Club History: Harold Caterson
This is the first in a series of biographies of early club members. Thank you to all the people that I have been in contact with for your memories, photos and memorabilia.
By Ian Ray
(click here for larger version)
In 1960 the Moorabbin Council began meeting with the Victorian Football League (VFL) to have a VFL team play at the Linton Street Oval off South Rd near Moorabbin Station. Why would this Council activity, in part, lead to the formation of Moorabbin Rugby Club? Read on………
The VFL made it clear to the council that Moorabbin Football Club, premiers in the Victorian Football Association (VFA), would not be promoted to the VFL. The council then negotiated with St. Kilda Football Club, who were based at the Junction Oval in St. Kilda to move to Moorabbin.
In early 1964 the Moorabbin Council announced that St. Kilda would be moving to Linton Street at the end of the season. Moorabbin Football Club, despite being kept in the dark about these negotiations, supported the move and attempted to merge with St. Kilda however this resulted in the VFA suspending Moorabbin from the VFA. Moorabbin could find no other league to play in for the 1964 season and thus all their players were at a loose end.
Over that summer a number of the Moorabbin Football Club U18 players would surf at Brighton near the end of South Rd. One fateful day Bruce Caterson and John Sweet were hitching back from the beach and a Scot named John Joseph “Jock” Duffy picked them up and gave them a lift.
Jock asked the boys where they were going and what sport they played. They said that their footy club had folded and that they were at a loose end. Jock made them an offer to come and play rugby for the new Marlins rugby club.
One of the boys, Bruce Caterson, mentioned that his dad, Harold, was from Sydney and that he used to play rugby. Fate had struck.
Harold Caterson was soon roped in to help Jock with the Marlins U18s rugby team and the rest is history as you say!
Harold was born in Richmond, North West of Sydney in 1905. It was quite a rural area in those days. He went to Sydney High School and played rugby both at school and at the University of Sydney where he studied business. At University Harold won Blues as the cox of a rowing team and as a rugby player.
He played rugby at Western Suburbs Rugby Club in Burwood and played as halfback in the 1929 Premiership team. This was the Western Suburbs Rugby Club’s second Premiership, the first one being won back in 1901. He also played at Randwick for a few seasons.
1929 Premiers (click here for large version)
Harold worked in the confectionery business and came to Melbourne in 1956 with wife Nance and two sons (Bruce and Ron) to manage Besters Bros of Carlton which later moved to Braybrook. Harold was a keen artist and met Nance through an art group. Nance was an artist and model and had modeled for Sidney Nolan.
As a member of the American Institute of Candy Technology, Harold would travel to the United States each year to the annual meeting/fair and come back with new ideas for products.
He later moved to manage MacRobertson’s Chocolates (think Freddo Frog and Cherry Ripe). In 1967 MacRobertson’s was sold to Cadbury Chocolates. As a consequence, Harold took a role at Provincial Traders who manufactured margarine and traded in animal fats.
With Bruce introducing his father Harold to Jock’s team, Harold and Jock set about running the Marlins U18s. A number of local lads were recruited to add to the Aspendale Tech boys, finally enabling the team to have reserves each week.
It turned out that Harold lived only three streets away from Jock in Moorabbin and Harold’s son Ron Caterson remembers that Jock and Harold would often be sitting around the family’s kitchen table talking about plans for the Marlins. They designed a playing jersey for the Marlins based on Harold’s Sydney Club, Western Suburbs and Eastwood rugby club. The black and white colours come from Western Suburbs and in the early 60's it was very expensive to have a special design made up because all the jerseys were knitted. So it was decided to use the Eastwood hooped design because there was minimal cost involved in using an existing design.
To this day the same black hoops over white jersey is still in use.
What follows below is an excerpt of Harold’s words from his documents that his son Ron kindly shared:
“In the 1963-64 seasons the Marlin teams were not successful. One of the main problems was that of transporting the team to the areas that the matches were being played - Jock’s own transport was an Austin A40 which could only accommodate about 8 players:
Resulting from the suspension of Moorabbin Football club from the VFA Harold’s notes continues:
“….. this left a number of teenage youths with nothing to do Saturday…… So each weekend about a dozen or so had to find something to do.
One attraction was to go to Brighton Beach for a swim and frolic on the beach. On one Saturday Bruce Caterson and John Sweet hitched a ride back to Moorabbin from Jock Duffy. Jock of course talked rugby and asked the 2 boys to play for his Marlins. Bruce told Jock “ My old man used to play rugby in NSW” so that was good news for Jock because on the following Saturday Harold (Bruce’s father) took Bruce and Don Ward (John Sweet didn’t go) to see the Marlins play a game at Elsternwick Park, as usual the Marlins were short of players and Jock invited Bruce and Don to join the team, which they did.
Jock and Harold got together, swapped a few rugby experiences and so started a friendship which eventually lead to the formation of the Moorabbin Rugby Club. Bruce and Don spread the word amongst their friends and it was not long before the Marlins had a surplus of players. Jock and Harold got together, Jock becoming the coach and Harold the manager of the team and by July the team had achieved enough success they decided to form a district club and as both were residents of Moorabbin the club would be know as the Moorabbin Rugby Union Football Club to take its place in the 1965 season competition. In the latter part of the 1964 season the players were acquiring the knowledge and skills of Rugby Union so much so that at the end of the home and home (sic) games the Marlins missed out on a place in the “four” by only 1 point.”
The new boys took to rugby like a Marlin (sorry… duck) to water and two players, Caterson and Harvey were invited to the trials for the U18 schoolboy team to go to the Australian Championships in 1964.
(click here for large version)
Also, invited was Ken Dowman who was playing for St. Kilda U18s at the time after going to school at McKinnon High and being coached by Jack McDavitt. Ken went on to play senior rugby, including being a part of Moorabbin's first senior Premiership Team in 1967 that Harold managed.
Moorabbin 1967 Premiers (click here for large version)
Harold was in attendance in December 1964 at a meeting at the Moorabbin Town Hall to determine the interest in the establishment of a rugby club in the Moorabbin area. Along with Harold and Jock Duffy there were members for the St. Kilda and Kiwi rugby clubs. At this meeting it was agreed to form a Moorabbin Rugby Union Football Club and a meeting was set for January 26th 1965 as the inaugural meeting of the club at the Town Hall.
At this meeting Harold was elected to the committee of the club as well as the Marlins’ jersey being adopted as the colours for the new club.
Harold's son Bruce had left Bentleigh High and gone on to Monash University to study science and so he also transferred to the Monash University Rugby Club. Ron Caterson, Harold and Nance’s second son, commenced playing rugby and Harold managed Ron’s teams while he played in the U16s, U18s and Colts grades then on to Senior rugby.
In 1965 the club was allocated Wishart Reserve in Moorabbin (off Bluff Rd.) to play their games. It was a small space, with children’s play equipment, a path worn across the field, no change rooms nor toilets or showers plus it was shared with the marching girls.
In the mid 60s Rugby Union was an unknown sport in this Australian Rules dominated State, and consequently the newly formed club had great difficulty when it came to obtaining a ground with suitable changing rooms and toilets.
The Moorabbin Mayor at this time, Councillor Don Bricker, was an ardent Aussie Rules supporter and knew very little of this northern code. Harold was not happy with the situation that the club was in and he took it upon himself to petition the Council for better facilities. In fact he relentlessly badgered the Mayor and various Councillors until they finally agreed to allocate the club access to the reserve in Keys Road for season 1966.
The Keys Road ground was an old rubbish tip that had been filled and covered in a layer of soil and the surface was continually subsiding. In 1965 junior cricket was played on this ground and the oval was found to be unsuitable. At the time the ground was actually a muddy paddock in winter and a corrugated concrete oval in summer. Cricket has never returned to Keys Road.
Harold could see the potential in the Keys Road Reserve and in 1967 donated the cost of a single car steel garage placed on a concrete slab, which was to become our first changing room/club room, and was later known as “the old tin shed”. It had the nickname of “Mr. Cat’s Cottage” written on a sign above the door. The council also provided two "thunder box" toilets that were placed about 50 metres from the club rooms, however, you could smell them from the club rooms and no-one used them!!!
The "Old Tin Shed" (click here for a large version)
The following year a small extension was added that held a briquette hot water service and several showers. However, we still lacked sewered toilets and there are plenty of stories around this.
As the Club grew over the years, Harold continued to be a committee member and also continued to liaise with Council regarding club matters. Whether it was gaining approval for further extensions to the shed (there were several extensions over the years), ground improvements, a second playing field or flood lighting, Harold was determined and eventually Club rooms were built in 1978. The ladies in particular were ecstatic because decent plumbed toilets had finally come to the Moorabbin Rugby Club.
Harold was the “go to person” in regard to Council. He developed a very good relationship with Mayor Bricker, who later became our Patron for many years and over time became one of the Rams' strongest supporters. Gaining significant funding for a sport that was practically unknown in the district was not easy. The relationship between Harold and Councillor Bricker proved vital on several occasions as he endorsed funding for the club which otherwise might not have been supported.
That the Rams are based at Keys Road can be put down to Harold’s dedication to securing a permanent home for Rugby Union in Moorabbin.
1969 Moorabbin U18s (click here for large version)
1970 U18s (click here for large version)
Harold filled the role of Ordinary Committee Member from 1965 to 1967 for Moorabbin RUFC. He then served as President in 1968 and 1971, Vice President in 1969, 1970 and from 1972 to 1981 inclusive.
Harold was made a Life Member of the club in 1977.
Additionally, he was the Moorabbin club delegate to the Victorian Rugby Union for many years and he would collate the results and statistics for the VRU weekly magazine during the season. His work with the club, Council and the VRU continued right up to his sudden death in 1981.
In 2017 the committee requested that Kingston Council rename Keys Road Reserve to Harold Caterson Reserve in recognition for his outstanding work in establishing the club. At our first home game in March 2018 the council formally renamed the ground in his honour.
It is of note that four generations of the Caterson family have been involved in playing and administrating the Moorabbin Rugby Club since its inception in 1965. Harold who was involved with the Marlins and the foundation of the club, team manager and long term Administrator. Bruce who played in the Marlins and the 1965 Moorabbin U18s before he left for Monash University and Ron who played junior rugby commencing in 1968 in the U16s, through to the late 70s in the seniors, including in the Grand Final team in 1974. Ron has been the official club photographer for 2 decades, is responsible for the club facilities and has been the Club Patron for the past few years. Harold’s grandsons Tim and Matt and great grandson Sonny all played in junior Moorabbin teams.
Ian Ray, Sonny & Ron Caterson (click here for large version)
My thanks to Ron Caterson for the memories, for Harold’s notes and supplying photos and also to Don Ward and Graeme Sweet.