TWO QUIET MEN WITH AN INTERESTING BACKGROUND AND LIVES WELL LIVED.
I KNOW THAT YOU GREW UP IN THE COUNTRY SO WHAT HAPPENED?
I was born in Richmond but spent my first 10 years in Maryborough a Victorian country town. My primary school was on the road towards the cemetery and I remember that if a funeral went past we had to stop playing and bow our heads. Then we moved back to Melbourne and I went to Pascoe Vale State School and onto Coburg Tech. John Kennedy, the Hawthorn Football Club coach, was the Vice Principal at that time. When I left school I joined the SEC and studied Accountancy at night at Essendon Tech.
John at Coburg Tech.
I loved sports at school. I played cricket, tennis and footy, but my forte was athletics. I was a good 100 yards sprinter. My cousin, Ross Price, represented Australia at the 1954 Empire Games and the 1956 Melbourne Olympics . He was the one who introduced me to the Coburg Harriers Athletics Club when I was 15. Herb Elliott was a member too. I used to compete at the Country Gift Athletic meetings with my brother-in-law Bryan. We went to Maryborough, Beaufort and Wangaratta and others, but I did not qualify for the Stawell Gift. I played footy for Batman Football Club either as a rover or on the wing because I was fast and small.
HOW DID YOU BECOME A FOOTBALL UMPIRE?
I saw an ad. in the paper and that led to umpiring footy matches for 29 years. I have umpired over 1000 games. It was three each weekend at first. Preston Juniors on Saturday morning, East Suburban Churches on Saturday afternoon and Doncaster Juniors on Sundays. Paul Roos, Gary Pert and Mark Browning, yes I umpired them as youngsters.
I umpired consecutive Saturday and Sunday Grand Finals including a very spirited drawn Grand Final between arch rivals Beverly Hills and Bulleen Under 17’s. Now those were the days with only one umpire on the ground. You educate yourself to cut corners. Even so there’s lots of running, and that’s why I can’t walk now. Poor Fran was always washing mud splattered shorts.
I once got hit with a camera. A guy who followed Bulleen came running in yelling “Umpire no good, umpire no good!” and then he hit me. Another time I reported a player and the tribunal gave him eight weeks. The next Saturday I was followed home from Preston by four sets of car headlights, so I parked in the Heidelberg Police Station car park for protection.
DID YOU HAVE ANY OTHER INTERESTS GROWING UP?
Yes, I joined the cubs and then was a scout for six years. After that I was the Cub Master for the 7th Coburg group, and then took over the 4th Doncaster from 1968-1973. Mike and Bev Ballagh and Eileen McCormack’s sons were cubs during that time.
YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY COMMUNITY MINDED, WHAT ELSE HAVE YOU DONE FOR THE COMMUNITY?
I have always been a blood donor. I started when I was 18 years old and went through till I was 66. I have given 152 full blood donations. This badge was presented to me by the CEO of the Red Cross Organization at a ceremony at Etihad Stadium in March 2010. It is an award for 150 donations. There are annual awards presented for 50, 75, 100, 125, 150 and over. The CEO only does the presentations for the 150 and over.
The blood donor 100 badge. Fran searched all though the house but could not find the 150 badge.
WHY DID YOU START TO PLAY BOWLS?
Again I saw an ad. in the paper. Actually there were two ads., one for Donvale and another for Doncaster as they were both calling for new members. Donvale Bowls Club is closer to our house, we went there but it was closed. Then we tried Doncaster. Both my parents played Pennant bowls for Glenroy. Dad had lots of trophies. You know our son Jamie’s Christening had to be arranged around his Grandparents bowls commitments……yes, get your priorities right?
YOU PLAY WITH AN ARM NOW.
Yes I do. It wasn’t that difficult to learn and I think I do quite well.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR YOUNGER DAYS.
I grew up in Yarrawonga, but I was out of there at 15 and alone in the world. I had just finished year 9 and came straight down to Melbourne. I was employed as an apprentice plumber with the Victorian Railways at the Newport rail yards. It was a five year apprenticeship. During that time Kenny Beck and I lived together, remember him, he was a Hawthorn ruckman.
I also worked for councils all over Melbourne as a Health Inspector for 29 years. Then the councils amalgamated.
I BET YOU CAME ACROSS SOME UNHEALTHY SITUATIONS.
Oh yes, in 1966 I discovered someone watering down milk; they were topping it up with ice.
IN BETWEEN TIMES YOU WORKED FOR THE RED CROSS. HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?
Well I was selected because I was a health inspector. The Head of the Red Cross in Geneva had never heard of a “Health Inspector.” He wanted to know who this person was and how he organised the workers. You see I was trained both in sanitation and health inspection. So before I went on the first mission I did an emergency course to combine the two. Now I have been to four needy parts of the world. Each mission was for six months, and yes you do get paid.
WHERE WAS YOUR FIRST RED CROSS POSTING AND WHAT DID YOU HAVE TO DO?
It was in 1980 on the Thailand/ Cambodia border just after the Khmer Rouge was overthrown. We were installing portable toilets and water tanks. It was in the area where the refugees were. We were erecting trombones. No it is not a musical instrument! A trombone is a word for a water supply. They are built on a structure like a carpenter’s horse, with plastic tubing running across the top. There are holes every metre or so in this tube with a tap attached. The water is supplied from a mountain stream up the hillside.
We lived near an old converted rice mill. You can see the people standing around watching us work. Oh they played the system…” If you give us food we will work.”
IS THIS WHERE THE HOSPITAL WAS BURNT DOWN?
Yes, they did not want me to leave.
My next posting was in 1985-6 to Ethiopia. We were in Asimara, again organizing water, latrines, and food distribution. It was after the famine and we lived in various hotels in Northern Ethiopia. Here there were mini hospitals that were like health centres. They were built by the locals and then run by Red Cross doctors and nurses. I have worked with 10-20 different nationalities. I especially remember two Japanese nurses and an Irish relief coordinator who was also an distribution officer. We worked 12 hour days….sometimes longer. We were up at 5am but always had to get a clearance each day before we could enter the camp.
Next was in Iraq in 1991. This began two weeks after the Gulf War with the Kurds. Here’s we were erecting water tanks; they were like above ground swimming pools. We maintained the chlorinated water supply that fed the water outlets (the trombones again.) Each day I would test and chlorinate the water.
The last was in Somalia in 1993. The relief food came in by ships which were attacked by local pirates armed with mortars. Part of our work was guarding the beach, unloading the trucks and moving the goods to the warehouse. This warehouse was surrounded by a fence with a locked gate. I bought the lock because the Somalians were stealing the food. Then I was told, “It is their food Jeff and if you do not unlock the gate you will be killed.”
WERE YOU EVER SCARED?
Well I have been told that I should have been dead twice, once in Iraq and once in Somalia. We often could hear gunfire. In Northern Iraq I was running away from the gunfire and ran slap bang into a dead Gurus tree which has horrible spikes on it. I ended up in hospital with 14 stitches in my head wound.
YOU RECEIVED AN AWARD IN MELBOURNE, TELL ME ABOUT THAT.
That came from the Red Cross Headquarters in Geneva. I am so proud of that award. It is The Australian Red Cross Medal of “Meritorious Service.” It was presented to me in 1993 by the National Chairman who was sadly later assassinated in Thailand. I have it framed, and I am very humbled by the second last paragraph. I consider myself the luckiest person in the world because of the Red Cross.
AFTER SUCH AN EXCITING AND DANGEROUS LIFE HOW COME YOU CHOSE BOWLS?
That’s an interesting question. In 1983 I was down at East Malvern RSL Club watching a Pennant game. A few weeks later I joined, so at 43 years old I was playing in their top side. When we moved to Box Hill I transferred there and played for Box Hill for eight years always playing lead or second. Now I am here at Doncaster still playing lead and I love playing with Irene Garrett who is my skip.