“We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” ~ Pascal Mercier
People often ask me how I got into running, when I started running and why I always wear my 15-year-old tattered Box Hill singlet to race in. My response. It’s all about the Box Hill connection.
I spent all my childhood growing up in Box Hill. Box Hill is the capital of Australia and probably the best place in the world to live. It is often described as the Paris of Australia due to its natural beauty, romanticism, cuisine and culture. While not a hugely popular destination for tourists there is so much to do like visit the shopping centre, ride the miniature trains or borrow some books from the library. It was often a common pastime to head down to the city oval and watch the mighty Box Hill Mustangs in the VFL. My grandparents lived in Box Hill, my parents lived in Box Hill and I grew up in Box Hill. I married my wife in Box Hill only after confirming she also was of Box Hill descent.
Wedding photos at Box Hill Athletics Track. Photos by Aweiding
Box Hill Athletics Club has a legitimate claim to being the best athletics club in Australia. Founded in 1932 and located at Hagenauer Reserve the club has a rich history and some of the best Australian athletes over the years. Our home was a conveniently short jog to the athletics track, which was a tremendous advantage for a running enthusiast like me. I would regularly jog past Nana and Pa’s house on route to the track as they tended the camellia bushes in the front yard. Walking through the barbed wire fence still sends shivers down my spine as the smell of the polyurethane rubber track evokes memories of the past legends of the club. Peter Fuller, Graham Crouch, Stephen Foley, Peter Larkins, Bill Scott, Steve Austin, Andrew Letherby to name a few from a distance running perspective. My dad and uncles also ran for Box Hill back in the day and its still a special experience every time I pull on the singlet knowing they did the same. Wearing a Box Hill singlet is a bit like pulling on a baggy green cap. An honour to be treasured and not taken lightly. I have run all my PB’s in the revered black and silver of Box Hill and will probably be buried in the same singlet one day. I’m not a fan of tattoos but if I was ever to get one it would be the white stallion plastered across my chest.
The famous white stallion of Box Hill.
Wes Windsor was my first and only coach at Box Hill. I was only admitted into the group after finishing 5 seconds behind Hayley Tomlinson in a local 2km event. Anyone who knows HT will know this was not an easy task and finishing this close was a sign of talent and promise. Wes coached me from a young kid all the way through to when I was in my early twenties and is a brilliant coach. He was the one who even suggested a change to Dick Telford as he saw my distance/marathon potential from a young age. I am very grateful for everything Wes has done and it was a fortuitous set of events that led me under his guidance.
Early training partner Andrew White and the master coach Westly Windsor
I spent most of the early days chasing the likes of HT, Andrew White and Sam Hassett up the hills of Wattle Park or around the grass track at Strabroke. When I wasn’t running up hills I was cruising the streets of Box Hill with Nick Bourke, Alex De-Greenlaw and HT. I remember Bourkey’s passion for car running and donuts and we would often run many a mile just to get our hands on the cinnamon jam variety. One fond memory was running about 20km from Box Hill to Bourkey’s place, eating donuts, and then him ditching us and leaving us to run all the way home again. He is a super guy. Often after school I would catch the train home with one of the Pocklington’s or Mel Adams and we would walk down through the picturesque Box Hill Gardens, past the empty duck pond down to the track. Dion and Joel Pocklington would inevitably spend most of their time hanging upside down from the clubrooms or eating raisin bread, but I was lucky enough to train with their old man Colin a few times. Colin Pocklington was a humble man of great Christian faith and of the highest moral character. While it was often humiliating to get smacked up by a 50-year-old man he was a great role model for many of the younger athletes and someone who has left a lasting legacy at Box Hill. It’s a real shame I’ll never be fast enough to win the annual Colin Pocklington Sprint Trophy for the fastest Box Hill sprinter.
These days I live in Canberra and it is certainly one of the best training environments with so many trails and tracks to run…however I still believe the best single location to run (other than Box Hill of course) is without a doubt Ferny Creek. Located in the Dandenong’s about a 45 minute drive from the capital Box Hill, Ferny Creek was first used as a running destination by the legendary Ron Clarke and Trevor Vincent amongst others. The original “Ferny Creek Gang” pioneered what is today a rite of passage for any avid distance runner. If you head out to Ferny on a Sunday morning I can guarantee you will still see TV running the hallowed trails. Driving up through Sassafras and Olinda always induced emotions of anticipation and excitement. As the elevation increased so too did the size of the tall Mountain Ash trees and density of the undergrowth. Often in winter, fog would creep up the steeply weathered gullies covering the thick temperate rainforest. On occasion it would snow. Ferny was and still is a magical place and unrivalled by any other training location.
The original Ferny Creek Gang. Photo from Ron Clarke – The Unforgiving Minute
I was first invited to Ferny by some of the Knox Crew. The Knox boys are all right I guess for non Box Hill people. Some of my best running memories were the two hour runs in the forests with the likes of Sam Crowther, Kane Wille, Matt Bayley, Slouchy and Mattress. These boys were some of the best blokes and it can only be assumed therefore that they were born in Box Hill and must have somehow ended up in Knox. Sam, Kane and Matt were without a doubt the toughest competitors I’ve ever raced and those races sometimes included the Sunday long runs.
The Box Hill and Knox teams always had competitive battles. Sam Crowther (middle row far right) and Kane Wille (middle row 3rd from right) were two of the toughest competitors i’ve ever raced.
Mattress is an enigma and the modern day godfather of Ferny Creek. No one has run in the forests more than him. Mattress was born at the top of two-mile hill and has lived in the forest hunting deer and drinking the fresh waters of Sherbrooke creek ever since. He probably spent a little too much time in the forest and these days his appearance resembles the native Messmate Stringybark Eucalyptus trees. Without a doubt the long runs in the forests and hills of Fenry developed my passion for distance running and contributed to developing endurance strength in the early days that laid a solid foundation for the future. Life at Ferny Creek only got better when the Toomey brothers founded the Belgrave Bakery Appreciation Society. Many an hour would be spent recovering with a few pastries.
The modern day godfather of Ferny creek Old Man Mattress in full flight.
Box Hill during the week. Ferny Creek on weekends. This was pretty much my routine for a number of years. The different characters and locations all contributed to a love and enjoyment of running in my formative years and built a passion that has lasted to the present day.