“……….. BE HOME BEFORE DARK……”

The bloke on the door ushered me into the dressing-rooms on that wintry day in 1961.

The opportunity for a starry-eyed 13 year-old to catch a glimpse of the cream of the Ovens and Murray, limbering up for the clash with Goulburn Valley, was too good to miss.

Those icons of the game looked even more imposing in their Gold and Black guernseys :

‘…’.There’s Donny Ross, the former Footscray centreman….and the red-haired rough-nut, Lionel Ryan.…..Burly ‘Pascoe’ Ellis looks pretty calm and collected…… So does the coach, Bobby Rose, who’s offering a few pearls of wisdom to individual players, like Harold Davies and Kevin Mack…..’

‘High-marking, long-kicking Ron McDonald played League footy last year.…… His club-mates, Neville Waller and Bobby Constable are yapping with him…..’Bushy’s’ in such good form he has pushed the prolific goal-kicker Stan Sargeant out to the forward flank today…….’

‘Who’s the slightly-built kid sitting in the corner ? Heck, he’s got the looks of a choir-boy……must be no more than 18 or 19…..Ah, it’s Billy Gayfer from Rutherglen……..’

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Fifty-seven years later, Billy is hazy on the finer details of that game, but recalls what a thrill it was to represent the O & M. He had to pull out two or three other times with injury, he says. Playing in a struggling side, it was like a Grand Final when you got to wear the prized inter-League jumper.IMG_3358

We’re at the Gayfer residence. You can see Barkly Park in the distance – the home of the Rutherglen Football Club. It’s an Oval chock-full of history and was virtually the hub of the Ovens and Murray in the gold-mining and pre-WWI days.

The mighty Redlegs picked up thirteen premierships in just 22 years, and were all-powerful. Their next flag came in 1935, under the coaching of ex-Essendon player Jack Hiskins. One of the match-winners in that game was Bill’s dad, Harry Ledwin Gayfer, universally known as Mick.

An intense distaste of the city prevented Mick from playing League footy, despite assurances that he’d make it without a doubt. He was chased by Collingwood, Melbourne and Footscray, but couldn’t bear to leave home. A bad knee injury finished his career, aged 21.

He remained involved with the Club, and passed on his fervour to his son, who made Barkly Park his second home. The only stipulation his mum gave Bill was that the wood-box needed to be filled before he left – and he had to be home before dark.

“I’d spend four nights a week down there, having a kick, watching the boys in action, then eventually being invited to join in some of the training. I lived for footy.” he recalls. “Greg Tate ( the coach ) kept an eye on me. He was a terrific fellah.”

In 1954, under Tate, Rutherglen won their last – and probably most famous – premiership. “I can still remember it. Mum and dad heading off to Albury in the family ute…… My sister and I in the back…..We were as happy as Larry on the way home….”

Bill was slotted in for his first Reserves game that year, aged 13. Unfortunately, when he made his senior debut two years later, the Club had begun a downward spiral.

“The coach was the only one who got paid. There wasn’t too much money around in a small Club like ours. In fact, we had to pay 2 bob a week into the Provident Fund. But we were a tight-knit mob, and were always hard to beat at Barkly Park; sides didn’t like coming here. And our fanatical supporters used to sometimes boot us home.”

A lack of depth proved to be the ‘Glen’s problem. They were always competitive, and had a few stand-outs who would keep them in the game for long periods before being worn down. Players like lanky Reggie Edwards, who was ever-dangerous up-forward; Ken and Barry Baker, Ian Auldist, John Tafft and Ron ‘Yankee’ Milthorpe…..IMG_3360

But Gayfer was the star and the midfield was his spot. He could also be thrown onto the ball with instant results, and – despite a slender frame and his height of five foot ten and a half – spent time at centre half forward.

The first task of opposition sides was to ensure they shut him down. But he was rarely beaten.

“He was a brillIant centreman……” says Neville Hogan, who had a few tussles with him during the sixties. “….had great stamina, always racked up plenty of possessions, and did a lot of damage with them.”

The year Hogan took out the Morris Medal – 1966 – Gayfer finished fifth. It was the closest he came to winning the coveted gong, despite being perennially tipped as one of the favourites.IMG_3363

Bill won his first Rutherglen best and fairest in 1960, and also saluted in 1962, ‘63, ‘66 and ‘69. As one of the O & M’s young guns in the early sixties, he was strongly pursued by several VFL clubs. Like his dad, the wrench of leaving home proved too strong.

He signed a Form Four with Collingwood at one stage. They suggested he spend a week down there training with them. But when it came to booking accomodation, they told him they couldn’t afford it.

Later on, Graeme McKenzie, the North Albury coach and former Fitzroy captain, pushed him in the Lions’ direction. Bill played on a half back flank in a practice match, alongside the legendary Kevin Murray, and went okay, he says.

As was the norm in this era, VFL clubs named their official lists on the eve of the season. Bill picked up the ‘Sun’ on the Monday morning to find himself on Fitzroy’s Final List.

But he had no further contact from them, and remained a Redleg……….

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Bill was around 25 when he finally made the move from Rutherglen, to accept a coaching appointment at Balldale. He was later lured out to Brockelsby as playing-coach. “We looked a chance to play finals, but lost a few handy players in the latter part of the season, and bombed out,” he says.

So he headed back to Rutherglen to complete his career, and help out by coaching the ‘two’s’.
With a growing brood, and flat-chat with his work as a builder, footy, as ever, was his outlet.

His wife Rosemarie says that Bill’s pre-match ritual was to do a spot of ‘craying’ down at the Murray River, then have a steak for brunch, washed down with a couple of sherries……,”Got the blood flowing,” he says.

 

When he retired at the end of the 1970 season he had chalked up 175 senior games with the Redlegs – without ever playing in a Final.

He received recognition for his illustrious career in later years; being named in both Rutherglen’s 1950-1978 ‘Best-Ever’ Team and Corowa-Rutherglen’s Team of the Century. He was inducted to the Ovens and Murray’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
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But Bill and Rosemarie’s football involvement was far from over. With eight kids – Michael, John, Tony, Susan, Peter, David, Ben and Will – their time was pretty much consumed with sporting activities. The boys all learned the fundamentals at Barkly Park, but their careers diverged.IMG_3364

Rosemarie says she’d sometimes attend four games of footy a week-end – whether it be Coreen League juniors, O & M, Bushrangers or beyond. “Our 16-seater Bus came in handy for transporting kids to games,” she says.

Bill used to take the mickey out of local die-hards whenever they’d start to spruik about the Mighty Magpies. But he had to change his tune once his eldest son became entrenched in the Collingwood line-up.

Michael was to become a close-checking, highly-effective backman during his eight-year, 142-game stint at Victoria Park. He figured in the drought-breaking 1990 Premiership and when delisted at the age of 28, soldiered on for several years in country football.IMG_3343

“He had great concentration, Michael,” says Bill. “People labelled him as a ‘stopper’, but when he left League footy he became a really attacking player. He won the Medal as the best player in a National Country Carnival.”

Tony, a strong ruck-rover, and adept with both feet, was a key player in good Corowa-Rutherglen sides for years, and later coached Rutherglen and Tatura…… “Had a bit of shit in him…” Bill adds.

Peter made his name as a half back flanker with North Old Boys, Redan and Hamilton. David, who once trained at Hawthorn, later played with Ringwood and Banyule.

Will, after starring in defence in the 2003 TAC Cup Grand Final, was surprisingly passed over in the Draft of that year. He went on to play with South Adelaide, Keysborough and The Basin.IMG_3334

When Michael’s time was up at Collingwood, he was enticed to Tatura by his his old Collingwood team-mate Paul Hawke. The G.V Bulldogs took out the flag in 1995. Also in the side was a 20 year-old David Gayfer.

Three years later, when Tat appointed Tony as captain-coach, he guided the side to another title, sharing in the triumph with Michael, and Peter – who was working at Echuca.

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Bill Gayfer coached heaps of kids in junior footy over the years. But he has no doubt who was the stand-out. I’ll let him tell the story:

“I got a phone call from Christine Longmire one Friday night, asking if her son could be squeezed in for a game with our Coreen League junior side.”

“How old is he Christine .”  “Thirteen,” she said.   “Sorry, he’s too young.”

“Oh, come on Bill.”    “Okay then, send him along.”

“As soon as I saw John Longmire, I knew he was going to be something special. And he was one of the nicest kids you’d ever meet.”

“Ironically, he ended up keeping  Peter out of the side…………”IMG_3367

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A FOOTBALL DYNASTY

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.

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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