Tony Ongarello and JTH

A few years ago Tina Ongarello, a niece of Tony Ongarello, sent me this photo of her father and her Uncle Tony playing snooker.

Tony lives in the memory of Fitzroy and Melbourne and footy. He is the last player to have scored a goal from a place kick. This happened at the Brunswick Street Oval against Geelong in 1955. That day Tony was spraying them everywhere and, frustrated with his kicking, told the umpy he was going to place the ball for a shot. Which sailed through. And then another sailed through.

t ground is just around the corner from the North Fitzroy Arms where Tony’s name will come up from time to time. It is on the play-list of treasured yarns from which the grey-haired wits select. Tony, the real estate agent from up the road in Northcote. Tony, the debonair broadcaster.

I knew who Tony Ongarello was, even when I lived in Queensland, long before I had the benefit of knowing the chaps at the North Fitzroy Arms .  Tony Ongarello: the last man to place-kick a major in the VFL.

A few years ago I was invited to speak at the WAGS annual dinner at Metropolitan Golf Club. WAGS is their Wednesday Afternoon Golf Society, and a fine institution it is too. Each Wednesday members pay a small sum for roast of the day and a game of golf. Drinks are extra:  charged at $15 no matter what you drink. If you have one lime and soda, or half a dozen glasses of reasonable red.

So old buggers head to the first tee in a very happy state.

The WAGS annual dinner is open to WAGS’ WAGS as well. And so about 150 of us gathered in the beautiful dining room overlooking the course.

When preparing my speech I had noticed on the guest list one Tony Ongarello. It had to be the same bloke. It was.

I didn’t meet Tony Ongarello over the red wines at lunch, nor did our paths cross on the fairways. In fact I met him in most interesting circumstances.

In the middle of my speech I mentioned that a wonderful thing about being a writer was the characters you meet and the stories you are able to tell, and that life was about people. I explained that I had found a very special photograph. At that moment I power-pointed the Tony Ongarello pipe-in-mouth-at-the-snooker-table photo onto a large white screen.

No-one recognised the young man, but in the silence I heard a befuddled whisper, “That’s me!”

At that point I mentioned the subject was with us, called Tony up, and shook his hand (I was after all meeting him for the first time).

Once we stopped laughing we enjoyed a conversation that was the highlight of the night.

(There will be more on the Ongarello family later this week – ed.)

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. John Butler says:

    I know health officials will disagree, but it feels like footy’s lost something with the demise of the pipe-smoking footballer. And the place-kick.

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    Horse’s name on the wall?

  3. Adam Muyt says:

    Tony still carries himself with wonderful Italian style and panache. Have met more than a few old Roygirls in my time who told me they had a crush on this particular Italian Stallion when he was playing for the Roys.

  4. Adam Muyt says:

    Oh yeah, and then they usually crack up laughing recalling his terrible kicking style. That’s why he reverted to place-kicking. Apparently he was a great aerialist but couldn’t kick straight to save his life. Ah, nobody’s perfect :)

  5. johnharms says:

    PJF, Funny that: in the original teaser I offered a bottle of wine to anyone who could give the dividends in the race. It’s now officially on offer again.

  6. johnharms says:

    PJF, How is the zoom function on your computer? I think I have the winners name, but not the date of the Ballarat maiden.

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