I arrived at Greensborough RSL for my appointment with Frank Dear. Frank appeared in the doorway, a grey-suited and grey-haired old man, stooped and slightly fragile, and walking with a limp, the painful legacy of his encounter with a car two years ago.

Frank lives alone in a neat flat, likes to drink at the Greensborough RSL and at the local football club opposite his home, loves good music, has lots of friends, keeps in constant touch with his two sons and four grandchildren, and is about to be driven along the Gold Coast in a Ford V8 Rally. Only his maroon and blue tie is a clue to the meaning of our meeting. My interest in him has been aroused because he is possibly the oldest surviving supporter of the Fitzroy Football Club, with eighty years of memories 'indelibly printed' on his mind - and with his name etched on a paving stone outside the Brisbane 'Gabba'.

Frank Dear - Photographer: Graeme Dear 2006
Frank Dear - Photographer: Graeme Dear 2006


Frank was born in Northcote in 1914, into a 'strict Methodist' home. As his father changed jobs in the twenties, the family moved from one suburb to another. After North Fitzroy, Ascot Vale and Preston, they settled in Waltham Street Richmond. The family was dogged by bad luck. Frank's grandfather had been felled by a tree while employed in the Edinburgh Gardens, and his father had not been well for a long time. A caretaker position at Richmond Central Methodist Church provided only brief respite for Frank's father. He was diagnosed with deadly tuberculosis and died three years later in Austin Hospital.

Frank attended North Fitzroy (Alfred Crescent), Moonee Ponds West, South Preston and Yarra Park state schools. He enrolled at Melbourne High in 1928, when the school was officially opened. 'With father in hospital, we were a pretty poor family', says Frank. 'I wanted to be a journalist, but I had to do work around the church cleaning. I started work at fifteen, in Chapel Street. I got a job in the rag trade, and stayed until I was sixty-nine. I've been round a bit in the rag trade - quite a bit. I had a good reputation in the trade. I knew the game well'.

In business, Frank seems to have been upwardly-mobile. In the thirties he worked at Treadways Chapel Street store and in Swan Street Richmond. Afterwards, he managed menswear shops in Northcote, Collingwood, and Heidelberg. At the age of fifty he started with Waldron's schoolwear chain and remained a manager/buyer with Waldron's until his retirement at sixty-nine. Frank would not think twice about cadging something for himself - a Fitzroy tie, or a free season's ticket - from travellers. In 1936 Frank married Nancy Perry who he had known for ten years in Richmond. Their first child was born just as the Pacific War started in 1941.

Frank's life is a tale of two games. He knew the rag trade, but he loved the game of Australian Rules football and the Fitzroy Football Club. 'I was indoctrinated into football', Frank says proudly. 'It was my life'. Frank's whole family barracked for Fitzroy. His first match watching the maroon and blues was at Brunswick Street in 1924, the year that Jack Moriarty (Frank's first hero) kicked 82 goals, beating Dick Lee's VFL record. He was taken by his aunt, who had ladies tickets for the cricket stand. Football was taken very seriously. 'I did it hard in Richmond' says Frank. 'I had many blues with Richmond barrackers. I wouldn't give in to them'.

1933 Hoadleys VFL Football Cards (Fitzroy) Jack Moriarty - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 Hoadleys VFL Football Cards (Fitzroy) Jack Moriarty - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 Hoadleys VFL Football Cards (Fitzroy) Jack Moriarty  - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 Hoadleys VFL Football Cards (Fitzroy) Jack Moriarty - source: Carnegie_Collectables


Frank and his brother would kick the paper football to one another in Richmond's Goodwood Street paddock (opposite Pelaco) or in Edinburgh Gardens en route to the match, but mostly he was a spectator not a participant. The highlight of Frank's life is his former relationship with the real Haydn Bunton, and his ongoing engagement with his memories of the champion. 'In 1929 a rumour got around there was a very good player in Albury - a young fellow called Haydn Bunton - a natural champion athlete. Every club wanted him. By gee, he didn't let them down. He was classed as a very good footballer. That was an understatement. He turned out to be - I don't care who says different - the greatest footballer ever'.

1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy H Bunton Card Number 39 - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy H Bunton Card Number 39 - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy H Bunton Card Number 39 - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy H Bunton Card Number 39 - source: Carnegie_Collectables


Frank befriended Bunton and on several occasions after matches accompanied him to his home in Falconer Street. His description of their meeting is melodramatic but sincere: 'I got into the rooms at a very early age after the matches. My father was on the gate as a ticket collector. One of the trainers I knew let me in at the door. I used to stand and look at Bunton. Mr Bunton, I said. My name's Haydn, he said. You go home my way, I said. Can I wait for you and carry your bag?. I'd like that, he said'.

Frank remained loyal to Fitzroy through all the dark years. He is a repository of the club's folklore. Incidents over an eighty-year span are effortlessly recounted: 'I heard a woman sing out one day: Colin Niven! They should feed you on bloody broken glass.' He clearly remembers particular on-field incidents and describes them lyrically. 'There was one match in 1933, and we were playing South Melbourne at Fitzroy. We were playing Bunton in the centre then. They put Laurie Nash on him. I'll never forget the day - he beat Laurie Nash pointless. I remember the ball coming to Nash on one occasion. All of a sudden there is a stride and a groping hand. One hand pulls the ball in. It was Bunton.'

1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy C Niven Card Number 49 - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy C Niven Card Number 49 - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy C Niven Card Number 49 - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1933 BDV Cigarettes Fitzroy C Niven Card Number 49 - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1934 Hoadleys Laurie Nash South Melbourne - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1934 Hoadleys Laurie Nash South Melbourne - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1934 Hoadleys Laurie Nash South Melbourne - source: Carnegie_Collectables
1934 Hoadleys Laurie Nash South Melbourne - source: Carnegie_Collectables


Frank Dear has strong values and sticks by them. He positively affirms, with almost every breath, the direction taken by his own life. His most common adjective is 'wonderful'. There is not a trace of cynicism; no negative comment about others. Interestingly, his judgment of the quality of footballers (especially his heroes - Bunton, Frank Curcio, Kevin Murray, Norm Johnstone and Owen Abrahams) includes consideration of their personal human qualities, not just on-field prowess. Bunton is lauded as a gentleman, and for his path-breaking humanitarianism: 'I said to him - Why do you support (Doug) Nicholls like you do? He said Colour, religion, politics don't come into football, or shouldn't. He's a good living man. Why should he be pushed aside because he's black?. '

1933 Wills - Frank Curcio - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1933 Wills - Frank Curcio - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1958_Atlantic - 036 Owen Abrahams - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1958_Atlantic - 036 Owen Abrahams - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1954 Coles Series 2 Norm Johnstone Fitzroy Football Swap Card - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1954 Coles Series 2 Norm Johnstone Fitzroy Football Swap Card - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1958 Atlantic Fitzroy Lions Kevin Murray Card No. 34 Source: Carnegie Collectables
1958 Atlantic Fitzroy Lions Kevin Murray Card No. 34 Source: Carnegie Collectables


1934 Hoadleys Victorian Footballers Card Fitzroy - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1934 Hoadleys Victorian Footballers Card Fitzroy - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards


At a recent Fitzroy book launch Frank Dear met my twelve-year old daughter. Concerned for his welfare in the swirling mob, she took it upon herself to keep an eye on him throughout the evening and catered for his relative immobility by bringing him food and drink. A few weeks passed and a thank-you card arrived. My daughter and Frank Dear, both reaching across the generations, had become good friends.

(Frank Dear passed away March 19, 2012, aged 97).

Fitzroy 1952 Pennant - Private Collection
Fitzroy 1952 Pennant - Private Collection



END.

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