Anastasios (Tom) Dimitriadis and the Tom Wills grave restoration project

This is last Friday’s Almanac e-newsletter:

"In the name of the father" - part of the Tom Wills collection by artist Martin Tighe. Click image for more.

“In the name of the father” – part of the Tom Wills collection by artist Martin Tighe.

 

G’day Sportsfans,

Last year Phil Dimitriadis, a wonderful contributor to the Almanac community since 2008, contacted me about a matter which was causing him disquiet. He had just returned from visiting the grave of his father Anastasios (who was often known as Tom). Born in northern Greece, near the Albanian border, Anastasios brought his family, including young Phil, to Australia in the early 1950s. They settled right next to Victoria Park and Phil and the Dimitriadis clan grew to love the Pies – passionately.

A highly intelligent, sensitive and contemplative bloke, Phil has always been drawn to observing, reading, thinking and writing. Over the years he has explored his own passion for footy and the grip it has on many of us? Why do we find it so meaningful? Phil has explored the idea of what I would call a Greek sense of the truth – those things which experience shows us to be at the heart of human existence. He is interested in language and how we convey our sense of meaning. He has written instructively and compassionately, and insightfully, on many issues. His book Fandmic is a collection of those writings.

Phil visits the Warringal Cemetery in Heidelberg regularly. A row or so away from his father’s resting place lies Tom Wills in a very basic grave in a state which does not do a figure of such historical significance justice. Tom Wills is one of the most fascinating characters in Australian history. He had a remarkable life. He was a champion sportsman – arguably the greatest cricketer in the colonies in the 1860s, and a brilliant footballer in the local game which he was instrumental in codifying, establishing and developing.

The story of Tom Wills is worth reading.

Phil relayed his concerns about the state of the grave, disappointed it had not been better looked after, and lamenting the absence of any substantial explanation – by way of an installation or sign – telling Tom Wills’ story and explaining his influence on Victorian and Australian life to this day.

Tom Wills, a complex and troubled man, as you will see, died tragically at his own hand.

Later that week, Phil and I met at his father’s grave and paid our respects. Then we spent time at Tom Wills’ grave. I could feel Phil’s sadness. Phil expressed his disappointment in the world, that Tom Wills was a neglected figure because he did not fit the simplistic, triumphal narrative of modern commercialised sport. Tom Wills is a marketer’s nightmare. But to those who are drawn into the attempt to understand the world and its people, Tom Wills deserves empathy and understanding. Tom Wills is real.

And he deserves better.

We thought we could do something about it.

Around that time I was catching up with Marius Cuming, a wool farmer from out Dunkeld way, a little further west than where Tom Wills grew up. Wills’ father Horatio (another fascinating character) ran sheep on a station at Lexington near Moyston. That is another story – which takes the family to Queensland, another dramatic part of Tom Wills’ life.

I mentioned Tom Wills to Marius and he was immediately interested in being personally involved in a restoration project. Since then, Marius and Phil have been the energy for getting this up and running – with the support of the Almanac. Marius contacted the Wills family and sought their permission to start the process, he contacted stone masons and colonial railings specialists, and then he set up a crowdfunding campaign.

The campaign has been going for a couple of weeks and, with the anniversary of Tom Wills death, on May 2 1880, last Monday, Marius and the Almanac have started to bring the project (and the memory of Tom Wills) to public attention. Victorian readers may have heard Marius with broadcaster Jon Faine on 774 ABC Melbourne.

I am sure Tom Wills story will fascinate you. You might like to start with Marius’s video story on Tom Wills and the campaign.

We have numerous articles on Wills, one notably from his biographer Dr. Greg de Moore whose book of a few years ago is one of the finest sports biographies published in Australia. Greg is a psychiatrist who became fascinated with Tom Wills after stumbling across his case notes in the psychiatric unit of the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Other Wills texts include Martin Flanagan’s novel The Call, as well as a theatrical adaptation of Martin’s novel, many references in histories over the years, and Martin Tighe’s series of (rather haunting) paintings. Check them out (the list is continued in the comments section of the piece) and maybe you have something to add.

Tom Wills deserves our respect. Hopefully his grave will be restored thanks to Phil and Marius. We are trying to raise $15,000. We invite you to make a contribution through Ozcrowd.

Regards
JTH

PS We have a range of excellent yarns at www.footyalmanac.com.au

Comments

  1. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    John,
    Thank you so much for your kind words. Sometimes events coincide for a reason. I’m grateful that you came with me to see the grave last year and along with Marius, help initiate this timely and noble cause. I told my mum the story and she has also donated “for their souls” in her words. Mahi (Mum) is 85 and in my care. Today we will place a white rose and a cutting of basil on the grave – hope – redemption.

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