Ted Nixon (UNE ANFC founder member)
I arrived in freezing Armidale from temperate Melbourne as a callow young lecturer of 22 in 1962.
What a culture shock!
The population seemed to be divided into three mutually antagonistic groups: squatters, townies and uni people. I discovered later that the barriers could be and were lowered – on certain conditions. Usually, but not always, to mutual benefit. That’s another subject.
But my fellow-’Mexicans’ and I were aghast to find that there was no Aussie Rules around, so several of us set up a team and somehow or other arranged to play other sides. Bob Cason reminds me of the driving forces: apart from himself (and me), Bob Myers, Wes (Rob Wesley-Smith) and Neville Crew. Others came in later. Naturally those who attend the reunion will take the lion’s share of the credit. Rightly!
Designing the jumper (sweater) was an early task. We settled on a gold V on a green ground, with black trimmings. Moth-eaten examples will be available for inspection at the reunion.There was a design fault. Only a handful of blokes were muscle-bound enough to fill it out and stop the gold V from sliding over the shoulders. Paul Stephens, who spent his youth chucking wheat bags around somewhere in South Australia, was one such. I refer you to the 1963 Intervarsity team photo.
We had some difficulty finding enough players, so recruited some rugby players to fill the gaps. They had their advantages, but cost us lots of frees. They tended to throw the ball when tackled. On the other hand, though this cost us more frees, their flying tackles could surprise and sometimes demoralise opponents.
Somehow or other Moree had a team, more or less, so we’d make the 170 mile drive there (and back) to play a game. I remember on one occasion they were short and we were rash enough to lend them our best player, our captain, Jack Obst. (The bloke who later played for Melbourne might be a relative?) It’s a vivid memory, because I had to play on him. I reckoned I played a blinder: he only took 5 marks, but he bloody well kicked 5 goals.
After the game we’d relax in the artesian baths and then have a couple of beers before heading home. The combination was not good. One night it was freezing, and my passengers insisted on having the car heater on. I insisted on them talking to me, but one by one they fell asleep. The road was straight and the inevitable happened. I woke to find a furrow the length of my VW where a drive shaft would be on a real car. Very fortunately no-one was injured, but the guide post didn’t look too good.
Intervarsity was a lot of fun. I was ineligible to play, no longer being a student, but we badly needed numbers, so a temporary enrolment for a higher degree seemed in order. In 1963 I-V was in Sydney. Some of the festivities took place in a hotel at the Cross (Was it the Diplomat? Anyway, it was one of those places where you needed to put the plug in the basin in your room at night lest zillions of cockroaches invaded). That was when my car got its first and only wash. I’m of the school that believes that dirt protects the duco. Anyway, I was lucky enough (I thought at the time) to get a parking spot right outside the venue, but at some late hour a technicolour shower out a window scored a direct hit. For some unfathomable female reason my current girlfriend refused to be driven in the car until I’d washed it.
I think we performed what would later be considered an impossible feat that year. I believe we beat the U. of N.S.W.! Probably because of Jack (Obst).
In 1964 I-V was in Perth. A bloody long way. Temporary enrolments being discouraged by then I may have played under an assumed name. Hoopy Dale’s, I think.
Some of us decided to take the train. For reasons that train buffs might be able to explain, at the dead of night it stopped at some godforsaken fettlers’ settlement in the middle of the Nullarbor just as we were running out of beer. Across a pitch black paddock (or two) a beacon shone out: unbelievably, a red neon sign read ‘HOTEL’.
Without hesitation a robust and thirsty party set out for replenishments. Success! Sufficient cases were purchased to relieve the drought. As we neared the train it began to move! I regret to say that some of those on board seemed more anxious that we throw the grog inside than ourselves, but before the train sped up more kindly hands hauled us in.
While all made it safely on that occasion the same could not be said of the survival rate after West Australian hospitality. Not all my recollections of this I-V are crystal clear, but I do have one. It is of the morning after the dinner. We managed to take the field at roughly the scheduled time, and embarked on the ritual jog around the oval. All but one (who shall be nameless). He, unaccountably, made straight across the oval to perform some ritual ceremony of his own, leaning waist bent across the boundary fence. Being short-sighted, I cannot report on the details of this ceremony: it was too far away. It probably involved libations on sacred soil.
I cannot testify to the truth of the following, but it may have been because of the obvious success of my keeping an avuncular eye on the younger players that I was subsequently appointed as a resident tutor in Wright College. Alas, this appointment came to an abrupt end in circumstances that are too painful to recall here (but will be described in graphic detail at the reunion).
I left Armidale for the northern hemisphere in 1965 and only played Rules a couple of more times, in the annual Cambridge-Oxford matches.
I look forward to seeing on Saturday how the game has advanced in the meantime.