Jack WHITE and Bert WHITE

An inspection of the Committee room at Collingwood Harriers will find an impressive photo of Jack White replete with his Blue Ribbon from his win in the Club’s first Five Mile Cross Country Championship, conducted in our inaugural year, 1926. It was the first of his two wins in the event, the second coming in 1927.


Only to be expected, there are very few, if any, members around who can give us any description of Jack’s prowess and abilities, however your scribe can remember long time member, Bill Tunaley, mentioning many years ago, what an impressive looking specimen Jack was and that he certainly could run!

So, it was with a great deal of excitement that, in mid 2014, the Club received an email from Albert Collie asking for any information that we may possess concerning his grandfather Jack White and Jack’s younger brother Bert. The Club was happy to provide what we knew, but even happier to be able to invite Albert and other family members to the running of  ‘The Five’ later that year.

The attendance of Albert and his parents, Heather (Jack’s daughter) and Albert Collie Snr, to the 2014 fixture added another dimension to what has become the highlight of the Club year, our Parade of Champions, following the conduct of the race. In a quite emotional atmosphere Heather Collie presented the Blue Ribbon to Virginia Moloney for her first win in the women’s championship and then Albert himself stepped forward to present the Ribbon to Jai Edmonds, also in his first win in the event.

The Club received a lovely note from the family in subsequent days thanking all concerned for the hospitality shown to them and also congratulating the Club on how the history of times gone by is being preserved.

But perhaps even more importantly, Albert promised to provide some information on his grandfather and great uncle for us to add to our archives.


John (Jack) White, his brothers Bert and Jim, sisters Maude and Annie together with their mother Elizabeth, came across to Melbourne from Launceston, Tasmania in 1921, taking up residence in Richmond. They subsequently moved a number of times, firstly to Box Hill, then Essendon (beside the airport), Keilor and then Noble Park in 1935.

Jack was born on the 24th April 1904 – of this we are sure. Bert is thought to have arrived in this world on May 25th 1907.

Jack probably met his wife to be, Myrtle Scown when he lived in Richmond. She lived in Collingwood, opposite the church instrumental in the foundation of the Collingwood Harriers.

Myrtle’s mother, Florence Scown knew the Minister of the Church who was murdered in the Manse attached to the church in the early 1930s. Of course the Minister was the Rev. Harold Laceby Cecil, the first President of the Collingwood Harriers Club.

Jack and Myrtle were married in 1927

Jack and Bert joined the Collingwood Harriers in 1926, being two of the very early members.

The date shown for them joining is just one week after the official registration of the Club. Unfortunately for the Club, the brothers joined the professional ranks in 1929 (along with a number of their club mates) which is more likely to be a sign of the economic times being experienced at the times rather than any great dissatisfaction with the Club itself.

In the first years of their marriage, Jack, Myrtle their three children, Merle, Heather and John Jnr.,(all born during this period) shared houses with his mother and his brother Bert.

When they lived in Box Hill, Jack and Bert played football with Bayswater.

Whilst living in Essendon, Jack and Bert would drag the sand from the local creek using basic homemade tools and sell it. During this time they became acquainted with a horse trainer named Bourke for whom they subsequently worked. It was this gentleman who was instrumental in getting them jobs at Smith Mitchell’s Malt House in Richmond near the Yarra River, where they turned the malt by hand.

Following the move to Noble Park in 1935 Jack bought two acres of land, while Bert purchased a block just a street away, where he lived with his mother.

Both the boys bought relocatable homes to live in.

Jack and Myrtle added to their family in Noble Park with the arrival of Colin and Helen.

Jack gave Merle and Heather a block of land each to build homes on when they were married.

Bert served with the armed forces during the second World War.

During the time in which Jack and Bert lived in Noble Park they worked in Richmond at the Malthouse. They would run to and from work each Sunday as there were no early trains in those days. Whilst working at the Malthouse, Jack and Bert also had a small poultry farm. They sold their eggs to the Egg Board. In addition they also made roof tiles with hand machinery.

They also dabbled in greyhound training and owned a greyhound called Flash.

Jack bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle during their time in Noble Park and made a sidecar for it.

Jack and Myrtle moved from Noble Park to Emerald in 1953 and Bert moved to Selby with their mother at the same time. Here Jack worked with Bert, felling trees which were to be used for fence posts. One day while on the job, a tree fell on Jack’s arm, causing severe damage resulting in his arm being permanently bent.

Jack and Myrtle moved to Monbulk in 1956 where Jack grew strawberries, carrots and chestnuts. In the fruit processing season he worked nightshift at the Monbulk Jam factory.

Bert had a small poultry farm in Selby.

The White family matriarch passed away 1966 aged 106 and that time Bert moved to Rosebud where he later passed away in 1998.

Myrtle passed away in 1970. Jack continued to live in Monbulk with his youngest daughter, Helen, for several years. He continued to carry out his farming activities until his passing at the age of 85 in 1988.

He was a very fit man right up until contracting the illness which resulted in his death. Where he lived in Monbulk was at the top of a very steep hill and he was required to walk up and down that hill almost every day to tend his carrot patch.

He was a very gentle and humble man whose only vice was to have a bet on the horses or greyhounds.

*         *          *          *          *

A perusal of our early records show the Whites were prepared to have a go at more than just distance running. Whether it was just because athletics was new pursuit for them we’ll never know, however it would be good to think that just like in these days, athletes from the past were keen on getting those extra points for the Club on a Saturday afternoon!

Club records held:

Jack White    1 Mile       4:48.5  30/10/1926

4:42.2  13/11/1926

4:41.2  20/11/1926

4:40.0  18/12/1926

880 yards     2:07.8    6/11/1926

2:06.6    4/12/1926

440 yards     56.4       20/11/1926                Bert White       56.3     19/03/1927

High Jump    5’2” 1.57m        19/11/1927

Shot Put         32’2”  9.81m     16/11/1929

Discus            82’1’’  25.03m  29/01/1927

84’ 0”  26.62m   5/03/1927

In the Victorian Championships held in 1927, Jack finished 10th in the 1 Mile (NT – winner 4:32), but did finish 2nd in the 3 Mile event some 30 yards (28m) behind the winner whose time is shown as 15:18.3.

In the same year Jack finished 4th in the State 5 Mile Cross Country Championship in 28:45 – 80 seconds behind the winner.

Our (complete!) list of members rarely shows a departure date for athletes, mainly because they tend to just not sign up for the next season. Very few announce that they are retiring!

However there are over two dozen members who have a departure date of 2/12/1929.

The Whites are among them. It would suggest a mass exodus to the professional ranks. The difficult financial times of that era would have made the chance to make extra pound or just a few shillings for a short period of physical exertion most attractive.

Some perusal of early Club diaries finds many mentions of the White boys and the exploits on the track and various cross-country courses.

Apparently they had been seen running around the Yarra Bend area and were approached to join the Club very early on. Jack is said to have stood at 6’1” (1.83m) and hit the scales at a little over 13 stone (80kg). He was, even as a first season athlete, regularly mentioned in the newspapers with comments such as: “Jack White was the most promising miler who had come to light this season and had yet to be pushed to produce his best. Though inexperienced, a 4:30 mile would not be beyond him.” – Sporting Globe

Jack White’s mile run was reported by The Sun as a ”sterling performance.”

The Globe described Jack: as a finely developed specimen of manhood. His fine physique and long limbs suggest he would make a good distance runner”, and in another article as: “that giant from Collingwood”.

During the season a match race was organised by the Malvern Athletic Club between J. Meyers, a seventeen year old Mentone Grammar boy, who had built up a string of achievements from the long jump to the 880 yards and Collingwood’s Jack White, at an “Electric Light Meeting” at the Malvern Cricket Ground.

The Sporting Globe reported, “that the event that created the most interest at the Malvern meeting was the 880 match between White and Meyers. A previous match had been organised and White had won and tonight’s meeting was a return challenge by Meyers.

Meyers dashed to the lead on the gun and tried to break White up. White had greater pace however and stuck to the Malvern boy’s heels. When Meyers attempted to move away towards the finish, White was with him and swept past him in the final straight to win nicely in 2:07.6”

Jack White was regarded as a good runner with plenty of potential but had not really run a fast time over any distance, so he wasn’t regarded as real danger, but the Victorian Championships soon changed all that!

The second day of the Victorian Championships saw White run a gallant second in his first three mile track run. G.R. (George) Hyde was the title holder with 14:55, and also held the Victorian Record at 14:11.0 and was the eventual winner, but all honours went to White. White and Hyde led the field of twenty through the first mile in 5:05 and with L. Nichterlein joining in, these three cleared away till with three laps to go, White lost a shoe and was badly spiked. White lost a considerable amount of ground but with 220 yards to go White had come to be on level terms with Hyde, but Hyde was too fast and White too tired and was beaten by 30 yards, with the winner recording 15:18.4.

White had apparently been spiked in a vein and not only his, but also Hyde’s leg, were completely spattered with blood.

In an interview, George Hyde gave great credit to White for his plucky effort. “The honours of the race were with him!” Hyde declared. The Sporting Globe wrote: “that although there was great applause for the Australian mile and three mile champion, one must give unstinted praise to the man who ran second. Jack White, the young Collingwood runner, has proved himself to be one of the gamest runners ever to step onto a track. White’s performance was a splendid culmination to his first season.”


September  2017