King George Whiting and the Jumbo Prince

Tumby Bay clings to the coast of Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. Wheat silo, two pubs, post office. At night you drop a fluorescent lure off the side of the jetty and the water is so clear you can jag squid by eye.

This is where we are early one summer. A few blokes from work having a long weekend away.

We are staying with Joe Cross who was a talent at South Adelaide before his knees went and he bought the Tumby Bay Hotel. His old man trained greyhounds so he has an earthy world view.

We stay upstairs in the old rooms. Each has a door opening onto the veranda overlooking Spencer Gulf.

Joe organises a boat and takes us to the Sir Joseph Banks Islands where the sand is so white and the water so pristine it hurts your eyes. The islands only residents are sea lions and in-bred tiger snakes.

It takes a few moments manoeuvring the boat to the secret location. We drop anchor followed by lines baited with cockles and begin hauling in seafood royalty – King George Whiting.

Ignoring the official size limits we work off a different scale. If you are pulling the hook out of its mouth at your chest and the fish’s tail flips around and slaps you on the kidney then it is legal.

We return with an esky full of kidney slappers and some squid and gar for starters.

Early evening sitting on the veranda rehydrating there is a commotion below. A station wagon pulls up at the pub. Out of it steps Rick Davies who is a travelling salesman for a steel company and has stopped in for the night.

Davies was one of South Australian footballs great entertainers of the 1970s and 80s. At the tail end of Jack Oatey’s Sturt experience, Davies was a mobile ruckman with ball anticipation that couldn’t be taught.

In 1976 an under strength Double Blues side upset Port Adelaide in front of the largest crowd ever to see an SANFL grand final. Davies dominated the game. Opposition coach John Cahill believes it was the best individual performance he had seen in a grand final.

After the siren Davies ran to the bench and scooped up Oatey, swinging him into the air like a child. The normally austere coach was bursting with joy. It was the last of his seven premierships with Sturt.

Later when injuries robbed him of his run, Davies became a goal square full forward using his anticipation, strong hands and bum to tally 351 goals in three seasons.

He was the Jumbo Prince and played like the extrovert he was – a big kid from the Yorke Peninsula who took the game on.

Then Sturt fell out of love with him and he went to South Adelaide. For two seasons he hobbled around the forward line as captain-coach. He still kicked 146 goals in 33 games.

That was where he met Joe and they stayed friends. Now he is standing in the front bar of the pub. Linoleum floor, dart board, pool table. He shouts out for Joe who knows it will be a long night.

We fillet the whiting in the beer garden when Davies announces he will cook. He says you can run a banana across the hotplate first so the fish don’t stick. It is only partially successful but he soon loses interest instead getting caught up in stories that take the listener on winding and hilarious journeys.

We eat and move to the bar. He wears a pair of pink washing up gloves to dispose of the fish remains then organises a pool tournament. Talks grain farming with an old weather beaten cockie nursing a schooner. He gets Joe to switch the jukebox so it doesn’t cost money to operate. The bar is shut. He keeps going. He is now behind the bar singing songs and telling two stories at once. Grown men weep tears of laughter.

 

The morning breaks without a breath of wind off the Gulf. Standing on the balcony veranda you can see for miles and hear nothing. Almost nothing.

There is a small, regular noise like a sharp pulse. Tock, tock, tock.

Then a familiar voice can be heard chatting over the top.

I crane around and see two figures playing tennis on an asphalt court off the main street. It is Davies and Joe. Davies is telling a story.

The station wagon was gone before breakfast.

 

Rick Davies was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame this week. He played 317 SANFL games and was selected 20 times for South Australia. 20 matches for Hawthorn (1981)

About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a journo working for the ABC in SA. His scribblings include "1964", "Fos Wiliams on Football" and the biography of Neil Sachse.

Comments

  1. Great yarn Mike. You evoke such images while establishing such character. A delight to read. No doubt a delight to experience as well.

    (Many terrific lines but love the link between greyhound training and earthiness).

  2. Well done Mike great yarn. As a Yorke peninsula lad Rick was a real true hero of mine. Stupidest things fiveaa ever did was to get rid of him on Perth afl broadcasts.

  3. Ripper story of not only a great South Aussie footballer but a good bloke as well
    I took a Tassie mate to see a game in one of the early rounds of the finals in which he dominated at full forward sending the other team packing .He reminded me of this when I saw him recently- that’s how much impact he made

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Rick Davies Champion Footballer and Entertainer His Speech re Hall of Fame was Brilliant as a Player he could teach all of the Current Ruckman more than a thing or two
    His Game ain The 76 Sanfl GF rates as good as Ablett in 89 like Bob Neil a True Legend

  5. Troy Hancox says:

    Great story!! Very well scriptured!

    Hates off to the Jumbo Prince!
    Dora Davies we would yell as kids thinking we’d put him off his kick for goal.

    A true entertainer. Would of loved him in my team.
    But we had SUPER 5 CAREY Rulebook!!

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