Beechworth’s Unofficial Ambassador

I’ve just caught up with an old Ovens and King League ironman.

My memories of him from 40 years ago are of a football desperado, whose on-field deeds are running through my mind whilst we sip coffee outside the Beechworth Bakery.

A mischievous grin is never far from the surface of  his rugged countenance and I must admit he he seems very refined these days, as he politely greets several passers-by.

Someone told me recently that Kevin Rhodes was one of the best-known people in Beechworth, and I don’t doubt it.

How Rhodesy came to settle in the old gold-mining (and now tourist) town is a story worth telling….

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

He was reared in Port Melbourne and always loved his footy. He had a few games with local club, Port Colts, but there were plenty of other things competing for his attention at the time.

By his own admission he was a bit rebellious as a young bloke and the inevitable happened – he got into strife with the law.

His mates suggested he should make himself scarce for a while, because a spell inside the ‘slammer’ was a certainty. “This sounded like a good idea to me, so I got my future step-father to pick me up from Geelong, where I was bailed up at my nanna’s. He drove me out to the Ballarat Road and I hitch-hiked across the Nullarbor,” said Kevin, recalling it as if it was yesterday.

“I had a crook ankle and was on crutches, which further complicated things. But I made it to Perth. It’s marvelous how many nice people you meet along the way.”

He discovered that the ankle he thought was sprained was, in fact, badly broken. Eager to have a game of footy, he was disappointed to be laid up for 18 months.

He’d got involved with the Midland club, in the Sunday Amateurs. “It was a pretty good standard and once I got fit I cracked it for a few senior games. I played in a Grand Final at the WACA in one of my two seasons with them.”

But it was time, he thought, to return home and face the music after four years in the west. “I was getting sick of looking over my shoulder, so when I arrived back, I walked into South Melbourne Police station and gave myself up.”

The bad news was that, while he was away he’d been given a 13-month prison sentence.

The Beechworth gaol was his destination.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

The good news was that, upon his first meeting with the Governor, he was asked if he could play football. His eyes lit up when it was mentioned that he might like to line up with the local team. Kevin suggested that perhaps he should train and see what they thought of him.

Mick Brenia, who was coaching Beechworth at the time, said he fitted into the side perfectly: “He wasn’t brilliant, but had plenty of determination and team-mates walked taller around him.”

“We had four prisoners playing with us. One fellah did the wrong thing and only lasted a couple,of weeks. Johnny Grainger was a running back-flanker and a good player, Frankie Marinucci was a bit hard to control and missed the end of the season through suspension. Rhodesy was the pick of them. I think he just enjoyed getting out. He got on well with everybody,” Brenia said.

Kevin mainly played in defence and, as the season wore on became a key player. There was one hiccup though, when he was reported for striking North Wang’s Frank Tucci.

He explained to Tribunal chief Les O’Keeffe that he had jumped in the air, accidentally thrown out his elbow and Tucci had run into it. “He commended me on my honesty and exonerated me,” Kevin said.

Bombers’ team-mate Graeme ‘Chewy’ Hill had accompanied him to the Tribunal and they decided to grab a few beers and celebrate the verdict. “It got a bit late and when ‘Chewy’ dropped me ‘home’ it was about 2.30am. He used to laugh about me banging on the gates of the gaol and yelling out, ‘Open up, I live here!”

His other visit to the Tribunal occurred after someone had landed on his proppy leg. “I saw red for a few seconds and went ‘smack’. I told them how sorry I was and got a severe reprimand.”FullSizeRender

Beechworth had a well-balanced side in 1974, topped off by their crack full forward, Graeme Hill, who booted 115 goals. They met reigning premiers North Wangaratta in the Grand Final at Chiltern and ran away to win a tough encounter by 44 points.

It completed a dream season for Kevin Rhodes, who also finished runner-up in the Best and Fairest. But there were to be no prolonged flag celebrations for him. He had to report back to gaol and was greeted at the gates by a warder, who did the mandatory bag-check.

Underneath his footy gear, and discreetly covered by a towel were four VB long-necks that someone had planted. “I got on well with this warder, who congratulated me on playing well and suggested that I drink ’em’ fairly quickly. I did that. When they had muster next morning, I was still asleep.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Rhodesy had made some great friends in the football club, particularly his premiership team-mate Gary Cooper and his future wife Leisa ; Bob McWaters,  Mick and Lynette Deuis, and the Carey family.

So when he was nearing the end of his ‘term’ he had pretty well decided that he’d stay in the town.

“I’d be walking around the prison yards with blokes who were already planning their next ‘job’ when they got out. I said : ‘Leave me out of it’. I just knew that if I headed back to Melbourne, I’d be a chance to drift into trouble again. By the same token, you’ve got to be prepared to change your life around.”

“Jean and Frank Carey, who had 4 sons and 2 daughters at home, said to me : ‘Look, you can stay with us for a while.’ 10 years later, Jean said : ‘Kev, do you think it’s time you spread your wings! They’re like family to me and I still have Christmas dinner with them.”

Kevin settled in to become one of Beechworth’s most dependable players in what was a successful era for the club. They won another flag in 1979 (defeating Whorouly) and contested Grand Finals in 1975, ’76, ’78 and ’83.

He represented the O&K twice and proudly recalls that he was part of a half-back line which played against the Riverina League: “Neville Pollard, Des Sheridan and Kevin Rhodes it was, with Ross Gardner at full back. I was in good company there!”

He was described at various times as ‘an enforcer’, ‘courageous’, ‘close-checking’ and ‘a player who had opponents ‘looking sideways.’

But the bottom-line was that he was an extremely valuable team-man and a popular character around the club in his 183 senFullSizeRenderior games.

His first job post-gaol was at the Stanley Sawmill. He was with the Shire for 6 years, then Rod Canny offered him a job for 12 months.

Finally, he moved to driving trucks with Francis Transports, where he stayed for 26 years,  before his recent retirement.

He loves Beechworth and its people and newcomers often ask how he came to settle in the town.

“I usually reply that I was brought here 41 years ago in a government-sponsored position!” says Beechworth’s unofficial ambassador.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more of KB Hill’s work on his blog. https://kbonreflection.wordpress.com/

Comments

  1. Rocket Singers says:

    Wonderful feel-good story.
    Thanks Mr Hill.

Leave a Comment

*