Almanac Life and Footy: Do it for Frank

 

Frank Temple loved the Saints.

 

Back in the 1950s when St Kilda played in St Kilda, Frank turned out for the St Kilda Thirds. And from all accounts, a pretty promising player he was too. Destined for the Senior team. By 1966 he would have been only 32 and he might have played in the Saints’ one and only premiership.

 

 

The 1954 St Kilda Reserves side [Source: boylesfootballphotos.net.au]

 

But, cruelly, a severe shoulder injury intervened at a time before shoulder reconstructions were mere impediments, but rather threatened not just a player’s career but his livelihood. As an apprentice carpenter, Frank could not risk any further injury and had to give away the game he loved.

 

However, he loved his work and, having completed his apprenticeship, was ambitious enough to start his own business in 1956 at the tender age of 22.

 

He soon began specialising in domestic bathroom and laundry renovations, working around Malvern, Caulfield and Toorak. As is the way of these things, word of mouth recommendations of skilled and conscientious tradespeople was the best advertising, and he became very busy.

 

The routine was pretty much the same, pull out and smash up the old laundries, bathrooms and toilets and then build the new room onto existing or extended formwork. This necessitated a lot of cutting with his trusty power disk and, consequently, this generated a lot of dust. So too did the demolition of the old, brittle materials.

 

Apart from this work, Frank had a sideline making the little boxes into which electricians mounted the electric power meters which went into every home.

 

A lot of the old bathrooms and laundries he demolished had been constructed with asbestos cement sheeting. Most of the new bathrooms and laundries were constructed from asbestos sheeting that Frank bought at timber yards and hardware stores. And, for fire rating, the meter boxes had to be made from asbestos sheeting. Frank bought and used asbestos sheets made by each of the major manufacturers, Wunderlich and James Hardie. Until 1971 he pretty much used the stuff every day.

 

Back in 1956, just as Frank Temple was embarking on his new business, the January 13 issue of The Age carried a story about the hazards of asbestos. The headline was ‘Dust becoming bigger hazard in industry; more workers affected.’ It was a report about a survey conducted by Dr. Gordon Thomas of the Victorian Health Department which had found ‘a disturbingly high incidence of asbestosis among workers regularly handling asbestos.’ Dr. Thomas said that ‘some of the stricken workers in advanced stages of the disease were in a pitiful condition… unable to continue working and the slightest effort made them gasp for breath.’

 

But nobody told Frank Temple about the dangers of working with asbestos. He had his head over the sheets from which he made the meter boards, carefully cutting them with the power saw, enveloped in clouds of this fatal dust. He handled the Hardie and Wunderlich sheets every day on site. There were no warnings on them, nothing to alert him to the fatal condition he was at risk of acquiring from his regular use of their products.

 

When James Hardie executives read the full report of Dr. Thomas, published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 1957, they frankly observed that there was nothing in it of which they were unaware. But they didn’t tell Frank.

 

After 1971 Frank went on to work as a maintenance carpenter at the RMIT, still cutting Hardie sheets occasionally to construct partitions and store-rooms. Still unaware of any hazard in what he was doing.

 

Even though he could no longer play for the Sainters however, his support for them did not diminish, and he went along faithfully each week, and in 1966 he knew their time to shine had come. He scored a treasured ticket to the Grand Final, and, taking the morning off from cutting asbestos, he went, full of anticipation, to the MCG on the big day.

 

However, shortly before the game started, he heard his name called on the public address system, and making his way to the MCC office he was informed his mother had been taken to hospital seriously ill. He rushed to be with her, and missed out on the excitement when Barry Breen’s wobbly punt secured the first ever flag for his beloved team.

 

He did not envisage it would take so long for another chance to come.

 

1997 was a bad year for Frank. He lost his wife Shirley and the Saints lost the grand final. But he was sure another chance would come and he was determined he would be there to see it, after the disappointment of 1966.

 

But then, in 2003, still very lean and fit, he slowly began struggling for breath during his daily jog and weights. He started struggling when playing with his grandkids. Simple tasks became more difficult. And at the end of 2006 as the breathlessness relentlessly progressed, he was given the diagnosis. He had asbestosis. Those years of working in the unmitigated dust and fibre had taken its toll.

 

By February 2007 he needed to have a portable oxygen bottle with him, as the fibrosis advanced and destroyed more and more of  his lungs. In 2008, in the advanced stages of the disease, Frank was in a pitiful condition and the slightest effort made him gasp for breath, just as, all those years ago, before he had cut a single asbestos sheet in his business, Dr. Thomas had warned  – and the asbestos manufacturers hadn’t.

 

Wanting to leave something for his daughters who were devotedly looking after him, and for his beloved grandkids, Frank went to Slater & Gordon and embarked on legal action against the two asbestos manufacturers who had placed their profits before the health of so many tradespeople and handymen, like him. James Hardie settled up with him. His case against Wunderlich was listed for hearing in the Supreme Court on November 27, 2008. On the morning of the hearing, Wunderlich settled too.

 

I spoke then to Frank about his life, his work, his family and the Saints. He said he regarded himself as being lucky. He had loved the work that was now killing him. He felt he had been blessed with his family – his daughters and grandchildren whom he adored, babysitting them and taking them to swimming lessons. He had only one regret in life and that was that he had not been there to see the Saints win a premiership.

 

Frank reckoned after getting so close in 2008 that 2009 was going to be the year. He planned to be there on that last Saturday in September 2009 to see Nick Riewoldt lift the cup that he had missed seeing Darrel Baldock raise as he sat with his mum in hospital all those years ago.

 

I reckon he was there, too. But only in spirit.

 

He died just days after his case settled. Another victim of a cruel and hateful disease, and of heartless corporations making their millions, that didn’t care.

 

Sometimes I imagine the scene at the MCG the next time the Saints win the flag. In my mind’s eye I see the ground when the lights in the big towers have gone off and the crowds have gone home. In the half-light the MCG looks a bit like the old MCG as it was in 1966. I fancy I can hear the old loudspeakers crackle into life and a voice echo round the empty stands; ‘If Frank Temple is still in the ground would he go to the St Kilda rooms to hold up the Premiership Cup?’ And I can see Frank striding purposefully, not stopping to catch his breath, beaming from ear to ear. And standing in the rooms holding up the cup without any gip in the shoulder that stopped him playing the game he loved, while the words of that famous old song echo round the change room and out through the deserted stands.

 

I hope that the next time the Saints are playing off in the Grand Final that it is not against my team or your team, because I will be hoping that the Saints can win it. If they need any more incentive to win, they might like to do it for an old bloke who had once played for their Thirds and who died long before he should have. Who missed the only flag they have won to be with his sick Mum because, then, as in the rest of his life, family came before everything. An old bloke who should by now have been a fit and healthy octogenarian yelling for his team at the ‘G, longing to witness the outcome fatefully denied him more than 50 years ago.

 

I will be hoping that they can do it for Frank.

 

 

 

Read more by John HERE

 

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE

 

 

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Comments

  1. Tragic life. Your story did Frank proud. Thanks JG.
    Mum died of mesothelioma 10 years ago. Miserable way to go but like Frank she treasured every moment. We never quite worked out where she got the asbestos exposure. Probably rubbing down the house eaves with a steel brush when they repainted. Or in the underlay when they got new carpets.
    A couple of fibres like mum or thousands like Frank – asbestos was the heartless “poison gas” of Australian industry.

  2. Asbestos has claimed far too many lives. It’s dangers were long known, but it made big profits for those involved in its use. So sad hearing the tale of Franks demise, also Peter B’s mum

    In 2020 it was estimated 4,000 Australians died from an asbestos related illness.

    There are those out there fighting for the rights of people exposed to this toxic material. Here are some links that may be of interest.

    https://gards.org/

    https://www.ohsrep.org.au/vale_bernie_banton_a_true_australian_hero_mfulooq7mduxenvax_afpw

    Glen!

  3. What a moving story this is.

    Frank really had too many setbacks in his life. Life can be very cruel for some people and Frank really deserved much better in life.

    If anything positive can come out of this, I want the St Kilda Football Club to get s copy of John Gordon’s article and it gets shown to every player and administrator at the club after the current season is finished, to help drive St Kilda to win their 2nd flag in 2022.

    St Kilda, don’t think do! Do it for Frank!

  4. I concur with the other commenters John. Thank you for writing this piece – in many ways an unexpected read really. But so glad you wrote it. It’s such a moving tribute.

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