Kyabram Free Press
Bid to honour ‘Dasher Deane’
Tommy Deane was a Tatura sporting legend for decades; now, there's a push to honour the Stawell Gift winner with a statue in the centre of town. John Lewis reports.
World War II shut down Australia's most famous foot race for five years, which left sports fans hungry for a spectacle.
When a hot favourite appeared in the shape of a young running machine from the Goulburn Valley, fans got their spectacle.
More than 25,000 people turned up in the tiny Wimmera town for Easter's Stawell Gift on April 22, 1946.
The following day The Stawell Times reported: "Yesterday saw the greatest athletic meeting ever staged in Australia brought to a close, and it could truly be said that all roads led to Stawell . . . all the streets of the town were turned into parking areas and there was a scene of animation and excitement from early morning until late at night."
At the centre of all this attention was 25-year-old Tommy Deane who had returned from serving with the 20th Light Horse in New Guinea the year before.
Already a talented all-round sportsman, Tommy was known as a fast runner who earned the title "Dasher Deane" in his army career.
After the war Deane was keen to spend time with his new wife Veronica on the family farm near Nagambie. But he was persuaded by an older Stawell Gift winner, 'Goldie' Heath, to enter the nation's richest foot race — a chance to earn good money.
As The Sun newspaper reported in the lead-up to the race, Deane trained under Goldie on an island in the middle of Lake Nagambie to keep his routine away from prying, and betting, eyes.
Such was the betting frenzy surrounding Deane, he was accompanied by a bodyguard of 15 Wahring farmers in the lead-up to the race in case he was nobbled.
Deane did not disappoint his backers; he came in at 11.875 seconds — a yard ahead of his nearest rival Eric Cumming.
His earnings were enough to buy his first car and for a deposit on a farm.
Three years later, Deane moved his young family to Tatura where for the next 60 years he farmed crops, sheep and cattle and brought up six children. He also continued his sporting prowess in golf, tennis, bowls and football — playing at centre half-forward in Tatura's premier-winning side of 1953.
Tommy Deane died aged 97 on August 26, 2019; but in Tatura today, his legend is as strong as ever. Now the town wants to publicly acknowledge him as one of their own.
A meeting was held at Tatura
❝We're right behind any project to recognise Tommy Deane as a local hero.❞ — George Ferguson, Tatura Museum secretary
Museum on Friday, July 9, to decide the best way to remember Deane's achievements.
Present were Deane family members, friends, museum members and City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O'keeffe.
Cr O'keeffe said it was vitally important for small towns to acknowledge and commemorate the achievement of iconic local people.
"The Deane family are really proud of Tommy’s achievement, and as a Tatura local it’s a wonderful story which the community can share with not only the locals but also visitors into the town," Cr O'keeffe said.
"We will also inform the community of the aspiration to have a monument in the town and will be inviting the community to have their say and to be involved with the family, as this is something for their town to be proud of," Cr O'keeffe said.
Deane's eldest son, also named Tommy, said his father had been treated as a legend for as long as he could remember.
"People would always say 'that's Tommy Deane, the sporting legend' — but to me he was just my dad. We've been trying for a while for some public recognition — the family is incredibly proud of him," Mr Deane said.
Tatura Museum secretary George Ferguson said a permanent display at the museum on the life and achievements of Tommy Deane was planned to be launched in September this year.
"We're right behind any project to recognise Tommy Deane as a local hero. We claim him as a Tatura-ite — and we love anything Tatura," Mr Ferguson said.