In my younger years at Marcellin it was sport alone that motivated me. I particularly enjoyed the football and cricket seasons that occupied most of the school year. I was less enamoured of the short athletics’ and swimming seasons, reckoning that it was only sport if it involved a ball of some description, although I strongly recall watching Vladimir Kuts running around the MCG, seemingly endlessly, in winning the two distance track events at the Melbourne Olympics and being fairly mesmerised by his feats.
Marcellin’s facilities for sports were, of course, less than ideal. In class groups we kicked footballs from end to end on the asphalt surface of the congested playground during the winter months and had the opportunity of batting and bowling on concrete, netted strips in the same playground using balls of a cork composition that were as hard as rocks.
In reflecting now on those times one is not surprised that fundamental concepts such as health and safety and duty of care were virtually non-existent. Happily, however, accidents were rare, with one of the more serious ones, unhappily, involving me. I go back to one of the last days of school for, possibly, the 1958 year when I was batting in the nets and was hit on the temple by a fast “beamer.” In my barely conscious state I recall hearing the words “you ducked into it.” We batted, of course, without any protective equipment and the occasions when someone was sorely hurt by a crack on the shins, or elsewhere, provided cause for hearty mirth. For years afterwards I used to wonder how I could have “ducked into it.” The answer, of course, was in the nature of the “bean” ball, a head-high full toss, a ball so dangerous it is banned completely these days by the laws of cricket. It is so dangerous because a batsman naturally expects that the bowler, intending to bounce the ball on the pitch, will, in fact, bounce it somewhere on the pitch; his eyes, therefore, try to pick up sight of the ball out of the bowler’s hand and, thence, to follow its trajectory downwards. When it is not seen there and, in fact, is not there a batsman is left in serious trouble, because it is well-nigh impossible to sight the ball somewhere in the wide open sky.
Anyway, I was hit and lapsed into unconsciousness, coming to long later in the school tuck shop with wonderful ladies fussing over me and the school Principal getting in the way. My next recollection was waking up in my bed the next day and where I spent the next ten days or so seriously ill. With medical knowledge about concussion we have today it is probably safe to say that I was extremely lucky to live, but at the time the incident was seen to be so lacking in seriousness as to not even require the school to make any subsequent inquiry of my health.
That we had so little in the way of satisfactory sporting facilities was not something that bothered most of us. I certainly did not look enviously at other schools and what better facilities they may have had. It did not seem to be much of an imposition to walk/cycle down to the Rathmines Road oval for football training after school one evening a week, nor did it seem extraordinary on Wednesday afternoons to catch public transport to go to St. Kilda, Essendon, North Melbourne, etc., to play cricket or football against other Associated Catholic Colleges’ (ACC) teams. For cricket practice, the school yard after the school day had finished was perfectly satisfactory, particularly because usual cricket protective equipment was made available to us. And, indeed, I think all students with a sporting bent used to look forward to our lunchtime cricket/football sessions with some degree of eagerness.
I do not recall, with one notable exception, the school ever employing specialised coaches or having Brothers in charge of different sports who were capable enough, or inclined, to coach us. In fact, I recall to this day being given two batting tips at practice one evening that I eventually learned were absolutely wrong and receiving nothing at all in the way of encouragement, ever. The one exception to which I referred was the school having Hawthorn footballer, Brendan Edwards, an old boy of Assumption College, Kilmore coach our First Eighteen in 1961, the year Hawthorn won its first Premiership and the year Brendan won nearly all best player awards except for the Brownlow Medal. I do not recall Brendan ever attending any of our games, but he certainly put us through our paces on Monday evenings at Rathmines oval. I shall never forget the sight of Brother Sylvester at one of those sessions hurrying to the sidelines, the Melbourne Herald in his grasp, calling out to Brendan “you got three votes for Saturday’s game in the Herald, Brendan.”
I came to know Brendan quite well in later years; in fact, some very few years ago I shared a platform with Luke Hodge, Brad Sewell and Brendan at the Moore Park Golf Club in Sydney at a dinner organised by the Sydney Hawthorn Supporters Club and, after the dinner, we four were talking to the audience and taking questions as several television sets around the auditorium were silently showing the 1961 Grand Final. I am sure that only few in the audience were even born before 1961, but I was asked about my recollection of that game. I responded that I was aware of Brendan having had a dominating influence on the game, but that 1961 was more memorable for me, then a Carlton supporter, because Brendan had been my school’s football coach that year. Brendan responded most enthusiastically and later, privately, told me how pleased he had been when “Brother Sylvester asked me to help.”
In my junior years at Marcellin we seemed to play football against the Marist Brothers’ college at Hawthorn, St John’s, again and again, year after year. In fact, I do not remember playing against any other school, although we must have done, I suppose. Arthur Owens and I used to share the captaincy of those under age teams; I recall that St John’s used to beat us regularly and I came to know of their star players, Des Meagher, Paul White and Bernie O’Brien through those regular games. Paul and Bernie came on to Marcellin, of course, and boosted our teams, in both football and cricket, enormously. Bernie went on to captain Old Paradians and Victoria in the very good Amateur Competition. In those early years I used to play football in the team a year ahead of me as well, playing with the likes of Mark Needham, Brian Gartner, Peter Wood, Mick Schauble, Laurie Moran and others whom I have been very pleased to meet again at MOCA functions over recent years.
The Hawthorn Football Club in those days used to sponsor/host at the Glenferrie Oval an annual Under 14 years Lightning Premiership for local school teams. I recall that Marcellin won the first three of these tournaments and that I played in the second and third years, the latter as captain of the Marcellin team. I seem to recall that John Zika was a prominent player in the first of the winning Marcellin teams, that Laurie Moran probably captained the second and that Bernie O’Brien and Ken Hewitt were nominated as Marcellin’s two best performers in the third tournament, winning for themselves a weekend trip to Wagga Wagga as part of a representative team selected from amongst all the competing schools. I do not remember if the tournament was ever held again after those first three.
Under Bernie O’Brien’s captaincy in 1961 our First Eleven shared the winning of the ACC cricket competition. Our win was hailed as the first such win for the school and the following year, under my captaincy, we luckily won the title outright, again a first, obviously. We were lucky to win because we lost to St Bede’s, Mentone in, as I recall, the penultimate game of the season and had to rely then on the outcome of a season final game between two other schools being favourable to us to give us the title. Chris Hansen was one of our better batsmen that year and, if my memory serves me correctly, he became only the second Marcellin old boy, after Kevan Carroll, to play first grade cricket in the Melbourne District Competition, for the then Hawthorn-East Melbourne team. Again, if my memory serves me well, my younger brother, Gerald, became the third and I the fourth, both of us playing for Hawthorn-East Melbourne as well. I played in the school First Eleven in three successive seasons, as I had also done in our Under Fifteen teams. In my first year in those teams I recall Len Jerrems being our star player and captain, just as he was the star footballer of his year, the first year I played in the First Eighteen.
It is hardly surprising that our sporting and other facilities at Marcellin in the early days were quite primitive. The school’s location, whilst geographically favourable for most of its students, was not conducive to organised sporting activity. Its Canterbury Road location, in such a desirable residential area, was never going to be capable of extension and must, therefore, have been established as a stop-gap measure only, until such time as a more suitable location could be found and developed with all the facilities many of us at Canterbury Road did not realise we were missing. I started in Year Four, the class housed in the new building at the front of the school property that comprised the whole of the junior school. I did not know that the senior classrooms to the rear of the property had once been barns and other farm buildings. I know that I did not like how hot the classrooms became in Summer, nor how freezingly cold they became in Winter, but it did not occur to me that I might have expected better. I did not like how stern and strict and lacking in rapport with the students were the Brothers in the junior school and, for the most part, I was so scared of them that I hated going to school, except on sports’ days. I had come to Marcellin from the Nuns at St Dominic’s in East Camberwell, as had Peter Ruddock, Richard Olive and Kevin Bell, Marcellin luminaries all, and some of the Nuns there had been as frightening as I found the Brothers at Marcellin. It did not occur to me to expect anything different from the Brothers, or that a more congenial environment might have provided an easier learning experience. Thankfully, I accept that my earlier years especially at Marcellin were what they were, but in circumstances certainly intolerable today.
During my last three years at Marcellin I played senior cricket for the Canterbury club side and senior football for Surrey Hills. In 1962, my final year at school, I captained the Canterbury Cricket Club and then progressed to captain the Victorian (VJCU) Under 21 team at an interstate series in Sydney before then joining Hawthorn-East Melbourne. In that same year I won the Best and Fairest award at Surrey Hills, finishing third in the same award for the competition, and then progressed to Hawthorn, where I made the Senior List in 1963, my first year out of school and the year that Geelong defeated Hawthorn in the Grand Final. Brendan Edwards, who had retired after the 1961 Grand Final, made a comeback that year and, naturally, was added to the list also, on which we joined Ian Mort, the first Marcellin old boy to play at the top level. I came to know Ian well, long after our football careers had ended and, interestingly, we never even once spoke of our respective days at Marcellin. I very early sensed a reluctance on his part to speak of them, and I have no idea why that may have been the case. Tragically, a devastating cancer took his life in January, 1996. Ted Johnson was another “Canterbury Roader” who played for Hawthorn. He had been about three years behind me at school and I remember him as a fine sportsman.
I have written of years long ago and since when I have lived outside Victoria for the past forty-eight years. My odyssey saw me eventually to settle in Sydney and, some years ago, to retire to the NSW Southern Highlands. Over the years I have had only rare contact with Marcellin old boys, mostly through quite recent functions organised by Chris Mirabella for the Canterbury Roaders. I am very grateful to him for his efforts in this regard, as I am to (Brother) Mark Needham and Brian Millane, friends and Marcellin old boys of course, who have kept in touch with me over the years and have tried to keep me apprised of Marcellin news.
I had never intended leaving Victoria permanently when I moved to Canberra in 1968 to play that football season for the Ainslie club. Whilst I have always enjoyed living in NSW I do remain a staunch Victorian, and whilst I follow cricket and football somewhat keenly still, horse racing and golf remain my abiding sporting interests.