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I will start by saying that I am a ?wog?. I was born in Erlangen, Bavaria (Germany) to a Hungarian father and German mother. We arrived in Australia in 1961 and settled in an old fibro cottage in Caringbah a stone?s throw away from Pioneer Concrete. We had a long drop out the back and the milko used to deliver milk in foil-topped bottles out of a refrigerated cart. Yes, that is cart as in horse and cart, and Dad would send me out to collect the horse manure from up and down our street to help fertilise our garden. Like many immigrant families of the time, we had a virtual market garden in our backyard and grew almost all our own fruit and vegetables.
When I first went to school in 1962, the teachers couldn?t understand a word I said and I struggled to understand them or the other kids. My first language was German and I only knew a smattering of English. Dad could speak some English, but with a heavy Hungarian accent, and would throw in words from Hungarian, German or Russian when he lost his way. That first year at school, I really struggled, but the thing I remember most were the kids in the playground and the way that sport was the link to bridge our cultural differences.
They used to kick this odd-shaped ball around at recess and lunch and early on I was invited to have a go. Growing up in a football family (soccer ? I have relatives who played for Hungary in their great sides of the 1950s), I?d kicked a soccer ball around since I was barely out of nappies and had a fair boot on me. We were playing a game we called Force Them Back and would kick this ball, which I found out later was a rugby league ball, to and fro, the object being to kick it over a line for a point. One team was called St George and the other called Souths, the two most heavily supported teams in the Shire at the time. My first kick sailed way over their heads and scored a point. I don?t know what the score finished up, but that odd-shaped ball felt good to kick and from that day on I was accepted.
We had no other family in Australia at the time and both my parents needed to work for us to get by. Our next-door neighbours, with no children of their own, practically adopted my three brothers and myself and would take us everywhere. They were huge St George supporters and we?d make the fortnightly trip out to Jubilee Oval to watch the mighty Dragons play. Come September, their modest weatherboard home would be decked out in the red and white and they had a huge sculpture of a Dragon, painted in gloss, affixed to their roof. I had my first taste of Grand Final football in 1964, being with more than 61,000 other people to watch St George down Balmain 11-6 and clock up their 9th successive premiership. We were also there in 1965 and 1966 but that was to be our final year in those colours.
We were all very excited about the new club that was being formed down the road and one of my fondest memories was standing at the Sydney Sports Ground on my 10th birthday to watch Cronulla-Sutherland win their first ever premiership match 11-5 over Easts. Sadly, this was to be one of the few highlights of a forgettable season and we finished up with the wooden spoon. For us, football was more of a social occasion and being there with friends to watch our local team play was more important than the final score. More often than not, we?d have people around afterwards for a barbecue and, assisted by Dad?s home brew, there would be a fairly lively post-mortem of the day?s game. Us kids would climb over the back fence and kick a footy around on the Miranda North PS Oval until the food was ready.
Reflecting on those memories of my childhood, the kids have all grown up but many have become life-long friends and we are now passing the baton on to a new generation of rugby league and Cronulla-Sutherland supporters. Sadly, many of the adults have passed away but I?ll never forget the way that they, through rugby league, helped my family to settle into a new country.
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