An old friend passed on recently…………Hadn’t seen him for yonks………
He was one of those special ‘characters’ you come across in sport……….Handy player, with a deep affection for footy and cricket……A vital part of the fabric of the Clubs to which he was attached……..A shit-stirrer and prankster, who made light of most situations………And ensured people didn’t get too far ahead of themselves……
He had a stutter, which added a quaintness to the rendition of his favourite ditty…..By the time the after-match beers had suitably lubricated his tonsils, and his team-mates had begun to urge him on, he would respond with a few verses of the jingle:
“Iceberg dairy fresh butter,
The choicest butter to buy,
It’s good for you,
Your family too,
Iceberg dairy fresh butter……..”
Frank Griffin was a Chiltern boy. As a typical lad from the old mining town his ambition was to pull on the famous Red and White guernsey that his dad, Mick, had worn in premiership sides during the thirties.
He repeated the feat at the age of 19, lining up on the half forward line in the 1957 flag triumph over King Valley. The following season he shared in another premiership, when Greg Tate’s combination got up by a goal against a gallant Greta.
They weren’t so lucky in ‘59. Despite finishing atop the ladder and winning the second-semi, Moyhu outlasted them in the Grand Final, to win their first title since 1947.
‘Griffo’ took out the Best & Fairest in his next – and final year with the Swans.
He and his bride Yvonne moved to Wangaratta, where he’d accepted a job with the Australian Postal Corporation, as it was then known.
Possibly through the influence of his mad-Rovers boss Jack Barry, or more likely, the urge to play under the great Bobby Rose, he lined up with the Hawks. In his fifth senior game he turned and slipped on muddy terrain…….. A broken leg put paid to the rest of his season.
It was a setback he didn’t need…..After a couple of early games in ‘62 he transferred to Greta, where his crash-through style as a back-flanker perfectly suited an emerging side.
The story is told that he’d been booked by a local cop – Moyhu coach Ray Burns – for driving his car with a faulty tail-light.
The opportunity for a square-up presented itself when the sides met mid-season. The brawny ‘Griffo’ sighted tough-nut Burns wide-open in a pack, and spreadeagled him:
“S..S..Sorry Ray….No Lights, ” he stammered.
Dubbed the ‘Silent Postie’ because he abhored the tradition of blowing the whistle when delivering letters, Frank graduated to sorting mail, and working on the front counter of the Post Office.
He regularly did the night-shift at the Telephone Exchange. After the pubs had shut of a Saturday night, a handful of his footy mates ( and sometimes their partners) would help him to while away the lonely early-morning hours.
He would entertain us by connecting people ( complete strangers ) on either side of the continent and chuckle while they argued about which of them instituted the call, and how rude it was to have their sleep interrupted at such an unearthly hour……..
He once contacted Rovers committeeman Ernie Payne – a fellow stirrer – at 4.30 am: “…Just ringing Ernie, to let you know that in two hours you’ll be receiving your early-morning wake-up call……”
‘Griffo’ was a left-arm slow bowler ( who turned the ball minimally) and hard-hitting batsman. He was part of the Postals team which made its WSCA debut in the early-sixties.
They took their cricket seriously at Postals, but became renowned as possibly the most social mob of the Social competition. Their after-match festivities, which often finished late on Sunday nights, were held regularly at the Griffin abode, at the bottom-end of Park Lane.
Frank was skipper when Postals scored possibly their greatest, against-the-odds, win. They were 9/85, and in an impossible situation overnight, in pursuit of 167 in the ‘65/66 Semi, when a last-wicket partnership of 96 between John West and Keith Marsden guided them to victory. Celebrations lasted until the wee hours……….
The following week, in their third successive Grand Final, despite ‘Griffo’s’ 5/41 and top-score of 21, they were unable to contain Woollen Mills, who scored a convincing win.
His on-going battle with asthma prompted Frank to seek warmer climes, so the family – Yvonne and kids Jacqui, Michael and Stephen – packed up and headed to Darwin.
He maintained his employment with Government Departments – eventually working in the Motor Vehicle Section – and becoming heavily involved with Nightcliff Football Club.
Darwin was right down his alley. His health improved; the beer, in the sultry conditions, had never tasted better; and he loved his Tigers.
He was elected President in 1970………Recruiting was his forte’ and he would paint a rosy picture of a ‘Summer Football Paradise’ as he launched valiant attempts to lure prospective recruits from down south.
I was one who succumbed.
About an hour after I drove into Darwin, in late-October ‘71, ‘Griffo’ had set me up with a job as a ‘Scaffolder’ with the Public Works Department. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Your biggest responsibility will be tee-ing up the tradies’ morning and afternoon-teas……”.
“You can stay with us, at Sanders Street, Jingili, for a while,” he said. This turned out to be for the remainder of the footy season.
It proved to be a memorable five months. I presume that many other ‘Southerners’ were on the receiving end of the Griffin hospitality over the years.
Frank had two stints as President of the Tigers. The first was from 1970-76; the second from 1986 to ‘88. He was Treasurer from 1991 to ‘94.
In the late-seventies he married Mabel, who was Black and Gold through-and-through, and a dedicated Nightcliff figure .
They were well-matched. Mabel was widely-known as the Tigers’ most vocal and ‘excitable’ supporter, and would plonk herself in the same spot at the Gardens Oval each week. Her booming voice shook umpires and opposing players alike, and Frank would discreetly distance himself from her when she was in full cry.
The ‘N.T News’ once provided an in-depth account, in their Match Report, of her ‘taking on’ an umpire with an umbrella.
After a particularly explosive Nightcliff – Waratahs clash, during which the central umpire had threatened to report her for abusive language, Mabel, in a rare conciliatory gesture after the game, handed him a pair of glasses which, she muttered, might overcome his eyesight problem.
The Tigers reached the Grand Final in early March of 1986, against perennial powerhouse St. Mary’s. There was considerable hype in the lead-up to the game, as they were rated a strong chance to win their first flag in 21 years. Unfortunately, it turned into an avalanche………They were belted by more than 170 points.
Mabel passed away in her sleep that night, further adding to the sombre mood in the Nightcliff camp. (Her memory is now perpetuated with the Mabel Griffin Scoreboard, at Nightcliff Oval, and the Club’s naming of the Volunteer of the Year Award in her honour).
The death of Frank’s son Michael two years later, at the age of 24, also hit him like a sledge-hammer, and you’d say he was overdue for a change of luck.
It came not long after, in 1988, when he received a ‘phone call, with the news that he’d won Division 1 Tattslotto.
There was no immediate change to his lifestyle, apart from some acts of generosity towards his family. But he eventually retired from the Motor Vehicle Department , and chose to live out a dream.
He purchased a 5-acre Mango Farm 40km from Darwin and spent countless hours on his tractor. This was interspersed with regular visits to the nearby Humpty Doo Pub, or trips into town, to catch up with his mates at the Nightcliff Sports Club.
The Mangoes were sold at Market, and Frank would also pick up a few bob on the side by slashing grass in his neighbors’ paddocks.
It was good for the soul, he reckoned, when he could be in his own world, deep in thought, on his tractor; even when, on one occasion, he happened to accidentally slash a well-concealed Cannabis Crop.
Frank originally met Cath, his third partner, soon after the Cyclone Tracy upheaval of 1976. He and the boys had re-located to Wodonga for 12 months, to the same apartment block in which she lived ( He also took on the job as Secretary of his old club Chiltern during this period ).
Afterwards, upon his return to Darwin, he’d met and married Mabel.
Following her death, he and Cath re-kindled their relationship, and she moved to be with him up north. They later settled at Forrest Beach, a tiny coastal town two and a half hours south of Cairns, in the mid-nineties, and had been together for 34 years.
Frank suffered another grievous blow five years ago, when his youngest, Steven, died, aged 50. Even though he had great support from his daughter Jacqui, the passing of his two boys had affected him deeply.
He passed away two months ago, aged 83.
A Memorial Service for Frank Griffin, Nightcliff and NTFL Life Member, dual Chiltern Premiership player and colourful sporting personality, was held in his old home town earlier this month.