1956: A sports and family memoir.







“Bless me father for I have sinned. This is my first confession father and I am very sorry for all my sins. I have told lies and I have been disobedient to my parents.”


Thus 1956 began, with a lie. I was told I had to say something to the priest so he could absolve my sins. I didn’t remember telling lies, or being disobedient to my parents, so I was told to make something up. The nuns were very insistent. I was a very obedient child.


I was six years old at the beginning of 1956. I was in Grade 2. My teacher was Miss Anderson but I was handed over to the nuns at various times of the day to be taught catechism and to be prepared for my first communion. I found all of it extremely odd. I doubt my developing mind had really come to terms with the nun’s methodology when it came to teaching religion. 


Most of my life I have gathered information and stored it. The key for me was that I had to be interested and, to be totally honest, I had little interest in chanting excerpts of some simplistic religious text. It was sort of like a John and Betty book about God and this mysterious thing called the Holy Trinity. 


It became a great problem for me when my mother was told I was a failure when it came to religion.


I was interested in sport and pretty much sport alone, although my love of reading had exposed me to other parts of the world and I was an avid listener to radio especially the serials and anything to do with sport. 


My dad’s music was also of great interest. I loved Mario Lanza and a song “Shrimp boats are coming, they’re coming tonight, so hurry, hurry home for the shrimp boats they’re coming, home tonight.” 


I loved that song! It was by Jo Stafford at some earlier time in the 1950s. I had loved it for some years prior to 1956. I played it often on my parents AWA radiogram and record player.


At home, 1956 was a difficult year for me. I may have only been six turning seven in August but my grandparents, two important people in my life, had left 45 Camden St Balaclava and moved to a business on the other side of the city in Fitzroy. 


Four generations of our family had lived in the Camden St house. 


Agnes Barbara Boase, nee Christie, who was born in Deloraine Tasmania was my great grandmother. She had lived with us until her death in the early `50s. I still have a memory of her as the old lady in the bed. 


My grandmother Dorothy Boase and my step Grandpa Col (Kelly) Mansell left Camden St towards the end of 1955. Both took on management roles for Hartley McMahen in his business W.G Raven, Undertakers at 227 Smith St, Fitzroy. 


I missed them greatly. I had forgotten how much they had been a calming influence in our household. They managed to keep the lid on many potentially volatile situations between my parents. My mother was regarded by her brothers and immediate family as ‘flighty’ whatever that meant. I heard them saying it often. To me it meant to keep out of her way whenever she lost her temper. 


My mother’s father Jock (John) Kennedy had, in his younger years, pre-World War I, played centre half forward for Smeaton up near Ballarat. He was a calm, gentle soul and he was another who encouraged my interest in sport. Unfortunately, I don’t have clear specific memories of him. He died in 1956 a reasonably young man in his sixties. I can never say for certain how much his passing affected my mother but from 1956 there were some changes to the way she handled things. As the memoir continues in future years this will become more evident. 


I have had some difficulty writing this memoir as the absence of my paternal grandparents from my life although not complete was significant enough to have a profound effect on me. I have only just realized the extent as I go over my 1956 memories. When I add the loss of my gentle, kind maternal grandfather a pattern begins to emerge.


My school was St Colman’s Balaclava. This was a primary school managed by the Presentation Order of Nuns. I really didn’t get on with the nuns. I really didn’t get the religion thing, nor corporal punishment. I had enough trouble dodging my mum with her ability to wield a broom, not that I rebelled much, but because I had no interest in much of what went on at school, I was something of a target.


I certainly was not a great religious scholar. I was later embarrassed by my younger brother Kevin who was Grade 2 dux of religion when it was his turn to learn the catechism. My mother always managed to bring that up as a subject of derision when she dealt with any issue with me.


My uncles, Jack, Ted and Leo Kennedy were very good sportsmen and they also were politically active and aware. They were strong ALP supporters but with the emergence of the DLP there were significant arguments within the Kennedy family. I would often be at their house where they lived with Ma and Pa Kennedy at 5 Head St, Deepdene. Ted had gone to Tasmania to work by 1956 but I have strong memories of him in earlier years.  


My mum and dad seemed to be apolitical. There was little political discussion in our household but I loved the cut and thrust of the political debate whenever we were at the Kennedys. It was interesting and I thrived on it.


The Kennedy uncles were all ‘mad’ Collingwood supporters and did everything they could to swing me from my Saints allegiance to Collingwood. Attempts to bribe me were common, money was offered, football jumpers were bought for me, but I never wavered. I have a cousin Michael Kennedy who lives in Brisbane and is still a Collingwood member after more than 50 years. I asked him recently why he was a Pies supporter and he replied “Uncle Jack bought me a Kenny Turner Collingwood jumper with Number 11 on it when I was very little. I have followed the Pies ever since.” 


My memory is a little unclear but I had a feeling his father Ted followed Fitzroy. I could be corrected and will await the phone calls from my many Pies supporting cousins. 


I loved all sport, politics and anything of interest other than school. I fitted in well enough taking part in school sport at a not very high level and I had plenty of friends but school overall was not of much interest. Some subjects I did really well in but only if I enjoyed the content. 


Later in 1956 we all had to partake in our first communion. The communion photo shows me smiling and happy to be with friends so I must have found it a good day. I just didn’t really understand what it was all about. I found it confusing as I guess I didn’t really believe in it all. 


1956 was the year of Allan Killigrew and the Saints down at the Junction Oval, Redcraze, Evening Peal, the Olympics, the extraordinary Olympic athletes and sport overall. 


(Read Allan’s Almanac article about the Saints of 1956 HERE)


I spent significant time at St Kilda Football Club mostly in the company of near neighbor Len Stephenson who was a committee man with St Kilda’s thirds. My memory has the thirds playing curtain raisers to the main game around that era so I was there to help kick the dew off the ground. My heroes were Neil Roberts, Brian Gleeson, Max Stephenson, Len’s son who had been retained by Killigrew much to my and his relief. The axe had fallen on many players from 1955 and Killigrew had recruited heavily. It was very exciting for a young boy to be around the club. 


The Saints were much improved in 1956. It didn’t really show in games won but it showed on the scoreboard. They were competitive. They played games out. They gave the supporters long lost hope. Things were much brighter for me. I looked forward to the next season. 


I remember Melbourne thrashing the Pies in the 1956 Grand Final mainly because two of the Kennedy boys came to our home after the game. I think they may have drunk away their sorrows with my dad. 


Players other than Saints who stood out to me in that era were for no reason that I can particularly put a finger on. Perhaps they had great names or simply impressed me as great players. I had team photos of all 12 teams and a collection of Argus photos and swap cards which I still have to this day. I will name just a few of my 1956 favourites.


Carlton: John Chick, Bruce Comden, Vin English 


Collingwood: Graeme Fellowes, Neil Mann, Murray Weideman and Thorold Merrett who I was later to spend time with as a fellow umpire in the Eastern Cricket Association. One of Nature’s real gentlemen. 


Essendon: Jack Clarke, Bill Hutchison and Greg Sewell


Fitzroy: Tony Ongarello and Bill Stephen


Footscray: Jack Collins and Ted Whitten. I could never forgive Charlie Sutton for breaking Neil Roberts nose. I think that was in 1955 or 56. I think I have mellowed since. 


Geelong: Peter Pianto, Bob Davis, Neil Tresize and Fred Wooller 


Hawthorn: Clayton (Candles) Thompson, John Peck and Ray Yeoman 


Melbourne: Frank (Bluey) Adams, John Beckwith, Terry Gleeson (Brian’s brother} and Laurie Mithen


North Melbourne: John Brady, John Dugdale and Jock Spencer


Richmond: Ron Branton, Des Rowe and Geoff Spring


South Melbourne: Ron Clegg, Fred Goldsmith and Bob Skilton


St Kilda: The full list.


I can come up with a reason why I followed and liked those players but it would take too long to explain. I know many won’t believe it but I remember them all clearly for one reason or another.


Around two weeks after the VFL Grand Final, I joined the O’Sullivan family at the VFA Grand Final at Junction Oval. My mate from Prep Gary O’Sullivan and family were strong Williamstown supporters. They often took me to Williamstown matches. I barracked hard for Williamstown and we won. The strange thing for me is I really have one memory of a VFA player from 1956 and that was a player from the losing Grand Finalist Bob Bonnett of Port Melbourne. He was a full forward and I must say full forwards were favourites of mine in the era but it is hard to work out why Bob has stuck in my mind after all these years. 


In 1956 I had really wanted Neil Roberts to win the Brownlow but my hopes were dashed when Footscray’s Peter Box won. I remember waiting anxiously for the result. I really had worked myself up to believe Neil would win. But then, I always believed a Saints player was a chance. 


My memories of 1956 are things that I was told, may have read and other things I witnessed, some indeed on a television set. We didn’t own a TV in 1956. Len and Mel Stephenson got one of the first in family homes in mid-1956 and we were invited to their house to watch significant events.


My memory of Keith Miller is still strong. Because he had played football at St Kilda, I was always interested in him. I remember being told that he had played exceptionally well in the Ashes series against England. His bowling was outstanding and he took a bag of wickets at Lords. I know that England kept the Ashes that year but I really only have a memory of Keith Miller. 


My other memory of cricket was that NSW were the Sheffield Shield champions and I wasn’t happy. I looked forward to the 56/57 season to see if the mighty Vics could win the Shield.


I have always loved horse racing and great horses. Each year we went next door to Aunty May and Uncle Arche’s boarding house to take part listening to the major races and being part of the sweeps, they would run with boarders and friends. 


The Caulfield Cup was won by a horse called Redcraze, a favourite of mine. I think I claimed all the good horses of the time as a favourite but I did particularly like Redcraze.


I don’t have a memory of my all-time favourite Rising Fast running in 1956. I think his time was over at least in the winner’s circle. 


A strong racing memory was on the Saturday before Melbourne Cup when there was a triple dead heat in the Hotham Handicap. The newspapers all carried photographs of Ark Royal, Pandies Son and Fighting Force all going across the line together. They could not be separated. It was big news. It still stands out as a one off in my sporting memory. I remember being fascinated by the photos of the event in the daily newspapers.


On Melbourne Cup Day I drew a horse in the Cup sweep that had no hope. I really can’t remember its name. As I had won the sweep the previous two years, I don’t think anyone was upset for me. 


A horse called Evening Peal won the race. It is a dim memory but still there. I loved racing so much. Bob Gleeson one of the boarders won the sweep. He wasn’t there. He was at the track and also backed it. He was very generous in giving us all in the family a crisp new ten-bob note. He must have won quite a bit. 


The biggest memory I have in 1956 is the Olympics. Certain parts stand out in my memory. The first significant memory is spending a lot of the Olympics sitting in front of Len and Mel Stephenson’s television set at 41 Camden St Balaclava. I didn’t know anyone else with a TV. I have clear memories of people standing outside shops that sold TVs standing watching events on TV in the shop window. 


I have specific memories influenced by that time in front of the TV set and reading daily newspapers particularly the back pages. I also had long discussions with my dad and grandma in particular  about the Olympics in general.  


I will detail some of them as my memory allows.


 I was at the opening ceremony in spirit albeit in the Stephenson’s loungeroom. The sight of Ron Clarke running in and lighting the Olympic torch will stay with me forever.


John Landy had been on my radar since Roger Bannister and he raced to be first to break four minutes for the mile. I had been enthralled by it. My uncles, the Boases, were all good at sports. Jack was a professional athlete so athletics was of keen interest. John Landy fascinated me. I was intensely disappointed for him when he didn’t win gold at the Olympics. Ron Delaney from Ireland won. It was a huge surprise to me as my limited sports knowledge meant I had never heard of Delaney. I still clearly remember Delaney coming around the field to power away to win.


I was fascinated with the men’s 100 metre sprint. I had already had an experience of Stawell so sprinters were of interest to me. I remember the American Bob Morrow winning gold. I was disappointed that Australian Hec Hogan did not get through to the final. 


In the womens’ events I loved Betty Cuthbert and Shirley Strickland. Both won gold medals in their events and the 4×100 relay. They were outstanding. My grandmother saw all their events and spoke about them for years after. 


I have a clear strong memory of Vladimir Kuts winning both the 5000 metres and 10,000 metres. He had a very different running style. He fascinated me. I thought him to be super human. 


The swimming was magnificent. I had been a fan of Lorraine Crapp since I could remember but Dawn Fraser blew everyone away. Poor Lorraine Crapp who had been my favourite swimmer was left in her shadow but she still had a great Olympics. Dawn Fraser was a once in a generation swimmer. She stood out even to this little seven-year-old. 


I also remember Murray Rose winning gold. He had burst onto the scene in 1955 so he was very much known to me. I expected him to do well. He didn’t disappoint. 


I grew interested in cycling and rowing. I found all sports mesmerizing. I loved it all. I don’t remember all the medals. I now know Australia won 13 Gold medals and over 20 Silver and bronze. At the time I knew we had done well but was not fully aware of the significant success. 


Sport in 1956 was amazing. I lived and breathed sport. I loved it. Much of my memory is fueled by a scrapbook my father kept for me. I had some input to it but he lovingly created a treasure trove of memories for me. My grandmother bought a book which detailed every day of the Olympics. Whenever I stayed with her, we wouldn’t read bed time story books. We would leaf our way through the Olympic book and relive specific detail about the Olympics. It has added significantly to my 1956 memory bank.


One of the best photos for me in the Olympic book is a photo of Brian Walsh St Kilda back pocket pictured playing in the exhibition Olympic games VFL/VFA versus the VAFA. The Captain of the VAFA Geoff Hibbins had an almost larger than life Argus photograph as a Saints player in my scrapbook so I was well aware of him. He had left the Saints in 1955 and moved back to strong amateur club Collegians. I remember him as a very good player. I was disappointed he left St Kilda and did not play VFL footy post 1955. My memory of the Olympic exhibition game is very limited. My knowledge of it is informed by post 1956 research so I won’t add anything to this memoir. 


In summing up 1956, it was more than an interesting year for me. Sport as usual was prominent. My first memory of being criticized for my love of sport and my inattention to schoolwork and other things that surrounded me became disturbing for me. I guess my main critics were my mum and the nuns who were supposedly responsible for my education. On the other hand, my sports loving father, paternal grandparents, my dad’s cousins and my mum’s brothers kept me focused on sport. 


I pretty much made the decision to cast aside the criticism and follow my heart.  So here I am today writing this memoir. I never did become a brilliant scholar. I did well enough but I never gave up my pursuit of sports knowledge. I love all sport and have never once been steered in another direction. Next stop 1957.   



Read Allan’s piece on the Saints of 1956 HERE



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  1. Hayden Kelly says

    Great read Allan most enjoyable . Had to chuckle about the confessional bit . I reckon the only lies young catholic kids were telling in those days was in confession to the priest in order to appease the expectations set by the nuns . Give the priest something to warrant your 3 hail Mary’s and off you go .

  2. Roseville Rocket says

    Good work Allan.

    Killa started the premiership build for the Saints.
    It took ten years, but they finally got there.

  3. Allan Grant says

    Hayden and Roseville

    Thanks for your comments.
    I think I did get three hail marys for my first confession so spot on there Hayden.
    Rocket..if you read my earlier story about Killigrew you will see I call it something like ” In the beginning” without going into any depth it certainly was the commencement of the Saints march to the premiership. I put it down to Huggins, Drake as Secretary and Recruiter and Killigrew as a creator of belief. . A name rarely mentioned is Bob Wilkie a massive infuence behind the recruitment of Killigrew. He had a massive presence supporting Jeans and was a major influence as an assistant coach and in player development. Bring all those things together and you have success. Later in life Killigrew, Jeans and Wilkie were the best of friends. In private they often spoke about how the three of them had that bond that influenced such positive St Kilda outcomes.

  4. Roseville Rocket says

    Thanks Allan,

    You’re so right about Bob Wilkie.
    I sat with him and Allan Jeans at a game at the SCG when Jeansey was coaching NSW and watching players. I was involved with the Country squad.
    I could see clearly that they were very close friends.
    And as for Mr Huggins – that’s what we called him when he worked for the Swans in Sydney.
    He had a real presence – we would sometimes get a chance to quietly reflect on St Kilda’s results…
    He loved talking about the good old days.

    But as you say, it started with Killigrew.

  5. Thanks for this reminiscence, Allan.

  6. Thanks Smokie. I have replied on email

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