Adelaide Sporting Sites (2018)





The Adelaide Grand Prix drew much larger crowds than does that of Melbourne which stole it. Adelaide Test cricket crowds sometimes surpass Sydney’s numbers and trounce those of Brisbane and Perth. Oakbank is the biggest picnic horse race meeting in the nation.

Adelaide Sporting Sites is a story of venues past and present. Of Adelaide Oval, Football Park, Memorial Drive, the City Baths, Morphetville and Victoria Park racecourses, Norwood Oval and Norwood Velodrome, Wayville and Globe Derby trots, Rowley Park and Mallala speedways. Of events and associations: Crows/Power derbys, Magpies/Redlegs rivalry, Australian Tennis and Golf Opens, the Bay Sheffield, of Phar Lap racing at Morphetville, Tulloch at Cheltenham, and Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Nicki Lauda on the East Parklands circuit.

Sports fans often love the places where the action occurs more than their favourite teams or players because they represent continuity in their lives. This richly illustrated book will prompt memories of familiar venues as well as enabling you to discover a glorious history of Adelaide sport.


There It Is Again

DON WATSON There It Is Again: Collected writings. Reviewed by Bernard Whimpress


There It Is Again is an anthology of Don Watson’s sharp-eyed observations on political and social issues in the 21st century.

While Australia is the prime focus, the first of these 47 essays, ‘Rabbit Syndrome’ is devoted to American politics, and the United States is the subject of a further four: ‘Faith, Freedom and Katrina’; an excerpt from American Journeys; ‘Palin Politics’ – a precursor to Trump, and ‘American Berserk’.

Anthologies are dip-in books and ‘Once a Jolly Lifestyle’ is a good place to start, with author Don Watson getting an early morning hair-cut in the Victorian Wimmera town of Horsham. ‘So how’s your day been so far?’ his female hairdresser enquires.

The answer goes like this:

There was a time – a very long time – when country people rarely asked more of another human being than how he or she was going. In this same time there was often the whiff of damp hay, dogs or sweat around country schoolrooms, churches and picture theatres. Country people – this was before they were called rural and regional Australians – were the living embodiment of their work and environment, somehow even of their faith. They were as seals are to rocks and owls are to night, the elemental Australians.

But now, as Watson says, that question ‘becomes pretty well mandatory’ for ‘customer-focused businesses, worldwide, and the world now includes the Wimmera’. It also induces a ‘state of mindlessness’.

Mindlessness is at the core of the use and abuse of the language, and politics and the English language are key concerns here. It is hardly surprising that the author of Death SentenceWeasel Words and Bendable Learnings should mourn the loss of verbs and their replacement in speech and writing by such clichéd words as ‘commitment’, ‘accountability’, ‘strategic’, ‘values’ and ‘outcomes’.

I can also relate to the hairdresser’s question as a shortened version of it – ‘How’s your day been?’ used to be put to me by a friend, a public servant, in a city pub at the end of a working day. And I found it intrusive – as if I was being held to account for my work (or lack of it), and had to mark off some KPIs (key performance indicators) in a social setting.

It also reminded me of the mid-1980s when I worked for a year in local government and a colleague used to spend five minutes every hour documenting what he had been doing for the previous 55 minutes. A historian, he was shortly afterwards seconded to an internal management team working on restructuring the organisation. Several years later I returned to the same body and the same man was still working on management reviews. Whether any recommendations from his reviews were ever implemented, or any benefits resulted from them, I do not know.

As Watson comments in ‘National Trust Heritage Lecture’:

The language of management – for which we read the language of virtually all corporations and companies large and small, public-service departments, government agencies, libraries, galleries and universities, the military, intelligence organisations, and increasingly politics – is language that cannot describe or convey any human emotion, including the most basic ones like happiness, sympathy, greed, envy, love or lust.

In sum, it is dead language, vague and vapid.

One thing that can be said of Don Watson is that he is grounded. Grounded by growing up on a Gippsland dairy farm in the 1950s, expanded maybe through reading and work as an academic historian, but grounded again in different ways as a satirist, then working in the Prime Minister’s Office as Paul Keating’s speech writer, and in his writing life beyond.

Whatever he writes, Watson certainly has an acute ear. Take this example from The Bush extract in this collection:

The mental images have not faded. The subject cannot be separated from the settings in which he worked: the hills and the trees and the fences and wooden sheds and yards and the cattle and crops and the back porches with their boots and coats, the smell of mud and manure, and the rush of the westerly in the pines. In a dry spell he would tap the tank beside the kitchen window. He tapped the barometer just about every day of his life. In the evening the wind moaned in the Chinese cedars, the calves bawled, the bulls roared their lust. At night the possums rattled their throats in the trees, fighting for territory, discouraging owls and dogs. The dogs barked, howled sometimes. Magpies welcomed the mornings with a warble, the thrush with its thrill of a song.

Or this from ‘Aussie Icons’:

Two or three days after Steve Irwin died, while standing in airport queue I heard a man say to his companion that Germaine Greer had ‘tried to gut an Aussie icon’. His companion was astounded to hear that anyone should be so insensitive. ‘I mean,’ said the man, ‘I wasn’t a big wrap for the bloke, but he was an icon and you have to respect that. You don’t go round gutting an icon.’

Or this from ‘War on Terror’:

It’s the word ‘war’. From the moment ‘war on terror’ was declared everything went fuzzy. Australians persuaded themselves that refugees from terror might be agents of terror. American soldiers went to fight in Iraq believing they were avenging 9/11. The whole world was conned into believing Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

An icon was originally an image of a saint or hero but it has now come to mean the actual person. Watson is not a pedant opposed to the evolution of language, merely the confusion that sometimes attends it. War is generally regarded as armed conflict between nations but terror is a state of mind which may be prompted by terrorist acts. Imprecision regarding a definition of war allows atrocities to be committed in its name

Don Watson disdains being described as a public intellectual and tells us that even after he’d been earning a living as a writer for 20 years he found it difficult to describe himself as such. Real writers were the Tolstoys, Prousts, Hemingways of the world, not scribblers like himself. He has no need for such modesty.

Tom Keneally has employed a pithy phrase – ‘dazzlingly elegant and perceptive’ – to describe Watson’s writing and that is a deserved testimonial. I have read virtually all of Watson’s books and many of these articles when they originally appeared in The Monthly. Even so, it is an enormous pleasure to have these pieces gathered together between two covers. Don Watson is a wonderful recorder and prophet of our times. Long may he be so.

Don Watson There It Is Again: Collected writings Vintage Books 2017 PB 352pp $34.99.

Bernard Whimpress is a historian who usually writes on sport. His most recent book is The Official MCC Ashes Story.

Fabulous Phil

MATT WATSON Fabulous Phil: The Phil Carman Story. Reviewed by BernardWhimpress


A rivetingly flawed biography of one of the most talented Australian Rules footballers to ever pull on a boot.

Let’s begin with the flaws.

This is a book with 55 chapters and books with so many chapters usually see me casting them aside – they’re just too bitty. It draws on interviews with many people and normally I don’t like excessive quoting. It has me questioning the whereabouts of the author’s voice.

Yet the bits mostly work, for the book is a compulsive page-turner. So too does the chorus of voices. They convey contrary messages, but then ‘Fabulous Phil’ Carman was a contrary man: introvert and extrovert, social but not sociable, liked but essentially a loner, an independent free spirit tied to a team game.

‘If’ is a little big word.

  • if Collingwood hadn’t engaged in such bastardry in keeping him out of football between 1970 and 1972;
  • if Collingwood hadn’t been such a basket-case of a club when he arrived in 1975;
  • if he hadn’t broken a bone in his foot and missed seven matches, he would have won the Brownlow Medal in his first season instead of finishing fourth;
  • if he’d had a mentor like Norwood coach Robert Oatey during his VFL career;
  • if he’d had a coach worth listening to in his Collingwood years – Murray Weideman and Tom Hafey bored him with their approach to the game;
  • if boundary umpire Graham Carberry hadn’t invaded his personal space in 1980, leading to the head butt that saw him suspended for 20 matches;
  • if he hadn’t been his own worst enemy …

… things might have been different.

The trouble was he was his own worst enemy.

If ever there was a couldabeen champion it was Phil Carman. A champion wins Brownlow and Magarey Medals, a champion dominates major matches and plays in premiership sides, a champion wins multiple club best and fairest trophies, and (barring injuries) plays 300 league games in his career.

Carman played 58 games in five interrupted seasons for Norwood in South Australia and 100 games with four Victorian Football League clubs (Collingwood, Melbourne, Essendon and North Melbourne). He shoulda played in a Collingwood premiership in 1977 but got himself suspended in the preliminary final and coach Hafey forever blamed him for the lost title. He shoulda won a Brownlow, and while he did win the Copeland Trophy (Collingwood’s best and fairest award) in his first season, that was his solitary club award. At an age when he might have been ending a glorious playing career to much applause, he was turning out in bum leagues with Kangaroo Flat and Sandhurst and as captain-coach of Eastlake in Canberra. Finally, when as coach he lifted Sturt from the pits of despair in 1995 to take them to the 1998 SANFL grand final, he had the disappointment of losing narrowly to Port Adelaide.

Phil Carman had talent to burn and he burnt it. Only at Norwood did he express anything like his true ability and then his career was interrupted. At Collingwood under Weideman and Hafey he was cut too much slack because of his talent. At Melbourne he didn’t give Carl Ditterich a chance as coach. At Essendon he was excited to play under Barry Davis but then came the suspension. At North Melbourne he might have worked well with Ron Barassi but injuries were taking their toll.

Without doubt he was the fittest player of his era, a dazzling excitement machine who stands out in the memory two generations since he began. As the first professional footballer he possessed an extraordinary range of skills and especially the seeming ability to hang in the air when flying for a high mark. For half of my life I have argued that Carman was the second-most talented footballer I have seen (behind Barrie Robran). As a South Australian I have placed him ahead of Russell Ebert, Malcolm Blight, Paul Bagshaw and Rick Davies, and in Victoria ahead of Gary Ablett Senior and Wayne Carey.

Talent, of course, doesn’t necessarily translate to achievement and a lot of people have probably considered me a lunatic. One reason I enjoyed Matt Watson’s book is that the testimony of others – Graham Cornes, Peter Moore, Robert Oatey, Ross Dillon, Barry Cable, and Lou Richards – supports my view.

If I have a criticism of the book it is probably that at 420 pages it is too long. Carman’s suspension from the 1977 VFL grand final is laboured and two key questions are not fully explored. We know that Collingwood struck a hard bargain and that if he played VFL he would play with them but was there never a chance of him beginning with another club? Carman’s individualist streak, his love of running and training by himself also points to a wrong choice of sport. Perhaps he was the great Olympian we never had.

Fabulous Phil is a warts-and-all biography (as it needs to be) and a well-rounded portrait of its subject, containing elements of pathos as Carman’s life (and football) begins to unravel in Victorian country leagues before a welcome recovery coaching in Adelaide where his major football began.

Matt Watson Fabulous Phil: The Phil Carman Story Brolga Publishing PB 420pp $34.99

Bernard Whimpress is a historian whose most recent book is Adelaide Oval: A Photo-Document 2009.

A Sporting World


A Sporting World is a vivid portrayal of the history of three staple Australian general sports magazines of the mid-20th century – Sporting Life, Sports Novels and Sport Magazine. Set within the context of sports publishing in Australia and internationally, the distinct story of each magazine is replete with details of owners, editors, print and photo journalists, artists and their subjects.

I am proud to be associated with this wonderful limited-edition book as publisher and editor. Copies may be purchased from

Footy exhibition is a winner



It’s not one exhibition but two.


Celebrating  140 Years of the SANFL



Football in South Australia

The two exhibitions which complement each other opened on 7 June and run until 13 August. They are located in the Institute Building and first floor of the State Library of South Australia linked by an interior walkway. At first I couldn’t see the point of having two names but ‘In a League of Its Own’ has been organised by the SANFL Historians Group convened by Chris Halbert and ‘Straight through the Middle’ draws its material from the SLSA’s football collection.

My first visit was rushed as I’d agreed to meet friend Santo Caruso before discussing a book project. In doing so I made the mistake of entering from the Library, noting their display mainly on the Treasures Wall and quickly moving to the rear of the Institute. An adjective like ‘worthy’ came to mind but I was plainly underwhelmed. Where was the passion, the colour, the excitement? I’m glad I didn’t leave things there for I’d missed the best bits.

When I returned I made sure to begin at the beginning.

The recommended route is definitely through the front door of the Institute Building and start with the main SANFL exhibition room on the left.

Garden gnomes which a Melbourne friend suggested looked like Kevin Murray.

Club badge collection.

History at a glance.

Theatrette for viewing Grand Final and State of Origin action.

Detailed Timeline needs more space.

The rear room of the Institute is the next part of the journey. Above is the photo-montage of the Australasian Football Council Carnival won by South Australia in 1911. In the early 1980s it lay in tatters in a Football Park vomitory. I had it restored (along with other Carnival pictures) with cedar frames and for many years they adorned the main Members Dining Room at Football Park. It’s great to see them back on walls in this exhibition.

Visual display from scrapbooks.


Caricature collection.


From large photo-montage on walkway to Library. Glad to see my colour photo (and Football Budget cover) of Peter Carey at right made the cut.


 A pair of unlikely lads.

 Santo Caruso admiring legendary ruckman Tom Leahy.


Spectacular wide-angle image of footy at Adelaide Oval is the feature of the Library display.


Eye-catching entrance to the Library.


From the Ken Farmer albums in the Library Treasures Wall display.


Whatever did we do before computers?

I’m so glad I went back for a second visit and I’ll most likely return for a third. One can always have quibbles but mine would be few.

  • At the front entrance to the Institute Building the state blazers are a bit dull because they are mainly one colour – navy blue.
  • A selection of current SANFL club jumpers would offer much more colour, variety and a contemporary feel. Those which hang from light fittings in the front room are too high up and look puny in that space.
  • The timeline is thorough but has insufficient space and its value is lost.
  • My only other complaint is that there needs to be a little more fun in the league display. The gnomes are a start but what about the wobble-heads? And it would have been nice to have a little more fan involvement. Where are those duffle coats covered in player badges? Where are the flags and floggers waved by cheer squads?

That’s not much of a grizzle and there’s mountains of fascinating material. While there’s an absence of interpretive boards the volunteer assistants rostered from the SANFL History Group make up for that. On my second visit Chris Halbert and former league stars Ray Trenorden and Malcolm Greenslade were on duty to explain items and open up the viewing experience.

In addition the half a dozen panel discussions held in the evenings have been a brilliant success. The ‘1877 and All That’ panel chaired by Roger Wills in which I took part with James Coventry, Trevor Gyss and Peter Alexander worked exceptionally well and the questions from the audience were of the highest quality.

If you’ve yet to get along make sure you do so in the three weeks that remain.


About Bernard Whimpress

Freelance historian (mainly sport) currently writing his 31st book. For the previous 15 years was Curator of the Adelaide Oval Museum and Historian for the South Australian Cricket Association. Will accept writing commissions with reasonable pay. Most recent book – Adelaide Oval: A Photo-Document 2009.


  1. Mark ‘Swish’ Schwerdt says:

    Bernard, I also took a wrong turn, John Halbert had to point me in the right direction. Coincidentally, I was talking about Santo to Mike Hugo while we were viewing the exhibitions.

    I wish I was able to attend those panel discussions. Were they recorded?

  2. Dave Brown says:

    Yeah, I ended up going through it backwards, Bernard. On the day we went, there was no indication at that front of the institute building that that was where you should go – rather there was a board out for a yarn exhibition. The collection itself is fantastic. Agree with your minor quibbles and disappointed I wasn’t able to attend the panel discussions, would be very interested in the 1990 one.

  3. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks Swish and Dave

    Funny we all took wrong turns but then I don’t believe the banners pictured on the Institute Building were ready when the exhibitions started and they weren’t there when I went the first time. I think the panel discussions might have been recorded but I’ll check.

    I would like to have got along to the 1990s panel and posed the question to Leigh Whicker about whether the League ever considered cancelling Port Adelaide’s season in 1990 over their treachery. I would like that to have happened. I guess economics ruled but the sad part was Port then went on to win the flag that year. Many good Port people were not happy about the club’s action but others were gung-ho and no doubt reckoned the premiership legitimised their action.

  4. Dave Brown says:

    I’ve yet to meet a Port person who has any doubts about their actions in 1990, Bernard. Hindsight has amply justified the club’s actions. The way I look at it is at least keeping them in gave us the drama of Graham Cornes’s post grand final speech in the Port changerooms. A moment in time about how people felt that would not otherwise necessarily have been captured.

  5. bernard whimpress says:

    Thanks again Dave which allows me to enlarge a little.

    For me the most interesting history is not written by the winners.

    One person who was disgusted by Port’s action was their club historian, the late John Wood. At the time John also told me of two of the club’s most decorated players (as well as major administrators) who were equally disgusted.

Ramblings 5

I rarely watch more than a couple of hours of TV at a time and usually no more than two or three days a week. Last night (Saturday) I tuned in to the ABC and SBS for four hours straight in what was quite special entertainment.

It began with Father Brown, the off-beat detective program based on the GK Chesterton stories. I probably shouldn’t like it but I do. I’m sure I’ve been to the cricket ground which was featured – somehow the ring of oak trees rang true as did the tiny clubroom which I’ve entered as well although simply for cakes and tea and not to follow the sound of a shot and discover a corpse. It was my friend Robert Seeckts, a former member, who took me there in 2009 and, if it’s the ground I think it is, it’s located near the border of Sussex and Kent.

DCI Banks is one of my favourite detective series and the tension between the two women detectives (Helen Morton and Annie Cabbott) and Banks himself provides added drama apart from the exciting twists and turns in the cases they are investigating. I can’t miss this show.

Then it was a switch to the second half of Rockwiz in the 1950s with Col Joye as one of the special guests. The man is a handsome octogenarian. I had to be amused when he said he played to a lot of Elderly Citizens clubs these days and was older than most members of his audience.

Finally, The Commitments and what an amazing film that was, so full of humour and passion besides the brilliant music. It was only a shame to read afterwards that so few of the stars have gone to major careers. Nevertheless, an outstanding piece of work by director Alan Parker from the Roddy Doyle novel. Naturally, the songs were played at full blast.

New Ashes Treasures

ASHES TREASURES 3bASHES TREASURES 3a Groucho Marx said he only ever bought second editions because every book has a first edition but did he buy third editions. Carlton Books have done it again and Allen & Unwin are on board in Australia. Gus Fraser and Boony have written the forewords.