‘THE STORY-TELLER…….

(By Simone Kerwin)

The subject of this article will be aghast when he sees it published. But he’ll get over it. This is his sporting story………

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It’s one of those 40 degree Wangaratta days; the kind that make you feel as though you could sizzle as soon as you step outside, or melt into the concrete like a dropped ice-cream.

You’re just relaxing into the air-conditioned comfort of your car when you round the bend into Evans Street, and spot him. Though it’s possibly the hottest part of the day, he’s jogging along behind a mower in front of the W.J.Findlay Oval, headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the oppressive heat.

It may appear to the outsider to be some kind of exercise in self-flagellation, a bit of manual labour as self-discipline. However, those close to KB Hill know that what brings him to this point is a combination of dedication, community pride, and the opportunity to clear his mind and allow words to fall together as they bring his latest story to vivid life.

For, while he wears a range of hats (as loving patriarch, faithful parishioner, businessman, passionate Bulldogs fan, history-keeper, sports fanatic, and devoted servant of the Wangaratta Rovers Football-Netball Club and Rovers-United Bruck Cricket Club), the role for which he’s becoming best known is that of story-teller.

Dad began his blog, KB On Reflection: The Random Jottings of an Old Sports Buff, in late-2013 as a challenge to himself to produce 52 pieces in 52 weeks.

He did just that, bringing the stories of local sporting champions to a new audience, and to those who delighted in reminiscing about the performances of stars they knew as mates, family members, neighbours or idols.

Then, prompted by the positive response, he kept going beyond his initial brief. Despite regularly questioning his ability to find and tell a great story, he’s still at it, to the delight of his fans – of which I’d claim to be one of the most fervent.

I clearly recall the moment when I recognised that my dad was a brilliant writer. Of course, I’d been part of the audience for his storytelling skills as he told us about his adventures playing footy in Queensland and the Territory, and about growing up with his five brothers.

But one day I happened upon a piece he’d written for the Wangaratta Historical Society. This story transported me to the Wangaratta Showgrounds velodrome, and the early days of eventual Olympic gold medallist Dean Woods.

For those familiar with the world of Harry Potter, it was as if I had gained access to Professor Dumbledore’s pensieve, and been fully immersed in the events of the past. And I was hooked.

Dad’s command of the English language is masterful, but also gentle enough that his prose engages not only those of a literary bent, but anyone who simply enjoys reading a good story – and isn’t that all of us? His style is completely natural, that of a self-taught wordsmith with an intimate knowledge of his core subject: the sporting life of the Wangaratta district.

That thirst for that knowledge began when he was just a toddler, trooping around the ground that would become his spiritual home, behind his father and hero, Len.

Len had been a premiership player with the Wangaratta Football Club in 1946 – fresh from his World War 2 service – before he agreed to coach and play for then-Ovens and King league club Wangaratta Rovers.

He led them to their first flag in 1948, then encouraged the club to join the neighbouring Magpies in the Ovens and Murray league.

He stepped back from playing to join the committee and help sculpt a successful environment at what would become the Findlay Oval. After joining the O&M in 1950, the club won its first O&M flag in 1958 under star coach Bob Rose, whose services Len had helped secure.

Another 14 senior premierships followed over the next four decades, and the club expanded with time to include netballers, who added to the success.

Dad’s arrival on the scene in 1947 – the third of six sons born to Len and wife Margaret (Madge) – was timed perfectly to allow him to witness the build-up to that Rovers success, and to knock around local cricket grounds watching his highly competitive father in action.

He developed a passion not only for what was happening on-field, but for the people around the contests, and the friendships and rivalries they developed. I think the colour and atmosphere on the periphery has always been almost as important to him as the game itself.

Dad is a master of humility and self-deprecation’ The ‘about the author’ section of his blog says ‘His boyhood dream was to be a champion footballer and cricketer. He fell spectacularly short’.

In fact, he sells himself spectacularly short. For not only has he been a servant to the executive and behind-the-scenes aspects of the two sports he loves most, he did exhibit some talent on the field.

While footy and cricket were his bread and butter, the young Kevin and his mates would have a crack at any sport, and enjoyed following the national and international proponents of all pursuits.

Dad honed his skills in the backyard of the Hills’ Maxwell Street home. With six boys in the family who had watched their Dad wring every ounce from his sporting contests, you can only imagine there must have been some hard-fought matches of backyard cricket and a few ‘speckies’ attempted during willing kick-to-kick sessions.

KB officially began his footy career with the Wangaratta Junior League’s South Wanderers, and after graduation from junior ranks, pulled on his beloved brown and gold for the first time in 1964 .

He played in the Rovers’ grand final loss to Wodonga in 1967, and in 1970 he was a member of the Rovers’ Neville Hogan-led grand final team which tackled Myrtleford at the Wangaratta Showgrounds.

The latter resulted in the Saints winning their first and only Ovens and Murray flag, but recollections of those at the game include KB’s strong marking at centre half forward, and his “no-nonsense” approach to physical clashes with his Saints opponents.

He missed the chance to take part in a Rovers’ premiership in 1971 when he embarked on what he says was a plan to play footy in every state of Australia. He spent a season in Queensland with Coorparoo, where his brother Denis also landed, shortly after.

He then travelled over to play for Nightcliff in Darwin, where many would be surprised to know the famously affable KB was suspended for two matches for verbal abuse…the competitor inside always emerges.

He returned to the North East in 1972, and set about assisting his mate, John Welch, in rejuvenating Ovens and King club Tarrawingee.

The Bulldogs won the flag in 1975, but by then Kevin had moved on to coach Moyhu, the same year he married ‘the girl around the corner’, Moira Clohesy.

Dad’s mentioned before on his blog that Moi “had an inkling of what she was in for…when she discovered two books in our honeymoon luggage – ‘Fingleton on Cricket’ and ‘The Australian National Football League Coaching Manual’.

She seamlessly shifted from coach’s wife to mum when I arrived in the October of ’75′

She says I should have vivid memories of the Moyhu Hotel facade, as the two of us spent a fair portion of my babyhood sitting in the car out the front, waiting for Dad after games. He was reappointed to the Hoppers’ top job in 1976, which was to be his final year at the helm.

From there, life got even busier. The late 1970s saw the start of Dad’s administrative work for the Rovers, including as secretary from 1977 to ’79, as the Hawks claimed a hat-trick of flags. Meanwhile, he and Mum welcomed three more kids to their brood: Jacqui and Ross as ‘Irish twins’ in the January and December of 1977, and Stephen early in 1979.

Dad was also involved in the advent around this time of a key Rovers fundraiser in Monday night bingo, which continued to run until 2014 and raised almost $500,000 for the club’s building fund over 37 years. He also helped oversee the Thursday night Rovers sweep for 34 years.

Mum and Dad experienced the toughest time possible for any parent when Stevie succumbed to leukaemia in August, 1980 – just two days after the birth of their fifth child, Kerrie.

An experience which could understandably rip a couple apart only galvanised Mum and Dad’s bond, as they called deeply on their faith to draw them and their young clan through.

Four more daughters, Anna, Lauren, Paula and Justine, arrived to complete the family over the next nine years.

We could have been a netball team if any of us had been as serious about playing sport as Ross was, but we passionately followed the games our Dad loved, and were all indoctrinated by KB to adore the Rovers and view the Magpies as a necessary evil.

If you’ve ever seen KB Hill at his scoring post at the cricket, you’ve seen a man in his element. The kids and I dropped in to say g’day one Saturday last season when he was stationed at a Rovers-United Bruck game at the Barr Reserve.

We were perched behind him waiting for a break, to have a quick chat. There he was: shoes off, his array of coloured pens at the ready, and keeping an eye on every ball while still managing some friendly banter with the opposition scorer – possibly even researching his next blog. I have a feeling, as much as he loves footy, that cricket would win a battle for his heart.

As with footy, Dad’s introduction to cricket began by following in Len’s footsteps at Rovers, his involvement even extending to assisting and then taking over – with Denis – curating duties on the wicket at the Findlay Oval.

We all have memories of sitting on the roller while Pa or Dad prepared the pitch, and to this day, I think twice before setting foot on a cricket wicket, with Pa’s gruff “Uh, uh, uh!” echoing in my ears from the times I made to run on the pitch as it was being watered after games.

We quickly got the idea it was hallowed ground. KB also assumed the mantle of ensuring all was in order for afternoon tea – the urn boiled and the milk in the fridge – for many years, just another of those behind-the-scenes roles he prefers.

Onfield, Dad played with Rovers Cricket Club for about 25 years, and was part of A grade premiership teams in 1980-’81 and 1984-’85 with the likes of Jock Lowry, Geoff Billman, Rod Davis, Jimmy Radford and Stuey Marshall.

A medium pace bowler and left hand bat, his cricket career famously included facing West Indian quick Wes Hall when the Windies visited Wangaratta to play a Victorian Country XI in 1969.

KB could probably recite most WDCA records by heart. However, he’s reluctant to draw attention to the fact he holds the title for the association’s highest innings in an Ensign Cup match. His 151 against Lake Rowan in 1964-’65 just keeps him in front of son-in-law Duane Kerwin’s 144 against Euroa in 1993-’94.

At an official level, KB served as WDCA treasurer between 1974-’75 and 1978-’79; was made a life member in 2002.

He is the association’s long-time historian, a role which has involved him producing a series of albums, The WDCA Diaries. They include records and stories of leading players, told in his inimitable style, and have earned him accolades from Cricket Victoria.

It could be said that recording sporting stories in this manner is KB’s life work. For as long as I can remember, he’s been painstakingly working his way through bound copies of the local paper to ensure he has all the finer details about sport in Wangaratta included in his extensive files.

It’s this passion for and knowledge of local sport which has developed his reputation as one of the city’s key historians. Local newspaper sports editors know he is a valuable resource when they’re writing about highest scores, winning streaks, and games played, especially as they can be confident in the accuracy of the information he provides.

His natural affinity for words and stories developed through his role as sports editor at the Chronicle Despatch in the ’60s. His expertise was later sought by former City of Wangaratta Mayor Bill Findlay when he compiled ‘The Hawk Story’, and the pair also collaborated on ‘The Hawks Hall of Fame’, as well as many well-received articles in The Chronicle, before the advent of his blog.

Dad’s eagerness for sporting feats and milestones to be recognised has seen him form part of Hall of Fame selection committees for the Rovers, WDCA and O&M.

For many years, he has been known to present 100-gamers at the Rovers with a carefully-curated collection of news articles in which they’ve featured during their careers with the Hawks, all coloured-in with the signature style he initially tried to claim was his daughters’. They are always gratefully received, and have become part of the club’s folklore.

That’s the public side of KB. Those of us lucky enough to be part of his inner circle are privy to some extra special aspects of his character.

There are the impromptu songs he composes on the spot to delight or spotlight his kids and grandkids; the speeches at weddings, birthdays, Christmas gatherings and other occasions, which are always brilliant despite his reluctance as an orator; and his ability to cover everything from religion and philosophy to current affairs and celebrity gossip in kitchen- table chats.

In recent years, he’s attended university graduations, school assemblies and grandparents’ days, and brushed up on his knowledge of basketball, netball, gymnastics, and even dance, while following his family’s pursuits.

Then, of course, there are the phone calls. The grand-kids know that if they’ve had a big day, whether it be sporting, academic or otherwise, it’s likely the home phone – which rarely sounds in these days of mobiles – will be ringing that evening, and “that’ll be Pa” at the other end of the line wanting to hear all about it.

If only every kid had that sort of cheerleader in their lives. I’ll be forever thankful that I have.

'KEEPING AN EYE ON THE FINAL…..'

By Guest blogger Simone Kerwin

“Sim!” A time-worn finger beckons my attention from the perimeter of the WJ Findlay Oval, where it’s owner perches on a bench seat, leaning on the fence.

Of course, I think. Why wouldn’t he be here in spirit, at the culmination of the competition played in his name.

“Hi, Pa. You’ve been watching?” I manage, as I step towards the ghost of my grandfather, who nods, as he peers out towards the middle.

“Terrific. Another generation’s in love with the game,” he says, gesturing towards his great grand daughter, who’s loving every minute of this as her team moves steadily towards a grand final victory.

“Things have changed since my day, but that’s the way of things,” he says.

I smile. Sometimes we forget that our forebears, as much as they would shake their heads in disbelief at the speed of the world’s progress, were the innovators who brought places like this very ground into being.

“The girls more than hold their own,” he says of the mixed contest playing out before him, “and the boys don’t bat an eyelid at the fact they’re there. Great!”

“First wicket of the day – straight through the dangerous opening bat,” he rubs his hands together, recalling Grace’s conquest, and probably the thrill of his own on this ground, years earlier. “I loved that. And she batted so well yesterday. Brave.”

He puts a hand up to shield his eyes from the glorious autumn sun.

“It’s a Yarra team they’re playing, did I hear?”

“Yeah.”

He nods again: “Would have been a rep game years ago.”

“Yeah,” I say, “the landscape’s changed. Not as many playing these days, so they’ve adapted – Dad drives as far as Mansfield to score for Rovers-United Bruck now.”

It’s almost as though he’s copped a jab, the way he flinches at the mention of the combine.

“Still can’t get used to that name,” he says grimly.

“What do you think about your great grand daughter playing for Wang-Magpies, then?” I ask, as I lean on the fence next to him.

“Ah well, whatever it takes; s’pose I was a Magpie once upon a time.” He glances over at the assistant coach, who’s following every ball as though he’s facing them himself. “She was never going anywhere else, and nor should she; he’s her hero, I reckon. That’s as it should be.”

“You’re his hero,” I say, directing his gaze to the figure on the other side of the oval; Dad’s circling the ground he’s traversed countless times throughout his life, lost in the contest and his grand daughter’s imminent success.

“And he’s one of mine, for sure,” he says.

HOWZAT!

A final wicket, and the 2019-20 Len Hill Memorial Shield lands safe in the hands of the Wangaratta-Magpies under 14s. I look over to catch the reaction of the man himself, but he’s gone. Gone, but definitely always here in spirit.

‘THE NICOLL’S OF WHOROULY……..’

Coronavirus has had the last say on the WDCA finals. They’ve been abandoned without a ball being bowled.

It’s an untimely conclusion to a season which has been rudely interrupted by Bushfire-haze, heavy overnight rain, or plus-40 degree heat.

There’s nothing unusual about Finals failing to reach their inevitable conclusion. Inclement early-autumn weather has often intervened in a competition that has spanned 125 years..

But permit me to explain the hiccup that came in April 1948, when Whorouly were sensationally punted from the Finals.

The Maroons, thanks to a contribution from the brilliant Nicoll’s, had overpowered St.Patrick’s in the Semi. Their total of 402 included a bludgeoning 130 from Wils Nicoll and 111 from his brother Ron.

The following Thursday, on Grand Final-eve , a lengthy, and heated WDCA executive meeting decreed that Wils Nicoll had flouted Association rules during the season, and had thus been ineligible for the recently-concluded Semi-Final.

His ‘crime’ ?…….Failing to take part in a WDCA representative match against Albury, after being selected and agreeing to play…………..

The decision caused ripples of discontent throughout cricket circles and rankled Whorouly followers. But the man at the centre of the controversy accepted it on the chin.

His effective response was to guide his side to a premiership the following season – and continue to represent the Association for the next ten years………

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Few families have played as significant a part in the WDCA’s long history as the famous Nicoll’s of Whorouly.

Their patriarch, William Wilson Nicoll, emigrated from Alyth, Scotland in the late 19th century. Excited by the prospect of a new life in Australia, he travelled firstly to Queensland, then in 1893, settled in Whorouly, with his wife, on a property they named after the town of his birth.

He was short of stature, had a troublesome hip and leg and wasn’t the sporting type. Nevertheless, he wholeheartedly encouraged his boys, who displayed an aptitude for cricket.

And he also made available some land, on which the Whorouly Recreation Reserve now stands.

His sons were all blessed with outstanding qualities as cricketers. Over the years debate raged as to who was the best of the clan.

Some say that Vic, who was tragically killed in a machinery accident in 1929, might have been the pick of them…..Ernie was another who had many admirers……Wils and Ron were powerhouses……

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Ron Nicoll’s talent was obvious when he made his debut for Whorouly in 1922, aged 12. But his development was halted when he contracted diphtheria. Seriously ill and reduced to just ‘skin and bones’ at 4 stone, it was to be the best part of three years before he fully recovered.

On his first season back he played with Everton, as Whorouly had disbanded for a year, but in 1926/27 the Maroons returned to the WDCA with a vengeance. The Nicoll’s played no small part in the premiership season, with Vic (649 runs, 39 wickets), Ernie ( 637 runs, 84 wickets) and 16 year-old Ron (492 runs and 40 wickets) contributing strongly.

Tall and rusty-haired, Ron stood upright at the crease. He drove and cut beautifully and was rarely mastered by the bowlers. It’s said that he could play what seemed like a routine forward defensive shot and the ball would scoot to the boundary.

That magnificent timing…….and a fine array of shots, were the key weapons in his armoury.

1938 was a Golden year for Ron Nicoll. At Melbourne Country Week his figures were: 112, 19 and 6/43, 168 retired, 70 and 74 not out. His tally of 443 runs is still to be bettered and helps explain why Wangaratta took out the ‘A’ Group title.

He scored 717 runs for Whorouly in the same season, including four centuries. His knock of 202 in a semi-final was described by the Chronicle as among the finest ever seen at the Showgrounds.

One of Ron’s most satisfying innings’ came three years earlier, when he opened the batting at the Gardens Oval with Benalla’s Tom Trewin, against an all-star New South Wales line-up. The pair added 91 before Trewin was removed. Nicoll top-scored with 65 out of the North-East XI’s total of 207.

Around this time he was approached by Richmond, who were keen to lure him to District cricket. But they were unable to drag him away from the farm.

A quality leg-spinner, Nicoll wasn’t afraid to toss the ball up, and possessed a handy ‘wrong-un’. His 322 wickets complemented the 6673 WDCA runs he scored.

Genuine and quietly-spoken, he was a popular figure in cricket circles and his love for the game had not abated after the War. He was a veteran by this stage and scored the last of his 16 centuries ( still a WDCA record ) in 1950/51, aged 40.

His Whorouly team-mates knew the end was nigh in 1953. Whilst still batting well he did the unthinkable one day, and dropped a couple of ‘sitters’ in slips.

“ ‘Ginge’ has grassed one,” was the surprise reaction to the first. Shock greeted the second.

Ron made 14 and took 3/43 in his final appearance, the 1952/53 Final. He had played 190 WDCA games ( and another 51 in the Myrtleford competition ) and a good portion of these were as captain of Whorouly.

He continued to be a mentor to the Club’s up-and-comers. His three daughters, Beth, Shirley and June were all taught to bowl the googly and leg-break and adopt the correct batting stance.

His service to the community included 15 years as a Shire Councillor and two terms as Shire President. Whorouly’s Ron Nicoll Bridge honours his contribution to sport and public life………

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Ron and his younger brother Wils gelled perfectly at the wicket, despite their contrasting batting styles.

This was best exemplified in a Wangaratta v Benalla Country Week clash at Collingwood’s Victoria Park in 1938.

Sent in on a dicey wicket, Wang were reeling at 2/1. The pair proceeded to put on 221 for the 3rd wicket. Wils was dismissed for 77 whilst Ron retired on 168 in a total of 378.

Ron was a craftsman at the crease, whereas Wils was murderous when in full flight.

Wils was slight and craggy-faced, spoke with a drawl and was completely bereft of style – the epitome of a ‘Bush Bradman’.

The story is told of the day he pushed open the white-picketed gate and sauntered onto St.Kilda’s Junction Oval, in a time of crisis for Wangaratta.

An old weather-beaten hat was pulled down to shield his eyes from the belting sun. Black socks were tucked into his well-worn white dacks , and his trusty, heavily-marked pigskin-covered bat had seen many a battle……

One fieldsman sneered, within hearing distance: “Have a look,at this bush yokel will ya……..”

Wils’s jaw tightened, his eyes narrowed….. and the battle began…….

Two hours later, he returned to the pavilion, having plundered the bowling in his usual ruthless manner. His innings of 130 had set up an easy victory.

He was a run-machine. His tally of 10,710 club runs, amassed in the WDCA and O & K competitions from 1927 to 1961, was staggering. He also took 418 wickets with his medium-pacers and played 293 games.

He won the WDCA batting average five times in eight years during the fifties,and finished with 20 centuries .

I witnessed one of the last of these – 178* at Tarrawingee. Yet to reach my teens, and pressed into ‘subbing’ for the ‘Dogs’ for part of the afternoon, the ball zoomed off the Nicoll blade, as I made countless trips to the boundary to retrieve it.

That was convincing enough for an impressionable youngster, but the thing that got me was that the old fellah smoked throughout his innings.

He would have a couple of drags between overs, then park the cigarette behind the stumps while he dealt with the Tarra attack……..

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Wils shared a 240-run stand with his 15 year-old son Peter in 1959/60, which gave every indication that the stylish left-hander would be a star of the future.

And the youngster certainly carried on the family tradition. His occupation as a stock agent took him away for periods of his career, during which he played with Richmond, Mansfield, Temora and in Wagga, but he managed to fit in 27 seasons with Whorouly.

After he’d negotiated the early overs and got into stride, Pete could turn on a batting ‘clinic’. If you happened to be driving past an Oval and spotted him at the crease it was well worth pulling over and catching half-an-hour of ‘Hollywood’s’ panache.

He scored 7561 runs and took 466 wickets for the Maroons, made 17 trips to Country Week, was selected to open against the West Indies, and played three games against touring Shield sides.

His brother Ian became better-known as a footballer who came from the clouds. He was floating around with Whorouly Reserves, but within two years was stripping with Carlton in an MCG Final.

“I didn’t have the batting skills of Dad or Peter,” Ian once told me. “I just took the advice of my uncle Ron, who said: “Just give it a good crack, son.” and that’s what I did.”

His most famous contribution to local cricket folklore was the double-century he scored, which included 24 fours. His second century came up in 40 minutes. The fifth-wicket partnership of 302 that he shared with his cousin Lex remains a WDCA record for any wicket.

Lex Nicoll’s story is a triumph of courage and determination. The son of Ernie, Lex was tipped to be a champ of the future.

On the eve of a 1951 footy semi-final, however, he woke up with a splitting headache, was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with the polio virus. “You’re lucky to be alive,” he was told.

Doctors informed him that he probably wouldn’t play sport again. But he set about proving them wrong.

Three years later, Lex returned to WDCA cricket and used a runner, as he was obliged to do for the remainder of his career. Opposition sides were pleased to see him playing at first, but soon found him an ‘immovable object’ in Whorouly’s upper-order.

He made 7 WDCA centuries and was part of Wangaratta’s much-lauded 1957 Provincial Country Week championship team. The 30-odd he made against a South Australian Sheffield Shield side in 1957 created a huge impression on the visitors.

But the locals were unsurprised by his fine knock.

After all, he was a Nicoll………..

‘OLD PIE TREADS DOWN MEMORY LANE……’

We first encountered him in the late-summer of 1965, on a sporty Princes Park wicket.

After back-to-back Country Week victories, our reasoning was that a third win, against the formidable Warragul, would have Wangaratta on the cusp of a spot in the Provincial Group Final – within reach of the most prestigious prize in country cricket.

But we hadn’t factored in Trevor Steer – a quickie with a high action, who could move the ball and make it steeple off a good length.

He and his slippery opening partner John Kydd proceeded to scythe through our batting; routing us for 71; then having us teetering at 8/55 when we followed-on – eons away from their total of 201……

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Fifty-five years later, Trevor’s hazy about the finer details of that game, but distinctly recalls a large group of kids from Princes Hill Secondary College clustered in the Robert Heatley Stand, giving him a ‘razz’ as he ran in to bowl:

“They must have been mostly Carlton supporters, and obviously twigged that I was the big, lanky bloke they’d seen trying to get a kick for Collingwood…….”

Less than two years on, he was still wearing a Black and White guernsey, but now it was as the newly-appointed captain-coach of Wangaratta…………….

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He’s 81 now, and has a trove of sporting memories:

….Like the time an uncle, George Hulett , took him for his first visit to the MCG: “I was nine years old, and Australia were playing a Test series against India. I’ll never forget laying eyes on that green oval , the huge stands, and seeing Bradman, Lindwall, Miller, Hasset, Barnes, Morris, Johnston and Tallon in the flesh,….”

“And to top it off Bradman scored a century. It made me determined that, one day, I’d get out there and play on that magnificent arena.”

He was raised at Drouin, spending his early years on a Dairy Farm before the family moved into town. He credits Bruce Tozer, a legendary teacher at Warragul High – and future State cricketer – as a tremendous sporting influence on he and his school-mates.

When Trevor headed off to boarding school at Scotch College he was a skinny, little tacker – just on 5’8”, and barely able to hold his place in Scotch’s Fourth 18 footy side.

But in his 18th year he grew roughly 7 inches. “I was playing with a church side, St.George’s, East St.Kilda. From struggling to get a possession one season, the next I was kicking bags of goals and starting to kill ‘em in the air. I thought: ‘How good’s this ?’ “

He travelled back home for a season, and played in Drouin’s 1958 premiership, before spending two years with University Blacks whilst completing his teaching degree.

That’s when Collingwood came knocking.

“Actually, they offered me a couple of games in late 1960, but I knocked them back. I couldn’t let Uni Blacks down by leaving during the season.”

The Steer VFL career ignited early in the opening round of 1961 when the Sherrin floated over the top of a charging pack, he ran onto it and nailed a goal with his first kick in League football.

He booted two goals on debut, but learned how unforgiving the ‘Pies fans were, as they reacted savagely to a 39-point mauling at Geelong’s Kardinia Park.

That boyhood dream of treading the hallowed MCG was realised two months later, in the Queen’s Birthday clash with Melbourne, in front of 78,465 fans. He nailed four out of Collingwood’s seven, in a 69-point defeat.

Trevor was teaching at Wonthaggi at this stage. His random training appearances at Collingwood mainly came during School Holidays. But the Magpies made sure to arrange a job for him back in the city in 1962.

For the next six seasons he revelled in the big-time atmosphere of League football. He occasionally muses how, but for two cruel twists of fate, he could easily have been a dual-premiership player.

In 1964, it was a dramatic goal from Melbourne’s pocket player Neil ‘Froggy’ Crompton which stole victory from the ‘Pies…….And St.Kilda fans still relate, with glee, Barrie Breen’s long, tumbling kick in the dying seconds of the ‘66 Grand Final, which registered a point and delivered their only flag.

1965, though, was Steer’s finest season. Big Ray Gabelich, the club’s key ruckman, went down early on and the 6 ft 3 inch, 84kg Steer was thrust into the role. He adapted so well that he took out the Copeland Trophy – Collingwood’s B & F – and was rewarded with the vice-captaincy the following year.

Trevor still found time, with his busy footy schedule, to return home to play cricket at Drouin. “Our coach Bob Rose, being an old cricketer himself, had no objection, as long as I organised it around practice-matches.”

His new-ball partner Des Nottage – an accurate medium-pace swing bowler – was a quality back-up, and the pair ran through most batting line-ups in the district. Along with prolific run-scorers like Tom Carroll and Stuart Pepperall, they helped Drouin Gold to five successive flags.

Besides fitting in two years of Country Week cricket (including the 1965 Final against Warrnambool at the MCG), Trevor also made two cameo appearances with District club Northcote.

“Someone from school who was tied up with the club invited me down there to train. I remember Bill Lawry was in the nets when I started bowling. They said: ‘Don’t upset him by giving him anything short, he’s got a Shield game on tomorrow’. I decided to try and get one to move away from him and bowled him. That must have impressed the experts; they picked me for a Cup-Day game.”

“Thinking back, I should have kept on at Northcote, but it was just too big a commitment at the time……..”

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A young Collingwood ruckman, Len Thompson, had arrived on the scene in 1966, and was being touted as, potentially, the finest big man in the game.

“They didn’t really want ‘Thommo’ being stuck in the back pocket, guarding the resting ruckmen, so that job fell to me. It didn’t really suit me, and I wasn’t all that happy,” Trevor recalls.

“I was teaching at Murrumbeena, but had received a promotion to Monbulk, which would mean a fair bit of extra travel to get to training. I gazed out the window of the classroom one day and saw these two bushy-looking blokes wandering around the school……Someone knocked on the door and said there were a couple of chaps who’d like to speak to me.”

“That was my introduction to Jack White and Gus Boyd. They said: ‘We’re from the Wangaratta Football Club and we’d like you to coach us. Are you interested ?’ “

“Sure,” I said, “but there’s one problem, you’d have to do something about organising a teaching transfer.” “Leave it to us,” they replied.

“The long and the short of it was that I went to Parliament House and met the local Member, Keith Bradbury, who somehow negotiated a transfer to Beechworth High.”

So, after calling it quits on his 88-game VFL career, Trevor and his wife Jill settled into a house in Swan Street, and embraced their new Club.

Wangaratta had been the ‘Bridesmaid’ in the previous three Grand Finals, but held high hopes that their new coach, and ace ruckman, could guide them to that elusive flag.

Wodonga, led by an old Collingwood team-mate Mickey Bone, were a revitalised unit in 1967, and loomed as the early favourites, but the ‘Pies were among several other worthwhile claimants.

Their hopes were vanquished by wayward kicking in the First Semi-Final at Rutherglen. Former coach Ron Critchley booted 0.9, as the Rovers prevailed by 3 points.

They remained contendors in each of the four Steer years, missing the finals by percentage in 1968, losing the First Semi to eventual premiers Myrtleford in 1970, and bowing out to powerhouse Wodonga in the 1969 Grand Final.

They felt the loss of their skipper in that game. He watched on as the ‘Dogs gained control; having sustained a broken hand in Round 18.

Trevor ranked among the best of a talented band of big men who ruled the air during this strong late-60’s era of O & M football. He represented the League each year and turned in one of his finest performances in the Country Championship Final of 1968.

10,000 spectators converged on the Horsham City Oval, as O & M turned on a paralysing last half to defeat Wimmera by 35 points.

The Wimmera Mail-Times reported that : “……It was ruckman Trevor Steer who made sure the O & M’s dominance in the latter part of the game never flagged.”

“Assisted by a mere handful of players, Steer created sufficient energy to keep O & M alive in the first half, and was a giant among giants in the last……….”

Magpies Cricket Club recruited Trevor when he first landed in town. He helped transform them from battlers to a gun combination. In his three and a half years in the WDCA he captured 153 wickets, played in three Grand Finals and helped them to their second flag, in 1967/68.

His strong performances in the North-East Cup competition justified selection against the Victorian Shield side at Benalla. Two years later, and after 49 wickets in just 11 Cup matches he was chosen to lead a Victorian Country XI against the touring West Indies at the Wangaratta Showgrounds in 1969.

That, Trevor says, provided the highlight of his cricket career. “To be rubbing shoulders with legends of the game like Hall, Lloyd, Nurse, Gibbs……. I have a photo on the mantlepiece, of tossing the coin with Garfield Sobers……then to mix socially with them….it was a huge thrill.”

…….That was just one of the many fond memories of his time in Wangaratta, he says….”Two of the kids were born there…..we made some lifelong friends.”

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The Steers moved to Healesville, and Trevor coached Kilsyth in 1971. In his final year of footy- with Healesville – in 1972, he snagged five goals in the Grand Final, to help the Bloods to a premiership.

“That was as good a time as any to go out, I thought. I was nudging 34. It was an privilege to have captained Healesville to both cricket and footy flags in the same year.”

But he continued to play cricket – at Inverloch, Bendigo, Mandurang and Mirboo North finally hanging up the spikes at the age of 53. School-teaching took he and Jill and their kids ( Peter, Leesa and Rodney) to East Loddon P-12 School as Principal, then to Mirboo North Secondary, also as Principal.

After leaving the teaching profession, Trevor operated a 288-acre Beef Cattle farm in South Gippsland for 18 years, but now, in retirement, the Steers are domiciled in the seaside town of Inverloch.

His passion for footy and cricket remains as intense as ever, but he admits that nothing surprises him too much about sport these days…….

Except for the occasion, six years ago, when Life Membership was bestowed up him by the Collingwood Football Club.

“That was the ultimate honour,” says the big fellah……….

“….’WOOSHA’ FIGHTS BACK….”

THE SCENE : Rovers cricket nets…..any summer Saturday arvo…..Mid-to-late eighties………

Two energetic kids are oblivious to whatever drama is playing out on the W.J.Findlay Oval, where their dads are engaged in battle…..The tall, blonde lad can sure bat a bit…..For over, after over, after over, he flails everything that the whole-hearted right-armer can hurl at him.

The budding speedster bends down to retrieve the pill at one stage, and mutters something about being ‘nothing more than a friggin’ bowling-machine’. He’s confident, though, that if he can just pierce that defence he’ll get to have his turn with the willow ……But it never happens……….

Some years later, they both strut the hallowed turf of the Findlay Oval. Decreed by birth that they’ll wear the Brown and Gold of the Wangaratta Rovers, they become footy team-mates for a decade.Their cricket also flourishes, as they star for Rovers-United….until the partnership is broken….. The blonde bloke is lured to District cricket……….

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Shane Welch’s only sporting regret is that he was denied a Premiership at the Clubs he held dear to his heart .

He was just coming of age as a footballer, having been a rabid fan of the Hawks through a Golden Era, when they won four flags in seven years. They handed him a brief taste of senior footy in 1994 – mid-way through an O & M record 36 wins on the trot – the year the Club won the most recent of its 15 titles…….

And when he finally heeded everyone’s advice to try his luck with Carlton Cricket Club, his old side Rovers-United promptly nailed successive flags.

“That’s fate, I suppose. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time,” he says.

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Shane came through local cricket’s junior ranks, and was in his first year of Under 14’s when he also played as a keeper/batsman for Rovers-United’s C-Grade team. His old man Geoff ( whose aching body had now restricted him to wheeling down guileful, accurate, slow-medium left-armers ) and Greg Rosser ( batting legend ), were the elder statesmen of the side.

His rise was meteoric. At 16 he’d become a regular A-Grade player and a candidate for any form of rep cricket that was going.

That included being part of Wangaratta’s U.21 Mac Holten Shield side which, he reflects, was probably the most enjoyable cricket he played.

“Our team was chock-full of characters. You’d be struggling to manufacture that spirit, even in a club side. We won everything, and after the games, would celebrate accordingly.”

Shane broke into the Colts at the same time as Jaden Burns: “We went through sport together; he was just like my little brother; spent heaps of time at our place in Park Crescent. In the midst of Year 12 exams I took one of those calls you never forget, advising that he’d lost his life.”

“The Burns family asked me to deliver a poem at the funeral. I was talking to the Colts captain Chris Tidd a few weeks later. He said to me: ‘That was great, that thing you did on Burnsy.’……Less than a month later, Tiddy was also gone.”

Shane was elevated to the captaincy. Wang never went close to losing for the next two years, as they cleaned up successive Shield Finals.

In the 1994/95 decider, they knocked over ‘danger-man’, outspoken future NSW and Australia ‘A’ ‘gun’ Domenic Thornley for 3, and restricted Albury to 7/223. .

The Welch innings of 93 in 115 minutes guided Wang to victory. Many who’d been following his progress rated that as his finest innings.

He gained priceless experience, as a member of three Melbourne and four Bendigo Country Week sides, but along the way, admits he learned a couple of valuable lessons.

He’d just turned 18 and had begun to put a few decent scores together, including his first WDCA ‘ton’ – an unbeaten 126 against Rutherglen.

“Up until then I’d hardly missed any rep team I’d gone for,” he says. “There was a pretty extensive selection process for the Victorian Under 19 team, but I’d done well in the trial games and had captained Vic Country. I felt comfortable playing with the likes of Brad Hodge and Brad Williams.”

“Out of the final squad of 20 they only picked one country bloke to go to the National titles in Brisbane, and I missed the cut. I was disappointed…..pretty shattered, but it taught me to accept things, and not to get too far ahead of myself.”

He says he was put in his place one day at the Findlay Oval, when he was dismissed cheaply, nicking down leg-side:

“It annoyed me….more so the manner of the dismissal. I mumbled a few things under my breath ….cracked the shits and whacked the bat on my pad as I walked off. I’d been in the rooms for a minute or so when Max Bussell, one of Wang’s most respected cricket figures, came in.”

“He said: ‘What’s happened to you ? Remember, you’ll get out in plenty of different ways than that in your career. Just cop it on the chin’.”

“I learned that ‘Pa’ didn’t like what he’d seen and said to Max: ‘If you don’t go in and have a word to him, I will.”

‘Pa’ (Arthur) was his greatest fan. The moment he’d stride to the crease, Arthur, who was a laid-back, wise-cracking personality of the local game, would tense up…… He’d embark on a couple of nervous laps of the ground…..once the young bloke had passed 30 or so, his normal demeanour would re-appear.

After a productive 1994/95, which featured 430-odd WDCA runs ( including another ‘ton’), Shane headed to the ‘big smoke’ to attend RMIT University. Carlton and Fitzroy-Doncaster both pursued him.

He opted for the Blues, principally because his cousin Darren had spent four seasons there. It seemed a good fit, and he looked forward to learning off players like Rohan Larkin and Ian Wrigglesworth who’d played at the higher level.

A couple of half-centuries in the Seconds earned him promotion. His debut First XI hand of 58 against Dandenong impressed the good judges, but they nodded sagely a few weeks later when he scored 108 against Fitzroy-Doncaster.

“I just thought the runs would keep coming,” Shane says, “….but it’s never that easy.”

After a very successful opening season he began 1997/98 with a bright 55 against Prahran. Four games later he was back in the Seconds with three or four other youngsters who had been touted as the ‘future of Carlton’.

“I ended up becoming a bit disillusioned; got down on myself. I decided I’d free the arms up a bit….try tonking the spinners and belt the cover off the ball…. ‘Pa’ summed it up. He said: ‘You’re batting like a bowler’. “

“Cricket had lost its charm for me. I gave it away at the end of that season……..”

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His football apprenticeship began at his dad’s old Junior League club, Combined Churches, followed by two years with the Hawk Thirds and one in the Reserves.

Along the way, the Murray Bushrangers slotted him in for a late-season game in which he snagged four goals as a floating forward.

By 1995 he was a permanent fixture in the Rovers line-up, alternating as a forward, tall defender or relief ruckman.

For the next ten years, Shane became one of those fellahs who are vital to the culture of a successful footy Club …..Reliable……Always giving 100%……Disciplined…….Willing to accept whatever role he’d been handed….Rarely in the limelight….And enthusiastically embracing the after-match festivities.

During that period, he was one of a group of 20-25 city-based country players who’d gather at the Princes Park No.3 Oval and improvise their own training schedule.

“Travelling back each week wasn’t a chore for me then, “ Shane says, “It was an easy drive. I enjoyed getting back home.”

His first year of teaching – 1999 – took him to Yea High School, where he politely declined the local club’s invitation to accept the coaching job.

Instead, he assumed ruck duties for the Hawks when the ‘dicky’ knee of big Paul Greaves caved in early in the season.

In 2002, the year the Rovers built momentum and developed into a flag threat, there were also plenty of stints in the ruck, relieving another ‘man mountain’, Aaron Schenke.

They had beaten North Albury three times that season, but the Hoppers got out of the blocks quickly in the Grand Final, and established a big lead. A dramatic fight-back ensued; the Hawks wrested the momentum, but eventually North ran away with the game.

“We had two or three blokes who were a bit proppy. We’d expended a lot of energy getting back into the game, and had nothing left when it counted,” Shane says.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….He played just four games in 2005, and was finding that other things in life had taken priority over football. Besides dealing with a niggling quad injury and heavy work commitments, the travel had now become a burden.

Additionally, Jo (his future wife ) was in the throes of transitioning from England.

Inevitably, he was resigned to pulling the pin with his beloved Hawks. After 160 senior games, Shane ‘Woosher’ Welch, Life Member and intensely loyal clubman hung up the boots.

He taught at the same Melbourne-based secondary school for 19 years, and says it took a heavy toll on his health.

“It wasn’t a harmonious place. You were basically just trying to control the kids. I didn’t read the warning signs of fatigue. A heavy VCE workload, high expectations and raising a young family in Melbourne contributed to my burnout / exhaustion.”

“It was an extremely challenging time – a real battle. At 41 years of age I had to dig deep to slowly regain a sense of self-worth.”

At the end of 2018, Shane, Jo and the kids, Rosie ( now 11 ) and Luke ( 8 ) packed up and moved back to his home town.

He maintained his passion for Physical Education. He’s now working at Galen College, has written, and overseen the curriculum for the Peak Football Academy, and is coaching the ‘talls’ at the Murray Bushrangers.

He’s in his second year back at the Rovers as their Phys-Ed Advisor, and has guided the players through a gruelling summer of fitness work .

He has also designed an Out-Door training Program , comprising circuit-based 50-minute sessions. It involves 12-15 stations, using resistance, weight, running and sporting equipment.

It’s his intention to launch it in the near future.

“Thanks to the support of family, colleagues and mates, I’ve been able to work my way back to now be able to make small contributions within the community,” he says.

“And I’m prouder of that than any of the centuries I made” ………………”