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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Old Paradians - John Dinan, Allen Pollock & Jack Carr remember Stawell

Old Paradians - John Dinan, Allen Pollock & Jack Carr remember Stawell

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Stumbled upon this item on the weekend. Not sure when it appeared in the Old Paradians newsletter but it's a terrrific read.


Remembering Stawell - Old Paradians’ Gift winners tell

The Stawell Gift is Australia’s oldest and richest short distance footrace. Since 1877, the Gift has been staged by the Stawell Athletic Club over every Easter weekend, with the main race finals run and won on the holiday Monday at Central Park.

The old goldmining town’s famous race is run on grass over 130 yards (120 metres) up a slight gradient. Competitors are handicapped according to their form, with each competitor ‘marked’ by between 0 metres and 10 metres to theoretically reach the finish line at the same time.

Of the 126 men to have won the Stawell Gift, three of them – Jack Carr in 1957, Allen Pollock (1976) and John Dinan (1980) – are Old Paradians.

And the three men were only too happy to recently reflect on their moment with destiny, at the time of the 130th running of the great race.

John Dinan
John Dinan knows he’s in elite company, as one of only three Old Paradians to have taken out the land’s most coveted footrace, the Stawell Gift.

“I know Jack Carr and knew he was an old Paradian, but I’ve never met Allen Pollock, who left for New Zealand before I came on the scene,” said John of Parade’s other members of The Big Three. “Allen beat my coach Neil King (who later coached me after ‘Monty’ Hirst) in the Stawell Gift in 1976, so he wasn’t too popular in our group!”

A much-respected Captain of Parade College in his final year of 1977, John took to the track as a sprinter with much success throughout his schooldays, to the point that he was also elected captain of the school athletics team in his HSC year.

The 1977 year was not without issue for John though, at least when it came to the track.

As he said recently: “I knew my pro coach at that time who told me to run ‘dead’ at school so as not to spoil my novice mark when I joined the pros the following year . . . but of course I did not do that and did try my best”.

“I ran for the Old Paradians all through school, but not after as I ran in the pros straight from school. Back then, you could either be a pro runner or amateur not both,” John said.

“When I was reinstated as an amateur I ran for Collingwood. Back in those days, you could either be a pro or amateur and once I won Stawell and a few other races, Chris Perry and I applied to the International Amateur Athletics Federation for reinstatement and effectively opened athletics up – as they accepted us back and decided to modernise the whole thing. Some amateurs were being paid a lot.

“I won about $12,000 from Pro running in total, and I know Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson were being paid that for one race on the amateur circuit, so for once sense ruled and athletics entered the professional age.”

John cited his father Barry as the greatest influence on his athletics career. It was Barry who introduced his son to the colourful old-time coach “Monty” Hirst – a true character of the caper whom John unhesitatingly declares as the most significant impact on him in the pro-running/Stawell Gift sense.

“Monty had been in the game since the 1930s and he knew all the tricks,” John said.

“For instance, on the good Friday afternoon, I was 6:4 on favourite. Monty told me to warm up at central park and come off the track early complaining of a sore tendon on my lower leg, which I did. Monty told one person, in confidence, that I was not in shape. The next morning, I was 10:1 and he put all the money on.”

According to John, Monty was a top bloke to know who drew on his many and varied experiences in all phases of a life – and he could also coach.

“He had some great stories from as far back as The Great Depression, like the one about the Stawell Gift favourite ‘Goldie’ Heath, who was threatened at gun point after the heats to lose the semi or else – according to Monty, Goldie disregarded the threat and won, but cleared out of town really quickly,” John said.

“Back in those days, a lot of money was waged and Monty knew of some people who paid cash for a house on the back on their win. Monty also related the tale about celebrating a win in the 1950s, having too much to drink, falling over and landing on his wad of cash and breaking three ribs.”

In terms of the 1980 Gift, John said he prepared with a genuine self-belief.

“I was confident, even though I would be the youngest winner of all time, as I won the heat and semi easily. Confidence comes with being very well prepared and knowing that you can mix it with the best,” he said.

“I remember the build-up and feeling very nervous and heavy in the legs due to nerves. George McNeill from Scotland was in the final and I can remember jogging down to the start and wishing him all the best.

“The final went very quickly and after the gun went off, I was up and running, was soon in front and won by over a metre - which was good as I would not have liked to have been in a close race.

“I did not really sleep the night before and was feeling pretty tired, but once the gun went everything clicked into action. When I crossed the line it was just sheer relief. This was the culmination of over 12 months of hard work and planning so the win was a relief like I have never felt before. You only really get one crack at Stawell and I did not want to blow it, so the first sensation was relief.”

John won the 1980 Stawell Gift off five and a half in a time of 12.3 seconds. He took home the $6500 purse “and not much in bets as I was a uni student with little capital to spare”. But he did earn enough to lash out on a new car.

And he knows that his winning of the Gift aided and abetted his cause in later life. As he said: “The Gift has probably opened doors for me in that you are always introduced as a Stawell Gift winner”.

John took out two more races in the pros, all at Stawell, then sought reinstatement to the amateurs and ultimately ran for his country.

“I made it to the Commonwealth Games and World Championships, where I was Vice-Captain of the team, but injury kept me out of the Seoul Olympics,” John said. “I reached a ranking of No. 4 in the world in 1986 for the 200 metres of which I am proud, and won a few Track and Field Grand Prix races on the circuit in Europe. I also won an Australian title for the 200 metres.”

Today, John pursues his career as the CFO for a listed funds management group. He is married to Jacqueline and has two sons – Matt, 8, and Michael, 6, as well as a stepson in Jaryd.

“Jaryd is unfortunately on the Carlton football club’s senior list, which is difficult for this mad Collingwood supporter,” he explained. “I said to Jaryd when he was drafted, ‘Hope you have a stellar career and never win a premiership’. He laughed and knew where I was coming from.”

John added that both Matt and Michael are happy, healthy and love sport “so that is great”. “I won’t say they can run,” he added, “as I don’t want to bugger up their mark in the pros if they choose to take that path”.

In winning the Stawell Gift, John knows that he is truly a member of an elite group, and as he said: “At the end of the day, I met some great people and have some excellent friends through athletics, which is the best part”.

Allen Pollock
Allen Pollock has lived in Christchurch, New Zealand for the best part of a quarter of a century, since his life changed direction and he developed an interest in computers.

Now a manager of Software company Toniq with links to both the pharmacy industry and retail, Allen is married to a Dunedin-born wife, and is the proud father of two children, David and Claire – “neither of whom have taken up running” as he points out.

It’s half a lifetime ago since Allen donned the purple green and blue of his auld alma mater. Asked to relate his overriding memories of Parade College in the mid-1960s, Allen recalls “the bluestone building and the different teachers”.

“In my last year we had ‘Jungle Jim’ Nash as our form teacher and ‘Butch’ Moloney, an interesting contrast,” Allen says.

Asked if he was he an active participant in athletics at the College, or perhaps the Old Paradians Athletics Club, Allen confirms: “Yes, I was the school champion in that last year, although it did irk me that they got my initials wrong when they put it on the board”.

Ironically, Allen struggled as an athlete in his early school years, but for whatever reason the talent returned towards the end of his schooling.

And then fate intervened.

“I competed with Old Paradians and made a lot of friends,” Allen says, “then I started playing football with Fairfield in the metropolitan league”.

“The head trainer was Jim Spain,” Allen says. “He said to me one day: ‘You look like you can run a bit. Why don’t you come and train with us over the summer?’. Jim was technically very sound for that era. He was the biggest influence in my Gift win.”

Fast forward to 1976 – the year after Madagascar’s Jean-Louis Ravelomanantsoa made history as Stawell’s first Gift winner off scratch - and Allen says he knew he was ready to take line honours.

“During the trials, which were always secret, I had a time that was very good,” he says. “When (Neil) King ran his very fast heat questions were raised as to whether to wait another year, but I had my ticket to the UK already booked.”

By the time he took his mark for the final, Allen’s gameplan was crystal.

“I needed a good start, as I tended to stand up and then start running,” he says. “King was in front of me and I got a good start with my head down. When I looked up he was still there, one metre up, and then I knew I had won.

“I can remember how I felt as I crossed the line. The feeling was great. Nothing like it.”

Allen won the Gift off 8.5 metres in a time of 12.1 seconds. He says he took home the winner’s purse of $3500 for his troubles, not to mention the side-bets.

“We were putting bets on about one month out up at Burramine, and I added another thousand on to my earnings from the bets,” he says.

“There were also other side benefits that came out of it, and the winnings helped me on my overseas trip.

“In Australia, it (the Gift victory) had a huge impact on getting jobs. I had a degree in electrical engineering, and coupled with winning the gift I always got job interviews.”

With the handicapper keeping him on a tight rein, Allen opted for the sea change and crossed the Tasman. He competed for a while, until work became his priority.

As he says: “In New Zealand they don’t know about Stawell, and I indulged in the veterans races, but job commitments did not allow me to train as I should”.

Allen knows of his place in history, which he shares with men like Jack Carr and John Dinan whose paths he has previously crossed either at running meetings or social functions.

“Stawell Gift winners are a small circle and you are always aware of who’s who,” he says.

Jack Carr
The Carrs of Bacchus Marsh have long been distinguished by their sporting competence, as Parade College’s first Stawell Gift winner, Jack Carr, readily attests.

“My brother Les played about a dozen games for Carlton in ’47, but unfortunately when they got Ern Henfry across from Western Australia and made him captain that was it for him,” Jack recently explained.

“Les was a good player, and three of our cousins played League footy – Jack Skinner played about 40 games for Carlton, “Billy” Jones played in two losing Grand Finals for Collingwood and Marshall Younger played 50-odd games for South Melbourne.”

Jack himself “got a few kicks” for the Parade outfit, and he excelled in Brother Quane’s running team for the combined sports. But the tyranny of distance presented unwelcome challenges.

“Parade was good. It was terrific. It was just that I couldn’t do my best there,” Jack conceded. “My brothers and I used to walk a mile to Bacchus Marsh railway station then board the train for Melbourne. We’d leave Bacchus Marsh at quarter past seven in the morning and not get home until half past six at night . . . and then we had to do our homework.

“In the end, school wasn’t for me and the day I turned 14 I said to my parents ‘I’m getting out’.”

Jack’s athletics foray at Parade held him in good stead after he hung up the College tie for the last time. “When I left Parade I ran in a few races they used to conduct at Maddingley Park here at Bacchus Marsh, and I was only 15 then,” he said.

Though Jack’s name is forever etched into the records books of the Stawell Athletics Club, he almost didn’t make it.

“From 1954 I had back problems and ended up undergoing two spine operations. The first time they put me in a plaster cast in the Royal Melbourne but it wasn’t a success, then the following year I got a good bloke at St Vincent’s who performed an operation,” Jack said.

“I trained by myself for 15 months up at the park in ‘The Marsh’, then I went to Melbourne to be trained by Jack Cummings, who knew a bit about it. That’s when I got myself ready for Stawell.”

Jack fancied his chances for the big race. “I had a few bob on myself for the Gift, and I had a couple of good trainers who rubbed me down, and all that baloney. I got through the heat all right, as well as the semi-final,” he recalled.

“Going into the final, I was pretty cocky. I won Stawell and the little bloke I beat, Don Currie, ran in two other finals later on. I ran a time of 11.8 seconds off ten and a half yards, the scratch man was off about five and a half, and the limit was 12.

“I only won by a foot, but I knew that I’d won. I got 750 pound, 250 of which you had to give to your trainer. I didn’t care what money I got as long as I won. I can’t remember what I did with the money, but I know I didn’t hang onto it for long. I only ran for the pleasure and if there was a bit of thanks then that was beaut.”

The following year, Jack took out three Gifts in a week – Ararat on Boxing Day, Rosebud down the beach, and Maryborough on New Year’s Day.

And then disaster struck. As Jack explained, “I copped TB, spent six months in the sanatorium and couldn’t run after that. But I got out of it all right and I’m coming up for my 80th birthday.”

On leaving school, Jack worked as a clerk with the Country Roads Board, before landing a job as a rep for Lindeman’s Wines. For Jack, these were happy times.

“I was living in Bendigo then, and I used to get around to all the clubs along the Murray. But then they brought in a thing called light beer, and in 1983 Lindeman’s sold out and that was it.”

Today, Jack is a retired and much-respected member of the Bacchus Marsh community. He says he’s met both Dinan and Pollock (“who was trained by Jimmy Spain I reckon”), “but with the passing of time “you do lose track of them”.

"Let's Go While We're Young"

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