Eulogy: Memories of a great talent with cheek and heart

In over forty years teaching in country towns and living in local communities I saw, met and mixed with thousands of young people. I saw kids who went on to represent their state and nation in various sports but I never saw anyone the like of Terry Bartel.

I was only connected with Terry for four years in his mid to late teens but I did get to know him well through school and cricket. I can remember many stories about students, but I could write a book on Terry.

My first real memory of him was watching him at Barmutha Park make 216 in less than three hours for Beechworth against Gapstead when he was fifteen.   I remember talking to Wally Russell after the match and commenting that the team had taken this feat somewhat matter-of-factly. He said, “Oh, yes but that’s Ferret, he does these sort of things.”   In  the same season Terry won the senior and junior Awards for batting, bowling and fielding in the Ovens and King Cricket Association. I kept the statistics – 582 runs at an average of 58.2 and 56 wickets at an average of 9.7 per wicket. And his fielding in any position was outstanding.

The year before, at 14, he was runner-up in the Beechworth Football club Best and Fairest. He dominated interschool football and cricket school and consistently won up to 6 events at the interschool Athletics. Bear in mind that many of his achievements were not in age group competitions but as a small, admittedly strong boy competing against men.

Some of the things he did were statistically outstanding but it’s mainly in snippets and stories that I best remember his giftedness. You witnessed these things and then often wondered if you really had seen it.  Things like:

–         A century in less than an hour of mayhem in a one day game that caused the opposing skipper to remark on his dismissal: “Thank God we got him before he got set.”

–         On another occasion when he was bowling I threatened to take him off because of his lack of focus on the task. He snatched the ball from me and took six for ten (all from desperate snicks) in three overs of the fastest and most hostile short spell of bowling Beechworth keeper Peter Negri, who kept for Country Victoria against the West Indies in Wangaratta, said he had ever kept to.

–         With 7 wickets and 70 plus runs for the North-East Under 16 team, he singlehandedly demolished the Premier Melbourne Under 16 team at Benalla

And there was also lots of fun:

–        One day instead of helping roll up the mats after the game he was running round cheeking everyone so when he came near we grabbed him and rolled him up in the mat and stood him in the corner of the pavilion during afternnon tea with just this yapping black head sticking out the top. To his credit Terry loved telling that story.

Terry would have excelled at any ball sport. He was naturally blessed with a tremendous eye, superb hand-eye co-ordination and an innate sense of the essence of the game that cannot be taught. After an interschool football match a lady staff member said to Trevor Steer, the school coach, “My, Trevor, Terry’s a good player. Qhat position does he play?”

Trevor said as one who knows: “Terry plays where the ball is, Mrs Duffy.”

It is unsurprising later that he got to a single figure handicap in golf. Like Bradman he would have reasoned golf was an easy game – the ball doesn’t move and the hole doesn’t move. As for baseball, any game where Terry knew in advance that every ball was going to be a full toss would be very easy pickings; twenty20 cricket would have fitted him like a glove.

Out of school Terry and I were cricket teammates. The situation with teachers and students out of school can sometimes lead to difficulties, but this was never the case. Terry never took advantage of it, was able to understand where the lines were drawn and always respected what was school and what was play. I appreciated this greatly. He was a well behaved student, a hero to the kids and respected by the staff enough to be made a prefect, partly at least because of his support for kids in the school ground who got a hard time from others.

I was the school enforcer, and sometimes, in his early years, he ran foul of the rules mainly because of his fondness for unrostered days off.  I’d say to him, “Terry, where were you yesterday?” and he would say something like, “Aw, it was a good day, so I went rabbiting,”  in such a way it made me feel like it was a dumb question.

He was devastated when I took him off the bus going to the interschool athletics for not presenting himself as the Principal Jack Renwick had stipulated, but by cricket practice that night all was forgiven and forgotten and he was soon horsing round as usual – though I don’t know what the political correctness of today would make of the Senior Master and a Year 10 student wrestling on the side of the oval.

I played some part in him going to Carlton for football and Melbourne for cricket where he showed great promise. Perhaps contrary to most, I thought him a better cricketer. In those days the support structures for young footballers going to Melbourne were not what they are today so it was not really a surprise that Terry rejected the lifestyle.

Distance and different lives meant I saw him only twice until recently in the next thirty plus years. I was sad and shocked when Gary Jarvis rang and told us Terry was gravely ill. We’ve talked on the phone a few times since then, and Trevor Steer and I went up to see him a few weeks ago. It was as though we had never been away. Although heavily medicated and in obvious pain and discomfort, Terry wanted us to stay.

We spent a last quiet few minutes together. Saying goodbye to him was a humbling and moving experience. He reached out to give me a hug and said quietly: “Thank you for coming, … thank you for being good to me, … I know I’ve made mistakes but I don’t think I am a bad person.”

I did my best to reassure him.

The day he went into hospital for the last time he rang me as he was about to go. A combination of my hearing and his frail voice meant I didn’t hear him well, so after a while I said; “Is that you Terry?” and he said: “Yes, I just wanted to let you know I’m going to hospital.”

Terry endured a long period of extreme sickness and pain but he showed characteristic courage and a fierce determination to fight it out, inspired by the selfless strength, and love shown by Rona and all their friends..

These are some of the unforgettable things I have etched on my mind about Terry Bartel and I will never forget him.

May he rest in peace.

Vic Rowlands

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