A tale of two towns – Winchelsea v Inverleigh

Circa 1968…


Twelve miles it was in the old – Winchelsea to Inverleigh. Still is.


Actually it was only eleven from our farm gate on the Inverleigh Road but as a teenage cyclist I’d always claim the extra one and nobody ever seemed to bother too much.


As a keen young sport loving kid I had tried my hand at most sports, eventually realising I was no world beater at anything. But then the thought of cycling as my “go to” sport occurred to me.


Consequently I started riding my bike back and forth regularly between Winch and Inverleigh and I set my sights on the World Of Sport spot they used to have for the roller-derby.


For those who never saw it, two cyclists would bust their guts out on those roller thingees with two arrows on a circular board indicating progress. The totally knackered professional cyclist winner at the end of two minutes would then be interviewed by Lou Richards or Jack Dyer and given an improbable dietary “prize” of a hamper of Four’n’twenty pies and Huttons footy franks.


Yep, that was my go. So I thought.


As I regularly cycled those twelve (eleven) miles each way there were many reassuring sights, sounds and smells. Familiar reminders I was at home.


The warbling magpies and provocative kookaburras echoed in the otherwise stillness of the rural solitude. Hint here, 24 miles on a country road are “vewwy vewwy quiet”. Thank you Elmer Fudd.


And there were all those farm smells I knew so well too like superphosphate, sheep shit, grass hay, diesel tractors and gum trees.


The strange bit was though I was always spooked by the invisible barrier between the two towns. It was weird. The Winch Blues played in the Polwarth Football League but the Inverleigh Hawks played in the Geelong and District Football League (GDFL).


And it didn’t stop there. We travelled into Geelong schools on Trans Otway buses but their kids went on McHarry’s buses.


Even God took a stand. At one stage, St John the Evangelist Winchelsea was the western most parish in the Melbourne archdiocese but Sacred Heart Inverleigh was in the Ballarat diocese. Good luck with that one.


Somewhere between John Thomas’ farm and the Bell Bridge outside Inverleigh some invisible force existed to separate the two towns.


Had I been Harry Potter, the scar on my forehead would have burnt every time I crossed it. But as your unworthy author’s many critics have often said, I’m no Harry Potter. And I’m certainly no Jack Kennedy either as Lloyd Bentsen once cruelly taunted Dan Quayle.


There was just something my young understanding didn’t grasp.


Footy was always a shared passion though.


John Thomas himself had played 35 games with the Cats in the late 1950s before becoming a more then handy centre half forward for Winch. So maybe the answer was footy.


After all, there was a long and proud history in the two clubs both of which dated from the 1870s.


Winchelsea had 19 flags including five on the trot between 1910 and 1914 and a further threesome in 1937, 1938 and 1939. Apparently my father, Jim Lowrey, was among the best in all three.


For their part, Inverleigh had won 10 flags and boasted many fine district players on their honour boards.


John Haygarth played 59 games with Geelong on the half back flank in the late 1950s and was later playing coach in Winchelsea’s losing Grand Final teams of 1965 and 1966.


And there were other Inverleigh stars too who had played with the Cats like Rod Blake (176 games incl 1980 B&F) and Murray Witcombe (121 games) in the `70s and `80s.


If nothing else, this geographical propinquity surely had to suggest something in common about these two footy towns – but what?


Looking forward from this point in time however, notwithstanding Winch flags in 1969 and 1970 under David Stephenson, neither club was to know that the next half century would produce very slim pickings indeed with the Blues winning one solitary flag in 1987 under Allan Woodman and the Hawks also just the one in 1992 under Mick Fiolet.


Hmm, quo vadis?….



.…..20 July 2019….


Roger Lowrey with Mark Blake in the background.


Fifty years disappear.


Trans Otway no longer run school buses but thankfully McHarry’s do.


God has finally got His act together and both towns are now in the one parish.


More importantly for our current purposes though, both Winchesea and Inverleigh now play in the GDFL.


And today is match of the round. The fifth placed Blues play the second placed Hawks. After many barren years, both clubs are top five teams with finals aspirations.


Mind you, reigning premiers Thomson and the Peter Riccardi-coached Bannockburn are among others who also have September action on their agendas.


I arrive in Winch on this sunny windy afternoon and drive past R A K (Bushy) Davis: Cartage Contractors and Knuckey’s Farm Machinery. Outfits like this are prime movers in rural economies.


The Knucks as they are widely known have been a three generation family business supporting local farms and other rural businesses. Knuckeys have always been big in local sport too – both on and off the field. Still are.


On approaching the ground at the end of Bennett Street I see the edifice of the National Trust classified Soldiers’ Memorial Stand designed by Walter Burley Griffin to honour the fallen locals in the Great War. Sadly, many these days have no idea about the Great War but that is a subject for another day.


Thirty metres further around I see the new clubrooms enjoyed by the current generation of Blues players and fans.


How do I explain to them the government grant which underwrote this was not random “manna from heaven” (Exodus 16/15) but, rather, the joyous consequence of living in Corangamite now it has become a marginal House of Representatives seat? Enough said.


At the ground it’s sponsors’ day and one of the first I meet is the senior man himself, John Knuckey.


I also meet the Blues number one ticket holder, my nephew Chris Lowrey – aka Max to his family. He once declared undying dedication to his role model agent 86, Maxwell Smart.


Hey come on now, different folks different strokes.


Max is edgy as the game begins. Doesn’t matter. I can see what’s going on for myself.


The first quarter is a close arm wrestle and starts to become very willing with the umpires sorting out free kicks to discourage mischief. So much so that Inverleigh kicks the opening goal at the four minute mark courtesy of a free kick and a 50 metre penalty. Damn.


Two minutes later the Blues level the ledger as Kyle Brookes passes cleverly to full forward Wil Ford. Goal.


The close tussle continues but the game is far from boring. Clean strong overhead marks and clever use of the ball despite a tricky cross wind keeps the crowd absorbed until Inverleigh eventually kick their second at the 20 minute mark.


A few minutes later Brookes is in the thick of it again as he passes this time to Matt Sprigg. The latter drops what he should have taken but recovers and swings around on to his left foot to kick truly from 20 metres out.


Quarter time sees the Hawks in front by four points.


“Let’s go and see what Brendan makes of all that,” says Max as a group of us head out to the huddle.


Up close and personal you see the focused concentrated expressions. The perspiration is real. The smell of liniment is unmistakable. The dirty shorts and torn knee and shoulder strappings are close up evidence of players who have been at the front line in battle.


Yes, this is real grass roots footy. No surly black shirted goons to eject trespassers (sic) from the arena or humourless AFL thought police to tell fans what they can and can’t say and think.


Like many country grounds, much of the ground is surrounded by cars parked along the fence. There’s nothing quite like the uplifting sound of your team’s car horns every time your team kicks a goal.


Coach Brendan Forssman is pleased with Winch’s first term and urges his charges to maintain the intensity.


“Do something for someone else,” he implores, his message for the next quarter.


As players take their positions the last to leave the ground is an energetic border collie. He seems very disappointed. Just a few minutes earlier he had rounded up two mobs into two neat huddles and now they have scattered!


The Blues are up and about early in the second quarter. Matt Sprigg kicks his second. Leigh Ellis then joins the goal kicking party and Wil Ford kicks his second following an off the ball free kick.


The umpires are still being kept busy with lots of avoidable and unnecessary contact from both sides. They are managing a prickly situation well.


“The backline is holding up sensationally,” says Max.


And so it is. Adam Stirling across half back repels countless Inverleigh attacks and anything he misses is mopped up by Alex Gubbins.


With a minute on the clock before half time Tavae Sauni finds himself in space. He runs on to a bouncing ball and, with few available options ahead of him, unloads on the run from 45 metres.


“Tavi won’t miss!” declares a confident Rod Budge in a quiet monotone.


Sure enough, the goal umpire shuffles from foot to foot but stays firmly in the middle of the big posts. Budgey’s confidence proves to be well founded.


The second quarter has belonged to Winchelsea as they kick 4.2 to Inverleigh’s two points and lead by 20 points at the main break.


At this point I decide to stroll down to check the netball scores. Unfortunately the senior Winch girls are off the pace a little and eventually go down 33 to 48.


“Never mind,” says the indefatigably optimistic Max a bit later.


“Our B Grade team is holding up well. Our netball plans are looking OK.”


Walking back to the clubroom I smell pies.


Suddenly I am gripped like Ulysses passing the sirens. Oh hell, in the crisp winter country air the smell of pies can do it to you can’t it?


Then I think, when did I last have a pie? Warrnambool races probably. Chitticks pies in Warrnambool are Victoria’s best according to the rural cognoscenti.


Ahrrrggghhh but I gotta have one now damn it.


These ones today are Routleys of Geelong more than likely. Mind you they go OK too just quietly.


Alas, there is a small queue as the siren sounds for the resumption of play. My hunger then abates although more by necessity than desire.


At the first bounce Mark Blake taps an over the shoulder knock our way. It’s a trademark skill of Blakey’s. One which I saw in over 99 AFL games of his for the Cats including the 2009 flag against St Kilda.


Blakey is going well today but he is not having it all his own way in the ruck duels. Inverleigh’s big fella James Huybens is proving to be a bit of a handful.


The latter emphasises this by kicking a goal at the three minute mark after which his team mate Billy Cations follows with another one two minutes later.


Eight points the difference and, hello, we have a game on our hands folks.


The Inverleigh attacks keep coming as the Blues’ faithful become much quieter.


Adam Donohue, Mitch Elford and Jake Templeton are all starting to assert their presence.


Adam is the Hawks’ playing coach and son of Geelong legend Larry Donohue. Different type to his old man. Smaller and more agile with silky disposal skills.


Meanwhile, Adam Stirling keeps rebounding the footy out of the Winch backline sometimes almost surreptitiously as classy half backs can often do. (Yes Ken Hinkley, I’m looking at you.)


If Prime Minister Scott Morrison were here one could possibly imagine him saying “how good is the Winchelsea defence?!”


Bailey Kahle is also in everything. Just turned twenty but probably still needs to show his driver’s license in Dan Murphy’s by the look of him. A tiny dynamo weighing next to nothing dripping wet but a Rolls Royce engine inside the body of a Jack Russell Terrier.


Just before orange time the accurate Wil Ford goals again from a 50 metre penalty.


Inverleigh is a very good team though. They are second on the ladder. So where is all this going we start to think.


As I wander to the huddle I check the scores. 7.5 to 4.11.


I see these numbers on a bright new electronic scoreboard on the outer wing operated from a laptop on the opposite side of the ground . It is much flasher than the old Knuckey Bros scoreboard we operated manually as kids.


Ours was a fairly crudely designed structure with two doors opening from a sheltered vantage point upon which we would post the scores.


There were vertically arranged nails where we would hang painted sheets of roofing iron indicating scores under the two letters “W” and “V” opposite the painted on indicators of “G B and P”.


Simple stuff but clear primary source information nonetheless.


The bright spark who originally painted all these scoring tiles had inventively decided to drill holes at both ends of the ones which could serve a dual function as a 6 or a 9 thereby obviating the need to mass produce.


Unfortunately the very same rocket scientist overlooked the possibility of score lines like 9.9.63 to 9.6.60. Our intermittent embarrassment at an incomplete scoreboard would always be relieved in such cases when either side kicked another score. Doh!


Outside the three quarter time huddle a small band of Winch fans are captivated by their mobiles and apps with all the single minded attentiveness of a group of teenagers.


“East are nine points in front of Bannockburn at three quarter time,” says one.


“We don’t really want them to win though do we?” asks another.


“Why not?”


“If they win and we win they will still be two points behind us on the ladder.”


“Yeah, Bannockburn is a better result for us.”


“No way,” interjects a confident Max.


“Any ground we pull off Bannockburn puts us closer to third and the double chance.”


“Hmm, he’s got a point.”


(Spoiler alert.) Curious minded readers at this point should note that Bannockburn subsequently win by five points.


Forssman addresses the troops again but they need no revving up. You can sense the collective vibe of a group of footballers who know they are two goals up and on a roll with just one quarter to go. There is a spontaneous roar of mutual encouragement around the group the nanosecond Forssman stops speaking.


Final quarter and the Blues put the foot down. Ford kicks his fourth, Sauni kicks his second and it starts to slip away from the Hawks.


GDFL President Neville Whitley makes his way through the crowd. No suit and tie though for Neville. Just a jumper and open neck shirt. “Comfortable and relaxed” would appear to be the unofficial GDFL dress code.


He must like what he sees just the same. The league’s match of the day has been of a keen competitive standard and has contained many highlights.


At the 18 minute mark David Tucker passes to the leading Ford who secures mark of the day taking a hanger obligingly on the boundary just metres away from the club rooms.


Crowd goes nuts!


Unfortunately he misses the shot but a few minutes later the wayward full forward pounces on a loose ball. At full stretch he has a ping and….wait for it….the spontaneous eruption of Winch car horns tells the rest of the story. All is forgiven. He kicks his fifth.


Inverleigh are still up to it kicking two further goals. Dead but they won’t lie down as my dad used to say. But the clock beats them.


It’s Winchelsea by 21 points – 10.9 to 6.12.


For the Blues, best players are Adam Stirling (best on ground), Kyle Brookes, Wil Ford and Bailey Kahle.


Inverleigh’s best are Billy Cations, Mitch Elford and Jake Templeton.


As I head to my car I hear the boisterous albeit somewhat discordant sounds of the Blues singing their club song.


Minutes later I am back in the warmth of the car driving home to Geelong.


I smile as I pass the Inverleigh turn off and reflect on all those miles I cycled 50 years ago.


The car will get me home much quicker but I will still have half an hour to reflect on the memories.


Just twelve miles… in the old.



Read more from Roger Lowrey HERE



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About Roger Lowrey

Roger Lowrey is a Geelong based writer who lists his special interests as reading, writing, horse racing, Roman history and AEC electoral boundaries. Some of his friends think he is a little eccentric.


  1. Roger- thanks for your colourful report. Am likely to take in a country fixture soon involving my old hometown of Kapunda. It’s always a more personal and affecting affair than the AFL.

    Regarding you enjoying a pie: I’ve had more than a few recent conversations about country bakeries. Without wanting to appear cynical, is there a regional bakery that is not award-winning? Is there not one honoured for its pasties (Cornish or otherwise) or its sausage rolls? To walk into one in the bush without awards festooned across the facade is surely to step into a gastronomic wasteland.

  2. Roger Lowrey says

    True Mickey however I find if you start with the humble four’ntwenty as your measuring stick you are always pleasantly surprised by any country bakery, awards or otherwise.

    Best wishes to the good ship Kapunda and all who sail in her. Yell out again if you’re likely to be over this way and at a loose end at any stage.

  3. Love these memoir-observation-action ensembles. A very pleasant way to have a cuppa.

    What sort of treadly was it back in the day?

  4. Roger Lowrey says

    A very humble piece of machinery it was indeed JTH.

    It wasn’t a Malvern Star which was the leading brand of the day.

    Moreover, even if gears had been invented back then, this thing certainly didn’t have them!

  5. Brendan Forssman says

    Fantastic read Roger. Very enjoyable, especially as we were on the winning team! ??????

  6. Roger Lowrey says

    Thanks Brendan.

    As you can probably guess, I started writing the non time sensitive bits of this about a month ago and I was keenly awaiting the game to give me a readable connective narrative to hang a yarn around.

    Great result. Well coached and well played by the guys too. They really did take to heart your Q time advice.

    Go Blues!

  7. Chris Bracher says

    A personal connection for me Roger, as a former Blues player.
    You painted an accurate word picture for this old Winch boy, particularly referencing Budgey and Bill Lowrey’s boy Chris – old teammates of mine.
    The song…..I’m still sad that they dumped ” We are we are we are we are we are the Winchelsea Boys, we can we can we can we can demolish forty beers” etc, in favour of the Lily of Laguna ( we are the navy blues). A little bit of old Winch character died the day that that big league template was adopted.
    The sign over the shower recess in the old change rooms is also etched in my memory:” these showers are not to be used as a pissery!”

  8. Chris Donohue says

    Thanks Rodger great to read about Winch living a long way from there but l try to keep up with how they are going brings back heaps of memories the good days and don’t forget after candles coached we had some woeful floggings ha ha I think that’s when we played very character building to scared to look at that old scoreboard some games That never changed the fact we couldn’t wait for footy season to start

  9. Roger Lowrey says

    Thanks Chris. Once upon a time I used to think that sign in the showers was a bit of an oddity but posted there anyway just for hygiene purposes. When it arose in conversation with my older brother Bill some years later, he gave me the complete story.

    In the years before sewerage came to Winch, toilet effluent obviously went to a septic tank. However waste water from most things found its way somehow to storm drains. In the case of the footy club showers, it was directed out where it ended up in local street gutters.

    It seems some of the locals of the time objected to the odour and took issue with the club. It must have occurred to club officials that Problem Solving 1A should start with prevention rather than cure – hence the sign.

    True story!

  10. Roger Lowrey says

    Chris D,

    Thanks for touching base. Great to hear my column found its way to you mate.

    Yes, the lessons of defeat are an important part of sport and are very character forming. That said, current Winch players and supporters can at least have hope of some reasonable expectation of success when each game comes around. I know which I prefer.

    Best wishes,


  11. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I loved reading this Roger. Hoping to hear more about your cycling career soon.

  12. Roger Lowrey says

    Many thanks Swish.

    Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear more about my putative cycling career (sic) though.

    Not only did I not make it on to World of Sport, but also, I can’t really remember graduating beyond that original conveyance.

    Mind you I shouldn’t complain. After all, I would hate to guess how many miles the old thing carried me over. It would be handy to be even half as fit as that now!


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