Kyabram Free Press
Girgarre’s century of champions
Dairy farmer-cum-author Athol “Doc” Mcdonald has crammed 100 years of the Girgarre Football Club’s history into 100 pages, and what is his third literary work will soon go on sale.
They’re Champions You’ll Agree is in the final stages of pre-print preparation, the Girgarre stalwart now able to sit back after putting two years — on and off — of work into its compilation.
“I’ve written a history of the family and a book about Girgarre itself, the latter was a collaboration with others,” Doc said.
“I suppose this is my third book.” Girgarre Football Club formed in 1920, but because of the Covid-19affected 2020 season this year was circled for the release of the book and its associated memorabilia — including a Girgarre Team of the Century.
The team is embargoed until the club can finally put a date on the book release, but there are some more than handy footballers in the Kangaroos’ line-up.
The club is expecting to make an initial print run of 300 copies — the original plan was to have a book launch featuring the club’s oldest life member in a late season home and away round this year.
Now that opportunity has passed, and the club is considering its options for the release.
The book is dedicated to Alf “Digger” Wickham, the late husband of 95-year-old life member Margaret Wickham.
“In my memory of the club Graeme ‘Bluey’ Halls and ‘Digger’ are the two stalwarts that stand out,” Doc said.
Doc is a former player with the club and local knowledge led club officials straight to him when the concept of writing a club history was brought up in passing.
He has written his family’s Scottish history, A Long Way from Laggan, and a history of the Girgarre township.
Doc played five or six seasons at Girgarre, but probably more at Stanhope.
The 71-year-old said last week he probably took the project beyond the original intentions of the club, but once he started there was more to the Kangaroos’ history than he expected.
“Nicho (club president Brendan Nicholson) came to me and said ‘could you do a little booklet for us?’,” Doc said.
“I told him we could probably do a bit better than that and it’s turned out to be about 100 pages.
“I’ve learned a bit about my own family’s involvement along the way and how the whole thing has evolved.
“I’ve enjoyed doing it.”
His son Angus, who now owns the family’s farming business, is fifth generation Girgarre.
Angus, 37, did not play a lot at Girgarre, but like most Mcdonalds he is on the honour board — as a club best and fairest winner.
And there is a sixth generation of Mcdonalds, as Doc’s grandson, Eli, was born to his daughter Cleave only four months ago.
Angus also won a third 18 best and fairest award at Kyabram under another former Girgarre great, and grand final coach, Mick “Dodger” Ryan.
The family involvement goes back to 1920, where both of Doc’s grandparents were involved on the committee and in the formation.
“They were too old to play, and here we are 100 years later,” he said.
Doc played with the club in the 1970s, but in what I expect is a typically modest admission, said both his brothers were much better players — Ian and younger brother Ross.
Ross won consecutive best and fairest awards at the club under Colin Scripps in the 1970s.
“Ian was assistant coach in Ky’s 1975 premiership. I think he played 200 GV games,” Doc said.
“He signed with three different VFL clubs, but never actually went down.
“He was working on the farm at the time.”
Ian now lives in Albury. He played in four premierships with four different clubs.
“He had a little dairy farm just around the corner; it was a tough time in the dairy industry during the 1970s. He told Ky that he just couldn’t keep playing,” Doc said.
“Dad talked him into coming to Girgarre.”
In 1969 Ian coached Rushworth to a premiership, but most of his football was at Stanhope, where he coached what was then a Goulburn Valley League team. He also played in Nagambie’s 1977 flag.
The three Mcdonald brothers were all part of Girgarre’s 1976 premiership.
“At that stage we all had dairy farms,” Doc said.
Doc’s father, Maurice, was considered by many of Girgarre’s “old timers” as the best pre-war player at the club.
“Dad was a key position player, but he stopped playing during the war in 1940,” Doc said.
Mcdonald Sr won three best and fairests in the then Central Goulburn Valley and Kyabram District leagues.
“I inherited my involvement in the club. I played junior football at Girgarre and then went to Stanhope,” Doc said.
Speaking from his dairy farm, which has 400 head, he explained the town had changed enormously in that same century-long period.
“There were about 60 dairy farms when I grew up, but you could count them on two hands now,” Doc said.
The changes also apply to the town — the original Girgarre settlement emerging from nowhere as the soldiers’ arrival signalled the creation of the football club, cricket club and RSL.
“The biggest measure is the school; shortly after I went into high school there were 160 kids at the school. Now there are only 30-odd there,” Doc said.
They’re Champions You’ll Agree is separated into a chapter for each decade.
“I’ve tried to capture as many stories as we could. Some of the stories I heard as a kid,” Doc said.
“Stories like the Atkins family, of which there is no more synonymous Girgarre name.”
Doc said the Atkins family truly reflected the nature of Girgarre’s unique football characters.
“Ged coached us for a year. Bill, Jack (Ged’s grandfather) and Tom were the first of the family at the club,” Doc said.
“Tom was by far the best footballer from that first generation of Atkinses.
“Then David, Peter and Terry (among 11 Atkins children) came along. And finally Ged, whose dad is Terry, or ‘Buzzard’ (a life member at Girgarre).”
Doc and four other selectors had the job of selecting the Team of the Century.
“It was a bit easier than what I thought,” Doc said.
“We mandated a minimum two seasons at the club, we looked through all match reports up until about 1962 and picked out the obvious ones and then used our own knowledge.
“What started as 85 names was whittled it down to 26 and we ended
up with 22 on the team and four emergencies.”
As for the nickname Doc, it was given to him by his grandfather.
“There used to be an advert for Doctor Mackenzie’s Menthoids tablets on the radio, and for some reason he started calling me ‘Doc’,” Doc said.
“I suppose it just stuck.”
Doc uncovered what is believed to be Girgarre’s only VFL/AFL product, Len May, during his research.
“He played a game on permit with Fitzroy — he was playing for Rushworth at the time, but played with Girgarre earlier in 1920,” Doc said.
The book features the likes of games record holder Laurie Doolan, who played 500 games. Laurie won the Mcnamara Medal aged just 16.
“I think that he remains the youngest player to do so,” Doc said.
“He started in the 1950s and played for 20 years. He played that 500th when I was still playing.”
Keith “Snowy” Dunstall is widely considered the club’s greatest player, winning the Mcnamara Medal and Morrison Medal, the latter in 1948.
As for Mcdonald Sr, Doc’s father, he was coaxed out of retirement in 1952 as a 38-year-old and played in the club’s first premiership.
Girgarre won the 1976 flag under ex-stanhope champion John Murphy, then again in 1983 with David Marshall in charge and finally in 1991, with Brendan Flanagan the coach.
Stanhope Football Club was also formed in 1920 and applied to play in the Goulburn Valley League, but the application was rejected.
They joined the Kyabram District junior league in 1921, but only for a year – leaving to play in the Cooma association and not returning until 1927.
“In the intervening years both clubs were struggling for numbers and it was decided to have an unofficial amalgamation, with Stanhope’s better players joining Girgarre,” Doc said.
It was effectively a Girgarrestanhope team for two decades before a formal amalgamation in 1948.
“Officially the team survived until the 1970s. Girgarre started up here in 1949, but the Stanhope-girgarre name remained,” Doc said.