Robert Hendy is truly one of the Club’s greats!
Joining the Club in October 1963, after tossing up between cricket and athletics, Robert immediately impressed Club officials at our Track Trials, but even then, the future that eventuated was probably not quite foreseen, either in its longevity or success!
Robert came to the Club because he had done ‘all right’ at the Post Office sports’ carnival.
“You should give athletics a go,” he was told. “Go down to Collingwood Harriers in Clifton Hill, you might do well!”
Robert did come down to Collingwood Harriers and the rest is history!
Ten victories in the Club 5 Mile Cross-Country Championship certainly place Robert right at the top of our winter performers. Robert was actually first over the line eleven times but was running as an invite in 1992 so was ineligible for the sash. Many other Club Championships were won by R.J. over the years in a variety of events.
Robert represented Australia four times from 1973 to 1977.
1973 Pacific International Games – British Colombia – Canada
1st 3000 Metres Steeplechase 8:29.0 then Canadian Record and still Club Record
1st 1500 Metres (Satellite meeting) Saskatoon 3:45
1974 Commonwealth Games – Christchurch – New Zealand
Finalist 3000 Metre Steeplechase 8:40
4th. heat 5000 Metres 14:08
1975 World Games – Christchurch – New Zealand
Finalist 3000 Metres Steeplechase 8:47 (fell with 700m to go!)
8th 1500 Metres 3:41.8 P.B. and still Club Record
1977 Pacific Conference Games – Canberra – Australia
3rd 3000 Metres Steeplechase
8th 1500 Metres
Unsurprisingly Robert also had quite a deal of success at State level, winning eight Victorian Steeplechase titles between 1968 and 1977. In 1975, the Steeple and 1500 Metres titles in both N.S.W. and South Australia also fell to Robert. During the period from 1968 to 1977 Robert represented Victoria 20 times in both summer and winter fixtures.
The Olympic Games were of course a big ambition for Robert and although he was placed in the trials for 1968, 1972 and 1976 he was unable to make it to the big one. In two of these trials Robert missed the qualifying by less than a second.
One of the personal highlights of Robert’s career came in 1971 when he was successful in winning the Victorian 10 Mile (now 16k) Cross-Country title. Always a great competitor, it is fair to say that this distance was not Robert’s favourite, but on the day, things fell his way and running as much with his head as his feet he was able to outsmart the race favourite to claim the victory.
The Club was shocked and disappointed when Robert was made an offer he couldn’t refuse in 1977, which saw him leave our ranks and run with the professionals for the next few years.
It is fair to say that the decision hurt Robert too, but he really was left no option but to look after his future.
Robert became the face of the pro circuit for a few seasons, featuring prominently on the television each Sunday in the half time events at the VFA games. Perhaps his biggest win was in the Moomba Mile run up Bourke St. in 1981. The $1000:00 purse was very gratefully received. The win at Doncaster off scratch in 8k Cross-Country was another highlight as were the wins at Bendigo, Echuca and Wangaratta in 800 Metre events and Ringwood, Preston, Port Melbourne, Prahran and Dandenong in 1000 Metre events.
Robert also participated extensively in the Masters Athletics (formerly Veterans) having great success at State, National and International level. Over the period from 1990 to 2005 Robert won 5 x 800m, 10 x 1500m and 5 x 5000m titles at the Victorian and/or Australian Championships.
A more detailed resume includes:
1994 World Masters – Queensland 45-49 years
1st 3000 Metres Steeplechase
2nd 1500 Metres
1995 Australian Masters – Melbourne 50-54 years
1st 3000 Metres Steeplechase Victorian age group record
1st 1500 Metres Victorian age group record
1997 Canberra 50-54 years
1st 800 Metres
2000 Asia-Pacific Masters Games – Queensland 50-54 years
1st 800 Metres
1st 1500 Metres
Robert also ran in 11 Melbourne Marathons from 1980 to 1992.
When the rules regarding the amateur/professional situation were relaxed Robert again became involved with Collingwood Harriers and his involvement played a big part in the resurgence of the Club through the late nineties onwards. He was a part of quite a few of our overage teams in the winter relays and his enthusiasm towards other runners was just like ‘the old days’ when Robert Hendy was not only the athlete, but the motivator as well, in both summer and winter seasons. Still, Robert is available to help our junior athletes and has often played a part in assisting with coaching schedules and advice.
Robert always put the Club first! Even in his very best days, Robert would always put his personal welfare second to the Club’s fortunes. How many times did we see Robert volunteer to do the high jump or 440 yards hurdles despite having to run a Victorian Championship the next day?
A real bitter sweet moment occurred in the 1973 Victorian 1 Mile Championship, held at the Box Hill track. Robert qualified for the final which consisted of the cream of the runners of the day.
The magical four minute mile beckoned!
Robert was well placed throughout the final and although probably never going to beat either Graeme Crouch or Peter Fuller, his effort to finish third was inspirational to all those Collingwood supporters present.
But the placing was not the big issue!!
What time did he run?
No electronic timing in 1973. There were three (hand held) watches on each of the placegetters.
Robert’s time was announced as 4:00.1
One tenth of a ………………………….second!
It was some thirty years later that it came out that two of the watches had Robert under four minutes, but under the rules of the day, the slowest time was taken!
Further evidence of Robert’s attitude to his running and his application to the fortunes of the Club rather than his personal achievements can be seen in the following note written in the Victorian Marathon Club’s newsletter (Vol 7 No 1 1975) by Olympian and future Australian coach, Chris Wardlaw.
“Hendy has had a long season and really it is remarkable that he was able to peak so well in November, January and March. He is certainly not a lost cause for next season if he can pursue a more concentrated peak.”
Robert had just finished second in the Australian Steeplechase Championship – 8:39.2
In 2005, the Club introduced the Winter Points Awards, initially to encourage a better participation in the Club winter events. We saw fit to name the senior award the Robert Hendy Award. Of course Robert’s participation and success was a big factor in his name being used. But it was his enthusiasm and passion for the Club that was just as important.
It is great that Robert is always available to present ‘his’ award at the start of each winter season
Collingwood Harriers owes much to Robert Hendy!
Over the years Robert brought others to the Club. His brother Ron (father of champion surf Iron man, Trevor) had a couple of runs with us, as did his cousins Ron and Gary Moylan. Ron Moylan went on to play a few games with the Collingwood Football Club.
Gary competed off and on for a few seasons but was not as consistent as his big cousin!
Robert’s mum and dad were keen supporters of the Club often hosting Crazy Whist nights at their home in Thornbury.
Robert’s own records show that between 1963 and 2012 he ran over 1500 races, winning approximately 440 of them.
Something to aim at!!
Robert was made a Life Member of Collingwood Harriers in 2001 – thirty eight years after first joining the Club. Of course the years lost while ‘absent on professional duties’ played a big part in the delay, Robert’s final promotion to Life Membership was one of the most popular announcements made in the Club’s history.