I loved sports and competing because it allowed me to flush out my
competitiveness and seemingly unending energy (well then anyway!).
Also I loved the team spirit and mateship. It wasn't like the
streets where you looked around for help from your mates and they
were gone when things got tough. It wasn't like real life when you
were so often left high and dry by someone's promise. The team
stuck together because they knew they had no chance of success if
Through the years, my teams beat many better outfits because of
better teamwork - not necessarily because we were better players.
I started playing sports at Cleveland Street school. Our main rivals
in inter school sport were Gardiners Road and Fort Street.
I recall many close encounters of great importance with them. I seem
to remember more wins than losses, but that could be because losses
are something easily forgotten by fiercely competitive young boys
who'd rather forget them anyway.
The Gardiners Road encounters were probably the fiercest because the
school was closest to ours and more or less a "local derby".
We "encountered" many of their kids outside school hours and so it
seemed even more important to win against them to maintain a superior
air ... and again, I seem to recall a feeling of superiority more
often than not.
Fort Street were tolerable to have a loss to because it was well
known they had the "money" parents and were more "tech than talent"
(boys could be a little "catty" to justify their giant egos).
Cricket, soccer, league, track and field - I made the teams at my
school and thrived on any competition.
I played league and soccer after school too, but circumstances forced
me to choose between them.
So I chose soccer which I personally found more challenging and more
exhausting because of the extra time played and more non stop. Also
there were less "cheap shots" from opponents because it was more of
an open game.
And in league I got sent off quite a few times responding to the
"cheap shots" that weren't seen by the ref and a lot of times I went
for the scrum or tackle cowards after the game and I was in more
trouble than it was worth.
Not that this was completely eliminated from soccer, but it seemed
well within my tolerance limit, so I was much less agitated and
Over the years I was very fortunate to be a part of many premiership
teams, winning knockout competitions and carnivals as well as "seven
a side" trophies.
In my early teens I was also interested in boxing and regularly
trained at Billy McConnell's Gym in my area at Chippendale. For a
while I did it because it was the in thing for "superiors" to do
and it was good for my fitness all round.
I saw many "greats" up close and spoke to them there - nowhere else
would I have had the opportunity to do this.
A few I can recall were Vic Patrick, Freddy Dawson, Tommy Burns,
Jimmy Carruthers, Don (Bronco) Johnson, Archie Moore, Archie Kemp,
Keith Barnes, Bobby Sin, Dave Sands and his talented brothers - and
To us kids, these men were heroes. Reflecting now, I realise they were
ordinary talented people striving to make their mark and earn a
living in tough times.
They did it tough for very little reward by today's standards.
I (would you believe) was asked by the local Chippendale City
Mission minister (Mr. Warren) to help start a youth club for the
locals. He hadn't had much response and thought I would be listened
to more by the local youth.
Not being one to shirk any challenge (?), I took it up.
It was here I discovered that a lot of my friends weren't very
versatile or adventurous. In fact I found many that weren't my
type at all by the reaction I got - me suggesting they "mix with
the bible bashers and poofs!".
A 'tad' unfair I thought as I slapped a few "learning" and big mouth
'ex' mates, for their unkind words and low opinions of Christians
in general that were unfounded and most unfair.
The Mission people in the main seemed quite reasonable to me and very
fair and supportive which gave a feeling of security at the time.
So we got the club membership up and entered the Sydney City
Mission table tennis competition. We won the competition in our
first and second year and I met some very good young people there
that had very definite goals in life - something I hadn't seen in
many kids before that. We also played (and beat) interstate teams
on a representative level.
The only catch to being in the club for us kids was that we had to
attend the Sunday night service. I said from the start that this
could be too much for many to take to immediately, so it was set to
once a month and if you didn't go once in the month at least, you
were not considered for the team until you did. It worked ok.
Like a lot of young guys around the area (and other areas) I liked
Pool (more than billiards). We mostly played at "The Wembley Pool
Hall" which was downstairs near the old "Glaciaerium" ice skating
rink in George Street, opposite the Central Tram Loop. We all
thought we were champions too - but only played socially.
We often witnessed the hustling of unwary visitors or even regulars
who tried to bite off more than they could chew.
I saw a few billiard cues used with great finesse playing - and for
for other purposes too!. I collected a few stitches up into my
hairline once from one used on me. More than the pain was the extra
embarrassment of having to wear a hat for a few weeks to cover the
shaved spot where the stitches went, until it grew back. It wasn't
the first time I'd been shaved up top for stitches - with never a
thought for lost eyes etc. that I can recall.
Earlier lessons had shown that a man with a weapon in his hand could
be more than your equal, so who was I to act any differently to the
rest of the young "thicks" I knocked around with at the time.
I tried wrestling but somehow couldn't come to grips (excuse the pun)
with all the "serious" cuddling it seemed was required, so I gave
Boxing seemed better because you were non too gently pushing your
opponent away as you tried to nail him.
Shooting was a popular "sport" with us also, but we didn't have any
gun clubs in our area (the city) naturally enough, (we'd have probably
shot half the population of inner Sydney) so we would travel out
into the scrub.
Malabar/La Perouse, Kuringai, Mount Colah and Engadine were favoured
spots as they were "far away".
Somehow I found I couldn't hit a live target 5 metres away. Branches
at 50 metres were a snack. Line up bottles or drums and I'd make
them disappear in a hurry. If it was alive, I couldn't get close.
It got to the stage "serious" shooters ( they really took themselves
seriously!) didn't seem to want me along.
One weekend some mates and I drove to Mount Colah for a days
shooting . We went in this ("serious shooters") old Morris Cowley
sedan which had the big rounded chromed shiny radiator front cover.
We climbed up the mountain, letting fly in all directions as we went.
After a couple of hours moving around up there, we had no idea where
we were in the end. Much to the disappointment of the "serious"
one, we had seen no moving targets either. Being the self elected
leader and expert, he decided to call us together and we were to have
a shootout on a target he nominated.
Back down the mountain he pointed to a glint that he said was the
sun reflecting from a bottle or the like and we were to take turns
to se who could shatter it.
We spent about 100 rounds between us but we couldn't make that
reflection shatter or go away. Then a cloud crossed the sun and
it disappeared, along with our interest for shooting any more.
We picked our way back down quietly, as we were short of ammo by this
time, and had a job finding the track back to the car. We found our
way to the track and into the clearing where he'd parked his car.
And there the car was -- shot up and riddled. We hadn't missed with
that target with too many shots.
We caught a train home - the car is probably still up there!.
The only other time I went shooting was with a mate to the LaPerouse
rifle range. It was at night and purely spur of the moment stuff.
We got of our motor bikes, grabbed our rifles and set out in opposite
directions for safety.....saying we'd meet back there in a couple of
It was a cloudy to moonlit night and we set off.
I walked along for a little while, taking great care to keep the moon
to my left so my bearings were accurate. After about an hour and
approximately half a dozen cigarettes, I decided to retrace my steps
and wait for my mate.
I had barely turned to go when I noticed movement to my right followed
by a flash and a kick to my right leg. I had no idea what it was then
but I instinctively raised my rifle and fired at the flash. As I
fired I was startled to hear two "cracks" of fire........and I worked
out that the flash I fired at was from another gun. I stood there
and clicked another shell into the breach and yelled "who's there?"
(not like the westerns showed us how to say it).
A voice yelled back "You've shot me, what are you doing here"
It was my mate.
We worked out he had circled back into my area and that's how the mix
up (and shootings) had occurred.
When it dawned on him he'd been shot and he saw the blood pumping,
from his arm he started moaning that he thought he was going to die.
I had to calm him down and I wasn't feeling too flash about the
whole thing either. I'd no sooner done that than the moon poked
out from behind a cloud and he saw the blood running down my leg
and he just about went mental again. I was more than a little
concerned myself (actually).
After a few minutes we started laughing at our dumb luck and actions
and what fools we were going shooting at night anyway.
We flagged a lift to the base hospital for what turned out to be only
flesh wounds and the doctors called the police as they had to do by
law for gunshot wounds.
We had our stories down pat. We were both cleaning our rifles when
one went off and caused the other one to fire. What bad luck!
Well the police were good - they told us they didn't buy a word of
it but to sign statements to that effect and dont come back to the
area because we were dangerous.
Ok with me I thought, as we travelled home that night, I dont like
shooting anyway. Especially if they're all as serious as those
doctors and grumpy policemen.
What we do when we are bored can be dangerous.......... especially
when we're young.
We had our bikes picked up for us because we couldn't ride them ....
(punishment from the "grumpies").
I Briefly played tennis, rode juvenile for Botany ( bike racing),
did well at baseball but couldn't stand the sledging (again got
into fights), loved tenpin bowls but waiting for so long for your
turn in competition seemed boring to a 'man of action' like me.
Darts were good and I won quite a bit of money playing - mostly
around the pubs, where I was the unoriginal "two bob lair" - and a
legend in my own mind and lunchtime!
What turns the young male, who is even slightly good at something,
into a strutting peacock, is beyond me. (Well - now it is anyway!)
What were the memorable moments.......I guess winning was at the
time. Being part of the team was larger than life itself to most
of us and gave us a sense of belonging and being appreciated, along
with the confidence youth so often finds hard to come by.
As a team player you felt you weren't alone and you could always
rely on one another. The mateship drove you to achieve things you
never aspired to or thought you could before and taught you that
you had to be a sport to play a sport.
I'll never experience those "heady" feelings again in my life or
achieve that exhilarating fitness I feel privileged to have once
had, but will never know or be able to reclaim again.
So sport has a very special place in my memories.