Almanac Life: Happy Days



Johnno and Adam



Peter Johnstone is a great man. Inspirational, I believe.


I first met him at Otway in 2000. He was a 16 year old, slotted to be captain of the Under 18s team I was going to coach. I never took anything for granted, trained them very hard over pre-season, and made him co-captain with another bloke.


Peter, or Pud, as he was known, was slotted for fullback. I didn’t take that for granted either. Okay on the lead, but great with his body, a killer shot, I put him full forward, and the rest was history. He dominated, kicked bags. We had a top three team, with insane work ethic, and now we had a target. We were in the running.
Pud got his nickname because he carried a bit of pudding. But just a bit. He was handsome, the girls loved him. Soon he had a stunning girlfriend who was four years older than him, and a really likeable human being.


He only missed one game, from memory, when he came off his dirtbike. I told him that was fine, he was out there, doing something. Adrenaline, fast speeds, a sport of sorts, Otway lose a kid or two on the bikes every year.


Pete never played favourites, despite being one of the best in the team. That went to the core of the community, who and what we are. Bench player, top gun, it never mattered a damn to him. Teammates were mates, simple.


Come the Grand Final, in ripping wind and hard rain, very low scores, against a team we were 2 and 2 with for the year, Pete was huge. He kicked a vital goal, and, as we finally started to break free, led well and took the make on the siren. He deserved to be holding it at that moment. To have the memory.


Everybody was running onto the oval. The club’s first win in any age group in 20 years. The entire ranges were there. Pete held it up and kicked it to the heavens and got on with having the time of his and our lives.



Johnno at premiership reunion



Come presentation night, Pete was the centre of my biggest moment of shame as a coach of 23 years. The hall was packed. Guests of honour were there, families. A defender by nature, of 20 years, I gave awards willy-nilly to every underdog and unheralded player we had. And forgot the obvious, the person who kicked the most goals, for us, and, indeed, the league. I had always figured, you get the defence right, the on-ballers working as a team, demand the forward line stay open, the scores will come. I never had to worry about Pud because he did his job.


He sat in the crowd, speech ready, 17 and keen, but wasn’t called.


Sorry mate. I still cringe at the memory.


I’ve apologised over the years. And will again before I’m done.


Pete worked with me for a while harvesting tree ferns. A hard, dirty bush job, and played a mix of senior and ressies footy over the next few years, taking to the bikes more than ever, and hanging out with his great mate, Adam, discovering music along the way. Camping, there are parties, fishing. Just being a ripper bloke.
Then, at a mate’s brisk, he dove into the backyard swimming pool. Such a simple act. In and under the floatie. Done a thousand times by a thousand crew, on two thousand weekends across the nation. But hit the bottom wrong, and didn’t come up.


A young bloke, in his twenties, in his prime. Paralysed from the chest down, Pete could use his arms but not fingers, an nothing below that.


We all took turns in visiting him as he recovered at a Melbourne hospital, then at home. Adam was the best mate anyone could have. There as it happened, in its moments after, and most days beyond. I reckon he saved Johnno. The community was there for him, too. Everybody. He’s just a ripper bloke.


Yet, at night, we’d all be gone. He had to face what he now had alone. It must have been hard for a bloke so active, for anyone! A sort of brutal that leads many people to give up, or wallow in self pity.


Not Johnno. Pete, bound to a motorised wheelchair, worked his way towards seizing every moment life has to offer. He fully embraced the music side of life. You couldn’t go to a party, see a band, or go to a big Melbourne stadium show, without him being there, loving life, sharing the joy. Always surrounded by mates who got him around in the van built for him, as well as got around him. Put the drinks in his hand.


And still do.


Peter went from being Pud, to an inspiration to many of us, of not all, because he continued to love life, now more than ever. To be positive, to bring us all joy.
He organised a fundraising bike ride through the steepest parts of the Otways each year, for the Good Friday Appeal, always finishing at one of the remote, local pubs, where there would be bands, cheers, smiles – a revelry in life all night long.


Somehow, he was more confident than ever, and landed beautiful girlfriend after beautiful girlfriend. Stunning women, caring, as full of life as him.


Everybody saw the party Peter, the good times, greeting him as the great mate he was and is, but few noticed or thought about the long times and distances in between. Stuck in a house, staring at walls. Imagine how loud those silences must be.


Yet, he often posts on social media about others, and mental health, and looking out for us all. Some of that, surely is projection. I, for one, should get around to his house more.


But, mostly, he cares about us all.


Johnno found work a day or two a week, which was huge, data entry, from memory, and has continued to live his life, with loyal friends, a good piss take now and then, and that love of life. His speech at the 20 year reunion of the 2000 premiership team left barely a dry eye in the crowd.


Many said he’d be done by now, cooked, crumpled, gone. But Pete is just too tough. He’s still loving love, still going strong. Still as much a part of the Otways at the Myrtle Beech forests, tourist and the Great Ocean Road. You see him about, and know you’re home. When he’s at the footy, he gathers a crowd.


This weekend Johnno’s holding his 40th where I first met him, at the Otway footy oval. True to his giving nature, there will be bands galore, food, fires, entertainment of all sorts. His gift, on his birthday, from him to us all. Money over the bar to the club he still adores.


It will be huge! Larger than life!


Because Peter is larger than life. Becoming paralysed would change anyone. Anyone! All it did was make Johnno more caring. His mates and family love and give to him, and he does back to them. The Otways would be far, far less without the bloke, but that’s okay.


My teammate’s going nowhere soon.


Johnno has an expression he uses, one that lets you know it’s him you’re talking to. You hear it all the time.“Yeah, bud, happy days!”


Happy 40th Pud. Happy days!



Read more from Matt Zurbo HERE

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  1. Just beautiful, Old Dog.

  2. Great story Matt. Blokes like Peter are the lifeblood of footy clubs and the community. He sounds like a ripper.

  3. Same, great story, thanks Matt. May all enjoy the party.

  4. Sandra farnes says

    What a fantastic article to such a incredible guy happy 40th johnno party hard

  5. Superb Old Dog caring affectionate just brilliant thank you

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