Meat Inspector……A terrific bloke….He became my mentor….He also happened to be the Chairman of Selectors at Footscray.”

“Bill said: ‘Why don’t you come down and have a run with us.’”

“He was also connected, unofficially, with the Cricket Club. He added: ‘…..And, if you’re gonna play footy here, you might as well play cricket with Footscray.”

Four senior games in three years hardly constitutes a momentous VFL career. but fate can sometimes intervene…….and it certainly did in Barrie’s case.

He was selected to play his first senior game, against Hawthorn in Round 11, 1964

“It’d been raining all week, and continued during the game. Glenferrie Oval was a mud-heap. I was 20th man, and finally got onto the ground with about two minutes to go…..It was the most inauspicious debut you could imagine.”

His next opportunity was meant to be in the 1965 season-opener against Geelong, at Kardinia Park. But a meat-worker who wasn’t concentrating, sliced a tendon in Barrie’s finger. His arm was in plaster for three weeks whilst the wound healed.

He finally got his chance when he was named at full forward against Richmond a few rounds later, on Queen’s Birthday Monday.

“I was up at 6am, worked ‘til mid-day, then knocked off and headed to the Western Oval. It was really the fruition of a dream, running onto the ground in front of a crowd of 28 or 29,000 including a few old Rovers team-mates, and my girl-friend ( now wife ), who’d come up by train from Geelong.”

“After the game I took Erica to watch a movie at the Brooklyn Drive-In, then dropped her back to Geelong. On the way home I’ve dozed off, ran off the road at Werribee and had an accident. That put me out of action for quite a while, although I recovered in time to play in the Reserves Finals.”

He managed two more senior games, in mid-1966 – the last of them a solid two-goal performance in the ‘Dogs’ 21-point win over Melbourne – but felt he struggled to regain full confidence after his accident.

“I think (Teddy) Whitten lost a bit of faith in me after that. It was decided that I probably didn’t cut the mustard as a League footballer,” Barrie says………….

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He spent eight years with the Footscray Cricket Club, occasionally coming on first-change in a formidable attack, which included Test players Ron ‘Pappy’ Gaunt and Alan Hurst, veteran left-armer Arthur Day and the slippery Tony Lee.

“They were a great club….really friendly. When you consider we also numbered the Joslin boys (Les and Graeme), left-hander Ken Eastwood, old all-rounder Arthur Dean and a handy tweaker, Tommy Seal, among our ranks, it was a handy side.”

“I loved my cricket, and one of the highlights of my time there was captaining the Second XI to a flag around ‘70-‘71.”

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After being delisted by the ‘Dogs, Barrie continued his footy career with VFA club Yarraville, and spent a couple of seasons at Tongala, as an ex-Radius player.

Opting to play closer to home, he followed a few mates to Parkside, in the Footscray District League, in 1970.

And when the incumbent coach relinquished the job at the last minute, he was asked to step into the breach.

In his first season as coach he took out the FDFL Medal and Club B & F. The Parkside Magpies were within a whisker of snatching an unlikely flag the following year, when club legend Lindsay Murphy lined up for a shot at goal 50-55 metres out, after the siren.

“It was against Spotswood, our arch rivals. Lindsay didn’t quite make the distance……We went down by three points.”

“I coached for five years and played on for one more. They were a great Club. I returned there many years later, and took on the Presidency.”

After moving on to play with Aberfeldie for two and a bit years, he hung up his boots mid-way through 1975, aged 31………

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Barrie spent more than five years working for the Commonwealth Government, taking on the responsibility for Meat Inspections at prominent exporters such as Angliss, Borthwicks and Gilbertson’s .

“My old mentor Bill Mobbs suggested to me one day: ‘Barrie, you don’t want to be a Meat Inspector for the rest of your working life. Have you thought about doing something else ?’ “

“I’m not sure, Mr. Mobbs,” I replied.

“He said: ‘If you like, I’ll arrange a meeting for you with the Town Clerk of Footscray, Bill Swaby’.”

“I didn’t even have my Leaving Certificate, so I had to study some subjects to obtain my Matriculation. That would enable me to enrol to do a Diploma of Education ( Local Government) Certificate at RMIT.”

Barrie started at the Essendon Council as a clerk, and qualified as a Town Clerk in 1972. He won a Scholarship to study Local Government, which took him to the USA, Canada and the UK. Ultimately, in 1979, he was appointed Essendon Council’s Manager/ Town Clerk.

He spent 17 years at the Council before taking a job with the State Government, then moving on to become Executive Director of the City Manager’s Association, a professional development group…………..

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After leaving the Essendon City Council Barrie resumed his active involvement with the Bulldogs.

“I’d followed them from afar, but didn’t want to be accused of a conflict of interest whilst I was working at Essendon.”

He was asked to join the Board in 1986, and served through possibly the most turbulent period in the history of the Footscray Football Club…….. To put it bluntly, he says, it was a matter of just trying to exist.

He was the Club’s VFL Director for three years, and accepted the ‘poison chalice’ of the Presidency in early 1988. To illustrate how highly-charged were the emotions of the supporters at the time, he recalls a meeting that was held at the Footscray Town Hall:

“Our Ground needed major improvements, but we had no money……..And we were advised by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade that the John Gent Grandstand was a Fire-trap……It wasn’t feasible to keep playing matches at the Western Oval……. I was doing my best to try to explain the reasoning behind transferring our home games to Princes Park……..”

“The supporters were cranky……. I reckon I’d have been lynched, only that Simon Beasley (who was still playing) stood up and defended the Board’s decision….Gee it was tough…….We just couldn’t get the message across ……….”

“Nick Columb took over from me in early-1989, and was in charge when all the amalgamation stuff with Fitzroy was happening. I remained as the Club’s VFL Director until 1990.”

The winds of change, of course, swept through in late-1989, when the ‘Save The Dogs’ campaign re-activated the Club and ensured its long-term survival as a separate entity.

Barrie Beattie regards his role during this tumultuous time as an ‘unforgettable experience’. He remains a keen Bulldog member and still gets to as many games as he can.

What an eventful journey it’s been for the boy from Thoona……………

‘GIVE THE HEMPS A GO…………’

The year is 1957. A young lad, reared in the western suburbs of Melbourne, achieves his lifelong dream when he’s selected to make his senior debut for his beloved Bulldogs.

He had jammed in to the MCG three years earlier to watch his hero, the human battering-ram Charlie Sutton, lead Footscray to their first and only VFL premiership.

Now he was to play under gnarled old Charlie in this Round 13 clash at Junction Oval, St.Kilda.

Or so he thought……Almost co-inciding with the selection of the team was the bombshell announcement that Sutton had been sacked and replaced by his 23 year-old protege, Teddy Whitten.

Bob Hempel could hardly have walked into a more volatile situation. There were divisions among the Footscray players ; many were unhappy that Sutton had been undermined. For instance, the reluctant appointee Whitten and the previous season’s Brownlow Medallist, Peter Box, were at odds and scarcely spoke to each other.

‘E.J’ was half-way through his first pre-match address when, in defiance of the committee, Sutton strolled into the rooms and said : “Good luck, son. In future, take your time when you talk to the players…….”

‘Hemps’ didn’t remember much else about his big day. He was steamrolled by St.Kilda’s ‘iron-man’, Eric Guy and carted from the ground. At that stage he was a lightly-built winger, had just come out of three months National Service training and really wasn’t equipped for League footy.

He played the next week, against Carlton, kicked a couple of goals, then was dropped to the Reserves………..

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Hemps was the youngest of eight kids. His dad left home for good, soon after he was born, and his mum, Emily, worked long hours to scrape together enough money to put tucker on the table.

He left the Footscray Tech School, aged 13, barely able to read and write, and reckons his real education “was obtained in the rough and tumble of the streets of Yarraville, where we were brought up to survive.”

His progression to the VFL was typical of any up-and-comer from the western suburbs……Footscray & District Under 19’s, to VFA club Yarraville for three years, then impressing the Bulldogs’ recruiters.

He was dismayed when his League career didn’t pan out the way he’d visualised. But he knew he was too light and lacked pace.

He was even contemplating retirement, when a chance phone call from Benalla coach Bill Luck changed the course of his life.

Bob jumped at a package from the Ovens and Murray Demons, which included a job as a salesman with ‘ Wardrop My Tailor’.

Playing as a half forward, he became a star,   and a regular O & M rep. He could cut a side to ribbons with half an hour of wizardry and was too smart for most back flankers.

Meanwhile, Hemps had surprised himself with his skills as a Menswear Salesman and, with an abundance of natural self-confidence, turned his hand to flogging Insurance.

As he admitted many years later, people didn’t need to ask how good he was ; he’d tell them himself !

He had taken on the coaching job at Euroa, after three successful seasons with Benalla, but didn’t fancy it all that much. A transfer in employment to Wangaratta relieved him of that obligation at season’s end.

Bob was immediately contacted by Rovers coach Ken Boyd, with whom he was acquainted. He needed little persuasion to become a Hawk.

Boyd saw ‘Hemps’ as a vital piece of the jigsaw. He had a young, talented side, but needed that extra bit of experience. He also knew that he was a ‘bit of a ratbag’, who would liven up the dressing rooms and cultivate the camaraderie in the group.

And so it proved. ‘Hemps’ was an excellent clubman and became the chief organiser of social functions and end-of-season trips. The Rovers Ball – a Hempel production – became bigger than Ben Hur.

The only time he’d be tempted by the demon drink would be on Ball Night, when things were in full swing. He would let his hair down, with disastrous consequences.

Unfortunately, a persistent thigh injury kept him to only 12 games in his first two seasons with the Hawks. But he finally got it right and played in both the 1964 and ’65 premiership sides.

Young Rovers players, seeking to improve their marking, would test themselves against ‘Hemps’ at training. His body-positioning and sure hands were hard to out-manoeuvre.

Not that training excited him all that much. He was often a late arrival, but must have decided that the pelting rain one bleak Tuesday night didn’t warrant him getting out on the track. It may have gone un-noticed, except that he drove down Evans Street and tooted his horn to the saturated group, as they completed their laps.

He was dropped two nights later.

‘Hemps’ was at his top in 1966. His brilliant marking, shrewd positional play and a touch of fire, were sparked by improved fitness. He was a real danger man on the flank and booted 44 goals for the season.

Three years later, as his career entered its twilight, he talked the selectors into trying him on a half back flank, which was shaping as a trouble spot.

If you can imagine a modern-day Easton Wood or Sean Dempster floating across the front of packs to take intercept marks, that was ‘Hemps’. At 33, he crowned a great season by taking out the Best & Fairest award.

He retired in 1970, after more than 100 games with the Hawks, then became President of the Rovers Past Players Association.

His next step in business was to start-up his own insurance brokerage. Ever the promoter, he took to wearing lairy red or gold jackets emblazoned with his company name on the pocket. He hit the air-waves, pleading with the public to ‘Give the Hemps a Go’.

They did, and they also supported him when he stood for council.

“I spent two learning years on council and had the ego knocked out of me,” he said. “I had no idea other people could have different opinions to mine”.

The fertile Hempel imagination then concocted a fresh idea. What about branching out into the tourism industry ? He disposed of his insurance business and created ‘Kellyland’, a 40-minute animated show depicting  Ned Kelly’s Last Stand, which he still operates.

The banks played hard-ball with him a couple of times, and he battled to keep his head above water . He once gave his version of confronting his toughest-ever opponent:

 

“My business is going down the gurgler; I can’t sleep or think. I owe a million dollars – everything is on the line. There’s no way out……But wait  a minute, how many times have I seen the Bulldogs down, with their backs to the wall ? ……And against all odds they got up and won !”

“The vultures are circling, ready to pounce and finish me off ! But Charlie Sutton would have said: ‘Lift your game…..Back yourself in…..come on Hempo….if Footscray can do it so can you……………….AND I DID ! ”

 

 

It’s been a hell of a journey for the old entrepreneur ……showman….larrikin…..’ratbag’…….right from the time he was a ‘nipper’, sitting around the kitchen table, eating rabbit stew and dreaming of wearing the Red, White and Blue……………