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Sixty years on Gus'still kicking goals

Sixty years on Gus’ still kicking goals

Life member: Goulburn Valley Football League president Trevor Pollard and Kyabram Ladies committee member Carol Curnow congratulate Gus Underwood on being awarded GVFL life membership in the Kyabram Press Box on Sunday. Underwood has devoted more than 50 years to the league in capacities as a player, coach and journalist. Picture: Noel Hussey.

A birth notice in the February 4 edition of the Kyabram Free Press 80 years ago was the first print reference made to Garry John Underwood — or Gus, as we have come to know him.

The notice read “Mr and Mrs Les Underwood (Erin was his mother’s name) of Kyabram are being congratulated on the birth of a son at Kurmala Hospital, Bendigo”.

That son was the man Kyabram sports lovers would come to know as “Gus” — a name that would dominate the pages of the newspaper for decades to come.

He was born on January 28, 1944 and only days ago celebrated his 80th birthday.

A tick less than 10 years passed before the name Garry Underwood would appear in the Kyabram Free Press for the second time.

It was two days before Christmas, in 1954, seven years before he would start a journalistic cadetship at the newspaper.

On this occasion it involved an intrepid 10-year-old and a Mulberry tree.

The headline of the report read “Fall from a Tree” and read as follows “Garry Underwood, the 10-yearold son of Mr and Mrs Len Underwood of Kyabram, was last Thursday admitted to Kyabram BNA Hospital suffering from multiple injuries received when he fell from a Mulberry tree.”

Gus was left with a broken nose and rib fractures from the incident, his first, but certainly not his last trip to hospital.

I used extracts from an article written by another Goulburn Valley newspaper legend, one with a history steeped in similar elite sporting achievements, in 2012 to formulate part of this article.

That man was Noel Hussey, the voice of sport for the Goulburn Valley through the Shepparton News and for those old enough to remember — 3SR radio.

He described how Gus started at the Free Press in 1961, completing the traditional four-year cadetship, after which he left to complete seasonal work.

The story followed that Gus spent the next five years hay carting, fruit picking, pruning and fencing, which probably made the larger than life figure appreciate his seat behind the typewriter even more.

He returned to journalism in 1971 and he spent an unbroken period of almost 50 years doing just that.

Gus eventually “retired” and became a freelance contributor to the newspaper in 2009.

Established in 1892, the Free Press was a bi-weekly publication right up until April 2009 — every Tuesday and Friday.

Gus was editor of the Free Press for 24 years, up until 2009, but has remained a constant through the delivery of his Sporting Snapshots and various other sporting anecdotes.

His easy to digest writing style has entertained readers for more than six decades.

Gus’ “off-field” activities have had just as profound an impact on the community to which he is so connected.

As a football coach he took the Kyabram under-18 team to four grand finals and two premierships as the teenagers never missed a Goulburn Valley League finals series in his time carrying the clipboard.

While it was in this arena that he forged a reputation as a coach, he did spend a year as Lancaster senior coach after his Kyabram playing days.

For the record, he was a more than handy player, finishing with one Lancaster best-and-fairest award and as runner-up to Girgarre’s Ray Doolan in the Kyabram District League’s 1963 McNamara Medal.

He even played, at 36, in a Wombats reserves premiership.

Apart from captaining Kyabram High School to the GVL thirds flag in 1960, that was his only flag success in nearly 400 games.

But off the field was where he had most of his impact on the Kyabram sporting community.

A driving force behind the inauguration of the Kyabram Sportstar of the Year Awards, which began in 1975, all who make up a photographic Sporting Hall of Fame now in the possession of the Kyabram Club.

He was even the focus of a chapter in Kevin Sheedy’s Pockets of Greatness book, where the focus was on how Kyabram could produce so many elite athletes.

Brian Meldrum, the younger brother of pop icon Molly,

was a close friend of Gus’ and also a journalist of note — in the racing industry for the most part.

For a short time the pair even contemplated a career in the professional punting arena.

He has always loved dogs and, back in 2012, shared a story with legendary scribe — and long time friend — Hussey about a cocker Spaniel he used to own.

The dog apparently escaped out the window of his vehicle mid-match and invaded the ground — stopping the momentum of the opposition team and holding the game up for 10 minutes.

As a result league president, the late Jack Arthur, banned all dogs from attending GVL matches,

After football and journalism, along with dogs, cricket and harness racing run a close third and fourth.

His list of life memberships is long — Kyabram Football Netball Club, Kyabram Harness Racing Club, Kyabram District Cricket Association and Kyabram Cricket Club.

In 2022 he even had the Goulburn Murray Cricket Association’s C-grade competition named in his honour.

And, in a further brush with fame, he received a citation from then Prime Minister John Howard for services to cricket.

He won the Bob Merriman Medal in 2010, awarded by the Victorian Country Cricket League to an outstanding administrator.

He was also an inaugural inductee in the Victorian Country Cricket League’s Hall of Fame and is also a Goulburn Valley Footbal League Hall of Fame member.

He was a 40-year player, a 24-year Kyabram District Cricket Association president and a leading figure at both Bendigo and Melbourne Country Week carnivals.

His passion for the sport still shines in his coverage of the sport, as it does with his harness racing reporting.

Sulky Shorts, his still weekly harness racing column, was the brainchild of Hussey and is still a feature of the Shepparton News, Echuca

Riverine Herald and, in part, Kyabram Free Press.

In 2011 he was recognised for his contribution to Victorian Harness Racing with its Distinguished Service Award.

Not content with just writing about the standardbreds, he invested his hard earned in the sport and even trained two winners himself — at odds of 33-1 and 20-1.

· It took a bit of convincing, but Gus was eventually willing to share some of his opinions on the “best he had seen” in his 60 years of covering sport in Kyabram

He started with a few generational mentions, including the Cox family (Wilf and his three sons, Brian, Ray and Geoff).

Kyabram’s lawn bowling Cartwright family also rated a mention, as did the Muellers (father Brad and sons Kyle and Cade) for their all-round sporting prowess.

Bob Pate, father of champion cyclist Stephen Pate, was another worthy of inclusion in this section of his review, as were the Newman, Dillon, Vick, Barrett and Bassett families.

“Grandfather Dave Newman was a star footballer and cricketer for Tongala. His son Dave Jr continued the tradition and grandsons — David and Paul — have made massive contributions to the local sporting scene in both cricket and football over the past 25 years.”

As for the Dillons: “The late Brian Dillon and his brother Arthur, have a clan of footballing sons and grandsons who have played at GVL senior level including Ross Dillon, who represented both Victoria and South Australia.”

Vick family: “A famous Kyabram footy family which once had brothers Alan, Bob and Alf forming the Kyabram half-back line. Alan still holds the GVL goal-kicking record in one game with 21, while his grandson Josh is a premiership Kyabram captain and Victorian Country representative.”

Barretts: “The late Roy Barrett was a Goulburn Valley League Morrison medallist playing for Stanhope in 1952 and also played with Kyabram. His son Russell, and grandsons Liam and Drew, all played at GVL senior level for Kyabram.

Bassetts: “Father Ian and son Trevor have made their mark on the Australian croquet scene in the past 20 years.”

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