“THE FIXER…………”

It’s nudging 3am when nature calls after a hectic Boxing Day.

An eery tranquility  pervades the air , but as I grope and stumble down the pitch-black hallway on this routine visit to the ‘throne’, there’s plenty happening outside. I detect loud voices and laughter. The ‘stragglers’ of a 40th Birthday party are in vintage form………

There’s Pooch, Tav, Rolls, Jack, Juice, Lloyder, Andy, Dougy, Roscoe, Rourkey, Fixer and a few others. They’ve turned the clock back twenty-plus years , to document scarcely-believable stories of their youth.

I just manage to pick up the one about ‘Juice’, whose forgettable career as a student concluded one mid-term, when he announced to his class-mates: “F….. it, I’ve had this joint.” He climbed out the window of the Year-11 classroom and never again darkened the doors of Galen College.

He was hell-bent on becoming a truckie, like his old man, and still reckons he’s at peace with the world when he’s behind the wheel of a Heavy-Rigid Transport. Occasionally he  reflects on the  good old days when, for a time, he was a demon quickie and a long-striding left-footer in the Brown and Gold.

Funny, all of the revellers went through the Rovers Thirds, yet their careers diverged. A couple became stars, one travelled the world plying his trade as a Farrier. Some, such as ‘Fixer’, succumbed to football  wanderlust…………
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‘Fixer’ doesn’t recall the last time he stayed at our humble abode. Moira was up and about early one Sunday when she spotted a pair of legs poking out the door of our White Toyota Bus, parked in the Carport.

On closer inspection, the body was comatose, but at least, still breathing. She let him be. Turns out ‘Fixer’ had lost his way during the night and ‘camped’ in the most convenient place he could find.
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There are a few theories as to how Rohan Graham came to inherit his nickname.

The most plausible is that he wrote to the Brisbane Courier-Mail’s ‘Agony-Aunt’- type columnist, ‘The Fixer’, detailing how a callous taxi-driver had driven off with his wallet. The episode had, he said, left him virtually penniless.

Sympathetic to his demise, ‘The Fixer’ contacted the taxi company, which sent him $250 to tide him over.

Not a bad result, joked a few of his mates, who reckoned he probably ‘did a runner’ on the taxi-driver !
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I caught up with a fair portion of ‘Ro’s’ early footy. Firstly with Tigers, the Murray Bushrangers, and occasionally, the Rovers Thirds. He was strong, versatile and possessive of a handy skill-set.

And his out-going personality provided a healthy balance to the many introverts that junior coaches find so difficult to prise out of their shells.

In short, he was a talent. Good enough, in fact, to represent Vic.Country in successive Under-18 Teal Cups, alongside future AFL stars Nathan Brown, Steve King, Adam Houlihan and Michael Braun.

He was vice-captain at the second Carnival, and, I suggest, his name must surely have been mentioned in draft discussions.

“Nah,” he says. “I was realistic enough to know that I was an inch too small and a yard too slow.”

Three or four clubs spoke to him, but that’s about it, he added. He and fellow Bushie Mark Goodey hastened to talk down their prospects to enquiring friends. There was plenty of excitement at the High School , though, as there were a couple of other boys also in contention, come Draft Day.

He winces now when he reflects on the prank he and ‘Goodser’ played on one lad, who had been letting a few kids know that he was a fair chance of being drafted.

They popped down to a Public Phone box and ‘Ro’, doing his best impersonation of a Melbourne official, rang the High, asking to speak to one of their pupils (let’s call him ‘Smithy’).

“He’s not available at the moment. Is there any message ?”

“I’ll ring back later, but would you mind telling him that he’s been drafted by the Melbourne Football Club.”

The pair arrived back at school just in time to hear the announcement over the P.A system, of ‘Smithy’s’ good fortune, and how proud the school was of his achievement.

‘Smithy’ was being swamped with young well-wishers when they spotted him. ‘Ro’s’ not too sure whether he ever overcame the disappointment of being ‘skewered’, but thinks he would have eventually narrowed down the two culprits.
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Rohan was invited to do a pre-season with Footscray, then found his way to Williamstown, where he impressed coach Mervyn Keane. But a succession of niggling injuries only allowed him to figure in a handful of games.

So half-way through the 1997 season, he landed back home. He had made his senior debut with the Hawks the previous September, when he was surprisingly slotted into the Preliminary Final side.

“I thought at the time: How good’s this ? First game a Prelim. Maybe a flag in my second ?,” he says.

But it wasn’t to be. The Hawks led by three points at half-time, but were blown away by Albury, who kicked nine goals to nil in the third, and went on to win by 34 points.

He produced some terrific form in the latter parts of 1997, and was a star in ‘98. A young Hawk side, against the odds, battled their way into the finals, only to go down by seven points, to Albury in a riveting First-Semi.

That night, after several consoling drinks, a few of the boys discovered, to their consternation, that the pub was closing at 10pm. No surprise there……. It was Sunday night, after all.

So they jumped into a car that a mate had so graciously loaned them, and headed to Crown Casino for a few hours, arriving home in time for Mad Monday. “Thank goodness we made it back. We thought at one stage, someone had knocked the car off from Crown. It’s just that we couldn’t remember what colour it was,” Rohan says.
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It was time to spread his wings, he thought, so he embarked on a trip to Brisbane, and signed with powerhouse club, Morningside.

The Surfer’s Paradise Demons were his next stop, followed by the Beenleigh Buffaloes, a club which was also home to former Hawks’ Robbie Panozzo and Brett Saunders, and another ex- Thirds player, Pete Rourke.

Out of the blue one year, came  a coaching offer from Sydney AFL club, East Coast Eagles. It was a plum appointment for a lad still in his late 20’s.

“I loved the challenge of coaching, particularly on match-day,” Rohan says. “The tactical side of things turns me on. I probably don’t get as excited about the rest of the coaching package.”

In his three seasons at the helm, the highlight obviously came in 2006, when East Coast went through the home-and-away rounds undefeated, and convincingly won the major Semi-Final.

It had been the driest Sydney year on record, but the drought broke on Grand Final day, with conditions at Sydney’s Henson Park more suited to water-polo than football.

Pennant Hills kicked 5.20 to defeat the Eagles – 7.6 – by two points.

“It was a shocker of a day. We were just overwhelmed by the conditions,” Rohan recalls.

He coached Eastern Suburbs/ UNSW Reserves for a season, during which he also took charge of a Sydney FL rep team which defeated Canberra. (“First time we’d beaten ’em for 128 years, they told me”).

But after coaching for  two years at another SAFL club, North Shore, he decided it was time to change tack and think about his future. He re-located to Melbourne.

His last season as a player was spent with Strathmore, in the Essendon Football League, which boasts more than its fair share of ex-AFL imports.

Rohan crossed paths with a few of them that year, with positive results.

“I was switched to full back one day, to try and curtail Simon Minton-Connell, the former Swan and Bulldog, who was doing plenty of damage against us. He’d already booted 8 by half-way through the second quarter. I managed to keep him to another six for the day. Not a bad effort, I thought.”

“When we shook hands after the game, I said: ‘You’d have probably kicked a few more if you could mark overhead.”

“ ‘I dunno, mate. I’m pretty happy with my 14’, he said. “

Rohan coached Strathmore Thirds after he’d hung up his boots, then worked on the recruiting staff at his beloved Melbourne for three years. He’s highly regarded by the Demons, who would have liked him to continue.

But he thought he’d better start devoting a bit more time to the family – wife Anna and baby Ava. And besides, things are busy in his job with a Road Construction firm.

There’s no doubt about ‘The Fixer’. He can keep you entertained for hours with his endless endless repertoire of  stories from a varied sporting life………….

ALIPATE – PART OF THE PORT ADELAIDE TRADITION………

He’s busy at his gym, F45, at Adelaide’s Henley Beach, when I track him down. It’s one of the various pursuits which have kept him on his toes since his footy career wound down last season.

He can’t believe that it passed so quickly…….from his first foray in the game, when he used to  bound around like a frisky, unbroken colt……. going on to break into League ranks as a mid-range draft choice………and becoming a proven, tight-checking backman and superb team-player – his side’s pillar in 167 erstwhile games.

Then, in the flick of an eye it was all over for Alipate Carlile…………

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There are any amount of fascinating tales which are woven into the rich tapestry of Australian football.

We’re all familiar with the story of a tiny South Korean orphan;  adopted by a visiting couple, Kev and Jo Bell, who reared him amidst a loving family in the West Australian town of Kojonup. The lad, Peter Bell, was to become a champion rover for Fremantle and North Melbourne and eventually be inducted into the AFL’s Hall of Fame.

As was Jimmy Stynes, a shy Irish boy who was coaxed across the globe and become acquainted with the intricacies of a strange new game. As a mere youngster with scant knowledge of the code, he wrestled with its rules and running patterns, but overcame them to such an extent that he won a Brownlow Medal and played a record 244 consecutive games for Melbourne.

And what of a prodigy like Michael Long. Growing up in the Tiwi Islands, where football is somewhat of an addiction – almost a religion – he became a role model for a legion of aboriginal fans during his stellar career at Essendon. And, like his uncle Maurice Rioli and nephew Cyril, was to wear a Norm Smith Medal around his neck on Grand Final day……………

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Alipate Carlile is another case in point.

He was born in Lautoka, Fiji, thirty years ago.  Asenaca, his mum, hails from Batiki, a tiny island of 12 square kilometres. She met Bill Carlile, a personable Wangaratta lad, soon after he had headed to Fiji for work, upon completion of his Uni course.

Although happily ensconced in the ‘Sugar City’, as Lautoka is dubbed – and with two kids in tow – they felt obliged to pack up and head to Australia when a military coup unsettled the nation.

It so happened that Bill’s mother also fell ill at the time and they decided to re-locate to his home town to lend support.

Which particularly tickled his dad, Joe, a wise old owl with a knack of telling a good yarn and dispensing sage advice on the vagaries of life. He relished the opportunity to watch the grandkids grow up close-by.

And, as they began to progress through the sporting ranks, Joe would succinctly assess their talent, as if casting an eye over his prize horse-flesh.

Usually a conversation would end with: “………..you know, I think the second bloke might go a fair way…..”.

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The five Carlile kids gravitated to the Wangaratta Rovers in a roundabout way.  ‘Pate’ had been throwing all his sporting efforts into soccer and basketball, but, aged 14, decided to join his brother Robbie at Junior League club, College.

And when Robbie played in the Hawks’ Thirds Premiership team of 2002, ‘Pate’ followed suit the following year by starring in their second straight flag.

Rovers people rubbed their hands together. They had inherited a sporting assembly-line, and fixed their eyes on blooming left-footer Anthony, talented netballer Kathleen and the lanky baby of the clan, Will, who were all coming through.

Alipate had, by now, been snapped up by the Murray Bushrangers, who slotted him into a key defensive role and liked his style. He was quick for his size and his physical strength allowed him to hold his ground in contests.

To the chagrin of the Hawks, they could only snavel him for  three senior games (during TAC byes) in his time at the ‘Bushies. They were resigned to the fact that the superbly proportioned, ‘answer to their defensive dreams’, probably wouldn’t wear the Brown and Gold guernsey again.

Particularly when he was named as Vic.Country’s best player in the National U.18 Carnival and excelled at the AFL Draft camp.

In November of 2005, ‘Pate’s’ world changed forever when Port Adelaide swooped on him as pick number 44 in the National Draft. And, in an additional cause for celebration in the Carlile household that week, Bill’s horse Warby Gold saluted at Wodonga, paying a handy $28 for the win………

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The rest is history.  After debuting with the Power the following year, he was in and out for a couple of seasons before a run of top form earned him a Rising Star ‘gong’ in 2008.

He soon established himself as one of the AFL’s premier defenders and, at 191cm and 98kg, proved an ‘immovable force’ against jostling spearheads. And then, being able to head off on a trademark clearing dash to set up an offensive thrust, made him a feature of Port sides for eight years or so.

The man they nicknamed ‘Bobby’ was to become somewhat of a cult figure at Port. His last coach, Ken Hinkley, summed him up as : “…… one of those characters who you love having around your footy club. He’s always got a smile on his face, but he works hard to get the best out of himself.

“He’s been a general and one of the smartest players I’ve been involved with, as far as seeing the game of football. He’s had the ability to play on the main men of the opposition, and he has helped his team-mates become better footballers.”

At 25, and at his peak, Alipate signed a four-year contract which was expected to tie him to Alberton Oval for his playing life. There was criticism in some quarters, about the length of the contract, but Port’s response was brief:  “Big, strong full backs like him don’t fall off trees……..”

A bad back injury halted ‘Pate’s’ progress in 2015 and restricted him to just 12 games. He then endured a nightmare 2016, which saw him cop a stress fracture in the hip, a broken wrist and finally, a posterior cruciate injury.

His season was over after Round 10 and so, he sensed, was his career.  After 167 games he called it a day.

“I couldn’t deal with it any more. I’d been a sloth chasing around cheetahs all my career. So I thought I’d better get out while I could…….”

Besides his initial investment in the gym at Henley Beach, ‘Pate’ is now involved in two others – at Norwood and City East.

He’s Port Adelaide’s Multi-cultural Manager and regularly travels to places such as Alice Springs, Elliott and Darwin, among others, in support of indigenous programs.

The Alipate Carlile Academy, a high-performance SANFL training squad which focuses on multi-cultural kids also keeps him on the ball.

Oh, and by the way, he manages to find some time to spend with his partner Jo and kids Essena and Alipate Jnr………

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That eagerly-anticipated Carlile assembly-line never eventuated at the Wangaratta Rovers’ Findlay Oval.

Between them the four boys amassed a total of 28 senior games, and Kathleen made 25 A-Grade Netball appearances before they all went their seperate ways..

Robbie won a B & F at Milawa and played with Euroa. He is now indulging his love of horses at Two Bays Farm, a boutique thoroughbred nursery on the Mornington Peninsula……

Anthony has stripped with Kaniva, Roxby Downs and is now with Port Districts in the Division  (1) Adelaide Amateurs competition, whilst Will, an Aboriginal Youth mentor, is currently with the Centrals  club in the Alice Springs’ Central Australian Football League.

And Kathleen, who also resides in Alice, has nursed in the town and is about to have her first child.

It would be fair to say that the Carlile clan have spread their wings……..