‘The legend from Pelluebla South…’ by KB Hill

Someone suggested at a recent cricket match in Yarrawonga that I should catch up with Bruce Wright……one of the characters of local sport……

“Old ‘Monty’ will regale you with plenty of tall tales, and true,” they assured me.

So off I go….

The instructions to reach Pelluebla South were simple, even for me…….“Turn left at Peechelba…go through Wilby……Once you hit the Benalla-Yarrawonga Road veer left for three kilometres or so ……you’ll spot the house….You can’t miss it…..”

Ah, there it is…….

At first sight it reminds me of a scene from an old Western……A weathered 90 year-old is casually leaning against a fence in the back yard…….felt hat turned up at the brim…..walking-stick in hand……casting an eye over his domain……looking about as dilapidated as some of the sheds nearby……

He begins reminiscing the moment we shake hands….

“Hang on, Bruce. Can we sit down somewhere, so I can jot this stuff down……And have you got any old cuttings from days gone by….?”

“ Nah, it’s all in me head,”……

I remind him I played one of my first North-East Cup matches against him, at Wilby, just on sixty years ago…..”That’d be right,” he says…….

 

***

A bloke called Peter Peters from Tungamah handed him the nickname, ‘Monty’.

“He thought the peaked cap I wore reminded him of Field-Marshall Montgomery, the esteemed British military leader of the First and Second World Wars……It stuck.”

Bruce cut his teeth in the now-defunct Lake Rowan Cricket Association, which comprised teams from Wilby, St. James, Thoona, Bungeet, Devenish, Tungamah, Lake Rowan, Dookie and Dookie College.”

“ ‘Jacko’, the local butcher, used to roll the wicket at the College…..By golly, could he get a Turf wicket up…..Best wicket in the area…..True as true, it was….”

He recalls he was only a nipper when a truck would pull up outside the farm. He’d jump in the back, sit on one of the bench seats and be taken to line up for Wilby. He later transferred to Tungamah, then spent a few years with St. James.

“You had to tangle with plenty of Hargreaves, McQualters, Willetts, Gibsons and Irvines in my days,” he says.

“In fact, Eric Irvine was the quickest I’ve seen around here……When that ball left his hand you could hear it whistle…..Boy, could he bowl…..and bat!”

“He was bowling one day and Ernie Howells, the ‘keeper and captain, was sitting right up on the stumps…..Eric’s charged in and the ball’s taken his hat off……Ernie wasn’t happy: ‘That’s your last fuckin’ over,’ he snapped…..He was a bit embarrassed, I suppose……It’s a wonder the ball didn’t kill him…”

“Even so, Eric was bowling one day and Cecil Howells, Ernie’s brother, was fielding in slip. The batsman has nicked one, Cecil’s paused from rolling a cigarette, plucked out one hand, took the catch and put the ball in his pocket…..The batsman refused to believe he was out…..until Cecil produced the pill…….”

“The Irvines – Bill, George and Eric – were all terrific fellahs and great players, but I reckon Ray – one of the next generation – was the pick of ‘em….”

“Stan Box from Bungeet is another who comes to mind, but I got into him one day…….Hit him over the fence, twice……He said: ‘Have you got something against me, Bruce ?’…….’I’m just warming up’, I replied.

“Heck, you must have liked belting the ball, Bruce…..Did you play any defensive shots ?” I ask……”Occasionally,” he replies.

Whilst we’re on that subject, he recalls the day an old chap called Bill Lonie, and his wife, turned up to watch their son playing for Lake Rowan.

“They’d just taken possession of a new green Pilot motor car…….I’ve latched onto a straight drive and it’s hit the top rail of the fence and cannoned into the split windscreen……”

“He spun the wheels and away he went…..never came back to the cricket…..muttered something about: ‘That bloody Bruce Wright….”

***

Bruce used to look forward to the annual trip to Bendigo Country Week. He went for several years, originally as a player, then Manager.

“We actually won A-Grade over there one year,” he says.

In one of his first knocks Lake Rowan were playing Barham-Koondrook. As he approached the crease an opposition player proceeded to sledge him.

“Our captain, Jack McQualter, had a word of advice to settle me down: ‘Just block a few ‘Monty’, ‘til you get your eye in.”

“It’ll be right, Jack, I’ll handle it,” I said.

“Anyway, the bloke who’d been stirring me came on to bowl and had that smart-arsed look on his face. I pointed to a tree over near the edge of the highway…..I said: ‘That’s where I’ll land your first ball’ .”

“He bowls, dead on middle stump…..and I’ve lobbed it on the front verandah of a house over the road…….I’ve hit 18 off his first over…The poor bugger couldn’t bowl, field or do anything after that….”

Bruce went to the Country Week meeting one Wednesday night with fellow delegate, Ross Leitch.

“I said to Ross: ‘I’ll do the talking….I’ve got something important to bring up.’……So I spoke to the President: ‘Excuse me, sir. Can I say something?……It’s about these umpires wearing sunglasses….The buggers can’t see at the best of times ……What hope have they got of seeing with sunglasses?…. It didn’t go over too well.”

“A bloke came up to me afterwards, complaining: ‘What’d you say that for?’…..’Well,’ I said, ‘I was only tellin’ you the bloody truth.”

“We were coming back to Bendigo after playing at Rochester one day….about 8 of us, in a station wagon. We’d had quite a few beers when a cop pulled us over….”

“He asked us: ‘Who threw that can out the window ?….‘Young Johnny Leary owned up: ‘I did’. “

“ ‘Where are you staying ? ‘ the cop asked, and we told him the European Hotel, right in the middle of Bendigo. ‘Well, you don’t look a bad mob of blokes; just don’t throw any more cans out, if you don’t mind.’ “

“Ray Irvine said: ‘Geez, ‘Mont’ that was close, wasn’t it ?’”

 

Celebrating 70 years of Yarrawonga Table Tennis.
Bruce Wright is second from right (front row)

 ***

“I’ve spent a lifetime involved with Table Tennis,” Bruce admits,”….but cricket was really the game I fancied.”

When he says a lifetime he’s not exaggerating ……

He was the inaugural President of the Yarrawonga Table Tennis Association and held the position for 60 years. When he stepped down his son John took over.

Originally, they’d play in a variety of Halls around Yarra, but 50-odd years ago, with the help of the Council, they obtained a grant and constructed a shed at the Showgrounds. It has remained the Association’s permanent home.

Bruce and his great mate Mick Saunders, who has been a near-neighbour for most of his life, represented Yarra at 66 consecutive Table Tennis Country Weeks……”Me and Mick played together for a long time”.

 

Bruce Wright (left) with his long-term playing partner Mick Saunders

 

“We were a bit dirty on missing the first-ever Country Week they held, though. They didn’t let us know it was on.”

He also headed over to play in the Wangaratta comp for many years.

“You must be still hitting ‘em okay ?” I suggest.

“Ah yeah. Not too bad.”

“ John (his son) is better than ever I was, though. He’s played in Canberra, Darwin, South and West Australia….everywhere.”

***

Bruce played footy on the wing with Tungamah for a decade or so, then took up goal umpiring. Those who saw him in action with the sticks say that he was one of the more flamboyant Ovens and Murray ‘men in white’.

He had a lot of time for Neil Davis, the ex-Yarrawonga star.

“Came from Berrigan……he was my favourite…..a good player….lovely fellah…..It was wonderful when he coached Yarra to that flag……but tragic that he died so young.”

Bruce was also a bit concerned for his health in his younger days.

“I was giving the grog a bit of a hammering……After a good mate, Bill Irvine, passed away many, many years ago, I thought I’d better have a check-up…….went to see a specialist in Wangaratta.”

“He laid it on the line: ‘If you keep this up you’ll be dead in three months…….I haven’t touched a drop since….”

***

His descendants, the Wrights and Roses lobbed here from Lancefield with everything they possessed in bullock-wagons around 1884.

“My Grandma’s surname was Rose……Her dad was a drover and had 12 kids to his first wife who died of tetanus…..Then he took in a house-keeper, married her, and had another 12 kids…..”

“Grandad built the house across the road on a selected block. He once told of the day he saw about a dozen horsemen coming through the bush from up Benalla way. “

“One of the young blokes asked: ‘Do you mind if we stop a while to rest the horses….And you wouldn’t happen to have a Chew (plug of tobacco ) on you, would ya ?”

“Now this is Grandad’s story, mind you: ……He said they had a good chat…… the young fellah cut a little square out of the tobacco, handed it back, and told him how pleased he was to make his acquaintance…..Introduced himself….Ned Kelly was his name…”

“They were off to a place called Jerilderie, he explained. “Grandad invited him to call in on his way back and wished him good luck for the trip……..thought Ned seemed a polite young fellah…..”

***

There’s no doubting Bruce’s hero…….It was his Dad, Joseph Albert (Bert) Wright, who was born and raised across the road.

“Dad enlisted in the Australian Light Horse Regiment in 1914 and travelled to Egypt. He served in Gallipoli and, when he was fighting on the Western Front, was awarded the French Medal Militaire for valour and devotion to duty.”

“He also received the Croix de Guerre, the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.”

“I was eight when he headed off to the Second World War in 1940. He was promoted to Major and served ‘til the end of the War.”

“He paid a visit back to Gallipoli in 1967, but he never talked about the War much to me…….They say he was a great leader…… a very firm man….and a terrific horseman.”

“You know, when he was discharged, they offered him a pension but he refused to accept it……. said he was only doing his job, and wouldn’t take money from the government.”

Bert must have been a real straight-shooter……………much like his son Bruce…….

 

This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.

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