Childhood heroes

I don’t appreciate the pain that my brother, Grant, must have endured.  I can’t imagine what life must have been like for my parents.  All I can do is tell how it affected me.

This is for my brother, Grant, the toughest bravest person I’ll ever know.


What is a normal childhood?

I guess normal is what a child experiences.  They have nothing else to compare it with.

We are nothing more than the sum total of our experiences and how we cope with them.

My childhood wasn’t “normal,” particularly from the years three to eight when for the most part, my brother’s life hung by a thread and my parents were understandably consumed with his welfare.  I get annoyed sometimes with people complaining about pain.  I know people get annoyed with me because I refuse to acknowledge that I’m unwell or in pain.  I’m not playing some dumb I’m tougher than you are game, I hurt like anybody else – I don’t like complaining about what I see as minor things.

I guess ideas of pain are relative to what you’ve seen and experienced.

When your kid brother has his legs broken and pelvis turned around on the operating table and then after maybe six months has the process repeated, when he is about four years old, you tend to view a dislocated thumb, or a broken nose as a scratch.    I used to be able to say how many operations Grant had before the age of ten -it was well over thirty, but I can’t remember now.  And these weren’t minor operations; they were serious long drawn out life saving or corrective  surgery.

I was a kid, I don’t know exactly what it was that was wrong with him, but I do know he spent most of his early life in the Royal Children’s Hospital.
Talk about tough!  I have two clear memories of Grant during that time.

The first is when he was about nine or ten – it must have been around then, because I was allowed in to the ward to see him and for much of those earlier years I wasn’t.  I had to sit in the waiting room.  He’d had some major operation and he was surrounded by drips and tubes and was clutching his Teddy bear tightly to him.  Mum asked if he was alright.  He nodded and said “Teddy hurts.”

The second was earlier, much earlier.  We’d spent much of the day organising to take him home.  We had to queue for hours to get some medicine from the dispensary and we eventually got out in the late afternoon.  When we finally got outside, he stopped still for a second and seemed to give a little shiver.  “Wind,” he said and smiled.

As I’ve hinted at I spent a lot of time sitting in a waiting room at Ward Eight West at the Royal Children’s Hospital.  I wanted to be there.  I wanted to be as close to my brother as I could be.  I  wasn’t allowed in.  I don’t know why – they must have had a rule about children.

So I sat there, alone for the most part, waiting for news and staring out the window down at Royal Park watching stick figures playing games on the ovals below me.

For company I had a transistor radio – it was tuned to the football broadcast stations and I followed the Collingwood Football Club fanatically.


There’s an assumption from people that being an old Geelong boy, I would follow them, but I never have.  My Dad barracked for Collingwood, so, so did I -it was non negotiable from my point of view.

By the time I was six, I could name every player in the team and half the reserves.  I was fanatical.  That fanaticism grew sitting in that waiting room, hanging on every word that came out of that transistor radio.  Names like Thompson, Tuddenham, McKenna, Twiggy Dunne, Richardson and Barry Price were carved into my heart then.  When they won, I walked on air, when they lost I was inconsolable.

I wanted to be like Barry Price, a quick highly talented midfielder who could pass the ball better than anybody.  All week after school I’d spend practicing little stab passes and imagining Peter McKenna leading up to mark (catch) them.  I wanted to play for Collingwood -they were in many ways everything I had.

Collingwood and my brother who I hardly saw but loved all the more for it and  was willing to sit listening to games of football being played across suburban Melbourne, while my parents visited him.

It could have been a miserable existence.  It wasn’t.  I can still remember games on that radio.  I remember a game against St Kilda where we (I thought in terms of us and them) were seven goals down at half time and came back to win with the aid of some Des Tuddenham heroics.  I was dancing around that waiting room like crazy that day.

I learned to love Collingwood then.  It’s a love that has waned but never died.  Nowadays, I follow them closely, but with nothing like the maniacal zeal that I did when I was under twelve.

What kind of person can still name the playing twenty that represented Collingwood in 1970 on that fateful day in September? I was seven.  I can name the side from the backline.  It’s amazing what you remember when you’re in love.

Over the years Collingwood have teased and disappointed me more times than I can remember.  How can you be in front by forty four points in a Grand Final and still lose?  Collingwood did it – they were masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when the ultimate prize seemed to be theirs for the taking.  1970, 1977, 1979,1980, 1981 – they’re years that burn deep but they’re part of being Collingwood.

We’ve never been a classy team – even in our premiership years, we’ve been dogged and determined – Collingwood teams always give value for money and as a follower you learn to love the hard workers, the battlers who give everything and put their body on the line for the club.   You learn to value effort above all else.

I often wonder how life would have turned out if Grant had of been born healthy.  Neither he nor I would have been the same.  I suspect, I would not have been as passionate about Collingwood as I am.  I wish Grant didn’t have to go through what he did, but I still remember that waiting room in Eight West looking down at those stick figures below with the transistor glued to my ear living every kick, every mark and every goal.

I was the lucky one.  I could live success with my childhood heroes on the radio.  My brother had to make do with trying to transfer his pain to his Teddy bear.

He has always been my real hero.  I don’t see him much at all these days, but I love him just as unconditionally as I did when I sat in that waiting room all those years ago.

To be honest I haven’t seen my brother for five years.  What’s with that?  One day soon, little brother, one day soon.  This songs for you….


  1. Great story. Scalextric, billy carts, Landrovers, Buggy magazines, The Otways & Deep Purple. Weekends with Mark & Grant.

    1. Yes Daryl, good times – very good times – then we all “grew up” and forgot what it was to have fun

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