‘One of Nature’s Gentlemen….’ by KB Hill

Old Bill Findlay never got around to laying down his pen.

 

Even as emphysema was ravaging his lungs,and making life near-unbearable, he was putting the finishing touches to a book on Wangaratta Turf Club’s history.

 

They launched it in the presence of a room full of dignitaries and local racing personalities. But Bill wasn’t there…..It would have irked him to miss out on regaling a captive audience with some yarns of the past. After all, he was as fluent in public speaking as he was with the written word.

 

Unfortunately, a couple of months earlier – in December 1985 – this local legend had passed on…….

 

***

 

Bill saw an incredible amount of change in his 84 years.

 

He often recalled the excitement of early 20th-century Chiltern, the town of his birth, when gold was the magnet which drew hordes of people to seek their fortune in the mines dotted around the area.

 

He remembered sitting beside the cobblestone highway, watching the first motor car tootling through Chiltern, en route to Sydney; and the happy times of his childhood days at the Presentation Convent.

 

His working life began in 1917 with the Postal Department in Culcairn and a couple of surrounding Riverina towns. It was interrupted during the Great Depression when he was employed by the Forests Commission.

 

He threw himself into this work, organising the ‘Sustenance Gangs’ of unemployed people who were desperately trying to eke out a living and support a family.

 

He recalled the miserable sight of proud men walking aimlessly back and forth along country roads……Roads to nowhere……

 

That impacted him heavily, and undoubtedly fanned his interest in fighting inequality.

 

He had a stint with the RAAF during the War and, soon after hostilities finished, obtained a permanent position with the Postal Department in Wangaratta…….And that’s where he stayed.

 

He dabbled in politics – with a strong leaning towards the ALP. Dad, who was a great mate of Bill’s, privately reckoned he was too nice a bloke to become embroiled in this dog-eat-dog environment. When the ‘Split’ occurred in 1955, Bill put his principles before ambition and swung his support behind the Democratic Labour Party.

 

He thus sacrificed any lofty political aspirations he may have held but it typified his honesty and integrity. It was also characteristic of him that he remained on good terms with those who had now become his political foes.

 

He stood on six occasions for State and Federal elections. As an impressionable lad, the sight of Bill’s photo in political handouts and newspaper articles in the fifties made me think he was a larger-than-life personality.

 

Was this the same ‘Old Bill’ who would negotiate his trusty (rusty) bike, his only mode of transport, to and from his Vincent Road residence to the Post Office, proffering a hearty greeting to all and sundry….. Or absorbedly suck on his pipe as he watched his beloved Rovers in combat ?

 

One of his Rovers acquaintances, Mannie Cochineas, provided his flash black Pontiac to transport Bill throughout the electorate when he was campaigning. Hopefully voters didn’t get the impression he was a toff, as he swanned around in style. Nothing could have been further from the truth………

 

***

 

Bill was passionate about footy. His enthusiasm for the game was fostered as a whippersnapper, when his father used to take him to watch Chiltern, who were then part of the O & M, in action. He had his Red and White heroes and played well into his thirties.

 

When he and Mary and their two daughters settled in Wang, he drifted towards the Rovers and became an integral figure in the early history of the Club.

 

He spoke of those dark days of the late 40s-early 50s. “I often look back and wonder how those big-hearted men carried on,” he would say.

 

“Beset with financial difficulties and, in fact, existing from Saturday to Saturday, they never whimpered. Their love of the game (and often a hand in their own pocket) was all that kept the Rovers afloat.”

 

“The future for the Club, at one stage, looked as bleak as London on its foggiest morning but, thankfully, a loyal supporter, Greg Spurr, gave a personal guarantee of 400 pounds, interest-free, to be repaid at their convenience.”

 

As the Club Secretary, he appeared, with fellow delegate Ollie Batey, at the crucial Ovens and Murray meeting which was to decide whether the Hawks – and Myrtleford – would be admitted to the League in 1950.

 

 

“When delegates began quizzing us, I nervously fingered the club Bank Book. We were accepted into the O & M with no money, but a till full of confidence.”

 

He reflected on the state of the Oval which the Hawks took over in 1953: “The Clubrooms were in such a dilapidated state that any self-respecting swaggie would turn up his nose at the thought of camping there.”

 

Bill’s habit was to write copious notes and keep statistics about anything pertaining to the Rovers: Games played…….. goal-kickers……..thumb-nail sketches of club identities…..and relevant fortune-changing events…..He also wrote match-reports of the Hawks’ games for the Chronicle.

 


Old Bill, behatted and drawing on his pipe, in the Rovers box, prior to a home game

 

The arrival of Bob Rose in 1956 flushed out a legion of new followers. Bill suggested capitalising on this new-found support by producing ‘Hawk News’, which kept fans abreast of club gossip, provided Team Lists and displayed the day’s Racing Guide.

 

He was the editor of this publication which sold, at its peak, 800 copies per home game. Unfortunately the life of ‘Hawk News’ was nipped in the bud after one season when the O & M complained that it had badly affected sales of their official organ, ‘The Critic’.

 

Sundry other interests competed for the attention of Bill Findlay. He was Secretary of the Trotting Club (for 21 years) and the Cycle Club, a member of the Athletic Carnival committee, the King River Trust, Old People’s Welfare committee, the Wangaratta Debating Association and the Postal Worker’s Union.

 

He was a highly sought-after Adjudicator, Debating coach and Guest Speaker.

 

Soon after he retired from the Post Office in 1962, Bill offered himself up as a candidate for Council. A desire to give something back to the community to which he had become so attached prompted him to serve for thirteen years.

 

Considering the respect he commanded, it was no surprise that he became a highly-popular figure in local government and wore the Mayoral chains for two terms.

 


Mayor Bill Findlay with Councillors, George Ikinger, Kevin Nolan & Len Greenwood.

 

When he stepped away from Council Bill quipped that: “It’s time to give the armchair critics a go.”

 

That now gave him ample time to devote to his hobby – writing. Besides the aforementioned history of the Racing Club, he also put together the History of the Wangaratta Trotting Club (1976) and co-wrote, with fellow-councillor and friend Bill O’Callaghan Wangaratta 1959-1984 A Silver City.

 

 

He retained his involvement with the Rovers as Treasurer of their Past Players Association and initially floated the idea of publishing a book to commemorate the Club’s 35-year O & K/O & M history.

 

The culmination was The Hawk Story, which saw the light of day in 1980. Without being too immodest, he would probably have claimed its launch as one of his finest hours.

 

Flushed with success, this prompted a follow-up, The Hawk Hall of Fame, which surfaced two years later……

 

***

 

Bill (at this stage in his eighties) and Mary were by now domiciled in ‘up-market’ Chomley Avenue, just around the corner from the Hills. My regular visits would follow a similar pattern: “Ah, Kevin,” was the greeting. “Mary, would you mind whacking the kettle on……( rubbing his hands together) Now, what have you got for me?”

 

Then we’d hurtle down memory lane…….

 

I made an off-hand remark one day about a premiership that Chiltern had just won against Milawa. The match had garnered some bad press and the O & K footy public was in outrage at the alleged heavy-handed tactics that had been used.

 

This brought an immediate retort from the old fellah, who couldn’t suppress the fierce pride he still held for the town of his birth.

 

We’d discuss our mutual fascination with writing. I’d mention a particular subject and he’d start hunting around: “Now I think I’ve scribbled down something here that could help you……”

 

The result is that I still have reams and reams of notes that Bill handed over.

 

He was an uncomplicated man, with great faith, completely imbued with the philosophy of ‘doing the right thing.’

 

So, if you happen to be driving down Evans Street and cast a glance at the sign at the entrance to the ‘W.J.Findlay Oval’ spare a thought for one of nature’s gentlemen…………

 

 

(With help from Phil Nolan)

 

This article first appeared on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and appears here with permission. To read more of KB’s great stories, 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. A great story about a great man who just wouldn’t/couldn’t stop giving to his community. No wonder they named the oval in his honour!

    I sense a few more stories will emerge from those notes he left you, KB.

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