Surely one of the most graceful athletes ever to pull on the Black and White!
Probably one of the most gifted sportsmen ever to represent the Club!
Nothing ever seemed to be an effort. Everything he did seemed to be so natural.
George came to Melbourne from Tallangatta, originally to play football. He had signed with Footscray and intended to do the pre-season, but fortunately for Collingwood Harriers, George decided that athletics was the go and he joined the Club in November 1947.
In only his second track season (1948) George gained placings in the Victorian high jump (2nd) and pole vault (3rd) titles. A year later saw ‘Bartles’ gain a third place in the high jump at the National titles in Sydney before coming back to Melbourne to win the State Championship in the same event.
Disappointment followed in 1950 when George was chosen to go to Adelaide for the Australian Championships, which in that year also doubled as the selection trials for the Empire (now Commonwealth) Games to be held in New Zealand. George was required to pay his own way, which unfortunately was not possible and so an almost certain position in the Australian Team went begging. He had reached the qualifying standard many times and had also often beaten two of the three athletes finally chosen for the trip.
From 1950 to 1955 George never failed to gain a placing in the pole vault, high jump or decathlon at Victorian Championship level. George too was an integral part of Collingwood’s two A Grade track Titles of the late 1950s.
George retired from competition, but by no means was he lost to the Club. Long time committee member and delegate to the V.A.A.A. (now A.V.), George was also very proud to be elected President in the early sixties.
In 1973 ‘Bartles’ was appointed Manager for the Victorian Shell East Coast Team which came home from Brisbane with the winner’s shield. It is interesting to note that a member of that team was present day coach of many of Australia’s leading athletes Craig Hilliard, then a 400m hurdler. This appointment was followed the next season with the Assistant Manager’s role with the Victorian Senior Track team to the Australian Championships.
George was instrumental in bringing Little Athletics to Melbourne. After hearing about the new innovation in Geelong from Trevor Billingham, George was encouraged to visit the set-up and have a look. Together with Ray Harbert, Brian Clarke and Kevin Gray, George travelled to Geelong to see first hand over 1000 kids enjoying a morning’s fun with athletics. From this trip Little Athletics came to Collingwood!
This trip, in an around about way had another effect on the Club. Once Little Aths. was established it became very obvious that our old clubrooms and small grass oval were not big enough. After many meetings to plan the ‘attack’ George, Norm Francisco, Ray Coverdale and Bill Tunaley made a presentation to the Collingwood City Council seeking assistance for a new track and rooms. The deputation went to the Chambers after being granted thirty minutes to present ‘the plan!’ Something must have gone right! They spoke for one and a half hours! The seed was planted. From that seed, our great facilities grew!
When Veteran’s Athletics began in the seventies George was in his element! Not only did ‘Bartles’ take up the cudgels against many of his former adversaries, but he made a comeback to interclub competition with Collingwood on a Saturday afternoon.
It was at this point that your correspondent realised how good George must have been! Although not in the top grades any more, George had much success in the lower grades in his beloved high jump as well as many other events. But it was in the hurdles, that George showed his real class as an athlete. Here was a man, returning to a sport he hadn’t done for nearly twenty years, going over the sticks as if they weren’t even there.
In 1975, George, Bill Tunaley and Ray Harbert visited New York for the U.S Masters and then Toronto in Canada for the first ever World Masters Games. Entering four events in New York, George won the high jump and 120 yards hurdles and placed in the long jump and pole vault. In Toronto, George gained five medals from five events. Third places were gained in the long jump and pole vault, a second in the hurdles and Gold Medals in the high jump and triple jump, both in Canadian records!
George saw many changes in athletics – from grass tracks to cinders, to rubberised bitumen and the synthetic surfaces of the present day. Jumping pits haven’t always been beds of foam rubber, one metre thick. George remembered pits of sand, sawdust or wood shavings. Poles started out stiff – made form bamboo or metal. Only when the fibre glass poles came along did the flexibility really come into the pole action.
In Rabaul, New Guinea with the army when WW2 finished, George helped organise an athletic meeting. Of course George wanted a pole vault event. He and another chap, Ernie Laines, went into the jungle to cut down their own poles. The uprights proved a little more difficult. Finally they found two palm trees just the right distance apart. The contest was moved to the trees! The cross bar consisted of a length of rope with coconuts attached to each end to take up the slack. The natives had to scale the trees to re-attach the rope after each failed attempt. There was no landing pit. They just ‘dug the soil a bit!’
George really enjoyed his time at the Club. His wife Laurel was very involved in the Club’s activities, acting as Social Secretary for some time. Son, Stephen, competed for a couple of seasons before giving up athletics to concentrate on his architectural studies. George took great delight in pointing out that he Laurel married during the winter because he was a track athlete.
George had fond memories of some of the Club Relays. One incident in particular involved Ray Coverdale. The boys had run from Port Melbourne,( beginning at 4:00a.m.) to Echuca, arriving at3:55pm, thus beating the twelve hour target for the sea to river trip. During dinner, Ray complained of sore feet and removed his shoes. Some wag (!!!!!!!) decided to help Ray by putting the vinegar from the table into his shoes. Ray was not amused!
On another trip, this time to Healesville, the boys got a bit hungry during the card game late that night. Fish and chips were suggested. George reckons there were enough chips to feed an army when they arrived back. The procurers of the eats had taken all the chips the shop had!
During the seventies, the Club mad a number of trips to Nhill (north west Victoria) to do some coaching with their Little Aths kids. George and son Stephen were to come on one of these trips in 1972. At the last minute, Nhill suggested that it wasn’t a good weekend to come as the local footy was being played away, which meant, in that area, a long way away! We decided to go anyway and have a weekend of golf. We soon learnt that George was a natural at that too! In fact bandit may have been a better word.
At some stage we had a kick and again we could see, even after all those years, what had attracted a league club to the Bartlett home in Tallangatta. To top it off, a cricket bat appeared and you’ve guessed it – George had an action that would have put D.K. Lillee to shame.
After finally giving athletics away in the late seventies and retiring from work, George and Laurel moved to Grantville, just short of Phillip Island. He joined Lang Lang Golf Club and played multiple times a week for many years. George managed to reduce his handicap to 8 and won the Club Foursomes on two occasions. Earlier playing of 10, George did hit a par round of 70.
George held the Club record in the 50-54 Pole Vault at 3.00m for many years, until Chris Boylen reached that age group.
And in those early days of Veterans athletics George did actually set a World Record for the 120 yards hurdles in one of the competitions.
George was a passionate supporter of all things Collingwood! He didn’t always agree with everything done at the Club (athletics or football!) but you always knew where you stood with George.
Unfortunately George’s health declined in his later years and his mobility suffered quite a deal. His last trip to the Clubrooms was for the 5 Mile Cross-Country Championship in 2007. Despite being wheelchair bound, George had a great day with many of his friends.
Just four months later, George passed away on December 9th.
Note: Yes! There is a spelling mistake in the wording under the action photo of George. It was noticed when preparing for this publication, some sixty-five years after the photo was framed and placed in the clubrooms!