The Sounds of Silence

by Steve Fahey


I like this Easter Monday/Anzac Day confluence.  I am not sure when it will happen again, nor whether I will still be breathing when it does, but this year it assisted my enormous privilege to experience two of the great sporting silences on consecutive days.

Monday I was of course at the G watching my beloved Pies overcome the much improved Bombers.  I love the Anzac Day clash, and reckon it’s the second best day of the footy season.  It’s the only game of the season that I go to with opposition supporters – my supervisor from uni from a decade ago and a mate and his family.

I think that how we commemorate wars and military service past and present is very important, but also a delicate balancing act, with the ever present danger of perpetuating some historical myths.  My Anzac Day tradition is going to the footy, buying Anzac Day badges outside the G and observing and participating in the pre-game ceremony.  The haunting tune of the Last Post, the military rituals and the extraordinary experience of ninety thousand people standing for a minute’s silence is always a moving and humbling experience. The silence is one of the great footy experiences, offering a rare opportunity at the footy to reflect – I remind myself of how lucky I am to have been born in Australia, and the sacrifices that others have made for the country.    It was a great day, and the match lived up to the occasion.


Tuesday morning 6am we are in the car heading to Stawell.  It is my second visit to the Gift, and after attending in 2009 I couldn’t work out why it had taken me so long to break my duck.  While on the Monday I barracked for the Pies against Essendon, on this day I find myself barracking for Essendon, as my daughter Holly is representing Essendon Little Aths in a junior mile race.  It took me quite a while in the early days to be able to yell out “Go Essendon” as the red and black went past (especially when they were competing against Collingwood in State Championships !).

For those that haven’t been, Stawell on Gift day is a quaint mix of country fair and professional sports event.  My brother Kevin and I wandered through the Gift Hall of Fame before the first race.  In an adjoining room all the trophies and sashes for the big day sat on a table – in an empty unguarded room !!  For city folk like myself and my brother, this brought a big smile to our faces.

A big crowd turned out on a gorgeous sunny autumnal day.  Punters milled under the huge oak trees at the top end of Central Park, willing to take the ridiculous percentages on offer.  In the frontmarkers’ two mile race, with thirty odd starters, one bookie had two even money pops, a couple at 3-1, a handful at 4-1, with the majority at 6-1 and a dozen or so at 10-1.  I’ll leave it to the Almanac’s resident mathematician Flynny to work out the percentages, but I know they are not your friend as a punter !  

I ran into Melanie, a woman with whom I served on a Parents and Friends’ Association Committee at our local primary school.  I was curious re her attendance, as she is not a sports nut.  She explained that her father-in-law is Gerald Hutchinson, who won the 1951 Gift, and was there to present one of the trophies on the sixtieth anniversary of his victory.

I had the great pleasure of chatting with Gerald and his wife Bunty.  Gerald is a very sprightly looking eighty one, and walks every day.  He told me that he had 100 pounds on himself at 3-1 in the Gift, and had a great season that year, winning multiple races and 600 pounds in betting coups.  He won in a tight finish at Stawell, powering home late from the back mark, with the second placegetter Patterson thought by some to have held him out.  Check it for yourself at , it is magnificent footage.   Bunty told me that she used to like going to the various Gifts with Gerald, because otherwise she had to wait for the results over the radio.  Yes, Gen Y readers, there was no Twitter, Facebook, SMS or mobile phones in 1951 !  I held the medal that Gerald received in 1951, still in immaculate condition.

Stawell truly is a Gift and chatting with Gerald and Bunty was a highlight of my day.  Given that JTH has written on his initial meeting and subsequent chats with the 1950 winner Ken Trewick, I guess the challenge is there for an Almancker to continue the thread form 1950, 1951 …..

The racing this year was keenly contested.  The Gift turned out to be one of the most open in years, with 5 of the 6 semi winners recording times within 0.12 of a second of each other.  The fact that the bookies didn’t have an odds-on pop in the final said it all, with Ware at 6-4, Weaver at 2-1 and Williams at 5-2.  As it was in 1951, this year was a front markers’ final with the back marker McCabe being off 6.25 metres.  As Tim O’Sullivan wrote last week, the hush as the finalists go to their blocks is breathtaking, and for me was the second great silence of the sporting weekend.

The race was tight and dramatic.  The outmarker Ware showed great speed and led the field into the slightly uphill and decisive last twenty metres.  Queensland beach sprinter Williams, another Queenslander McCabe and Victoria’s Weaver all loomed to challenge.  Williams hit the front in the last 10 metres, but, incredibly, tore his hamstring 5 metres from the line and staggered over the line, grazing the upright finish chute before crashing to the turf.  He held on in a photo from Ware and McCabe in a great final.

There were other great highlights.  Another Queensland beach sprinter, Melissa Howard, won the women’s gift, and national 100 and 200 champion Aaron Rouge – Serret (who runs for Essendon in amateur ranks) beat the former world 100 metres champ Kim Collins in a great backmarkers’ race.  I prefer the middle and long distance races, and they are a great feature at Stawell, and highlight the egalitarianism and opportunity that professional running offers.  The highlights of the day for me were the backmarkers’ mile and two mile races.  In the two miles Craig “Buster” Mottram gave 200 metres to all other starters and finished a gallant third behind two blokes who will forever be able to tell the yarn of the day they beat Buster.  The winner, Peter Munro, started off 310 metres, which proved a little too much for the great man.  A tiny Kenyan woman, Margaret Muriuki, finished fourth off 290 metres, a great run.

In the mile, Kenya’s world championships representative Collins Cheboi, thrilled the crowd by winning from scratch, incredibly hitting the front at the bell, having picked up 110 metres from the frontmarkers in three laps.  Stirring stuff.

We headed back to Melbourne tired from a long day but certain that it won’t be our last visit.  Even my partner Sandra, who only came because Holly was running, expressed her enjoyment of the day.  Holly loved running on the hallowed turf, finishing midfield in a good effort after an unconventional preparation of three weeks running at the end of a rowing season.  After completing the quiz out of both papers, we listened to the titanic battle between the Cats and Hawks.  At the end of the game Sandra asked for the radio to be turned off. Silence seemed an appropriate end to two magnificent days of sport in which moments of silence had been both prominent and memorable.


  1. Steve – great summary. Made me sad I wasn’t there this year.

    Collins Cheboi’s win in the mile was outstanding. Incredible stuff. I was waiting for him to fall in a heap but he never did.

    Gerald Hutchinson’s Gift win in 1951 is widely regarded as one of the best in the race’s history.

  2. Really good read Steve.

    You know so much about running and your explanations are easy to follow. I look forward to learning some more. I really enjoyed the Gift because the running is on grass and you can get close to the action and see the runners expressions. I agree with you about liking the long distance races the best because you can see tactics and people getting in front. These races are really exciting.
    The big 100 metres event is clearly so special to the crowd. That silence was deafening. I hope to be going again. I really surpised myself liking it so much because I am not sporty.

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