A good story can bob up in the unlikeliest of circumstances.
I’m seated next to a bloke at a funeral. Weather-beaten face, thick-rimmed glasses perched half-way down his nose, a shock of dark hair camouflaging his true age. Looks familiar, I muse, but I just can’t pin a name to him.
It’s only when we’re introduced later, that the name – Mick Flecknoe – rings a bell. Yes, it’s the old Myrtleford identity……
Mick’s a bit wary when I suggest we sit down and have a yarn. But I figure he’s that friendly that, once we start yapping he won’t be able to help himself.
And that’s what happens………..
The Flecknoe’s were having a pretty tough trot when Mick was growing up in Beechworth after the war. But that didn’t stop them taking in another family who had also fallen upon hard times . So there were 2 sets of parents and nine kids ; the tiny place was chock-a-block.
The only solution was for the eldest kids to move out and fend for themselves. Mick ( “I was born Leslie James, but dad dubbed me Mick, and the name stuck”) got a job at the Mental Home as a Messenger Boy and played football with Beechworth 2nds. He was 16.
He had kept in touch with his old schoolmates , the Retallicks, who had since moved to Sunbury. They floated the suggestion of him moving down there and, with a spirit of adventure in his veins, Mick found a job – firstly as a Hall-Porter , then at H.V.McKay Harvesters, in Sunshine.
He played a season of good footy in the centre with Sunbury and became great friends with a team-mate, Wally Morris, whose brother Jack had obtained a Land Settlement property. It was based at Walpole-Tingledale, about 100km fromAlbany, down on the south-west coast of Western Australia.
“Jack said: ‘You’d better get over here quick, so off we headed. It was hard work, with long hours and it kept me fit, clearing land and what have you,” Mick recalls.
He joined an Albany team – Air Training Institute – and kicked bags of goals, as well as chalking up a couple of Best & Fairests.
“They held the Great Southern Carnival at the end of each season and this particular year it was at Narrogin, out in the wheat belt. The scouts from Perth used to converge on the place. I must have played okay, because I received offers from all of the clubs”.
Mick settled on East Perth, mainly because they told him they’d be embarking on a mid-season promotional trip across the continent, which would include matches against the Ovens & Murray and Goulburn Valley Leagues.
This will be great, he thought; a mid-season junket, and the chance to catch up with the folks for the first time in six years.
So he signed with the famous Royals. It was 1954; he was not-long married to Thelma ( an Albany girl ) and had a nipper in tow.
It was a young side and at 22, Mick was one of the older brigade. But he made an immediate impression and was named in the State squad for a clash with South Australia.
I tell him that I came across reports describing him as a brilliant centre half forward and the longest kick in Western Australia. Surely, Mick, I ponder, you weren’t tall enough to hold down a key position in the WAFL ?
“I’ve shrunk a bit, but I was about 5’11” and could get up in the air a bit,” he says.
His mind meanders back, as he describes the crop of young stars who came into the East side at that time. Players like Kevin Magill, Paul Seal and John Watts formed part of The Royals’ Golden Era in the late 50’s.
And two 19 year-old inseparable aboriginal lads from Sister Kate’s Home, Ted Kilmurray and Graham Farmer were in their debut seasons.
“Square” Kilmurray and I were the key forwards. He could play anywhere and was an eye-catching type. ‘Polly’, of course, was a freak and was already producing the skills that earned him legendary status when he moved to Geelong. He won successive Sandover Medals, then ‘Square’ won it the year after.”
What about that Eastern-States tour, Mick ?
“We came over by train; I think it was early July and when we finally arrived for our first game at Albury, I was greeted by all my old friends and family. I felt like a superstar.”
The O & M put up a fight but went down by 34 points to the visitors. Mick kicked 3 goals and starred in front of a huge crowd at the Albury Sportsground, but it was ‘Polly’ Farmer who received the plaudits of the media.
The boys let their hair down that night – as they did on most of the trip. It was hardly an ideal way to maintain fitness and, after a hectic 17 days away from home it was no surprise when the inexperienced side faded and missed the finals.
“I was a bit of a villain, but then – we all were. Grog was the culture; the only pill you ever took was an Aspro. As you can imagine, I had an absolute ball at East Perth.” He laughs as he elaborates on a few of the escapades they got up to.
He was dogged by injury for the next two seasons and, after copping a broken leg mid-way through 1956, opted out of his contract and decided to bring his growing family home to Victoria.
He settled in Bogong, got a job with the SEC, then fell into the coaching job when the incumbent, Vic Donald, resigned.
Bogong were struggling for numbers at this stage and topped up their side with 14-15 year-old school kids who weren’t ready for senior football. It was nearing the end of their stint in the O & K. Mick enjoyed coaching and showed his commitment by staying off the drink for the whole season.
His next move in football proved to be his last. Myrtleford had embarked on an extensive recruiting campaign, which netted three ex-locals from VFL ranks – Len Cotterill (Carlton), George Barton and Jack Cooper (Hawthorn), as well as the three Hodgkin boys – Frank, Wally and Johnny.
Champion South Australian Jimmy Deane was appointed coach and convinced Mick that he was the man to fill a hole up forward. It was a star-studded line-up.
A mad-keen football supporter, Bert Adams, lined him up with a job selling fuel to the tobacco-farmers and he was kicking plenty of goals, so life was pretty cool.
I remind him of a classic semi-final that I watched at Benalla in 1960. He had kicked 5 goals at half-time and the Saints still led Yarrawonga by 21 points at lemon-time, but the Pigeons came home to win the unwinnable by 3 points. “We should never have lost that one. ‘Deaney’ was shattered.”
Mick played over 100 games in an injury-riddled 8 years with Myrtleford. He finally hung up the boots in 1966.
He had been, at various times, a tobacco-farmer, barman and driver and finally, worked 25 years with the Department of Agriculture.
He touches on a happening in 1972 which still pains him deeply. The eldest of his 3 kids, Kerri-Ann, was 20 and living in the West, when she announced that she and her fiancée, Fred, had decided to get married.
“Terrific”, we said, “but we’d like you to have the wedding here. It was a lovely show. Two days later, they were on their way home and had reached a place in South Australia called Laura, when a bloke went through a ‘Stop’ sign and collected them. Kerri-Ann was killed, Fred was injured.”
” So 18 days after marrying her, Father Jones buried her. You never get over it.”
Mick has devoted the last 48 years to the Myrtleford Football and Bowls Clubs and is a life member of both. He has played Pennant Bowls in all that time, was Club Champion in 1982/83 and 2009/10, and has served as President.
The variety of roles he has carried out at the McNamara Reserve, include the Selection committee, cleaning the Clubrooms, looking after the Oval and acting as a long-term Timekeeper.
And, provided he can continue to keep the cancer ( which has already threatened him three times ) at bay, the old war-horse aims to help out for a while longer.