Book Extract – “As the Twig is Bent” by Norman Weaver. Part 1: Footy and Nine Ounce Gloves

Footy And Nine Ounce Gloves

 

 

Howard Fitzgibbon, Snicker Muller and I barracked for Richmond. We really loved footy, talked about it all the time. Fitzy and I picked oranges on a Saturday morning in the winter season at Billy Anderson’s orange grove, to earn the two bob it cost us for bus fare travelling with the Boort footy team, which formed again as the war ended.

 

 

We travelled to Koondrook, Kerang, Appin, Lake Charm and Murrabit. The boys didn’t win often but Howie and I didn’t care because the smell of eucalyptus was like a drug to us. It was a nuisance after the game some nights though, waiting for the fellas to come out of the pub. Ron Steel and Tom O’Halloran, Bobbie Weaver and Ben Bottomley, Ken McKay, Emmel Blampied his brother Leo and Wal Weaver of course, all loved a beer after the game but Fitz and I wanted to get home to the flicks.

 

 

As the boys continued to be discharged from the army, the football competition began in earnest. To cater for the young blokes they started a junior league which was great, well it was mighty to be playing but travelling to the game was murder.

 

 

When Bob Percy came back from active army service he bought an old International truck from army disposals, to start a carrying business. He was a good-hearted bloke and would do anything for us. He took our junior team to the matches for very little recompense but damn near had us gassed before we arrived.

 

 

The truck was tarpaulin covered to protect us from the weather, very little wind got in really but the carbon monoxide fumes from a short exhaust, came through the floorboards. Truly, they were life destroying and sometimes we were still dry reaching when the whistle blew. Later on we travelled by bus which improved our health but not our ability.

 

 

The worst hiding we got was at Murrabit, 144 points to 19, a real thrashing but that was in our very early history. We were so short of players that day, Jimmy Walls played in dancing pumps, they were never off his feet at week ends and big Stan Diamond the bus driver, played in long army shorts and work boots without stops. Neither had ever played before. When Stan wasn’t falling over on the slippery surface, he gave free kicks away for tucking the ball under his arm and mowing down half a dozen of the opposition without trying to bounce it or kick to anyone.

 

 

He looked like the very devil in the first place with hair all over the place and a ‘try and stop me’ look in his eyes. He wanted to job the little umpire every time he blew his whistle to give the other side a free kick. She was some match!

 

 

The Appin ground was the worst, just an open paddock with the four sticks at each end and a dirt furrow to show the boundary. There wasn’t a tree in sight. It did have a thumping dam however which the footy landed in nearly every time it went out of bounds on that side.

 

 

The dressing shed floor was a muddy mess, pools of water lay where the constant scuffing had worn depressions. You had to side step these as you hopped about trying to wriggle your legs back into trousers, while holding them out of the mud. There was no place to sit.

 

 

Showers did I hear you ask? We were lucky to get them anywhere in those days. We wore the mud until home was reached, which for some was often Sunday morning. You had to love the game to be a junior footballer I can tell you but never will any of us regret the togetherness of it all.

 

 

One problem surfaced, we recruited too many players in the middleweight size. Howard was a rover, drop kicked the ball like a veteran and played well. I had grown six inches in fifteen months and speed was never an asset but there were slower blokes who seemed to get a game, far more often than me. It was a case of who you knew, not ability. It was difficult to get a run.

 

 

I was nineteenth man nine times one year I reckon but in 1946 more used to my size I got a game or two. My confidence had been shot to blazes but one man had faith in me, Sam Wood just home from the R.A.A.F. became a senior team selector and somehow believed in my ability.

 

 

In the Senior’s match at Korong Vale in July 1947, I was chosen to play in the back pocket and couldn’t believe my luck. I’d been nineteenth man for the seconds the week before. We won the game but it didn’t stop there. The umpire awarded me the vote as best man for Boort. God has probably blessed Sam by now but no more reverently, than I did that day at The Vale when my name was read out.

 

 

We won the Junior grand final that year. Howard Fitzgibbon played like a champ drop kicking four goals straight through the middle. It was a proud moment for both of us and our friendship, though I see him rarely now, is still as strong 50 years on. Jack Darker and I were voted best players for Boort and good old W.G.(Son) Facey gave us a silver cup, which I still hold somewhere in the archives.

 

 

Our boxing skills were improving and Brownie thankfully had given scouting away to concentrate on our glove work. I guess because I was the strongest I won often but Howard was an excellent boxer.

 

 

Wedderburn were the main rivals for every football team from war’s end and were seldom beaten. They hadn’t been tossed on their home ground for nine years until we beat them in 1948. Seven seconds players had their first game in that senior team and our good friend Kenny Muller took Tony Pratt on at centre wing and ‘did him like a dinner.’ Pratt was one of the league’s best players. It was a day of great elation.

 

 

Word got around that Brownie had a team of boxers and the Wedderburn boys ever on for a stoush, contacted him to put a show on at their Town Hall. Brownie asked us to sound our parents out which we did but none of us told them very much, in case they stopped it. I hoped for an easy day the Saturday of the big fight but we were short-handed. I had to fork lucerne all day at Fyfe’s before riding six miles home on the bike to be ready to leave.

 

 

Brownie nominated Howard as our best boxer for the main event, while in the welterweight class second last on the bill, I fought Trevor Holt. I’d never seen him on the footy field but he proved to be at home in the ring. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the gloves on and nine ounces sounds light but after three minutes, they feel as heavy as bricks especially when you’re not in top condition. Forking lucerne hadn’t helped my cause and I knew I’d have trouble keeping my hands up for three rounds, so I got a couple of straight ones through onto Trev’s nose in the first and he was a good bleeder.

 

 

They sent him out full of bounce for the second round to land a corker on my jaw, which had me holding onto his manly bosom but after getting my vision back, I thumped him again. It loosened the wadding and nose bleeding began again in earnest. Because of amateur boxing blood rules, they stopped us and gave the fight to me on a TKO decision.

 

 

Then the main bout was signaled and Howard came out. We cheered loudly for him in his footy shorts, singlet and sandshoes, as Brownie took him to his corner. Then in came their champion. He was clad in a lovely green silk cape, matching trunks and boxing boots. After climbing into the ring he threw back the cape to show a hairy chest and muscled arms and would you believe, it was Ginger bloody Jackson who I’d played footy against. He was at least three years older than Howie and much heavier.

 

 

The Wedderburn lot were yelling, stamping their feet and cheering for him and I suddenly twigged the outfit; he just had to be a preliminary fighter at the West Melbourne Stadium. Brownie looked a bit worried and spoke to the referee, then said something to Howard which was a waste of time. Howie hadn’t taken a backward step in his life.

 

 

So the gong went and it was soon pretty obvious that Ginger wanted a knockout and threw everything at Howard but his boots. And boy was I proud of Howard, he backed off covering up at every onslaught, then after the flurry of punches came off the ropes and counter boxed Jackson like a veteran.

 

 

The first round was all Jackson but in the second, Howard hit him a couple of pearlers every time he got careless. Howie was boxing better than I’d ever seen him but steadily Jackson’s strength and class started to show. In the final round Howard was tiring and this smart alec bastard was all over him, trying to knock him out. And the crowd was yelling for blood and I’m yelling, ‘give me a bloody go at him’ and trying to get through the ropes into the ring. Jackson was suddenly a bit nervous, especially when it looked as though he was going to get two opponents and Howie hit him right on the button, when he made the mistake of looking across at me.

 

 

Brownie was terribly uncertain, didn’t know what to do, so I grabbed the towel and told him to chuck it into the ring or I would and thank God he did. The crowd cheered when the referee called the two fighters into the centre of the ring and raised their hands to acknowledge the applause. I had tears in my eyes I was so proud of my little mate, really I could hardly breathe for the emotion of it all.

 

 

We left the ringside together and walked down the stairs to change. Howie looked at me and said, “I gave the bugger a couple to go on with, didn’t I Weaver?” Pride swelled within me, “You sure did you little beauty,” I answered. He was about up to my shoulder and a couple of stone lighter but by hell, he was then and still is, the greatest and toughest little fella I’ve ever known.

 

 

For the next two footy seasons, I lined Ginger up every time we played them and that was four times a season, to even the score but he was too fast, too slippery for me. Then he suddenly gave the game away. I didn’t know whether I was pleased or not but I enjoyed playing football more not looking for him all the time.

 

 

I couldn’t get away from the Jackson name, his Uncle Connie played in the forward pocket which meant I had to mind him, every time we played. When I think back, that cunning old codger must have played ’till his teeth fell out.’

 

Find Part 2 here.

Find Part 3 here.

 

Copies of the book are available for $30. Email:  asthetwigisbent@gmail.com 

 

About the author:

Born in 1930, Norman Weaver carried on family traditions of farming sheep and growing cereal crops dating back to the 1870s until a tractor accident forced a change of career.  Set on the fringe of the Mallee in Boort Victoria, “As the Twig is Bent …” is a collection of short stories or episodes that the reader experiences through the eyes of the author as a young child, and later as an adolescent who can’t wait to be a man.

The stories are captivating, vivid, humorous and prized, not only for the way larger than life characters and situations are brought to life, but for the accurate account of farming life and agricultural history between the world wars, before heavy machinery revolutionised farming practices – at a time when the horse was king!

Comments

  1. Ian Hauser says:

    A cracker of a story of the days when, as my late uncle used to say, “men were men” – for better and also probably a bit for worse. Can’t wait for the next excerpt! Reminds me of the big, raw-boned young Irishman who lived on the farm next to us. Full of the blarney but also salt of the earth. One day he said to my father, “I could have been a great boxer but I just couldn’t stand the pain!”

  2. Having lived in Vanuatu for a couple of years, it was while speaking to a good mate of mine from the Territory (who also was living in Vanuatu at the time) that we mused that it was as close as we’d ever get to the upbringings our parents and grandparents had…riding in the backs of utes, campfires on beaches, knowing your neighbours through talking to them everyday or having a kava or two with them at the nakamal. Pretty special stuff.

    Having never really gone in for boxing as a participant, it was also an eye opener to head to the suburbs of Port Vila (a very “country town” capital city outside of the main drag) for junior amateur boxing nights. The addition of modern headgear and girls getting involved differs slightly from Norman’s tale, but the feeling was very similar to how he’s described it, down to the local lad a good half head shorter than his opponent putting up the fight of his life.

    Thanks Norman and Brett for sharing!

  3. This is an utter pleasure to read. It is just so spot on, from the names, to the make-do approach, to the love of the games. The lot. This is just wonderful.

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