‘I wonder whatever happened to……………’ by KB Hill

I guess it’s the best part of 55 years since our paths last crossed…….

We first drew breath on the same day, at the Wangaratta Base Hospital……only hours apart, and more than likely within screaming distance of one another.

He attended St. Patrick’s Primary School; I was next door, at the ‘uppity’ Convent. When we both moved on to Champagnat College for our Secondary education, sport became the thread that again linked us.

We weren’t ultra-impressive in the class-room, but most play-times and lunch-breaks were spent competing at something or other…..including probably attempting  spectacular, Teddy Whitten-type ‘grabs’ in kick-to-kick …….

The other day, an email arrives. He’s just come across a yarn – ‘J.A – The Sporting Showman’ – a profile of his brother, which I penned back in 2016. He thanks me for rekindling the memories of a swashbuckling career.

That gets me thinking: ‘I wonder whatever happened to Bernie Brady ?…………’

So I decide to track him down………

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I’m peering at a photo of the College’s First 18 whilst we’re yapping. We’re not sure what year it is, but he’s in the front row…..the tall, blonde-haired kid with a ring of confidence.

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“I still hark back to those days,” Bernie says. “We had a coach called Brother Gordon, who didn’t pretend to know a lot about footy. But he was such a good bloke that we were keen to do our best for him.”

“Everybody just called him ‘Speed’. He was an untidy-looking, hulking fellah, and also ran the College farm. He’d spend the early morning down at the Dairy, come back to school, throw his long, flowing black habit over his work-clothes, and be ready for a day in the Classroom.”

“My Dad, who was a Stock Agent, used to sell the Murray-Grey cattle which ‘Speed’ reared, so they had a fair bit to do with one another.”

I remind Bernie of the time we tangled with the formidable Assumption College – a clash at Kilmore which was akin to David trying to slay Goliath.

It was bitterly cold, and the huge pine trees which hovered over the ground were still dripping from the overnight moisture, as we meekly trod onto the frosty turf. Then the Assumption kids pranced out and performed their ‘War Cry’, which, it has been alleged, casts a spell over opposition teams.

“We were almost petrified, and what a belting we copped,” he says. “But a few of their side went on to play League footy. They were a fair combination.”

Bernie also played in Junior Magpies 1963 WJFL flag, but at the end of Year 9, took his Dad’s advice, diced school and moved to Albury to commence a Wool Classer’s course.

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And that was where our lives diverged.

I remained riveted, for the most part, in Wangaratta. He embraced the challenges of the wide, wide world beyond………..

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He never got around to playing a senior game with Wang, for which he seemed destined, but spent a season with Albury Reserves when he was recruited to Murray Weideman’s emerging line-up.

A move to Melbourne, which was the next step in his Wool-Classing education, saw him gravitate to Collingwood, who could see the potential in an uncoordinated 6’4” bag of bones. The ‘Pies reasoned that he must possess some handy footy genes, being the baby brother of a former North Melbourne champ.

Bernie began with the Under 19s, who played curtain-raisers to VFL matches, and was lucky enough to share in the win that the ‘Pie fledglings had over Essendon in the ‘65 Grand Final.

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Bernie Brady is presented with his guernsey by Collingwood President, Tom Sherrin.

Satisfied with his progress, Collingwood included him on their Final List the following season.

‘Woods’ fans need no reminding of the heartbreak that befell them in late September 1966, when St. Kilda’s Barrie Breen jagged a winning, wobbly point in the dying stages of one of the greatest of all Grand Finals.

But earlier that day, just as the last of the 101,655 fans were settling into their seats, an equally dramatic climax was being reached in the Reserves decider.

With just 47 seconds left, Collingwood led by a point, after their mop-haired spearhead Peter McKenna snapped a goal. Moments later, a highly-touted young Tasmanian forward, Royce Hart, flew high to mark on the outer flank. His shot, aided by the breeze, sailed through to give Richmond victory by 5 points.

Brady – who had come off the bench to replace Len Clark early in the game – starred, and was named among the Pies’ best in a game that had been cruelly wrenched from their grasp.

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The highlight of the six years that Bernie spent at Victoria Park – besides the seven finals he played – came in Round 9, 1968, when he was named for his senior League debut.

“I was always behind a few big blokes, particularly Len Thompson, ‘Jerker’ Jenkin, Vaughan Ellis and Terry Waters, in the queue, but finally my chance came at the Lake Oval, against South Melbourne. As luck would have it, I’ve come off the bench, twisted an ankle within 10 minutes, and spent the rest of the day on the pine,” he recalls. “I never really got close again. But in all seriousness, I always regarded myself as  just a plodder.”

Bernie was 19 when he married Roz (“the best sort in Wang”). He’d drifted away from Wool Classing and Collingwood lined him up with a job at AMP, ‘flogging’ and collecting insurance. That didn’t excite him much, but when he got behind the wheel of a truck and headed off on his first road trip, he knew it was right down his alley…………….

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He admits that footy was put onto the back-burner a touch when he started driving trucks.

He’d linked up with Noel Griffin, his mate (and brother-in-law) from Wangaratta, and they decided to re-locate, with their families, to Brisbane around 1972. Their business association was to last, through thick and thin, for more than 30 years.

Loading refrigerated goods in and out of Queensland had been a long-term issue for companies, and the boys reasoned that if they were on the spot up there it would create an opportunity to grow their business.

So ‘Refrigerated Roadways’ kicked off as a two-man operation, which expanded rapidly, to be transporting fresh fruit, vegetables, confectionary and the like, for all of the major national companies.

Bernie was talked into playing footy for a S.Q.A.F.A club, Acacia Ridge, but found it difficult to get to training. He’d arrive home from a lengthy road trip just in time to saddle up for the weekend’s game.

The SQAFA was a step below the top division of Brisbane footy, but still pretty competitive, and he was regarded as one of the big guns of the competition. He captained Acacia Ridge  in one of the four years he spent with them before reluctantly hanging up his boots. The rapidly changing profile of the code up north spelt curtains for the proud club, and it has long since disappeared from the scene.

‘Refrigerated Roadways’, meanwhile, continued to surge ahead, and Bernie moved into the role of General Manager for some time.  In 1982, the company took a giant step forward when The Costa Group was incorporated as a partner. 

Early days, annual revenue had been around the $1.5 million-mark. At the time ‘Refrigerated Roadways’ eventually sold to TNT (later Toll Holdings) in 1995, it was regarded as the largest refrigerated carrier in Australia. Revenue had rocketed to $107 million.  There were 971 people on the payroll, including 170-odd sub-contractors.

The following year, Noel and Bernie invested in several properties – a total of 2,200 acres –  specialising in the production of table grapes.

‘The far-flung properties,  at Ti-Tree (N.T.), Mundubbera (North-West Qld), St. George (Western Queensland), Menindee (south-east of Broken Hill), and Kenlee (near Swan Hill), were chosen to provide a convenient harvesting timeframe.

This enabled the company to maintain a continual supply to chainstores and the general market.

 ‘Table Grape Growers of Australia’ proved stunningly successful. Six years after its birth, the company was bought out by the Costa Group. Once again, the boys had backed a winner……..

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Bernie retired in 2005, after spending a couple of years as a Transport Consultant. He and Roz reside on a 21-acre property at Munruben, 32km from Brisbane. The Logan River flows nearby. Their two sons, Greg and Rod, are also based in Brisbane.

Life’s been pretty good, he reckons. They’re mad-keen on travelling and have negotiated three round-Australia trips in their motorhome. They’ve only just returned from a Northern Safari to Cooktown.

Occasionally , Bernie’s mind wanders back to his old home town and the blissful days when he was one of the kings of the sporting scene at Champagnat. It’s been a journey and a half…………….

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This article first appeared on KB Hill’s website On Reflection. You can read more of KB’s fine stories by clicking HERE.

Comments

  1. Those of us of a certain age can identify with this story, even if it may not be quite as long as KB’s 55 years. Actually it is if we go back to primary and early secondary school times. Scary!

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