“Just a tip,” they said ……”When you ring him it’ll dial out……But don’t bother leaving a message. He never returns your call.”

So I took this advice on board, and kept trying……Once, twice…..four times. A minute or so after the fifth, later in the night, the phone rings. His inquisitiveness must have got the better of him.

“Karl, here…………”


When we meet up, he’s just come from receiving some treatment on a calf that’s been causing him some grief.

The massive 116kg frame of Karl Norman, has let him down at times this year. Any wonder…..he turned 35 a couple of months ago. But he’s confident that, with a bit of tender care, he’ll be right to guide Glenrowan through another finals series.

He’s been known as one of football’s after-dark larrikins, although he admits he’s slowing up in that department. But on the field he’s as passionate as they come. It’s always been the feature of his game.

He still loves playing, and can’t see any reason why he should give it away just yet. It’s some of the other parts of footy that he’s not totally enamoured with. Watching from the sidelines, says Karl, has never really turned him on.

Apart from his flirtation with the big-time, he reckons he would have only been to half-a-dozen other AFL games and rarely watches it on telly. Once we broach the subject of footy and other matters, though, I realise there’s more to Karl Norman than meets the eye…………


He says he wasn’t big on Aussie Rules when he was a nipper. Despite his dad’s feats as a champion full forward, he was more into soccer and tennis. “Mum thought I’d get sick of it if I started too early,” he says.

But his obvious talent, which showed through once he took a fancy to the Sherrin, saw him debuting with Greta’s senior side at 15. The following year he followed his step-father Andrew Smith over to Glenrowan.

Approaches came from the Murray Bushrangers when he moved in to the Rovers Thirds in 2000. “Mum drove me up to training at Wodonga a few times. I’d been working on the family orchard since I was 16 and it was fairly tiring. The Bushies sort of suggested that I should apply myself a bit more if I wanted to get anywhere. Bugger that, I thought, I want to enjoy my footy.”

He was a standout with the Thirds, won their B & F, and was blooded in a couple of senior games. Then it was back out to Glenrowan for another season – and another B & F.

One reason Karl was lured back to the Findlay Oval in 2002, was to satisfy the urgings of his dad, Steve, whose feats as a 242-game player with the Wangaratta Rovers are still spoken of in reverential terms.IMG_3554

1016 goals ( a Club record ), seven premierships ( a Club and League record). Inducted to both the Rovers and O & M Halls of Fame. One helluva player. Spearheads of his calibre come along only once every couple of generations.

Expectant club die-hards ran the rule over the young bloke and concluded that he stripped more like his grand-father – former Magpie full back ‘Rinso’ Johnstone – than his old man. At 190cm and a finely-proportioned 86kg, the romantic notions that he would line up in front of goal were cast aside when he began to shine in a key defensive role.

At 19, he took on – and outpointed most of the O & M’s gun forwards. “The thing about Karl was he that had an ideal temperament. Nothing phased him. It was just ‘See ball- Get ball’,” recalled an old team-mate.

The game that probably defined him to the broader O & M public was a Rovers – Corowa-Rutherglen clash, when he pulled down 15 marks at centre half-back in a thrilling drawn game.

His good form continued, and he was scarcely hindered when he suffered a broken hand in a late-season game. Two days after it had been set, Karl calmly cut the plaster off so that he could play his part in the Hawks’ finals campaign.

The Rovers pulled back a 41-point North Albury lead in the third quarter of the Grand Final, to briefly hit the front early in the final term. But the Hoppers then blew them away with six goals in 17 minutes.IMG_3556

Norman and the peerless Robbie Walker were the Hawk stars. In fact, Karl had been dominant in each of the three finals, and capped his season by finishing runner-up to Walker in the B & F.

He had no idea that there had been any interest in him from AFL recruiters. “But I did hear later on that Carlton were up at Lavington for the Grand Final,” he says.

So when the Blues grabbed him as a ‘smokey’, chosen at pick 79 in the November draft of 2002, it was a surprise. Rarely does a player in the modern era arrive in League football from beyond the elite system. Thus, Carlton fans surmised, this bloke must be something special.IMG_3548

His improvement was steady. Solid form in defence with the Northern Bullants earned him seven AFL games in his first season.

Then things went awry. His name was emblazoned across the sporting pages early in 2004, when he and Laurence Angwin had an ‘all-nighter’ and arrived for Sunday morning training under the weather.

Angwin was sacked, Norman was given a reprieve and proceeded to repay the faith that the Blues’ senior players had shown by hanging onto him. A brilliant rebounding game against Geelong earned him a Rising Star nomination. A solid 2004 saw him make 16 senior appearances and be spoken of as one of the key planks in a possible Carlton revival.

But after four early games the following season, he was relegated to VFL ranks, where he continued to churn out consistent performances.

“Peter Dean and old ‘Libba’, who were coaching at the Bullants, kept telling me to keep battling away; that my form was pretty good. We ended up getting done in the Preliminary Final that year. I got a bit disheartened, though. I just hated the city….And the total emphasis on football…. It was a relief, in a way, when they delisted me. I couldn’t wait to get out of the place.”IMG_3555

“Steve Johnson’s dad, Terry, reckons I’d have been better suited to Geelong, where it’s not so much of a rat-race……Maybe….But no use dwelling on the past……”

He says Leigh Matthews left a message for him, asking him to discuss a possible move to Brisbane. “But I didn’t ring back.” The Western Bulldogs invited him to do the 2006 pre-season. …. “Great”, I said. “How’d that go ?” “I didn’t turn up.”

Instead, a mate, Steve Aloi, talked Karl into playing at Mooroopna, under ex-Geelong player Derek Hall. He spent two years there before his inevitable return to the Rovers.

His form was patchy at first, and he had limited impact as a key forward. Then a switch into the ruck brought about the transformation that made him an all-powerful figure in O & M football over the next five seasons.

And a larger-than-life character within the club. ‘Karl Tales’ are still told, and probably embellished. A team-mate recalls the playing group huddling together on the ground for a last-minute pep-up before one game. “Get a whiff of ‘Normo’s’ breath,” someone said .

The popular assumption was that, having climbed aboard the tractor to knock the frost off the cherry trees earlier that morning, he’d taken along a couple of cans of Johnnie Walker for company.

“Never affected him, though. He went out and took charge; rucked all day.”

It’s worth detailing his record in his second-coming at the Findlay Oval. Top-five in the Best and Fairest in all but one year, he was runner-up twice and took out the coveted Bob Rose Medal in 2012.IMG_3549

Twice an O & M rep, he finished third in the Morris Medal in 2011 and fifth the following year. For my money, Karl lifted his game to another level in 2012.

He recalls it with mixed emotions. “We’d come off almost being wooden-spooners the previous season, but the side comprised mostly locals who seemed to come of age. Barry Hall just topped us off, I suppose.”

“And to be nearly six goals up early in the last quarter of the Second-Semi, with a spot in the Grand Final within reach, and lose the game……..Gee it hurt…..I think about that after-the-siren kick of Barry Hall’s nearly every day……..”

There was considerable anguish in the Rovers camp, when, after 121 games, Karl headed back to Glenrowan in 2014, in pursuit of that elusive premiership.

He was about to write another chapter in his career – that of a roaming centreman cum relief-ruckman.

The Kelly Tigers had never come remotely close to being a premiership threat since being elevated to the Ovens & King League. Pitied for their uncompetitiveness, they had been on the end of some fearful beltings.

Suddenly they were up and about. People can debate how they’ve achieved it, but to maintain the momentum to win four successive flags is a remarkable effort. It’s never been done before – and, don’t forget- they rate a good chance of making it five in a row.

Karl has been one of the principal reasons. I’ve seen him manipulating things from the centre square in each of those Grand Finals …..reading the play, bringing team-mates into the game with a deft tap, a long handball into the open, or a deep, well-placed kick.

He has been runner-up for the O-K’s Baker Medal three times, third once, and won three Glenrowan B & F’s in that time.

He’s got a bit more on his plate these days; with work on the orchard, doing up a house he recently bought in Wangaratta and running a few cattle, things are pretty busy. But, come September, the big fellah will be doing his best to lift the Tigers to another flag…………….IMG_3552


I’d like to escort you back through the ages – almost 130 years, in fact – to a tiny farm near Lake Moodemere, on the outskirts of the busy, booming gold-rush town of Rutherglen.

Irish emigrant Dan King is yarning with his friend Jack Hiskins about a new game that was being spoken of by visiting bullock-wagon drivers. It had, they were told, become very popular in Melbourne and all the young fellows were aspiring to join clubs that had sprouted up in the city and surrounds.

“Let’s have a bit of a look at it”, King said to his mate. Dan had been brought up on Gaelic football ; Jack knew a fair bit about the British game of Rugby. This new code was apparently a mix of the two sports…..

Dan King, a bootmaker, roughly fashioned a football. The cover was made of leather and kept in shape by an inflated pig’s bladder.

Soon the seven King boys and all of the Hiskins clan had mastered the art of kicking and marking. So much so that they were to become the backbone of the fine teams that represented Rutherglen and it’s surrounds for the next couple of decades.

The ‘Glen chalked up flag after flag in an era of dominance in the Ovens & Murray League in its fledgling days. Bernard King was seconded to coach the side and his brothers Jack, Jim, Pat, Chris and Francis were some of the stars.

Jack and Jim both played League football and Jack was to return and play with the Redlegs for a staggering 26 years.


Jack Hiskins had 14 kids and the nine boys all played in the O & M, which is a record that will, in all likelihood, never be broken.

But they spread their favours between two teams in the district – Rutherglen and Lake Rovers. Clashes between the arch rivals incited plenty of feeling, particularly in the Hiskins household, where brothers would, at times, line up on each other.

Fred was the first of the family to be enticed to the ‘big smoke’, when he joined Essendon in 1900. A fine half forward, he topped the League goalkicking the following season, with 34, but occasionally had a bout of the ‘yips’ . There was one ‘shocker’ against South Melbourne, when his favoured place-kick let him down and he finished the day with 2.10.photo copy

He represented Victoria in 1902 and disappointed Essendon at season’s end by walking out and seeking his fortune on the gold-mines of Kalgoorlie, where he spent three fruitful years with Mines Rovers.

Fred sustained a nasty eye injury at work and headed back east to receive treatment. Essendon pounced, upon his return, and placed him at the goal-front. 1906 was to be his swansong season of League football and, after 50 games and 78 goals, he chose to play out his career at Rutherglen.

Arthur found his way to South Melbourne in 1908 and was to play a prominent part in the ‘Bloods two–point premiership win over Carlton the following year.

Nicknamed ‘Poddy’, he usually lined up on a half back flank and was renowned photo 3for his long-kicking and tenacity, despite being only 178cm.

He enlisted in 1916, aged 30, having played what, one would have thought, was his last game, as he headed to the front-line in France.

A photo on the Australian War Memorial website, shows Arthur standing knee-deep in mud, in Belgium in 1919. He was a world away from the game that he loved with a passion. Seven months after the photo was taken, he ran onto Princes Park Oval, in his return to League ranks.

He was appointed playing-coach of South in 1920, but they slipped out of the four and he was relieved of the job. However, he played on until the end of 1923 and finished what had been an outstanding career, with 185 games.

He then officiated in 52 games as a VFL goal-umpire.

‘Poddy’ enticed another brother, Stan, to come down and have a run with South in 1913. Stan was of similar build and was a versatile player, who spent a lot of time in defence. He possessed ample doses of the trait which ran through the Hiskins family – toughness.

Stan was a back flanker, but had proved a reliable goal-kicker in his forays up forward. Three months after he had played in the 1914 Grand Final – his 30th game – he was heading off to France, as part of the frontline.

He lost four years of his career to the war, but returned to his occupation as a carpenter and was selected in South’s side for the opening round fixture of 1919.

He had played 66 games and kicked 34 goals when he called it a day in 1921.

Carlton scouts headed up to Rutherglen in pursuit of Neil Hiskins. Considering that three of his brothers had already made their mark on League football, they were excited by reports that the solidly-built Neil was the pick of the crop.

They found the boys having a kick in the paddock, near the family’s watermelon patch. But the youngster was having none of the suggestion that he join the Navy Blues. “No, I’m quite happy here”, was his response.

Neil was a star with Rutherglen but never ventured past ‘Pretty Sally’. Nevertheless, his older brother Rupert agreed to give it a go.

But before he had the opportunity to play a senior game, Rupe enlisted and joined the Light Horse Brigade. By October of 1916 he was in the Middle East, where he was trained as a machine-gunner.

He contracted skin infections, which saw him regularly in hospital throughout his military service. The problem only cleared up when he returned home in 1919.photo 2 copy

Rupe then began a superb League career. Although he was 26 years-old he made an immediate impression as a free-running six foot-plus defender.

He was soon thrust into the ruck and formed a lethal combination with established stars, Bert Boromeo and Lyle Downes. He was an extrovert and a big-occasion player, who revelled in the finals atmosphere. Besides his long kicking and ability to do the heavy work, he was agile at ground level.

Rupe was a six-time Victorian representative and had become one of the game’s big names. By 1923, however, he was asked to carry the ruck division. Downes collapsed and died after training one night and Boromeo had controversially exited the club.

Rupe retired in 1924 after 74 games and joined Boromeo at VFA club, Brunswick, where he concluded his career with a flag.

The other brothers in the prolific family, Jimmy, Vic, Bert and Clem gave yeoman service to Rutherglen and Lake Rovers.

A veritable assembly-line of Hiskins progeny has continued through the generations….

Jack Hiskins followed his father Fred to Essendon in the thirties………Barry Richardson was a triple premiership player in a great Richmond era of the late photo60’s and ’70’s……….Paul McCormack was a Carlton player who later won a South Australian state jumper……..Karl Norman had a brief stint with the Blues between 2003 and ’05…….

But to catalogue the rest, who became stars ( and champions) in Ovens & Murray ranks, and beyond, would be a decent yarn in itself.

Young  defender James Smith is the latest product of this football dynasty that was created by his great-great-great grandfather all those years ago, on a dry, dusty little property at Lake Moodemere.image