Laurie Hehir’s Collingwood Harriers Experience
My first memory of the Harriers is as a young child. It was where adults ran around and threw spears and things. You see, I lived two blocks from the clubrooms in O’Grady Street and I and my mates used to run across the grounds to get to our battlefields by the Merri Creek. Little did I realise I would spend a significant and very enjoyable part of my youth tearing around those very fields!
I joined the club while still at school in 1957. Like most young kids at the time, I had been profoundly influenced by the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne and desperately wanted to emulate those heroes I had watched on the tellie. I was particularly attracted to the track and field and saw myself as a future world champion decathlete.
Accordingly, I set about competing in absolutely every discipline I could; High and long jump, pole vault, shot put, discus and running. I even had a go at the hammer throw. I’m pretty sure the hammer threw me not the other way round. After all I was all of ten stone ringing wet at the time. I idolised Wes Balodis (the biggest and strongest man I had ever seen), Maxy Gee, Harold Burridge, Colin Murraylee and that wonderful coach and human being, Bill Tunaley.
I well remember competing in the juniors in 57/58 on the old grass track at Olympic Park when one afternoon, I think in early 1958, a grizzly, deaf old codger called George Knott (bless his soul) took me aside and asked me if I would like to compete in the seniors. Of course I said yes. Mind you, I didn’t know at that stage who George was and what event/s he was offering. So it was that the following Saturday (against my better judgement) I found myself walking with George in a “C” grade one mile on the grass track at Olympic Park. I’m not sure how I did it but not only did I beat George but I pretty sure I placed and walked a better time than a lot of “A” graders. So, thanks to George, I found myself in the “A” grade walk the next week teaming with the great Bobbie Gardiner on the main cinder track.
So began a great time in my young life. George and Bobbie took me under their collective wings and I blossomed as an athlete and person. Bobbie and I were never beaten as a team in “A” grade walking and our crowning moment came when we teamed to help the club win the 1959 premiership. I was all of 17 years of age. I shall never forget it!
Over the next few years I was lucky to set Victorian sub junior records for one mile, two mile, 3000 metres, 5000 metres 10000 metres and one hour walking. I also won bronze in the Victorian one mile junior championship in 1959 (?) and represented Victoria in Sydney for the Australian 10,000 metres championship in 1959.
Unfortunately I contracted meningitis in 1960, spending six weeks in hospital and 12 months in rehab basically sapping not only my strength but my enthusiasm for sport. Although I tried to come back the combination of illness and marrying my beautiful Yvonne was too much. I did play a little footy for a while but my athletic career was over.
Let me say though I had a wonderful time at the Harriers and still have lifelong friends I met there as a 16 year old. Not many clubs can achieve that. I know I have waffled on but I want to finish by mentioning some of those terrific people who made such an impression on me:
George Knott, Bill Tunaley, Bobbie Gardiner, Harold Burridge, Colin Murraylee, Max Gee, Ronnie Miller, Ray Temperton, Derek Fyfe, Ray Harbert, Reg Marshall and his son Eddie, Wes Balodis, Brian Clarke, Don Cox, Graham Young and Barry Charles are but a few.
Good luck to the club in your future endeavours and you can be sure I will always remember those great times.