‘Bringing Home The Bacon In The Local Gift………’ – KB Hill

Wally Pasquali occasionally harks back to the most memorable night of his sporting career……

He was feeling the weight of expectation pressing down upon his slightly-built frame, as he stepped onto the blocks for the Final of the 1995 Wangaratta Gift.

Moments earlier, under the glare of the floodlights, the second back-marker had sauntered down the 120-metre track whilst being introduced by the ground announcer .

The accompanying applause from the locals sent a tingle down his spine.

 

img_3924

 

Wal was 27, and already an accomplished pro performer. He’d contested a Stawell Gift Final, won two Broadford Gifts, finished fourth in South Australia’s prestigious Bay Sheffield, fourth in a Bendigo 1000 – and two weeks prior, had taken out the Rye Gift.

But this one would give him special satisfaction.

He got away to a flier and breasted the tape in 12.21 seconds, a metre clear of his nearest opponent – Peter Harloff of North Albury – to whom he’d conceded five metres.

 

img_3925

 

It was a dream run. With hands held aloft, he commenced probably the longest celebratory journey in Gift history. He completed his ‘lap of honour’ by acknowledging the roar of the crowd in the Richardson Stand…………..

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Twenty-four years on, the prestigious Wangaratta Carnival still means the world to Wally Pasquali. He plays a key role in its organisation. His company – Optus – heavily promotes the event.

He regards that as his duty, just as he did when the Wangaratta City Soccer Club – and his old footy team, the Wangaratta Rovers – both asked him to be their President.

Wal has a keen eye for history, and he’s proud of the fact that he’s one of only seven locals to have taken out the Carnival’s ‘Blue Ribbon’ event in its 97-year history……..

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Mick Maroney was the first, in 1930.

Maroney stood just 5’4”, was beautifully proportioned, and was handled by a wise old coach, Marty Bean, who had a number of Wangaratta runners in his ‘stable’.

Bean was only an average runner himself, but had a terrific influence on the careers of several champions.

Marty, who was born in 1896, had played in Wangaratta Football Club’s 1920 premiership, and acted as Head Trainer for the Pies for 17 years. It was whilst performing this role that he recognised the talent of the elusive, courageous, determined Maroney, who was a star winger.

 

img_3930

 

The bookies adjudged the 18 year-old a 7/4 favourite for the Gift. Given a liberal handicap of 12 metres, he cruised home in style, and completed the double, by taking out the Warby Sprint.

The following year, Mick continued his good form, despite being handed a much stricter mark from the handicapper. He ran impressively to win the Shepparton Gift, and pocket the accompanying purse of 130 pounds.

He moved to Melbourne soon after, but would make the annual pilgrimage home to compete at the Carnival each Australia Day week-end. In 1937, his final success at Wang, he won the Ovens Handicap and Warby Sprint………..

 

Alf Whittaker had gained employment locally, with the Railways, when he prevailed in 1938 . After winning a re-run of the 100 yard sprint in effortless fashion on the Saturday night, and effortlessly winning the twelfth Gift heat, he stormed into contention.

The Final proved a thriller, as front-markers Stevens, McCorkell and the Echuca sprinter C.R.Collins were locked together nearing the end of the 130 yard journey.

But Whittaker lunged at the line to take out the 100 pounds prize-money, finishing six inches in front of the fancied Stevens, with McCorkell a further six inches away in third place……….

 

When Frank Seymour bobbed up, the town was in raptures.

Seymour’s adolescent years co-incided with the advent of World War II. He was an ardent footballer and played his first senior games with Wangaratta in the Murray Valley Association.

The cessation of hostilities saw O & M football resume and Frank, at the tender age of 17, was selected for his share of senior matches with the Pies. Wangaratta went on to win the 1946 premiership, with the youngster in their line-up.

By now, Marty Bean had convinced Seymour that he possessed the wherewithal to make his mark in the world of pro-running. He gave him the advice that he no doubt passed on to all up-and-comers:

“Son, you have to be dead keen, not just to run, but to listen to what I tell you. If you’re half-hearted I’m not interested in you.”

After experiencing success at a few unregistered athletic meetings, Seymour reasoned that he’d like to give it a go in pro ranks.

‘Old Marty’ decided to set him him for the Silver Jubilee Gift of 1947.

A blistering-hot January day reduced the afternoon attendance, but when dusk fell, the crowd had swelled to almost-capacity.

When Seymour registered the fastest time of the day in his semi, he was installed as warm favourite for the final.

 

img_3929

 

Running off seven yards, he scorched to the tape, to edge out Sydney taxi-driver J.C.King, who was also well-fancied. A large contingent of Wangaratta footballers could hardly contain their glee, having backed their team-mate for a considerable sum…………

 

The Doolan family moved to Wangaratta in 1950, and young Jim, who had attended Assumption College, soon made his mark in local sport.

He came under the influence of the ageing Bean, who was sure that he had the talent to go a fair way as a professional athlete.

Doolan’s big moment came in 1958, but it was not without its share of drama. He dead-heated with W.Dinsdale in the semi, but won his way through to the Final on a soggy Monday evening.

He ran the race of his life to take out the Gift, then completed the double with a win in the Ovens Sprint…………..

 

Greg O’Keeffe was jogging around the Galen College Oval, trying to maintain some fitness after an exhausting 1980 football season with the Wangaratta Rovers, when a car pulled up and a voice called out: “……Ow ya goin….”.

It was Bernie Grealy, a local running legend and two-time Stawell finalist. He told the panting O’Keeffe that he’d seen him on the footy field, and reckoned he could do all right as an athlete.

He must have sold the message okay, as, within months, Greg had his first run, in the Carnegie Gift. He was unplaced, but the adrenalin had started to flow. He ran in his first Wangaratta Gift in 1983. The next year he finished second in the Final.

He was to reach his home-town Final five times, but in 1985 ‘ran the house down’. Off a mark of 7.5 metres he clocked 12.23 to narrowly defeat Murray Dineen in a famous Gift Final.

 

img_3931

 

Greg continued to compete with considerable success all over the state, and is renowned as an icon of pro running. He has been inducted into the prestigious Stawell Athletic Club Hall of Fame, in recognition of  his devotion to the sport over nearly 40 years.

He’s another stalwart who decided to put his shoulder to the wheel when the Wangaratta Carnival faced the threat of extinction several years ago.

He was President for 13 years and will be floating around in some administrative capacity this week-end, besides keeping an eye on a couple of the runners he now coaches…….

 

Jason Boulton was one of Wangaratta’s up-and-comers in the early nineties. He showed his potential by figuring prominently in many meets around the state. But there was a bullet beside his name when he finished runner-up in the 1996 Gift – pipped by Scottish-born Kevin Hanlon.

The following year he turned the tables with a strong performance, outlasting Hanlon in a tight finish.

 

img_3926

 

By now, Jason had re-located to Melbourne, but he continued to return for the Carnival week-end. In 2006, nine years after his initial triumph, he coasted to victory in 12.36 seconds, off the handy mark of 11.5m, to become one of only four dual Gift winners.

Boulton had overcome some niggling injuries, including three shoulder reconstructions emanating from his football career. But he kept persevering. He made the Gift Final four times, won the 70 metre event twice and also took out the 400m handicap in 1998.

 

img_3927

 

These days he keeps a close eye on his four kids, who are keen Little Athletes and shaping as stars of the future…………

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

One of the host of great Wangaratta Gift stories concerns, not a local winner, but probably the most famous runner to have contested the event…….

American African American Barney Ewell ( a 1948 Olympic Gold Medallist ) won his heat and semi-Final of the 1950 Gift, then came up against Carlton footballer Laurie Kerr, who was favourite to win the Final.

 

img_3922

 

Ewell badly wanted the prize-money.

At the start he walked across the track and saluted each finalist. When he came to Kerr he said: “Hiya Laurie, see you at the tape……but you’ll be looking at my back.” Vintage gamesmanship indeed !

There was a sensation, and the hushed crowd sighed as Ewell and Frank Banner appeared to break. It was revealed that the fault was caused by a ‘snapped cap’ from the starter’s gun…..

Ewell later said: “I went and Frank followed. I gave that goddam starter the raspberry when I went back to the blocks.”

Ewell burned up the track to set an all-time record of 12.1, beating Laurie Kerr into second place.

In presenting Ewell with his sash, long-time Carnival President Arthur Callander said: “ Great run, Barney. You have done so much to put this town on the map…………”

 

img_3928

 

You can read more of KB Hill’s outstanding work here.

 

Editor’s Footnote: The 2019 Wangaratta Gift was won by Melbourne-based Jason Bailey in 12.36 seconds. You can read all about it in the Wangaratta Chronicle.

Comments

  1. Great workKB. Had a few runs at Wang in the 80s. Glorious track to run on. Made the final in 1987 whilst chasing the cash to buy a ticket to London. Fond memories.

Leave a Comment

*