The Song

Words (Copyright) Ken Mansell, February 2016.
Tune – ‘Bold Thady Quill’/‘Nell Flaherty’s Drake’

On the old gravel track to Port Fairy and back
Where the good folk of Orford did work and reside
A man with a farm never stumbled on harm
In a house for his shelter - to keep warm inside
On the side of the road with no roof if it snowed
All huddled together in the dark of the night
The landless and poor with the grass for their floor
And a rabbit for breakfast from the good family White

The pride of the family was a young man called Lindsay
Who tended the cows in the dark of the night
When milking was done he would shoulder his gun
And shoot ducks from the sky in the soft morning light
Then after these duties he booted his footies
Across the green paddocks with all of his might
From far and from near they all clamoured to hear
Of the young Orford footballer called Lindsay White

At kicking the ball he was best of them all
So high in the packs he could fly like a kite
And so to Corio his talents to ply – oh
Geelong and its people loved young Lindsay White
When Geelong was in trouble his effort would double
He could kick like a horse - send the ball out of sight
You never could get a full forward much better
Than our goal kicking hero the great Lindsay White

He would lead like a rocket to wing or to pocket
To mark on his chest to the grandstand’s delight
Whichever team played him – no rival could faze him
The Black Cats took courage and rose for the fight
We saw number 7 ascend to the heavens
On somebody’s shoulders to hold the ball tight
Then drop kick it through with an aim straight and true
Give a win to Geelong when the finish was tight

Injured so seldom but playing South Melbourne
Their hero was hobbled - the crowd froze in fright
Achilles torn tendon – would this be the ending?
They carried him off – such a terrible sight
From last in the forties to first in the fifties
They climbed on his back to the premiership height
The old Aussie game, well it won’t be the same
Without the mercurial feats of L.White

Lindsay White
Lindsay White
Argus 10Jun1950p47 Jim Edema Lindsay White Geelong
Argus 10Jun1950p47 Jim Edema Lindsay White Geelong
Argus 12 Sep 1950 P12 LWhite
Argus 12 Sep 1950 P12 LWhite

SportingLife Jul1950 Lindsay White
SportingLife Jul1950 Lindsay White

How a song came to be written

Why did I write a song about Lindsay George White, a footballer who played for Geelong in the forties? More generally, why did I write a song about a footballer from the forties when surely a song about a current Geelong star might be seen as more relevant and popular - a song about Paddy Dangerfield for instance?

Quite likely, right at the moment, a song about someone like Patrick Dangerfield or Joel Selwood would be more popular with Cats fans. However, to be frank, as a history buff I am personally more interested in the past of football. I helped set up the Boyles football history website for the purpose of creating more interest in football history. The mission of the website is to drag some of the obscure or hidden aspects of our footy history into the light of day where they deserve to be.

I have been writing a trilogy of articles about Geelong in the nineteen-fifties for the Boyles website, the first installment of which covers Lindsay White’s era.1 I found that I was becoming quite fascinated by White’s story – not only by his obvious brilliance but also by the degree to which he seems to have been ignored by history.2

Football clubs typically produce official histories downplaying or ignoring the less successful years. We Are Geelong, an official Geelong Football Club book published in 2009, devotes little space to the forties. My 2009 review of the book drew attention to this deficiency:

‘The previous Geelong history authored by the late Russell Stephens in 1996 at least attempted to tell the whole story. Here, however, the narrative and scholarly attention to detail that characterizes the early chapters (no doubt seen as appropriate, indeed unavoidable, in a publication commemorating the 150 year milestone), peters out completely at page 128. The book, on its front cover, announces itself as the ‘story’ of the club. But there are very significant gaps in the story once 1925 is reached. There is little or nothing on 1925-31, 1931-37, the 1940’s, 1953-62, and the 1970’s. Finding the story after 1963 is like working on a jigsaw puzzle. The writing becomes more rushed and cursory, meaning many very good players are not mentioned in the text.3

As a consequence the book completely ignores White, easily Geelong’s greatest player of the forties era. The only significant mention of White is a brief passing reference on a page extolling Russell Renfrey.4 There is little doubt Lindsay White has been pushed into the shadows by the attention paid to three of his goal kicking contemporaries – Melbourne’s Fred Fanning, North Melbourne’s Jock Spencer and Essendon’s fabulous John Coleman. Lindsay White was not far behind them in his ability to turn a game and thrill the crowd. Fast leads, superb marking and glorious drop-kicking were his specialties.

My song is a paean to the long-forgotten drop kick. Nowadays many AFL footballers, despite being paid so much more than the players of yesteryear, often miss from twenty yards out and dead in front, despite using (or maybe because they use) the supposedly super-accurate ‘drop punt’. Lindsay White could regularly boot them through with a drop kick from sixty or seventy yards out – on the boundary line!!

1949 vic nut 50s Harpers White Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
1949 vic nut 50s Harpers White Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
Card 062 - Lindsay White - 1948 Kornies Card Source:Australian Football Cards
Card 062 - Lindsay White - 1948 Kornies Card Source:Australian Football Cards

Let us now trace our hero’s story.

Lindsay White was born on January 5, 1922 and grew up on a dairy farm at Orford, about twenty miles north of Port Fairy in Victoria’s south-west.5 As a young footballer at Orford he attracted the attention of Geelong scouts and made his debut for the Cats at Kardinia Park on May 3, 1941. Due to war-time travel restrictions Geelong dropped out of the VFL competition for two years (1942-43). In the interregnum many of Geelong’s pre-war regular players gravitated to other VFL Clubs. Some of them returned, most importantly White whose two years at South Melbourne had yielded him 111 goals from 25 matches.

Orford by Dennis Parker 01
Orford by Dennis Parker 01
Orford by Dennis Parker 02
Orford by Dennis Parker 02
Orford by Dennis Parker 03
Orford by Dennis Parker 03
Orford by Dennis Parker 04
Orford by Dennis Parker 04
Orford by Dennis Parker 05
Orford by Dennis Parker 05

Initially White was one of the few stars in a very inexperienced Geelong line-up. For several years the Cats were the easy beats of the competition, finishing a clear and miserable last in 1944 (with only one win and a percentage of 58.6%), second last in 1945 (with only two wins and a percentage of 64.9%), and tenth in 1946 (with four wins and a percentage of 70.9%). Improvement in this initial post-war period was minor and very gradual. In 1947 however, the Cats, growing in confidence and obviously responding to the coaching of Tom Quinn, issued a warning to the competition. Geelong finished seventh, winning eleven games and notching a healthy percentage of 103.3%. Undoubtedly the season’s highlight was the amazing final round victory at home against eventual premiers Carlton. Geelong came from behind to win, with Lindsay White kicking seven goals in the last quarter.6 White hit his peak in the late forties, kicking 76 goals (and winning Geelong’s best and fairest award) in 1947, topping the VFL goal kicking with 86 goals from sixteen matches in 1948, and booting 53 goals from 13 matches in 1949.

White was again given the captaincy of Geelong at the start of 1950, a season in which the Cats were destined to finish a meritorious third, after making the finals for the first time since 1940.7 Then tragedy struck. At Kardinia Park, in a Round Eleven match against his former club South Melbourne, White snapped his Achilles tendon and was carried from the ground. The Geelong captain immediately retired from VFL senior football.8

White was top VFL goal kicker in 1942 (playing for South Melbourne) and 1948. He kicked 540 goals from 142 VFL games (429 goals from 118 games with Geelong).9

One of his greatest adversaries had this to say when White retired:

‘White has been chiefly responsible for Geelong’s success in recent years. He is such an uncanny kick that he is an inspiration to his players who use non-stop tactics to get the ball to him.’ 10

The numerous references in the literature to White’s extraordinary kicking ability are more than just intriguing. In 1941, the youthful White represented Geelong footballers in a contest against an American gridiron champion. White kicked the Australian football 84 yards, beating his rival’s throw.11 It might be apocryphal, but one report has him kicking a goal for Geelong from ninety yards out! Certainly his most famous kicking effort – the long kick to win the match for Geelong against Carlton in 1947 – is fondly recalled by the few old-timers still alive to remember it, and has even entered Kardinia Park folklore as a kick that ended up in Lake Connewarre.12

So I reckoned, with all that in mind, Lindsay White’s story might just be a suitable subject for a song. Anyway, it would be damn hard to write a song about Paddy Dangerfield, or anyone else whose name had five syllables.

A little bit of oral history conducted over the phone only added to my interest.13 My interviewee Trevor Wilson, who has spent most of his life living and working in Victoria’s south-west, is responsible more than anyone else for inspiring my ballad. Trevor remembers being told Lindsay White’s family at Orford owned no property and milked their cows ‘along the side of the road’. Sometimes it takes some particularly unusual or striking reference like this to awaken the muse. My Haydn Bunton ballad, written in 1999, was prompted by references to the friendship at Fitzroy between Bunton and Doug Nicholls. When Trevor suggested the White’s were propertyless I thought – ‘there is a song there somewhere’. I imagined the White family living a sort of gypsy-like existence in the wilds of Port Fairy and was reminded of the vast repertoire of classical English, Scottish and Irish ‘gypsy’ ballads (‘Gypsy Davy’, ‘Gypsy Rover’ etc). My initial lyrics took up this romantic theme and described White’s family as the ‘landless and poor’ referred to in the first verse. My reverie didn’t last long. I was then somewhat disappointed to read that the White family did in fact have a farm - and I changed the lyrics accordingly.

As is well-known, the Port Fairy district of south-west Victoria was settled by Irish immigrants and retains much of the Irish cultural heritage to this day. Appropriately therefore, the inspiration for the tune used comes from a rollicking old Irish street ballad extolling the manifold virtues of a sporting hero called ‘Bold Thady Quill’. One other old Irish street ballad using the same tune is the wonderful ‘Nell Flaherty’s Drake’, a positively violent song directing every curse known to humankind at the murderer of a beloved duck – somewhat ironical given that Lindsay White spent many hours as a youth roaming about shooting ducks out of the sky. For those who might want to actually sing my ballad, rather than merely recite the words, the aforementioned Irish street ballads can be heard as sung by the Clancy Brothers, either on vinyl or CD.

This is my second attempt to write a song about a barely remembered footballer. In 2003, at Haskins Hotel in North Fitzroy, I launched a CD of my song about the great Haydn Bunton (The Ballad of Haydn Bunton). No CD launch is likely this time, unless some fanatical Geelong history buff wants to sling me a cool $5000 to get it done.

The exigencies of song-writing are such that so much of the history cannot be told. My Lindsay White ballad leaves out a lot that probably could have been included if I had not been concerned about length. Apart from his duck-shooting exploits highlighted in the September 1950 Argus interview with Ken Moses, Lindsay White was a very good foot-runner. Starting in 1945, he won the 1946 Colac Gift, the 1947 Deans Marsh Gift, and was placed on four yards in the Stawell Gift.14 White never ceased his involvement with football. In 1951 he played in the Ballarat Football League and topped the competition’s goal-kicking. In 1952 he took on the job of (playing) coach of Geelong Seconds. The appointment was terminated in July 1952 when White bought the Bannockburn Hotel.15 After Geelong, according to Susan Kruss, White played and coached in Canberra and Victorian country football. He later served as a popular President of the Geelong Football Club Past Players’ Association from 1969-1977. He was President of the PPA when he had a fatal heart attack in March 1977 while duck shooting at Menindee (NSW).16

Lindsay White
Lindsay White
FSM Lindsay White
FSM Lindsay White
Lets Look at Footy 1953 P52 Linday White Geelong Thumb
Lets Look at Footy 1953 P52 Linday White Geelong Thumb

End Notes

1. On Top and Loving It – Geelong 1950-56 (Trilogy, part one).

2. An article written by John Harms for the Footy Almanac website in 2013 names a provisional ‘Dairy Farmers Team of the Century’ with ex-Collingwood player Josh Fraser selected at full-forward. Apparently whoever participated in the selection of the team had never heard of Lindsay White.

3. We Are Geelong – The Story of the Geelong Football Club, Melbourne, The Slattery Media Group, 2009. The review is found in Bulletin of Sport and Culture (Victoria University), No 32 (September 2009). See also Russell H.T. Stephens, The Road to Kardinia – the Story of the Geelong Football Club, Sydney, Playright Publishing, 1996 (320 pages).

4. It is not taking anything away from Russell Renfrey’s unique and lasting contribution to the Geelong Football Club to say he was never in Lindsay White’s class.

5. I had originally written ‘in Victoria’s western district’. I am indebted to Rennis Witham for reminding me of the necessary geographical and political distinction between Victoria’s ‘western district’ and Victoria’s ‘south-west’. As she correctly points out Victoria’s western district is the home of the notoriously conservative Squatters, while south-west Victoria was home to dairy farmers, itinerant workers, and Irish spud farmers - many just working class landowners or renters and many eking out a living on scrubby land given to them as soldier settlers. Correspondence with Rennis Witham, February 20, 2016.

6. White finished with 10 goals for the day. In the previous two matches he had twice kicked 9 goals. This was on top of the 22 goals he had booted in the 1947 interstate carnival in Tasmania. The Cats showed glimpses in the 1948 season but slipped down the ladder, finishing ninth with only seven wins and a percentage of 89.7%. Two huge losses threw some doubt into the minds of supporters – the loss to Carlton by 91 points, and the final round thrashing at the hands of South Melbourne (6-9 to 21-15).

7. White also captained Geelong in 1948, replacing the retiring George Gniel. Jim Fitzgerald and Tom Morrow shared the captaincy in 1949.

8. Bernie Smith replaced White as 1950 Geelong captain and Tom Morrow assumed the deputy role.

9. White topped Geelong’s goal-kicking in 1944, 1947, 1948 and 1949. He represented Victoria seven times. In August 1947, in Hobart, he kicked 11 goals against Queensland in an ANFC carnival match. For Lindsay White biographies, see Ken Moses, Deadly with Gun and Boot, The Argus, Tuesday, September 12, 1950, p. 12 (with Edema drawing of White); Susan Kruss, After The Game – Geelong Past Players and Officials Club (80 Years – 1933 to 2013), 2013; Bruce Kennedy and Michael Rogers, Classic Cats – the Story of Geelong’s Premiership Years 1951-52, 2012; Russell Stephens, The Road to Kardinia – the Story of the Geelong Football Club, Playright, 1996; Russell Holmesby and Jim Main, (SEN) Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers (tenth edition), Bas Publishing, 2014.
In 1950 White scored thus - 10, 3, did not play, DNP, DNP, 2, 1, 6, 4, 3, 0.

His record year by year:
1941 – 67 (17)
1942 (South) – 80 (16)
1943 (South) – 31 (9)
1944 – 60 (18)
1945 – 33 (18)
1946 – 25 (11)
1947 – 76 (17)
1948 – 86 (16)
1949 – 53 (12)
1950 – 29 (8)

10. Dick Reynolds (with Bill Moorhead), Geelong Look Safe for Place in Four,The Argus, August 14, 1950, p. 11.

11. Kruss, p. 192

12. Kruss, p. 220

13. A little bit of oral history - Interview (telephone) with Trevor Wilson (Ballarat), February 3, 2016.
‘My father-in-law Harry Rowbottom (now deceased) was a sheep farmer at Broadwater in western Victoria. He played football for Orford in the local Port Fairy district league in the forties. When the Orford club folded in the late forties Harry went to play for Bessiebelle. Harry had a set against the Geelong Football Club. He was angry that so many of the local people went off to watch Geelong play instead of supporting the local team’.

‘Harry told us he could remember seeing Lindsay White play for Orford before White started at Geelong. He told us that the White family did not own land but had cows and milked them ‘along the side of the road’. Their cows were grazed along the side of the road (very few cars then). Lindsay’s mother had to occasionally ride a horse towards Port Fairy to get a cow on the outskirts of Port Fairy and then bring it home for milking. I believe the Whites must have had to shelter under stone and ferns because they did not own property. Lindsay White eventually owned a sports store in Geelong. I can remember seeing it in 1950 so he must have already owned it before that’.

14. White later blamed the rigours of foot-running for his 1950 achilles injury. See Kruss, pp. 230-232.

15. White handed the coaching reins to Leo O’Halloran who then went on to win the 1952 Gardiner Medal for best and fairest in the VFL Seconds.

16. I am indebted to Susan Kruss for most of the biographical details included here. See Kruss, op.cit, pp. 78-79. White worked for Ford Motor Company for a period in the forties, and later worked as a wine and spirits travelling salesman. He married twice and had four children. His nephew Jim Roberts, also from Orford, played for Geelong in the fifties. His brother-in-law George Swarbrick played as a ruckman for Geelong in the early fifties after being recruited from Hawkesdale. White was responsible for coining one of Geelong football’s most enduring nick-names – ‘Hooker’ Renfrey. Lindsay White died, far too early, on March 13, 1977.


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