Footy History: Austin Robertson

 

I despised Austin Robertson.

From when I first starting following the footy, and became the third generation of my family to support West Perth, in 1968 – the year Polly Farmer came back from Geelong and sensationally crossed over from the hated East Perth to be our captain coach ­–­ the Subiaco no. 16 gave me the shits.

That year he kicked 157 goals in the home-and-away season – one more than the previous record set by Souths Bernie Naylor in 1953. In the state game against the Big V he booted 6.2 (matching Peter Hudson’s 5.8) as WA went down by only nine points.

To a football neophyte like me, there just didn’t seem to be anything outstanding about his play. He wasn’t lightning fast, didn’t drag in screamers, wasn’t elusive on the ground or tough in the packs.

He may have infuriated opposition supporters who could never quite fathom how he did it, but the truth was that he was the perfect full forward.

Those who knew their footy remember his cool efficiency: the perfectly-timed lead, always to a scoring position; the safe hands; the calm, measured approach to the kick and the accuracy of his drop punt.

Austin burst out of Scotch College in 1961 after an amazing senior year, kicking 105 goals in 10 Alcock Cup games. After a year of colts footy, for 12 seasons from 1962 to 1974 he dominated the WAFL with a record 1211 goals in 251 games, at an average just under five.

He was eight times the WAFL’s leading goalkicker, twice Subiaco’s fairest-and-best and a member of its famous 1973 premiership side. In 10 state games for WA, against the best defenders in the country, he booted 44 goals. In his one season at South Melbourne he finished second in the VFL behind Essendon’s Ted Fordham, with 60 goals in 18 games.

He’d come over to the Bloods – where his dad had three times led the scoring in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s – at the behest of its captain coach, Bob Skilton, and left after one season when Bobby was replaced by Alan Miller. There’s no way of knowing what would have happened had he stayed, though his record suggests  “Ocker” would have been a prolific champion wherever, whenever and in whatever company he played.

But Subi Oval was Ocker’s second home, and no-one has kicked anything even remotely like the number of goals he’s scored there. It’s hardly surprising that its western end is named in his honour.

Austin has had a roller-coaster career outside football as a journalist, sports promoter and manager, and has seen his share of the highs and lows of life.

He was instrumental in the establishment of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket, and subsequently managed many of Australia’s leading players. When he fell on hard times a few years back, many of them, led by his close friend Richie Benaud, joined his former teammates and opponents at a benefit dinner organised by the Subiaco Football Club.

I’ve been privileged to get to know Ocker over the past few years as my wife Lesley has been subbing his copy at the Subiaco Post, where he’s become an avidly read, idiosyncratic sports columnist. He’s unfailingly modest about his achievements, an astute judge of sport and sporting people, and a damn good bloke.

To top it all off, he’s become a staunch Dockers’ man!  I take back all the rotten things I yelled at him back in the day.

It’s a little bemusing that successive coaching panels at both Freo and West Coast have declined his offer to give their sometimes errant forwards a little advice and assistance.

I know that, one day soon, a certain young bloke of my close acquaintance will be going to the Austin Robertson Jr end of Subiaco Oval for a private goal-kicking lesson. And his tutor is going to be a Hall of Famer.

 

About David Zampatti

David writes theatre and the popular arts for the West Australian. In past lives he hung out with some great bands, opened a pub in San Diego and did it tough with the Fremantle Dockers.

Comments

  1. Peter_B says:

    Growing up as a South Australian I only saw Austin play at the 1969 Carnival at Adelaide Oval. There was great B&W footage of the great man and his immaculate goal kicking style on Gigs’ Australian Football website from SA’s 2 goal win over WA in the first round of matches.
    Can’t seem to find a video archive on the site. Can you help us find it Gigs? Would love to share Austin’s kicking technique with the current generation.

  2. only really heard of him around the time of WSC. Always thought his one of the best names in sport, especially in the era of the Six Million Dollar Man.

    Christian Ryan, Austin Robertson, Kim Hughes, childhood heroes and WSC denials. Now THAT’S a read!

  3. Dr Rocket says:

    Good piece Zampo!

    Ocker probably would have stayed longer in the VFL if Allan Miller hadn’t replaced Bobby Skilton as coach… then he would have been around for Norm Smith.

    Ocker told me Miller wanted a stay-at-home full forward – a la John Schudolz.

    What hasn’t been documented is Ocker’s coaching of East Sydney. He was coach of the club in their centenary year in 1980 when they won the flag. Ocker was a hard task master but got an quixotic group of players to play effectively together.

  4. Great story.
    I am fascinated by Ocker.
    Great player, WSC, half of famer, legend, the hard times.
    Very few people have had such influence in two sports.
    Cheers

  5. G’day David. I managed to answer your question re extras top scoring for a winning test side.Here we go. New Zealand defeated England Wellington 1978, Extras 26 out of 123: New Zealand defeated the West Indies in Dunedin 1980, extras managed 19 out of 9-114, as the Kiwis won by a wicket. England beat the West Indies in Jamaica back in 2004, with extras managing 60, as top score of 339. I await the vase(s).

    Glen!

  6. Hugh McMullan says:

    As a young footballer who loved the bloods, Austin Robertson was one of my heroes (after Bobby of course). Austin kicked 60 goals in his first VFL year, in a team that did not have the footy in its foward line all that much. He epitomised the theory that if you want to kick more goals, miss fewer shots. He would run in gently, holding the ball almost vertically in 2 beautifully still hands pointing straight to the ground, rolling out an easy straight dependable kick. Modern players would do well to apply the same style, if I was a young player that is the style I would aim to make my own.

  7. bring back the torp says:

    Austin Robertson Snr was a world champion sprinter, as well as a champion Sth Melb. footballer from 1927-37. He held some world records

    How quick was A. Robertson jnr. over 25 mtrs? And 100 mtrs?

    Like Peter Warrington above states, I also always loved the sound of the name “Austin Robertson”-but I can’t quite explain why!

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