Memories of a Good Bloke, Football, Aboriginal Children and a Car!

During our lifetime, all of us meet many and different people.  Different in culture, custom, language, values and beliefs, intelligence, skills and abilities etc. Of all of these people, some become friends and some simply join a long list of acquaintances. Many do not become one or the other and many fall by the wayside and are mostly forgotten. There are those individuals, however, who for one reason or another, become entrenched in our memory bank regardless of whether we liked or disliked them. Gundar Ryder is one such person for me but for all the good reasons. Gundar Ryder, about whom this piece of writing is mostly dedicated, was a good man who cared about others, especially children and those of less fortunate means.


In the 1970s when I lived in Darwin as a young man, Gundar and I became good friends. I had tremendous respect for Gundar for his sense of community and his caring for other people, particularly the children he taught at the Rapid Creek Primary School who looked up to and respected him.  The majority of these children were Aboriginal with mixed and varied family backgrounds, mostly unfortunate.


In 1973 as a new arrival in the NT and also a new player for the Nightcliff (Tigers) Football Club, the then coach and former champion South Adelaide player, Tony Shaw, asked me if I would be interested in coaching the Rapid Creek Primary School football team. The Tigers had received a request from the school for support in the form of coaching and equipment. Accepting the coaching request was when I first met Gundar Ryder who, as a former Newcastle lad, knew nothing about Aussie rules football but a lot about rugby league.


I ended up coaching the school for three years and always had Gundar’s total support whenever I needed it.  The majority of the team were either orphans or in foster care at the Bagot Road Reserve and the Retta Dixon Home.  Very many had experienced some form of disjointed family life including violence, alcoholism and crime. Being totally inexperienced in dealing with Aboriginal children as distinct from ‘white’ boys, and having very little knowledge of Aboriginal culture and the like, there were occasions when some behavioural assistance with a few of the children was required. Gundar, as their teacher, obviously had a lot more sway and authority with them in this regard at that stage than I did!  He was known as “the Gentle Giant” by his peers and colleagues and commanded respect and enthusiasm from his pupils at all times – it was a classic case of maximum respect and no sign of any fear; they listened to him because they wanted to. I had to work hard to gain the boys’ respect and attention and did so over time, but not ever to Gundar’s level.


Despite my best efforts to have the boys call me by my first name ‘Allan’, they always reverted, without hesitation, to calling me ‘Mr Barden’!  I would ask “Please call me Allan” to which the inveritable reply was always “Yes, Mr Barden”!  I guess like school children everywhere, they were just accustomed to calling Gundar, other teachers and those in authority by their respective surnames.


During the football season, I became mildly famous in the local Aboriginal community, among friends and work mates, and within the Tigers football fraternity for being the ‘white fella’ in the green and white HD Holden sedan with the fat tyres who, every Saturday morning, collected boys from the Bagot Road Reserve and the Retta Dixon home to play in the junior football competition.  I was that ‘white fella’ who could be seen driving along Bagot Road with a sedan absolutely ‘choc a bloc’ full of young excitable Aboriginal boys wearing green and gold football jerseys with heads and arms protruding from every car window!  Couldn’t get away with that these days, of course.  Had I not collected the boys, I most certainly would not have had a team as they had no other means of getting to games.


During my first week in Darwin, I remember being asked by co-workers if I owned a car. I replied that it was being transported from Hobart to Darwin by boat and then by the Ghan train and would arrive in a few weeks.  “Best of luck with that,” came the reply.  Apparently cars being stolen or having bits and pieces stolen from them during the long journey from Adelaide to Darwin was commonplace and some horrific stories were recited to me.  Until my car arrived about 3 weeks later, I worried every day about what I had been told, not expecting to see my fat wheeled HD Holden again. As it turned out, it arrived in one piece with only the windscreen wipers being absent.  “Lucky boy, lucky boy,” was the office remark.


In my third season as the coach of the Rapid Creek boys, and with Gundar’s unswerving support, we won the Darwin Primary School Football Premiership with a nerve-wracking 1-point win over the highly fancied and very skilled St Johns College.  St Johns had won the title for the previous 10 seasons.  St Johns was famous back in those days for producing wonderful and talented sports children, especially football players which have included famous names like the Rioli and Long families.  For a little school tucked away on the edge of Darwin’s CBD, St Johns feats in the football world are nothing short of spectacular.


As an aside, it is interesting to note that the AFL has awarded only 40 Norm Smith Medals for the best player on the ground in an AFL Grand Final. Six of those have gone to a former student of St Johns Catholic College.  Maurice Rioli, Michael Long, Andrew McLeod – who won the medal twice – Nathan Buckley and Cyril “Junior Boy” Rioli, all attended the school before they starred on football’s biggest stage.  Put in context, by local school standards even in the 1970s, beating St Johns was a huge achievement for my young and comparatively disadvantaged Rapid Creek boys.


In the three years that I was involved with the Rapid Creek boys, Gundar and I also had some very talented players in our team too, including names like Motlop, White, Jeffries and Peris. Some of these boys went on to become excellent players in both the local Darwin AFL and rugby league competitions and in the QAFL, WAFL and SANFL competitions where, unlike their days at Rapid Creek, they would have had to wear boots!  If I recall, it was only ever one or two of ‘my boys’ that had football boots to play in.  Beating St Johns for the premiership and witnessing the proud expressions on the faces of those young Aboriginal boys can, to this day, still bring emotional stirrings within me. It remains one of my proudest days and memories.


Gundar and I engaged socially as good friends over many years and often had great times together at the Nightcliff Sports Club.  In particular, I remember our wonderful conversations about his early family life in Newcastle NSW (where my mother came from), his weightlifting (every day!) and other sports, especially rugby league, his Dad in Latvia, whom he traced and visited a couple of times back then (with great difficulty as it was in the former USSR), and the politics of the USSR at that time.


I left Darwin in the late 1970s but became a regular visitor to the city in the early 1980s on work assignments from Canberra and I used to catch up with Gundar when I could.  Once when walking down Cavanagh Street on such a visit, I remember Hubert Cubillo, the former Retta Dixon home boy and the Rapid Creek’s team ‘tubby’ half-back flanker, waving at me from across the street and shouting “Hey, Mr Barden”!  Hubert Cubillo was then taller and slimmer, and I hadn’t seen him for well over six years or so.  Hubert, who really only made up the numbers in the Rapid Creek team, ended up being a stalwart in the Grand Final win over St Johns.  They just couldn’t get past him.  I remember him being so pleased with the praise he received from me and his teammates for his sterling efforts.  I’ve been told since that Hubert ended up being quite a good senior player for Wanderers in the NTFL competition, which is fantastic.


Memories of my time coaching the boys from Bagot Road Reserve and the Retta Dixon home in the Rapid Creek Primary School football team are fond and remain vivid with me. As they are of Gundar Ryder, the immigrant boy from Latvia who fled to Australia as a child with his mother at the height of WW 2, leaving his father behind in the Stalin-controlled USSR.  The boy who grew up in Newcastle refused transfers and promotions to dedicate his life to teaching the mostly Aboriginal children at the Rapid Creek Primary School in Darwin.  The man who dedicated 34 years of his life as a classroom teacher, mostly at Rapid Creek but, beforehand and for short periods, at both Groote Eylandt and Jabiru.


I remember Gundar as a wonderful and caring man who gave his time and help to others whenever he could and I always respected him for that.  His relationship with the kids he taught was fantastic.  I was very sad to learn of Gundar’s passing in July 2016 and I often think of him whenever thoughts and conversations of Darwin and the “Top End” arise. He was a true gentleman and a good friend.


My Holden car stayed with me throughout my time in Darwin.  After Cyclone Tracey in December 1974, like many vehicles, it was subjected to numerous punctures caused by the nails and other similar road debris that was prolific during 1975, and it was twice stolen by joy riders. It was still with me when I left for Canberra in 1978.  In Canberra, I had trouble getting it registered because much of the chassis, unbeknown to non-mechanic me, had rusted as a result of it being stolen and left for several days in wet tropical marsh.  After failing to sell it as a going concern, a mad friend had an idea that we would get more for it by disassembling it and selling the parts. This didn’t work. We finally dumped it at a wrecking yard and I moved on.


Over the years, I have occasionally wondered where life may have taken those small Aboriginal boys from Bagot Road Reserve and the Retta Dixon Home. Those boys Gundar taught and who played football without boots and hung their body parts out of the windows of my 1966 two-tone green and white HD Holden sedan with the mag wheels on a Saturday morning. I am hopeful that for each of them life has been happy, healthy and rewarding and that they, too, remember with joy and fondness what they achieved against the odds all those years ago.  Of course, remembering, too, the able assistance of ‘Mr Barden’ the ‘white fella’ coach with the Holden car and a dedicated immigrant ‘white fella’ school teacher known as “the Gentle Giant”.



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.





  1. Top stuff, Allan, a pleasure to read. I think you got as much pleasure out of it all as you gave.

  2. Bill Linkson says

    Great story mate ! Actually read it from my back deck here at home in Rapid creek overlooking said ex Rapid Creek primary school ….nice work ..hoping for a back to back Nightcliff Tiger premiership this year !!

  3. A terrific read Allan. I will pass this on to a journo mate of mine in Perth.


    Michael Tabart

Leave a Comment