“I’ve lived a life that’s full…I did it my way…”

 

 

 

With thanks to Guest Blogger: Greg Rosser

 

The photo’s 70 years old…

 

‘South Wanderers Football Club – Wangaratta Junior Football League Premiers – 1950.’…

 

The vast majority of this line-up have now shuffled off to their mortal coil. But if you’re a generation down the line, like us, you may be able to spot a few familiar faces……And can probably identify the contribution they made to life in Wangaratta…..and beyond.

 

We can even remember some of them in action on the footy field in succeeding years:

 

That’s Peter Hughes in the front row. Two years later, aged 18, he played on a wing in the last of Mac Holten’s famous Magpie ‘four-in-a-row’ sides. In 1953 he shared Hawthorn’s Best First-Year Player Award.

 

Of course, we hardly need to introduce the kid on the far right. Lance Oswald was just 13 at the time, but already had ‘Champ’ written all over him. He won the WJFL Medal that year, and went on to win a Morris Medal, two St.Kilda B & F’s and recognition as the best centreman in Australia in the early sixties.

 

There’s Graeme Kneebone, Pat Quinton and Col Bromilow – long-term O & K players and local identities. Up in the back row is a Wang Rovers Hall-of-Famer and Vice-Captain to Bob Rose in the Hawks’ 1958 and ‘60 premiership teams…Yes, it’s Les Clarke.

 

And that’s Arthur, his brother, the confident-looking kid nestling up to Alf Brisbane, the umpie…….

 

***

 

They nominated Arthur as the Club’s Most Unselfish Player that year. He joked that it was probably because he shared the ball so often with the opposition.

 

Wareena Park was the Wanderers’ home ground. “We played on Saturdays and spent all Sunday arvo kicking the footy around there,” he once told us.

 

He followed Les to the Rovers and chalked up seven senior games. Not quite possessive of the talent – or dedication – of his brother, he was also obliged to sacrifice footy training for Night School. It was inevitable that he’d head ‘bush’ – to Eldorado – where he lined up at centre half-back, under the coaching of Doug Ferguson.

 

When the Red and Whites folded he threw in his lot with Milawa in 1955 – and stayed there for 63 years. Many of his team-mates were to become lifelong friends.

 

But, as the old story-teller would say: “Hang on….you’re getting ahead of things here….You’d better go back to the start……And remember: no-one will mind if you stretch things a bit for the sake of a good story………….”

 

***

 

So we return to the height of the Depression – to Gapsted, located 5 miles from Myrtleford and 25 from Wangaratta.

 

Ernie and Jean Clarke welcomed Arthur into the world in 1932.

 

“Mum and Dad were humble people…..Dad was a hard-worker; a quiet man with a gentle nature…. Mum was a marvellous woman; boss of the house and protector of her family. She gave us advice and a dressing-down at the same time…..Always straight from the heart…No bullshit….”

 

He started school just after the Depression, attending Gapsted State School (number 2240) with his siblings Eddie, Les and Patricia.

 

“I used to take my lunch to school in a brown paper bag, “ he said. “The crumpled bag smelt of many past lunches….If I wanted a drink there were a dozen enamel mugs on the stand of the rain-water tank….These mugs were used by all 40-odd pupils for the whole school year.”

 

“I liked school, probably because it was the only place I went to beside church. Living on the farm, though, was a great learning experience, even despite the inconvenience of freezing winters, long, hot summers and the threat of bushfires. More often than not it was as dry as a dead dingo’s donger. ”

 

“In summer we’d swim in the lagoon. It was about three feet deep, with about a foot of mud at the bottom….and plenty of leeches. I always swam in the nude…..so it gave the leeches plenty of loose pieces to latch onto.”

 

“One day, Les, Eddie, me and a few mates went for a swim at the Rocky Point Bridge. We had no togs, so we pulled down our singlets and tied them under our crotch with a piece of wire………Unfortunately, Les was bitten by a snake.”

 

“I jumped on our horse and rode bare-back, approximately half a mile to the nearest farm-house. Les was taken to the Myrtleford Hospital and ended up okay. But I was worse off because the wire I’d tied onto my singlet bloody-near castrated me……So my kids were lucky they had a father……”

 

“Farm life was great. We’d harvest walnuts, go on fox drives, kill snakes and go ferreting. Rabbits (underground mutton) sold for a shilling a pair, and on a good day we could net a couple of hundred. At shearing-time we would attend the shed and work as a ‘hey you’, sweeping the floor and dabbing tar on sheep………”

 

***

 

The Clarke’s moved to 29 Morrell Street, Wangaratta in 1947. Arthur had two years at the Tech School, but cut his losses on an academic career and scored a job at Bruck Mills. He was 17.

 

“After six months of placing drop wires on weaving looms, I left and got a job with Stone Brothers, the Plumbers. My next move was to Harrison’s Plumbing, not as an apprentice, but as an ‘improver’, which lasted for the next 15 years.”

 

“Mr.Harrison also had a garage and funeral parlour in Ovens Street. At week-ends I’d throw on the grey striped pants, white shirt, long black coat and bowler hat, put on my solemn face and drive the hearse.”

 

He also found time to do a milk-run for Cook’s Dairy whilst he was at Harrison’s. It was a tough job on the horse and cart, ladling milk into a billy in the pitch black, and fending off barking dogs. Cook’s found it hard to keep their ‘Milkies’.

 

 

 

“Graeme Cook was also an O & K umpire, and was in charge the day I belted a Tarrawingee player. ‘Cookie’ raced in and said ‘you’re gone number 2’. I told him that he could shove his Milk-Round and he replied: ‘Ah…Let’s make it a warning’.

 

Arthur spent most of his time in defence for Milawa, where his long, booming kicks from the last line were a feature. The Demons had finished bottom – winless – the year prior to his arrival, but under the coaching of Bill Kelly, improved dramatically. They jumped to third, then in 1956, after topping the ladder, were unable to contain the taller Beechworth in the Grand Final.

 

 

 

 

The absence of Kelly was sorely felt, and Clarke led the side into the big clash. He remained one of their stalwarts for years, until a rainy day, on a slushy Whitfield Oval in 1960 brought about his downfall.

 

“I never forgot it,” he said. “I marked the ball at centre half-forward, but landed awkwardly and broke my left knee-cap in half. The boys were saying: ‘Come on Clarkie, you can kick it.’ But the knee was wobbling around like a broken piston in a lawn-mower.”

 

“Old Art was going nowhere. My career was over.”

 

But in a scenario that’s replicated in countless community Clubs around the state, he hung around.

 

For the next five decades he served as Treasurer, Vice-President, Selector, Trainer, Time-Keeper, Committee-Member and, for a period, Number 1 Ticket-Holder. On Sunday mornings he would head out to spruce up the Rooms after a home-game.

 

Milawa had won just two premierships in 54 years when his son Jeff, who had been a Demon mascot whilst Arthur was playing, guided them to the 1984 flag. The margin over Chiltern ( 78 points ) was almost as decisive the following year, when they blitzed Bright to the tune of 68 points.

 

 

Milawa’s 1984 O & K Premiership Side

 

 

After four years as coach, 257 games and three B & F’s Jeff hung up the boots in 1988. He was later elevated to the O & K Hall of Fame. His brother Rob (‘Roo’) played alongside him for a fair portion of his career and their sisters Pam and Sandra were part of the Demons’ Netball line-up.

 

Arthur’s grand-son Ben is recognised as one of the best mid-fielders going around in the O & K at present. He played a big part in Milawa’s 2013 flag and was co-captain of their all-conquering 2019 side. Grand-daughters Sarah, Emily and Izabelle have all made their mark in netball……

 

Jeff, Ben and Arthur Clarke

 

***

 

Three years after Arthur’s footy career finished he and Val started their own business – ‘Arthur Clarke Plumbers’.

 

“It was 1963. We had 204 pounds, an FJ Holden, a trailer, four kids and a Workshop in Bullivant Street. My best mate, Mick O’Keeffe, came to work for me and at one time we had five plumbers, two apprentices and several others working. We left our mark all around Wangaratta and adjoining towns, and did countless ‘love-jobs’.

 

One of those was for Father Byrne, the popular Parish Priest of Our Lady’s Church.

 

“We had to climb the 85-foot bell-tower and bolt the aluminium frame to the tower. I reckon I’d be the only Freemason who’s featured in an congratulatory article on the front-page of a Catholic newsletter,” he once said.

 

In 1982 he and Val passed the business on to the two boys, Jeff and Rob, and decided on a ‘sea-change’ as Florists. Arthur then moved on to manage Boral Bricks for ten years.

 

But in the meantime he kept himself busy, involving himself in the Wangaratta Urban Fire Brigade (for 20 years), Appin Park Rotary (where he was awarded Rotary’s highest honour, the Paul Harris Fellowship), Kiwanis, Milawa Bowls, Tarrawingee Golf, care-taker of Wangaratta Ladies Bowls, and tending to Rotary Park in Edwards Street.

 

This most unpretentious of helpers received recognition for his sterling efforts when he was declared Wangaratta’s Citizen of the Year in 2002.

 

But some health battles lay ahead. He spent just on ten years enduring the endless cycle of kidney dialysis treatment. Eventually Arthur Clarke, the old battler who often joked that he was ‘Too Tough To Die’, passed away, aged 87, in early May last year……………

 

 

This article appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission.

 

 

To read more great stories by KB Hill, click HERE.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Country footy (and country sport in general) – the lifeblood of the community. Although there may be long distances between competing teams in some leagues/associations, there aren’t many degrees of separation in the bush.

Leave a Comment

*