Wangaratta’s rise to sporting prominence during the Depression era coincided with the flourishing careers of a handful of champions.
Not many of them, though, could match the feats of curly-haired Herbert Wesley Carey, a dynamic footballer, explosive all-round cricketer and enigmatic personality……..
Carey’s parents transplanted their large family to Wangaratta from Devon Meadows (near Cranbourne) in the late twenties.His dad, Walter. like so many of his generation, had tried his hand at anything; from Gold-Mining, to tobacco-growing, to Carpentry. It was whilst panning for gold that he incurred syenite poisoning in his knee, which left him with a stiff leg for the remainder of his life.
With nine kids ( he and wife Margaret lost another son, Walter Steane, in his infancy ) he found that Building was the most appropriate way to sustain the family. The boys – George, Fred, Bill, Bert and Stan – possessed a variety of skills, but Bert became his principal helper.
The Carey’s would go on to construct many houses in the West End area, including a couple in Steane Street, which was named after the second Christian names of Walter and the baby son they’d lost.
Wangaratta Football Club happened upon a recruiting bonanza when the Carey gang hit town. The five boys all played together at various times. When former Hawthorn player Dermott O’Brien quit as coach mid-way through their first season, 1929, the adaptable Fred was appointed in his place.
One of the key players at his disposal was Bert, who was equally at home whilst on the ball or up forward.
Bert stood 5’10” and weighed 75kg, and had already sampled VFL football, having played five games with Fitzroy. But, at periods over the next nine years, he would prove well-nigh unstoppable in the Black and White guernsey.
He gave Magpie fans an early sample of his brilliance when he booted 13 goals in their 92-point thrashing of Rutherglen.
Bert signalled his cricketing ability in his first WDCA game with newly-formed East Wangaratta, finishing with figures of 5/8 and 6/1 and producing a belligerent innings of 85 against Footballers.
A left-arm bowler of considerable pace, he could swing the ball both ways (sometimes too much) and proved a more than handy batsman in the middle-order. Little wonder, with Bert in the side complementing the redoubtable Fisher brothers, they became a power. After a one-wicket win in the 1928/29 decider, East again took out the flag the following year.
Carey teamed with Brookfield speedsters Ken and Harry Kneebone to form a lethal new-ball combination in representative cricket.
His first Country Week, in 1929, was a raging success. He captured 20 wickets at an average of 5.6, including successive hauls of 7/21 and 5/39. He was to become a cornerstone of the Wangaratta attack, and produced some astonishing performances.
In his best individual effort, in 1933, he snared 6/11, 5/39, 5/24, 4/57 and made an undefeated 40, following this with 4/67 in the Final, which Wangaratta duly won.
His wicket-taking record over nine trips to Melbourne (1929-’37) has never been bettered, and was a factor in Wangaratta’s tally of 21 wins, 4 losses and 7 draws over that period.
In a move which inflamed tensions between the rival clubs, Bert switched from East Wang to Wangaratta in 1933/34, and was able to add another two premierships to his collection, giving him five WDCA flags in total……..
Carey’s uncanny goal-kicking skills made him a vital part of Wangaratta’s football success. He was averaging in excess of five goals per game in 1930, before he was shut down in a vital clash against West Albury. The ‘Pies lost the game, but he bounced back with hauls of 8 and 11 against Rutherglen and Corowa.
Wangaratta had incurred a financial loss of 275 pounds, after also covering the 50 pound debt of sister club, Rovers. There were concerns about the club’s ability to field two teams, so they decided to affiliate just one side in the Ovens and King League.
They comfortably won the 1931 Grand Final. Carey capped a fine season by kicking his 85th goal – a new O & K record – which was boosted by an incredible 21 goals in one match, out of a team total of 25.32. It still remains the highest individual score by a Wangaratta player.
The’Pies’ second successive O & K flag in ’32 prompted an invitation to return to the Ovens and Murray League. Much to the chagrin of the O & K, who claimed that they were again being ‘used’, Wang duly re-affiliated.
Not only that, they re-asserted their dominance, and were sitting on top of the ladder, unbeaten after five matches.
And they did it without Bert Carey, who had been lured down to Hawthorn. He booted five goals against St.Kilda in the opening VFL round and followed it with another ‘bag’ of five against North Melbourne.
He had 16 goals in six games before advising the Mayblooms that he was returning home to Wangaratta.
This was the icing on the cake for the ‘Pies. But despite finishing atop the ladder, they fell to Border United in the Second Semi Final.
They bounced back in scintillating fashion, booting 20.10 to Corowa’s 8.4 in the Prelim, with the double-pronged forward targets, Len Nolan (10) and Bert Carey (8) having a field-day.
The following week Wangaratta lined up against Border United in the Grand Final. The teams were evenly-matched, but Border took a 16-point lead into the final term.
Nolan, Bill Brown and Carey soon had the opposition defence under pressure, and with two minutes to play, Wang had gone to a seven-point lead. A Border goal lifted the hopes of the favourites, but time ran out and Wangaratta hung on to win a classic by one point.
It was a triumph for the Carey family, as coach Fred (the Morris Medallist) had led from the front and Bert, with three goals, again illustrated what a big-game player he was……
Controversy seemed to dog Bert Carey, despite his star status as a player. No more so than when he was included in the Wangaratta side late in the 1936 season. He’d been missing for most of the year, having decided to take up umpiring.
Two players, Jim Gorman and Len Irving, refused to play alongside him. He had, they said, taken the place of a team-mate who’d helped the side into the ‘four’.
Wangaratta subsequently reported them to the League. Their argument was that there had been a shortage of players when Carey was selected, and: “he had been ready to go umpiring when asked to play against Rutherglen.”
After a lengthy delegates meeting, Irving and Gorman were disqualified for the remainder of the 1936 season for their refusal to play.
Carey proved more than handy in the ensuing finals series. Wangaratta fell to Rutherglen in the Second semi, but bounced back to kick 18.20 to 11.11 against Wodonga in the Prelim.
The old-timer showed his worth by snagging seven majors, as the Bulldogs found it difficult to counter he and the burly Charlie Heavey up forward.
In another gripping Grand Final, Wangaratta turned the tables on Rutherglen, to take out their third O & M flag. It was a contest of the highest order, as Wang, despite kicking poorly in the final term, held on to win by 20 points.
Bert Carey had just turned 32 when Hawthorn called on him in the early rounds of 1937. Playing in the centre, he proved his class in four games. But injuries prevailed, and mid-way through the season he again returned to Wangaratta.
This was to be his swansong. After a handful of games the career of Bert Carey was over. He had played 104 games and booted 423 goals for the ‘Pies……