“I’VE LIVED A LIFE THAT’S FULL…..I DID IT MY WAY…..”

With thanks to Guest Blogger: Greg Rosser

The photo’s 70 years old………

‘South Wanderers Football Club – Wangaratta Junior Football League Premiers – 1950.’…….

The vast majority of this line-up have now shuffled off to their mortal coil. But if you’re a generation down the line, like us, you may be able to spot a few familiar faces……And can probably identify the contribution they made to life in Wangaratta…..and beyond.

We can even remember some of them in action on the footy field in succeeding years:

That’s Peter Hughes in the front row. Two years later, aged 18, he played on a wing in the last of Mac Holten’s famous Magpie ‘four-in-a-row’ sides. In 1953 he shared Hawthorn’s Best First-Year Player Award.

Of course, we hardly need to introduce the kid on the far right. Lance Oswald was just 13 at the time, but already had ‘Champ’ written all over him. He won the WJFL Medal that year, and went on to win a Morris Medal, two St.Kilda B & F’s and recognition as the best centreman in Australia in the early sixties.

There’s Graeme Kneebone , Pat Quinton and Col Bromilow – long-term O & K players and local identities. Up in the back row is a Wang Rovers Hall-of-Famer and Vice-Captain to Bob Rose in the Hawks’ 1958 and ‘60 premiership teams…Yes, it’s Les Clarke.

And that’s Arthur, his brother, the confident-looking kid nestling up to Alf Brisbane, the umpie…….

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They nominated Arthur as the Club’s Most Unselfish Player that year. He joked that it was probably because he shared the ball so often with the opposition.

Wareena Park was the Wanderers’ home ground. “We played on Saturdays and spent all Sunday arvo kicking the footy around there,” he once told us.

He followed Les to the Rovers and chalked up seven senior games. Not quite possessive of the talent – or dedication – of his brother, he was also obliged to sacrifice footy training for Night School. It was inevitable that he’d head ‘bush’ – to Eldorado – where he lined up at centre half back, under the coaching of Doug Ferguson.

When the Red and Whites folded he threw in his lot with Milawa in 1955 – and stayed there for 63 years. Many of his team-mates were to become lifelong friends.

But, as the old story-teller would say: “Hang on….you’re getting ahead of things here….You’d better go back to the start……And remember: No-one will mind if you stretch things a bit for the sake of a good story………….”

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So we return to the height of the Depression – to Gapsted, located 5 miles from Myrtleford and 25 from Wangaratta.

Ernie and Jean Clarke welcomed Arthur into the world in 1932.

“Mum and Dad were humble people…..Dad was a hard-worker; a quiet man with a gentle nature…. Mum was a marvellous woman; boss of the house and protector of her family. She gave us advice and a dressing-down at the same time…..Always straight from the heart…No bullshit….”

He started school just after the Depression, attending Gapsted State School (number 2240) with his siblings Eddie, Les and Patricia.

“I used to take my lunch to school in a brown paper bag, “ he said. “The crumpled bag smelt of many past lunches….If I wanted a drink there were a dozen enamel mugs on the stand of the rain-water tank….These mugs were used by all 40-odd pupils for the whole school year.”

“I liked school, probably because it was the only place I went to beside church. Living on the farm, though, was a great learning experience, even despite the inconvenience of freezing winters, long, hot summers and the threat of bushfires. More often than not it was as dry as a dead dingo’s donger ”

“In summer we’d swim in the lagoon. It was about three feet deep, with about a foot of mud at the bottom….and plenty of leeches. I always swam in the nude…..so it gave the leeches plenty of loose pieces to latch onto.”

“One day, Les, Eddie, me and a few mates went for a swim at the Rocky Point Bridge. We had no togs, so we pulled down our singlets and tied them under our crotch with a piece of wire………Unfortunately, Les was bitten by a snake.”

“I jumped on our horse and rode bare-back, approximately half a mile to the nearest farm-house. Les was taken to the Myrtleford Hospital and ended up okay. But I was worse off because the wire I’d tied onto my singlet bloody-near castrated me……So my kids were lucky they had a father……”

“Farm life was great. We’d harvest walnuts, go on fox drives, kill snakes and go ferreting. Rabbits ( underground mutton ) sold for a shilling a pair, and on a good day we could net a couple of hundred. At shearing-time we would attend the shed and work as a ‘hey you’, sweeping the floor and dabbing tar on sheep………”

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The Clarke’s moved to 29 Morrell Street, Wangaratta in 1947. Arthur had two years at the Tech School, but cut his losses on an academic career and scored a job at Bruck Mills. He was 17.

“After six months of placing drop wires on weaving looms, I left and got a job with Stone Brothers, the Plumbers. My next move was to Harrison’s Plumbing, not as an apprentice, but as an ‘improver’, which lasted for the next 15 years.”

“Mr.Harrison also had a garage and Funeral parlour in Ovens Street. At Week-ends I’d throw on the grey striped pants, white shirt, long black coat and bowler hat, put on my solemn face and drive the hearse.”

He also found time to do a milk-run for Cook’s Dairy whilst he was at Harrison’s. It was a tough job on the Horse and Cart, ladling milk into a billy in the pitch black, and fending off barking dogs. Cook’s found it hard to keep their ‘Milkies’ .

“Graeme Cook was also an O & K umpire, and was in charge the day I belted a Tarrawingee player. ‘Cookie’ raced in and said ‘you’re gone number 2’. I told him that he could shove his Milk-Round and he replied: ‘Ah…Let’s make it a warning’.

Arthur spent most of his time in defence for Milawa, where his long, booming kicks from the last line were a feature. The Demons had finished bottom – winless – the year prior to his arrival, but under the coaching of Bill Kelly, improved dramatically. They jumped to Third, then in 1956, after topping the ladder, were unable to contain the taller Beechworth in the Grand Final.

The absence of Kelly was sorely felt, and Clarke led the side into the big clash. He remained one of their stalwarts for years, until a rainy day, on a slushy Whitfield Oval in 1960 brought about his downfall.

“I never forgot it,” he said. “I marked the ball at centre half forward, but landed awkwardly and broke my left knee-cap in half. The boys were saying: ‘Come on Clarkie, you can kick it.’ But the knee was wobbling around like a broken piston in a lawn-mower.”

“Old Art was going nowhere. My career was over.”

But in a scenario that’s replicated in countless community Clubs around the state, he hung around.

For the next five decades he served as Treasurer, Vice-President, Selector, Trainer, Time-Keeper, Committee-Member and, for a period, Number 1 Ticket-Holder. On Sunday mornings he would head out to spruce up the Rooms after a home-game.

Milawa had won just two premierships in 54 years when his son Jeff, who had been a Demon mascot whilst Arthur was playing, guided them to the 1984 flag. The margin over Chiltern ( 78 points ) was almost as decisive the following year, when they blitzed Bright to the tune of 68 points.

After four years as coach, 257 games and three B & F’s Jeff hung up the boots in 1988. He was later elevated to the O & K Hall of Fame. His brother Rob (‘Roo’) played alongside him for a fair portion of his career and their sisters Pam and Sandra were part of the Demons’ Netball line-up.

Arthur’s grand-son Ben is recognised as one of the best mid-fielders going around in the O & K at present. He played a big part in Milawa’s 2013 flag and was co-captain of their all-conquering 2019 side. Grand-daughters Sarah, Emily and Izabelle have all made their mark in netball……

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Three years after Arthur’s footy career finished he and Val started their own business – ‘Arthur Clarke Plumbers’.

“It was 1963. We had 204 pounds, an FJ Holden, a trailer, four kids and a Workshop in Bullivant Street . My best mate, Mick O’Keeffe came to work for me and at one time we had five plumbers, two apprentices and several others working. We left our mark all around Wangaratta and adjoining towns, and did countless ‘love-jobs’.

One of those was for Father Byrne, the popular Parish Priest of Our Lady’s Church.

“We had to climb the 85-foot bell-tower and bolt the aluminium frame to the tower. I reckon I’d be the only Freemason who’s featured in an congratulatory article on the front-page of a Catholic newsletter,” he once said.

In 1982 he and Val passed the business on to the two boys, Jeff and Rob, and decided on a ‘sea-change’ as Florists. Arthur then moved on to manage Boral Bricks for ten years.

But in the meantime he kept himself busy, involving himself in the Wangaratta Urban Fire Brigade (for 20 years), Appin Park Rotary ( where he was awarded Rotary’s highest honour, the Paul Harris Fellowship ), Kiwani’s, Milawa Bowls, Tarrawingee Golf, care-taker of Wangaratta Ladies Bowls, and tending to Rotary Park in Edwards Street.

This most unpretentious of helpers received recognition for his sterling efforts when he was declared Wangaratta’s Citizen of the Year in 2002.

But some health battles lay ahead. He spent just on ten years enduring the endless cycle of kidney dialysis treatment. Eventually Arthur Clarke, the old battler who often joked that he was ‘Too Tough To Die’, passed away, aged 87, in early May last year……………

‘DAN McCARTHY…INSPIRED BY THE RACING GAME…..’

*  It was fate that drew Gai Waterhouse into racing: “There was a spot available with Dad when my Uncle died. I started by working in the office and clocking horses . But I found an excuse to leave the office all the time, and go down to the horses. I knew that’s where I wanted to be…..”

* Lee Freedman was 27, with plenty of faith in himself and his brothers, but little else: “We bought some stables; put down fifteen or twenty grand or something, and borrowed the rest. Then I went to see the racecourse manager and told him we needed to train there……”

* Colin Hayes was a 12 year-old at Semaphore, an Adelaide beachside suburb. He would save 25 cents, which would enable him to spend an hour at a riding school: “ I used to sit there and dream about owning and training my own horses…”

* Hal Hoysted was part of a racing dynasty. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather had all been successful trainers – as had several uncles. When he hung up his jockey’s silks, he became a stable foreman. Then, after gaining enough experience, he launched into a 60-odd year career as a trainer……….

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Dan McCarthy doesn’t pretend that he’ll reach the status of any of the above training legends. But he has something in common – he’s inherited a passion for the racing game that consumes him.

“I never visualised myself doing anything else,” he says. “When racing’s in your blood it’s a disease interrupted only by death. You can’t shake it ! “IMG_3942

His foothold in the industry has been enhanced in recent times, as his small stable has won several important races. He’s also forged a strong relationship with prominent owner-breeder, David Strain, whose horses such as Ashlor, Ashtrain, Blazing Ash and Ashrad have achieved success.

Dan’s hopeful that Ashlor can propel him to his dream of training a Group 1 winner…………

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He grew up around horses on the family property at Flowerdale.

“Dad ( Brendan) built up what was the biggest band of broodmares in Victoria over a ten-year period. At one stage he had about 700 horses; most on agistment, but a fair chunk of them were his own.”

“He was a great personality – a real story-teller – whose love for horses began as a teen-ager in Kyneton. He used to tell us that he acted as the resident S.P bookie at the Marist Brothers College he went to.”

When the McCarthys moved to Tallarook. Brendan Snr would travel down to operate his Insurance Brokerage in Melbourne, whilst also running the Stud Farm. Luckily, the eight kids were all willing helpers.

He became President of the Victorian Bloodhorse Breeders Association at one stage, and was a committeeman at Moonee Valley Race Club.

Brendan McCarthy died early last year, but his racing legacy continues through the VOBIS scheme. He and a colleague reasoned that the Victorian racing industry needed some sort of incentive for owners and breeders.

“They travelled the world off their own bat, looking at various schemes. When they made their presentation, Racing Victoria threw their support behind it. It’s a massive thing now.” Dan says.

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Dan’s other sporting love is footy. When he was rounding off his education at Assumption College he was a member of the First 18 squad for three years, alongside future stars like Brownlow Medallist Shane Crawford, Richmond’s Chris Smith and North Melbourne’s Simon Wood.

“I was as keen as mustard. But I couldn’t crack it for a game in the illustrious First 18.”

When he left school and spent a year working on the family Stud Farm, he played a season with Nagambie, but had to put his footy career on hold when he joined forces with his older brother Brendan, who was training at Caulfield.  At 21, he became the youngest-ever licensed trainer in the State.

“We usually had about 30 horses in work, and Saturdays were always taken up,” he says.

Dan and Perri married in 1998 and settled in Wangaratta. He brought five horses up here, to have as a bit of a hobby whilst undertaking an Electrical Apprenticeship: “I thought it’d be handy to have something to fall back on if things got a bit quiet with the training. But we were lucky enough to have 20-odd winners the first year.”

One of his best performers around that time was Another Timah. He had a half-share in him and the rest was owned by a few family members. “At the end of its career it had won 18 races; including wins in Melbourne and placings in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. He was a really good horse, and carried us through for a while.”

“But potentially the best we had was Le Rivet, which was broken down when we got hold of him. Three vets inspected him and told us he wouldn’t race again.”

“We bought him for $500. He won six races in his first preparation, and ended up collecting around $200,000 in stake-money, which was a bit of money in those days. He was placed three times in Melbourne. It was really rewarding to achieve that sort of a result against the odds.”

Eventually, Le Rivet’s career ended when he again broke down, but Dan was nominated for the Fred Hoysted Award for Training Excellence, for his effort in reviving the gelding’s career.

Spondee, which won eight races in the early 2000’s and Stash of Gold, which had nine wins, were a couple of others to bring success to the stable.IMG_4058

But wins have come along at fairly regular intervals over the years, and his last three seasons have been fruitful. Especially with Ashlor beginning to reveal its obvious potential.IMG_4051

After an impressive win at Moonee Valley last October, the stable-star was set for the lucrative Winterbottom Stakes at Ascot.

“It was a big challenge, taking him over to Perth. Normally plane expenses for that journey can be about $15-20,000, but W.A Racing paid for the trip over. When you nominate they’ll only do that if they think the horse is a genuine chance. And besides, they provided a $6,000 rebate to cover expenses.”

“W.A Racing were really good to deal with, and it was a marvellous experience. He got caught at the front of the pack doing a lot of work early, but then, when they turned into the home straight, he was in front. He faded a bit, to finish sixth, but overall, it was a terrific run in a million-dollar race.”

Ashlor followed that up with another good win at the Valley in late December. With 11 wins from 27 starts and accumulated stake-money of over $600,000, Dan’s confident that the five year-old gelding can keep improving……….

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When I tracked him down last week, this ‘Racing-Man’ was spearing drop-punt passes towards eager youngsters at College’s training session.

He’s a thick-set fellah with the physique of an old ruckman/forward. Since his kids started coming through the Junior League, he’s been fully invested. He had charge of College’s Under 14’s for four years and is in his second season sharing the Under 16’s coaching with Peter Harvey.

I suggest that, with his co-coach’s renowned reputation for ‘white-line fever’ he’d be spending a lot of his time trying to keep ‘Harv’ in check.

“Nah, he’s pretty calm. I’m the one who goes ‘off’ a bit,” he says.

Dan coached his sons Harrison and Alex to Under 14 flags at College. Harrison went on to be part of the Rovers’ Thirds premiership last year, and is now at uni, playing Amateur footy with Old Scotch U.19’s.  Alex made his Thirds debut with the Hawks a fortnight ago.IMG_4040

Third son Will is now coming through at College, whilst the baby of the family, Holly, is a budding Netballer.

I’m intrigued to learn, in hindsight, how Dan and Perri became so deeply entwined with the Greta Football/Netball Club.

“Well, Perri had a couple of seasons of Netball with the Rovers, not long after we arrived up here,” Dan tells me.

“It had been more than a decade since I’d played footy at Nagambie, but I got itchy feet, and joined Greta in 2002. I played there for the next 11 years; chalked up 150-odd games and finally hung up the boots when I was 40.”

“Perri eventually joined me out there. She won 5 Netball Best & Fairests, 2 O & K Medals and a couple of premierships.”

“We really enjoyed it at Greta. I served on the committee for a few years, and was Vice-President…..Terrific people……”

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Dan has a team of 12 horses in work at present, and reckons that’s just about perfect for him. Four of them are running at Caulfield tomorrow, in what will be a hectic day.

“You’ve just got to be careful not to take on too many,” he says. ” We’ve got a few syndicates involved now, which is great. And if they can have some fun, and get something out of it, I’m rapt for them. I suppose if you had the right team around you, you could possibly handle up to twenty.”

At the moment, though, the principal of McCarthy Racing, father-of-four, part-time Electrician and College Football Club co-coach is handling things just nicely………IMG_4053

THE MAN WHO KEPT THE FUN IN FOOTBALL ………..

Funerals are coming thick and fast for Ron Wales these days.

Little wonder, I suppose.  Walesy’s going on 87 and plenty of his old footy mates and business acquaintances have headed off to their mortal coil. Like the two fellahs who spotted him when I was having a yarn with him a couple of years ago…….

Both were hobbling along with the aid of walking sticks and, to put it bluntly, had seen better days. But their eyes lit up when they saw their old Tarrawingee coach.

“Have a look at these two buggers will ya,” he said, as they wandered towards him. “They were my ruck combination at Tarra ….No wonder we struggled ! ”

He was joking, of course. Ray Warford and Col Briggs were outstanding players in their day. But within a year, Ron had farewelled them, too……….’
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He still has an obsession with football, although his wife Mavis admits it tests him sometimes.

“I’ll be doing the dishes while he’s watching a Geelong game, and I’ll hear him yell : ‘Kick the bloody thing !’ “

Ron explains: “You’re talking to a bloke who only handballed about twice in his life, I can’t understand why they persist with these dinky little handballs to someone a metre or so away. That, and kicking backwards…..They’re the only things that bug me.”

He’s a die-hard Cats fan. Has been since he was a little tacker, up Leitchville way………….
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‘Walesy’ doesn’t treat life too seriously. In fact, about the only time I detect a frown on his cheerful visage is when he tries to unravel the path he took during his marathon football journey.

He was a mere lad when he was elevated into Leitchville’s senior side. By the time he was 20 he was starting to attract attention from a few VFL clubs.

Carlton, Melbourne and Hawthorn contacted him. He trained with the Blues for three weeks, then headed out to Glenferrie Oval, where he played in Hawthorn’s final practice match.

They promised him half-a-dozen Seconds games “to see how you go”. After one he decided to head back to Leitchville.

“I’d started going with Mavis, and she wasn’t too keen on the city,” he says. But, after picking up his third club B & F and finishing runner-up in the Northern League Medal, he joined some mates at VFA club Prahran.

He’d played 98 games with his home club, and it was a big decision to transfer in his trade as a Sheet-Metal worker. In the tough environs of what was one of the VFA’s finest eras, he proved a star, and won Prahran’s B & F in the first of his two seasons – 1953.
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He and Mavis decided to settle in Wangaratta in 1955, partly due to the urging of her brother, Lou Finck, a keen Magpies supporter, who was a policeman in the town.

One thing led to another, and Ron agreed to throw in his lot with the ‘Pies.

So began the first of four separate playing stints in the Black and White guernsey. But there’s no doubt his first season – 1955 – was his best.

He was playing at his peak – mainly in the mid-field – and had the happy knack of being able to locate the Sherrin. With a rapier-like left foot, he invariably found a target.

He won the Chronicle Trophy, and was a key figure in Wangaratta’s march to a Grand Final berth.

The ‘Pies trailed by just three points midway through the last quarter, when a heavy storm converted the Albury Sportsground into a choppy mud-heap. Good footy was near-impossible, and North Albury were able to hang on, to win the flag by 10 points.

Lance Oswald (7 goals) and Wales, who had shifted from a wing to the centre at half-time, were the stand-outs for Wangaratta.

Ron decided he’d like to have a crack at coaching in 1956, and was snapped up by Tarrawingee.

Wang immediately blocked his clearance application.

“I wasn’t too rapt in that,” he says. “But I ended up getting to Tarra after we took it to the Appeals Tribunal.”

Two years later, he was back at Wang for another season. Then, in 1959, he again succumbed to the coaching bug.

“King Valley asked me to take over. They were four terrific years …..Great people…. We used to stay up at the Valley after every home game. Gee, they looked after us well.”

After another couple of seasons back at Wangaratta, he was approached by North Wangaratta, who were in desperate straits.

“They looked like folding and pleaded with me to get them out of a pickle and take the coaching job. What could you do ? Of course, I had to.”

“They had no money….hadn’t won a game the previous year. But they were good fellahs and we battled our way through the season . It was great that, within a few years they were a power, and went on to win their first O & K flag.”

“Mavis was a terrific back-up while I was coaching.  She’d been a top Netballer in the Wangaratta competition, and both the Valley and North Wang chased her up to coach their Netball sides.  She fitted that in besides keeping an eye on the four kids.”

Ron had another sojourn with the Magpies in 1967. He was working with H. G. Palmer’s, an electrical store, and couldn’t commit fully to training. So he made himself available for the Reserves and managed to win the O & M Reserves Medal, despite playing just eight games.

He moved the family to Albury after he accepted a transfer in employment. He’d half-decided to hang up the boots, but North Albury champion Stan Sargent was living four doors away, and coaxed Ron into stripping with the Hoppers.

Now entering the super-veteran category, he was expecting to just fill in with the ‘Two’s’. Instead, he played the next two seasons as a skilful, opportunist half forward in a good North Albury senior line-up.

“Funny thing, I suffered fairly bad asthma in Albury, but the moment we shifted back to Wang it disappeared and I’ve never had any recurrences,” he says.

Ron finally moved into the line of employment that many people remember him for – as a Car Salesman.

He was a natural and, after a spell with Carmody Motors, transferred to Alan Capp’s, where he was to remain for the next 30 years.

“I got on pretty well with the tobacco-growers and cow- cockies and spent a lot of time out on the road. We’d often seal a deal over a quiet beer. Two of my ‘offices’ were the Hibernian in Beechworth, and the Whorouly Hotel.

“I think it was only after I’d been there 20 years or so that ‘Cappy’ actually realised I worked there,” he jokes.

He has always been partial to a cool drink on a warm day, and his personality won people over.

Ron thought he had taken a step back from football until he had a knock on the door one day in the early seventies – not long after he’d hung up his boots.

“There were four kids there – Des Griffin, Col Nugent, Brian Johnston and Ronnie Graham – from the Junior Magpies, and they asked me if I’d mind coaching them. ‘Okay,’ I said, ‘I’ll help you out this season.’”

“Fifteen years later, I was still going.”

He had a big influence on hundreds of kids. The fact that they won three flags was purely incidental. He was more interested in teaching them about footy, and making sure they enjoyed it.

One of his old ‘pupils’ recalls that he never heard ‘Walesy’ raise his voice. Another pointed out that, despite the ‘stand-outs’ who went through his hands, like O & M Hall of Famers Robbie Walker and Matt Allen, AFL player Darren Steele and many others who became O & M stars, he was just as interested in the ‘battlers’.

When the Wright boys – Trevor and Rod – were playing, their uncle Noel Godwin, who had Down Syndrome, was a keen follower, and a popular figure among the boys.

‘Walesy’ appointed him ‘Assistant-Coach’.

When the occasion suited, Ron would storm into the three quarter-time huddle and, in mock disgust, throw down his clipboard and announce : “I’ve had enough. Righto Noel, you take over.”

Noel would step up to the plate, puff out his chest and shout : “Go Boys”……..to an accompanying roar from the players.

Ron’s services to the Junior League were rewarded in 1988, with a  Life Membership.

You might see he and Mavis at Wangaratta home games these days, as they follow the progress of their grandkids , Xavier and Gabrielle, who is showing plenty of promise on the Netball court.

And they’re enjoying it as much as they did in those early days in Leitchville………………