Almanac Footy: Peter J Bennett

 

Peter Bennett was born on the 11th of July 1926. In a career spanning nine seasons he kicked 258 goals. He was about six foot tall and played football at around 80kgs. I was only five years old when he retired, but his deeds on the football field remain larger than life via my dim memories and those passed down by my father and his many friends who braved the windswept terraces of the Junction Oval in the late 1940s and early 50s. Peter Bennett stories were my early favourites.

 

My clear memory is that as a child, I knew very little about school, but a hell of a lot about sport. And by that, I mean any sport. I apparently failed Grade 2 because of the St Kilda Football Club, Flemington, Moonee Valley and Caulfield racecourses and of course that Mecca of cricket the MCG, where even as a five to seven year old I found myself at almost every cricket game, whether it be Shield or Test cricket.

 

There was not one player in any football club that I couldn’t converse with adults about, and you could ask me anything about the great Rising Fast winner of the 1954 Melbourne Cup. Sport was my complete interest. I can’t say the nuns at St Colmans Balaclava shared my love of sport, and I was a very worried little boy when my parents copped the berating about my inability to concentrate on learning the catechism, arithmetic and any other strange unimaginative work they placed before me.

 

I have a suspicion that my parents were not overly concerned, as I seemed to have a strange ability to read the sports pages of the dailies word for word and retain complete memory of all they contained. I could tell all who asked the number of any player in the VFL and I could work out the odds and subsequent payout of any horse racing at the time, and in my scorebooks at home I had managed to work out the batting and bowling averages of every cricketer representing Victoria, but that was of no interest to the nuns.

 

But let’s get back to Peter Bennett. I love full forwards and Peter Bennett was a great one. He was a lovely kick, deadly accurate. He first started at the Saints in 1944 but war service intervened and he didn’t resume until 1947. He often kicked bags of goals and he was the Saints’ leading goal kicker in 1947, 1948, 1950, 1951 and 1953. He represented Victoria, and for years at the Junction Oval club rooms there was a photo of Peter Bennett and Bruce Phillips together in Victorian jumpers, as full forward and full back for Victoria. One hopes this historical photo has survived and is safely in a Saints collection.

 

Peter Bennett was unusual in that he combined playing football at the elite level with an Olympic sport in water polo. Peter is a dual Olympian, representing Australia at Helsinki in 1952 and Melbourne in 1956. He captained the Australian water polo team at Helsinki in 1952.

 

 

1952, Helsinki, Finland


Peter Bennett, Jack Foster, Malcolm Hastie, William Orchard, James O’Doherty, Keith Whitehead, Anthony Fenech, Frank Jordon, Doug Laing, Ray Smee.

Eliminated (lost 2-10 v Yugoslavia, lost 0-6 v Austria).

 

The caption above was a promotional card for the Helsinki Olympics and the team that represented Australia and their results are listed. This was a fledgling time for Australian water polo, but it was the foundation of the excellent Australian water polo teams of today. Peter Bennett can be regarded as one of the fathers of Australian water polo and he did this while he played at the elite level of VFL Football.

 

In 1955 Peter Bennett retired from VFL football and the Saints to concentrate on gaining selection in the Australian water polo team for the Melbourne Olympics in 1956. He gained that selection and although not selected as captain, I doubt he was upset at being second in command to the still legendary New South Welshman Ray Smee.

 

 

1956, Melbourne, Australia

Peter Bennett, Jack Foster, Doug Laing, William McCabe, John O’Brien, William Orchard, Edward Pierce, Ray Smee, Keith Whitehead. Emergencies: James Farrell, Allan Charleston.

9th (lost first-round matches 2-4 v Romania, lost 1-9 v Yugoslavia, lost 0-3 v USSR, won 3-2 v Singapore, lost 2-5 v Great Britain; lost 2-4 v Romania in losers’ round).

 

The Melbourne Olympics were a success for Australia, as we were now a competitive nation in water polo. We only won one game, but the games, if you relate it to football, were like the Killigrew era where they were contested vigorously and the scores were much closer.

 

Peter Bennett was extraordinary in that he was one of the pioneers of water polo in Australia as well as being an elite footballer. It would seem to be impossible to combine these two sports in this day and age. There are many multi talented sportsmen but they cannot combine sports like he did.

 

Peter Bennett also witnessed one of the most remarkable water polo matches in history. The game played between Hungary, the eventual gold medal winners, and Russia was literally a bloodbath. A quote from a publication of the era reads:

 

“1956 Melbourne Olympic Games was shadowed by Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary and England, France and Israel’s attack against Egypt. In order to protest these events, some countries did not participate in the Games. During the water-polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union, a fight broke out between the players. When a Russian player hit his Hungarian opponent in the head, the pool became red with blood.”

 

Some years ago I asked Brian Gleeson about his memories of Peter Bennett and his response was as follows:  Peter Bennett was a delightful fellow who served St Kilda well. At his peak, he did well enough at full forward to gain interstate selection in the early 1950’s (before I arrived).  I recall a photo in the St Kilda rooms with Peter Bennett and Bruce Phillips in the ‘big V guernseys, as the St Kilda representatives. I played alongside Peter for two seasons, (1953 & 1954) when he was nearing the end of his football career. A mark of the man was that he remained always friendly and supportive, even though the selection choice was sometimes between him and me.”

 

Peter Bennett had a sporting heritage. His father Horrie was General Manager of the Australian Olympic team that went to Antwerp in 1920. He witnessed history for Australia with the first brother and sister representatives at the Olympics in Aussies Lily and Frank Beaurepaire. Peter Bennett’s dad is remembered as the father of the Australian Swimming Association.

 

Peter kept sport in the family. At the 1948 Olympics the teenager Marjorie McQuade was selected to represent Australia in swimming. He was the youngest competitor at the 1948 Olympics in London. Marjorie McQuade also represented Australia at the 1950 Auckland Commonwealth Games and the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Two sporting greats of Australia in Peter Bennett and Marjorie McQuade met at those Olympics and married.

 

When I spoke to her many years ago, Peter and Marjorie’s daughter Tracey described Peter as a man of charismatic personality, who at the time before he passed away in 2012 was positive about all in his life. He still had a great interest in the Saints. Peter Bennett was not only a great Saint, and a great sportsman, but he was a great Australian. All Saints supporters should be proud to know about Peter Bennett, and the fact that his extended family are all still Saints supporters for life.

 

 

To read more from Allan, click HERE.

 

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Comments

  1. Dr Rocket says

    Terrific stuff Peter!
    As an Old Saints fan I was pleased to hear Peter Bennett’s story and read comments from Brian Gleeson.

    In the 60s rugby union international Dick Thornett also represented Australia in water polo at the 1960 Olympics..And of course at that time so many footballers played first-class cricket.

  2. Daryl Schramm says

    Really enjoyed this read, even though I’d never heard of the subject of your story. I’m also fascinated by any reference to that ’56 final bloodbath in the pool.

  3. Allan Grant says

    Daryl. As a young child that bloodbath in the pool was a very interesting topic of conversation in our household. I think we were a sporting family and certainly not overly political but Russia and Hungary were big news in 1956. Since then I have read copious amounts of historical references to that water polo match. The descriptions of how tough it was if anything are understated. I didn’t focus on it as it was not really relevant to Peter Bennett but it is a very important part of Olympic history. You have inspired me to revisit that moment of Olympic history. Thanks for taking the time to read my story. Cheers
    Allan

  4. Allan Grant says

    Dr Rocket..we meet again. Love your connection to the Saints of the 50s. Hopefully more stories to come.

  5. Daryl Schramm says

    Allan, my first exposure to the secondary water polo subject was the ’78 iconic movie Newsfront. The last was when in Budapest in ’19. It just seemed to hit home more on what happened and why having visited the country. BTW Peter Bennett must have been a fair player. Also interested in the first class cricket links, if any, of the names in your story as mentioned by DR.

  6. Great stuff Allan. I knew the name, but had no idea of the full story. Really interesting.

  7. Dr Rocket says

    Yes Allan, bring on more Sainters, the 60s really was the golden era for the club.
    But the foundations were laid in the 1950s.

    We’ve always had glamour boys – Keith “Nuggett” Miller, Coco Roberts, a young Carl Ditterich, & Trevor Barker.
    And, Peter Bennett!

  8. Allan Grant says

    Daryl Schramm.. I don’t believe any of the 1952 or 1956 Water Polo team members played first class cricket . I may be wrong but at this stage can’t find any references. to cricket,
    Bill McCabe did follow in his fathers footsteps to play a few games of VFL football with Nth Melbourne.
    John or Jake Foster as he was better known had two children who represented Australia in future Olympics.
    His daughter Margot won Bronze in the coxed fours in 1984 and his son Peter a bronze in the K2 1000m
    kayaking in 1988.

  9. G’day Allan,

    What a great read and what a multi talented Peter was! I had never heard any footballer who competed another sport in high level, although some footballers had played cricket also and vice versa happened.

    And I am impressed with your talents in knowledge of sports.

    Cheers

    Yoshi

  10. Allan Grant says

    Hey Yoshi..keep up your unfaltering support if the Saints and your excellent articles. Thanks for your positi e feedback. Hope to see you one day at a game in Melbourne. Cheers Allan

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