Harmes and Harms: a story of golf, industrial relations, bacon and egg burgers and VFL premierships

Wayne Harmes

Wayne Harmes: Norm Smith Medallist 1979

It happens so often. Especially now that we live in Melbourne. Almost every time I’m introduced to someone.

“John Harms?” they say curiously, in that way people like to establish links. “Any relation to Wayne Harmes?”

If I had $20 for every time it happened. I should keep a log.

Well, let me set the record straight. Sadly, Wayne Harmes and I are not related (but please don’t stop asking).

There is a possibility we have the same forebears, many, many generations ago, but the families are distinctly separate. Wayne is an E-Harmes, a tribe who play in VFL grand finals and win them – off their own bat. They produce sons of granite bodies with balletic feet who twinkle-toe around footy grounds; sons who arrive at marking contests, cape flying, fifth in line, yet still concertina the pack, rise above it and take the grab; sons so utility in their disposition they crash around for a decade yet you can never pin down where they have actually played.

I am an E-less Harms, a tribe strong of voice, noted for its ability to call for the pill on the half-forward flank in lower-grade church-league football. We produce types who can play to their golf handicap if the weather is warm and there isn’t a breath of wind; sons who can graft out a patient 30 if the track is flat and the quick bowler has tweaked a groin in his opening over; sons who do not have Norm Smith blood in their lineage.

These are the things which make the two tribes distinct. But there are things that bring us together.

I have an attachment to Wayne Harmes because of his heroic Grand Final performance.

In 1979, family Harms (E-less) lived in the little Queensland country town of Oakey. Classic rugby league territory. It was very difficult being a mad footy fan there. During the late 70s, Channel 7 broadcast the VFL match of the day live from Melbourne into Brisbane on Saturday afternoons. But we could not pick up Brisbane TV in the bush. ABC Radio 3 (4QS) would do the right thing and give you three-quarter-time scores – and then sometimes forget to broadcast the final scores. So you would have to wait for the TV news. The Winners was shown at midnight on Sundays. It was like a letter from home.

That September, I was in my final year at high school. I worked a few hours at the Cecil Cafe, one of those magnificent places of Black Cat chocolate boxes (who ever bought that glazed fruit in the other boxes?), prawn cutlets, seafood sticks, mixed grills for the travelling reps, and a pinball machine. Blokes would come in for a steakburger (with the lot) after a few beers at the Western Line, and while you were cooking it, the goodies on display in the glassed fridge would get the better of them and they would say, “You better chuck a piece of kabana in as well.”

Which you would. A few nicks and straight into the fryer.

I had a great boss. He always gave me Saturday and Sunday afternoons off so I can play sport, often golf by then, having had the billy-goats belted out of me playing junior rugby league. But with café staff away (probably at the Carnival of Flowers in Toowoomba or something) on grand final day, he insisted I clock on.

He said it on the Monday as I was making potato scallops (as they are called Up North).

“No way,” I said. The VFL Grand Final was the only time we got live footy on local (Chime followed by local singer: “DDQ10, SDQ4, and Channel 5, Too-woom-bah”).

It was a festival day. A sacred day. The Feast of the Holy Sherrin. An industrial confrontation emerged. I said I would resign rather than miss the Grand Final – even if it was Carlton and the Pies.

Arbitration and conciliation continued throughout the week. It proved successful. The boss borrowed a second-hand portable Rank Arena (black and white) from the electrical store, which was perched on top of the drinks fridge, which I watched while continuing to create (masterfully) bacon and egg burgers. It was the coalescence of two arts. I was a card-carrying Collingwood-hater (Darling Downs chapter), so when Wayne Harmes knocked that footy back to Kenny Sheldon, it was Chiko Rolls in the air.

You beauty! What a player! Relly?

Of course it was only a few years later that southern footy came to us in Queensland, in the form of the Brisbane Bears, and there might be those who lament the changes to the once distinctively  local VFL competition, but the expansion gave us a chance to see the teams and players we so admired. Live.

I can’t remember Wayne Harmes at Carrara, although he possibly played there.

But I will never forget that moment at the Cecil Cafe. Now, 25 years later, Wayne Harmes will present the Norm Smith Medal at today’s Grand Final. Well done, brother.


[And now, 36 years later, Harmes and Harms look like taking on all-comers on the golf course. If you and a partner think you have the game to do it contact John Harms [email protected]]

This is based on a section in John Harms’s football memoir Loose Men Everywhere which is available as one of the three book in the Harms omnibus Play On which is about to be re-printed. Pre-order your copy here via our crowd-funding campaign.

Play On cover2

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst four. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    Such a great recollection of the tyranny of distance even in the 1970’s.
    ‘The Winners’ being shown at midnight on Sunday night and feeling like a letter from home was a classic. Compared to the speed of communications particularly in the last decade, it wasn’t much improvement on Lady Macquarie looking out over the heads in Sydney, waiting for ships to bring the mail after a six-month voyage.
    Your VFL coverage was so restrictive it’s hard to believe for us Melbourne- raised spoilt brats.
    The Carnival of Flowers would have been on at Grand Final time that September in Toowoomba. I have submitted a play as part of that festival hoping it will be performed this year. I will have to make a hard decision if the Dogs make the GF whether to travel north or go to the ‘G’.
    Yes, I can hear the Almanackers screaming back at me. Neil won’t have to make that hard decision this year it’s safe to say.

  2. Harmes played only once against the Bears, in Round two of 1988 at Princes Park. The Blues won handsomely behind six goals from Ken Hunter.

    Hard to believe Harmes was only 19 when he played in ’79.

  3. Mathilde de Hauteclocque says

    The world needs the e-type and the e-less-type. I for one appreciate the e-less’ ‘ability to call’, not only for the pill, but for the rest of us.

Leave a Comment