By Jill Wild
I first met Beryl Dunne, my mother’s cousin, about three years ago at The Plough Hotel in Footscray and was instantly drawn to her warm and engaging nature. Every three or four months our family on my mother’s side gather at The Plough for an afternoon of fine food, lots of laughter and family banter. I’m sure our ancestors would be chuffed that so many of us make the effort to get together and keep our family ties strong whilst genuinely enjoying each others company.
At the tender age of 97, Beryl is the most esteemed and treasured member of our clan.
Born on Boxing Day 1920 at number 269 Ross Street Port Melbourne, Beryl is the sole survivor from a family of three sisters and two brothers. Her memory is as sharp as ever of her early years growing up in Port Melbourne. “Mum always wanted a double fronted home”, she recalls as we tuck into a cup of tea and her homemade fruit slice at her home in Altona. “But she never got one, we grew up in a five room single fronted timber home”. I got the distinct impression that it didn’t really matter what style of home Beryl grew up in; her formative years were simply wonderful all the same.
“We could go anywhere back then and come home at all hours, we always felt safe. We walked to most places, like the football, but took the cable tram to my secondary school.” Football has played a huge role in Beryl’s life. As a die-hard Sydney Swans, formerly South Melbourne supporter, she may indeed hold some sort of record for match attendance as a member. Her first ever VFL/AFL game was the 1936 Grand Final at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, when South Melbourne played Collingwood, Beryl was only fifteen at the time. “We lost that one”, she sighed, like it was played just last week. I contemplated a mind-blowing fact. That game was played more than eighty years ago; three years before the outbreak of World War II!
The following year Beryl bought her first season’s ticket for South Melbourne. I asked her what going to the football was like back in the 1930s. “In 1937 a season’s ticket cost 7/6d, and at each game you went to, your ticket was clipped by an attendant as you entered the ground. Food wasn’t really that important. People would take their own tea and coffee and thermoses and have biscuits with their drinks. At the Lakeside oval they had a peanut seller, and you’d eat peanuts throughout the game; there was also a van outside the ground selling hot jam donuts. People would usually meet up with their friends at a given spot outside the grounds before they went in.” Apart from the peanuts, not much appears to have changed and our craving for those delectable jam donuts is still as strong as ever.
Of the actual game itself, it seems so much has changed. Beryl reflects, “Footballers back in the 1930s were mainly working men, labourers and tradesmen, and footy was carried out in their spare time. VFL was a much slower game, with more marking and kicking and very little handballing. Today the game is so fast, lots of handball to move the ball on quickly. I get upset with all the handballing and the umpires constantly yelling ‘PLAY ON’.” I’m with you Beryl; today’s players and umpires please take note, a legend has spoken.
Of all the games that she’s been to over the course of her lifetime, there’s one game that stands out for Beryl; the 1945 ‘bloodbath’ grand final between Carlton and South Melbourne. It was played at Princes Park as the MCG was taken over by Americans camping out at the ground during World War II. Beryl maintains that the South Melbourne players were very harshly dealt with and the Carlton players less so. Like the 1936 grand final, her memory of the infamous game is crystal clear.
“It was a very physical game. Early in the game young Ron Clegg, one of our boys, was knocked out and the game started to get really rough. Jim Cleary, nicknamed gentleman Jim, and an extremely fair player, was reported, so was Jack ‘Basher’ Williams for fronting up to the umpire; Basher was rubbed out for eight weeks. Carlton had reports as well. Bob Chitty, a Blues ‘hard’ man also got eight weeks, and South’s wingman Teddy Whitfield ran around with his jumper pulled up so the umpire couldn’t take his number.” To cap it off, Beryl said that there were so many people at Princes Park that day that the fence was pushed over in the forward pocket. What a game it must have been, and to have the memory of it; priceless.
In 1996, Beryl went to her last grand final to see her mighty bloods go down to North Melbourne. She hated it when South Melbourne first went to Sydney, but remained the ever faithful supporter because she simply couldn’t bear to desert her boys; she was a born and bred bloods supporter. Nowadays, games and grand finals for Beryl are watched from the comfort of a reclining arm chair, with lots of cups of tea and home baked goodies.
She knows all the Swans players like the back of her hand and will keep a running commentary on how they are all faring on game day. To be in Beryl’s presence not only when she is talking about football, but life in general, is to be in the presence of someone very special. She radiates the very essence of what living a long and happy life is all about, and our family loves her dearly.
I couldn’t bear not to ask Beryl what she thinks are the secrets to her longevity. Her answers flow freely. “Simple food, lots of exercise, live a simple life, be involved with your family and friends, and live in the present, don’t worry about the future.” I dare say she should add to that: have a passion as well, and maybe follow a football team, a team like her mighty bloods, the Sydney Swans.
Cheers to that Beryl.