Book Extract – “As the Twig is Bent” by Norman Weaver. Part 2: Woosang

Woosang

 

 

There were only four teams in the competition at this time, Wedderburn, Boort, Korong Vale and Woosang. They were generally last man standing events and being a kid of sixteen you remember some occasions more than others.

 

 

Woosang was a pretty ground surrounded by large yellow box trees. The district suffered the rigours of drought in the forties, leaving the football ground wind-swept, to the extent that in large areas there was no grass at all, just uneven patches of flint hard dirt. I mean it when I tell you the skin started to peel off your knees before they hit the ground it was that bad.

 

 

They had some good players and big blokes and they didn’t come much bigger or rougher, than a fella called ‘Tarzan’ Hayes. I didn’t mind ugly opponents but when one of them grunted as he ran and foamed at the mouth, it concerned me a little.

 

 

This day Tarzan had the ball and was advancing into my back pocket area intent on kicking a hero’s goal. He was lumbering toward me with no one in close pursuit sucking air in, then blowing it away through clenched teeth. There was nowhere to hide and some hard case yelled out, ‘Stop the bugger Norm.’ Well what was a man to do? I wasn’t known as a piker but this could have been suicide. I stood in his path shut both eyes and grabbed him as far around the girth as my arms could reach.

 

 

Sweat foam and grime enveloped my face as it sank into his jumper. My heels dragged along the ground as he took a couple more steps, then like a tall tree, he fell down all over me. Well, the Umpy blew the whistle yelling, ‘holding the ball, your kick young fella!’ And the car horns were blowing and a couple of blokes on the boundary said, ‘Well done son!’

 

 

I was a bit wary lying on the ground with him I can tell you that. This bloke could have bitten off a leg but ‘Tarz’ rolled over, got to his feet before me and would you believe, held out his hand to help me up with the words, ‘You little bugger, that was gonna be a cert, you’ve gotta tonna guts.’ That was the praise I needed, after that there was no one I wouldn’t have a go at. Good old ‘Tarz’ did me a favour by flattening me but hell, I can still feel the fear and see the frothy lips as he came at me.

 

 

Two years later the Woosang ground was where I made my debut as a ‘tagger’. We’d been extremely fortunate to have a great sportsman and excellent Doctor wrapped into one man, the late Ian Leembruggen who had purchased the medical practice at Boort.

 

 

Doc held a university blue for cricket, played pennant tennis in Melbourne and though only five feet nine inches tall, played a brilliant full forward roll in our team. He agreed to be our coach and to a man, we’d have followed him to the Persian Gulf and back.

 

 

I always looked forward to playing football against Wedderburn, they had a reputation for being rough, tough and a bit dirty. Some might say that was untrue but every other team thought the same, so we couldn’t all have been wrong. There was no team I wanted to stitch up more than that bunch of eucalyptus cutters. Not since the Connie and Ginger Jackson days and they didn’t like me either.

 

 

Dodger McHugh another big town hero, returned to Wedderburn after the war. He’d been with the armed forces, keeping Japan under wraps after hostilities ended. While I blessed him for doing that, I was sick of the sound of his name. His followers used it as a threat, forever telling us through 1947 what we could look forward to when the biggest and best footballer in the occupation forces, came back to work us over!

 

 

Well finally Doug McHugh did return in 1948 to prove he was big and very capable. Naturally their best ruckman, he thumped the ball twenty yards from the centre bounce against all comers and marked consistently around the ground. He was their strength. The Doc decided to have him tagged and gave me the job in the semi-final at Woosang.

 

 

We were fitter for the finals than we had ever been in our lives. I was keen enough to run two miles every Wednesday night as well as train on Tuesday and Thursday and worked like hell on the farm all week.

 

 

Our team for the Woosang match was something special. We had some honest never say die players, Joe Malone, Athol Livingstone, Billy Wood, Doc. of course, Fred Foley a Methodist Minister as tough as goats knees, Ken Smith, Peter Chalmers the best drop kick from full back I’ve ever played with and my three cousins Wallace, Bob and Max Weaver, to name a few.

 

 

Wal and I combined in the ruck, only this time I had to keep McHugh out of the game. Everything went according to plan. I wore Dodger like a skin and we won after a tight contest. Their loss that day knocked the stuffing out of them. Frankly I hated the tag job, I’d rather have played my own game but tactics won it and other than both knees swelling because of the hard Woosang ground, I had no ill effects from a heavy day.

 

 

Success at Woosang, gave me the same job in the grand final at Quambatook a fortnight later. But this time the ‘Burners’ were ready. Before the ball was bounced, Dodger handed me a pile-driving elbow above the heart, just to improve our relationship. Everyone else in their team, except Lofty Steel and Tiger Smith got involved as well, including another Jackson called Wally but only with their mouths, none of them enjoyed a shirtfront.

 

 

In the last quarter, I ran off Dodger picking up kicks across the centre, keeping the ball in our scoring zone. It must have stung because Dodger wanted Tiger Smith to tag me. We won the grand final by 19 points. It was better than winning Tatts.

 

 

Dodger came into the rooms after the match which was sporting of him. He shook hands with a number of players then me and said, ‘No hard feelings?’ On the spur of the moment I answered, “Not at all.” And that has been my lifetime regret. I lied. I wished I’d told him then what he found out every time we played them afterwards. I did have hard feelings and no one in a red and black guernsey ever got it easy from that day until I finished playing the game in 1957.

 

Find Part 1 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. Colin Ritchie says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading Norm’s stories especially his footballing exploits, and they brought back many fond memories of similar circumstances. There certainly were many characters in those days. I remember well watching my dad play in the late 50’s. Generally always getting flogged but he loved playing the game, and was still trying to get a game in his late 30’s, early 40’s. Dad loved to kick torps and I vivdly remember one he kicked against Gellibrand to score a goal. I think it may have been the only goal the team scored that day but standing behind the goals and watching it seemingly spin forever and soar through the goals was a proud moment for me. Freezing cold, wet weather, muddy, boggy grounds at Gellibrand, Carlisle River, and South Purrumbete to name a few always seemed to be the norm in those days. Watching dad trudging from the ground covered in mud back to a corrugated iron shed passing as change rooms hoping for at least some water to clean up with. A shower, let alone a hot one, was rare indeed! Those were the days!

  2. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed these two excerpts.
    The writing style is a cross between Barry Dickens, Anson Cameron and, dare I say it, touches of Alan Marshall. High praise, I know. But warranted.
    I look forward to purchasing the book.

  3. Thanks Norm. These are just wonderful memories of people and places, brought to life by your very capable writing hand. Tarzan is memorable. As are many others.

    So many great lines. Love the improving of the relationship:

    “Before the ball was bounced, Dodger handed me a pile-driving elbow above the heart, just to improve our relationship.”

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