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Courtesy Lilydale memorial park

This is probably the only sentence to include the names of Chris Brasher and Mabel Mason. But that’s ok. In my mind they were both hero’s of mine when I was fifteen. More than sixty years later, as Christmas nears, I am reminded of how they are linked in my memory.

This Christmas our grand daughter is very near the same age as I was then, and we struggle to think of a gift for her from which she might get some enjoyment. What does someone buy a 14 years old girl today? Back in the Christmas of 1954 my grand mother had a similar problem. She thought I would like a book. So she bought one just for me. Before the day she carefully wrapped it in decorative paper and placed it under the Christmas tree.

On Christmas Day I opened the gift to see it was an empty Autograph Book. That is what the cover read. To me it was just an empty book. I had no idea people had heros to worship. Or it was a thing to collect signatures of the eminent people of my time in the hope that one day their fame would be my fortune. Especially if I was to realise the value a few squiggly lines were worth and sell. Then, no one I knew was famous.

The first entry I collected was the signature of my grandmother. Her entry read, “ Time and tide wait for no man.” It was much too deep for the child I was for me to comprehend its meaning, however that message is one I have revisited repeatedly in the last sixty plus years. The message is now crystal clear. Further, it might be the prompt that keeps me writing. Never before have I been so acutely aware of the finite time I have left. This is written without fear or dread, it is just the truth.

How Chris Brasher is part of the first sentence is serendipitous. On the 27th of November in 1956, (the following year) like many of my classmates I attended a day the the Melbourne Olympics. By then I understood I was going to be in the company of men and women of fame so I took along my autograph book.

Where I was seated was only a row or two from the fence around the ground, and many kids hung over the fence attempting to catch the eye of a competitor in the hope of collecting a famous signature. On that day Chris Brasher from Great Britain was to run in a heat of the 3,000 metre steeplechase. Australia had three competitors in the heats; Graham Thomas, Neil Robbins and Ronald Blackney. I had not heard of them but I did know the name – Chris Brasher.

The heats were set for late in the day. We had to get up early that morning to catch the steam train to Melbourne to be in time for the start of the events . (The journey took about three and a half hours.) When we did get to Richmond Station we still had to walk a kilometre or so to the grounds. By lunch time we has seen several heats of different track and field kinds. The day was spent sitting on wooden benches near the events but far from the opposite side.

In addition to the heats we watched, occasionally a lone competitor would venture onto the running tracks and warm up for a future event near us. Those warming up seemed to us as “show ponies” because when we ran we just stepped onto the track and ran. The thought of wasting energy running back and forth for twenty minutes or so seemed excessive. (Now I understand the benefit of warming up.) Those warming up that day were much closer than most competitors we saw except for the 3,000 metre event.

At four o’clock the heats of the 3,000 event started. I was probably a bit sunstruck and dehydrated by then and happy to stay seated as our teachers kept insisting we do. Therefore rather than hang over the fence as the youngsters collecting autographs did I miss my chance to bother any of the contestants and my book remained un used.

The first five competitors in each heat progressed to the final. In heat one the first five were all from Europe. Graham Thomas finished tenth about fifteen seconds after the winner. The second heat was a little slower but the first five to finish were closer together. Neil Robbins (AUS) finished in fifth place just behind Chris Brasher (GBR).

Soon after the trip home began. (Despite everything it was a day that motivated me to run in middle distance events at future school and college events.) I wasn’t there for the final that was run just a day or so later. On that day Chris Brasher won in the time 8:41.2, second was the winner of the first heat, Sandor Rozsnyoi (HUN )and Ernst Larsen (NOR) was third.

The sportspeople and the stars of the cinema were the people who caught our eye back in the day. Just a politician or two (Churchill and Menzies) and perhaps Einstein might have been worth collecting. The signatures of artists are always associated with their work. However when it comes to big bucks the rarity of the signature and the importance of the deed (think the Declaration of Independence) sets the mark for autograph hunting value.

I no longer own that book but the most famous name I missed collecting was Chris Brasher and the most important I did collect was Mabel Lillian Mason died 21/09.1977.

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