by Dips O’Donnell
About twenty years ago I worked for a business called Visy Pack. The Visy Pack factory was next door to Visy Board which was a major part of Richard Pratt’s packaging empire. Visy Pack was situated at the end of Edwards Street in Reservoir just down the road from Edwards Lake. The lake was known as the Reservoir wetlands because it was home to a variety of water birds, and because it was a favourite haunt for local teenagers who were working on their night moves.
Visy Pack was a multicultural melting pot. Greeks, Turks, Cypriots, Lebanese, Chinese, Scots, Irish and those of us loosely called Australians all toiled away under the hot asbestos roof. There were some wonderful characters there and some not so wonderful bullies. The mangling of the English language from those who had settled in Australia from various parts of the world was beautiful.
There was a Greek bloke (you guessed it, his name was Con) who started and finished each sentence with “fuckin’”. Con still wouldn’t have a clue how much enjoyment he gave me.
“Fuckin’ it’s broken …….fuckin’” he would explain as he bent over the stalled machine. I knew very well it was broken but I just loved to ask him anyway. I spent most of my conversations with Con biting my tongue.
My favourite was Rosa. Rosa was the quintessential Italian Mama. She was probably late fifties or early sixties, shaped like a Chianti bottle, and she moved with a painful looking waddle up and down the factory floor. Rosa told me she lived in “Pasqua Valee” (Pascoe Vale). I’ll never forget the day she arrived at work and sadly informed me that her best friend had been diagnosed with “the muldible skaroosi”. I felt very sorry for her friend but had no idea what disease had inflicted her. Later on I figured it out – Multiple Sclerosis.
Besides making various types of carton board packaging Visy Board was also a benevolent employer of current and past Carlton footballers. Many times during our daily activities we were blessed by the presence of Jezza, some of his former team mates, and even current (at the time) Carlton players like Wayne Harmes. As Jezza strode down the corridors of power blokes would mutter under their breaths from behind cupped hands, “you beauty !!” ala Mike Williamson’s call of Jezza’s screamer in the 1970 Grand Final.
The sales manager of Visy Pack was also a bloke of some repute. His name was WG (Bill) Howard. Bill Howard was the first bloke to win two Stawell Gifts in a row in 1966 and 1967. What was most remarkable about Bill’s two wins was that he won in 1966 in a time of 11.9 seconds running off a mark of 8 ¾ yards, then won in 1967 in 11.6 seconds off 5 ¾ yards. Bill could run like the wind but was badly affected by injuries which ended his career prematurely.
But there was another bloke who worked away in the factory in his own quiet fashion who largely went under the radar. He was a very softly spoken but friendly bloke who operated the gluing machines that stuck the boxes into the required shape at the end of their production process. You could tell he’d played a lot of football in his time. His hands had that tortured look about them with gnarly knuckles protruding out on unnatural angles. He was just shy of 6 feet tall in the old language and if he ever featured on a footy card would have been described as a “utility”. His name is Graeme Whitnall.
Graeme was the son of a champion country footballer Noel Whitnall, and the father of Carlton 2006 best and fairest Lance Whitnall. He was probably unlucky to land at Carlton in the early to mid seventies because he had to compete with some of the game’s more gifted players at the time to get a game, but he still managed to play 66 games for the Blues from 1973 to 1981. Interestingly he played a season back at Maryborough in 1979 after he and Jezza (then Carlton’s captain and coach) apparently clashed in 1978. I wonder what conversations they had when they ran into each other on the factory floor.
I’d love to know what less prominent champion sports people other Almanackers have mixed with or been acquainted with. People who go about their daily business largely undetected but who have a wonderful sporting story to tell, blokes like Graeme Whitnall. As you travel home from work on the train or if you’re sitting in another traffic jam on your daily commute, have a little glance at the person in the next seat or the next car. You might see a hidden gem.