Phillip Island & District Historical Society

Oral histories 2015: Our Lives of Sport with twins John and Laurie Dixon

Last updated on 27-Apr-22

This talk was one of a series of 17 talks broadcast on South Gippsland community radio station 3MFM during 2014 and 2015, with the assistance of a Local History grant from the Public Records Office of Victoria.




JOHN REMEMBERS... Our father Rex came from a family of seven children.  There used to be three football teams on Phillip Island: Ventnor, Cowes and Rhyll. Dad was a wonderful footballer. Hawthorn wanted him to go and play for them, but his dad Garnett died in his fifties and his mother Biddie died at 48, leaving seven kids.  They lived first at Surf Beach and went barefoot to school at Rhyll by horse and jinker and picked other kids up on the way. Then they moved to Ventnor, where dad’s family put in a tennis court and a half cricket pitch. They also had a billiard table. You could say they were a very sporty family.


At 13 and a half years of age, dad was hand shearing up to four to five hundred sheep with his brother. They had lots of draught horses and used to strip crops for the other farmers. They were the only ones who had a binder and chaff cutters. They also had Shetland ponies, both for breeding and riding. If they wanted to go to Cowes they just jumped on their horses and rode there. The girls in the family left home to work. Bob, Frank, known as “Snow” who was a POW for three and a half years, Bill and Rex ran the farm and ended up milking cows.


Our parents Rex and Mollie Dixon had five children: Don, Laurie, John, Winston and Howard. We were always very sporty. Dad put a tennis court in at our place “Otira” in 1950. We used to lay matting down in there and practice cricket. We’ve had two test cricketers play on that court: Gary Cozier practiced with us once a week. In his first test innings against the West Indies he made a century. Dean Jones played tennis on our court. So did Paul Roos, the AFL player.



We also had goal posts set up and we’d spend hours having shots for goals and goal kicking competitions.


The five of us played football for Phillip Island. Four of us played together for several years. We played full back, centre half back, centre half forward, full forward and ruck. Recently Garry Fenech counted up all our games and counted 700 between us all. Don played 200 games himself. Injury stopped me from playing.


The most memorable player for Phillip Island was Bob Watson. We reckon he was the best player that was ever on Phillip Island. He played with Geelong seconds from 1951-53. He came from Dimboola and wanted to go to a country club, not to the city, so accepted Geelong. When he was playing for Phillip Island he kicked 102 goals in 8 games. He was a huge drawcard, and all the locals would turn out to watch him play. He still comes and stays in Ventnor with us. He was an all-round wonderful footballer. He was always full back in inter-league games but also played full forward. One match the island wasn’t going so well so he went into full forward. He kicked 2 goals 7 in the first quarter and 17 goals 2 in the next three quarters! Bob took the most sensational mark standing on a player’s shoulders. We were younger then, but we did play a few games with him.


Roger Wagner was a brilliant footballer. Jack Cummerford was a wonderful footballer too. He kicked 24 goals one day.  Hughie Stoppa was outstanding, playing in the centre. He would get the ball and never stop. He’d be going as fast at the end of the game as at the beginning. He should have been the league best and fairest at 17 but he cut his foot and missed some games. But he was Best and Fairest with Phillip Island five times.


We were bits of high flyers. I played centre half foward and Laurie full forward. If the island score was down a bit they’d put us in the ruck. We only won two flags, in 1962



and 1964. One premiership game we lost by 2 points, and another about 1965 we lost by 3 points.


Laurie was a bit of a dirty player, so one day we swapped jumpers. We are twins of course so we got away with it. Laurie wore my number 18, which was my number, and I wore Laurie’s number, number 10. We did this because the other team may have been after Laurie. But we both used to get some attention because they put some dirt into us and we reacted.


I also have two boys: Scott and Barclay. They are sportsmen also. Barclay has been in seven premiership teams, the last two with Old Collegians Wesley in the A Grade Amateurs, Melbourne.


LAURIE REMEMBERS:             We were shearing at one stage, and shearing and football is not a good combination. We were physically buggered before we got to the game.


The grounds in those days were shocking! Especially in a wet winter. The change rooms were also shocking. In Kongwak the cattle used the change rooms too! The showers weren’t too good at any of the grounds. At Inverloch there was a dam nearby and you could jump in there and get a wash.


Our mother Mollie used to look after all the footy jumpers. She’d wash them, mend them, hang them to dry in the shearing shed. When she went to the footy there was always four or five of us playing. We got a big double page write-up in the Sun in 1959, which also had a photo of mum hanging up all of the jumpers.


Our dad Rex was at every working bee. When they originally carved the Cowes ground out dad worked with horses and scoops to level the ground. Where the tennis and netball courts are now used to be big sand dunes covered with scrub and we used to go in there as kids and play in there. The dunes were bulldozed around the mid 1950s to make way for the courts.


 I won goal kicking in the league with 75 goals in 1958, and through that got an invitation to train with Footscray. Teddy Whitton was the coach. I did no good, but John and Winston went to play there on permits. John only played one game in



seconds and got kicked in the knee and couldn’t play any more for them. We played against Richmond, and when I grabbed one of the fellows he thrust his fingers straight at my eyes. It was a shocking day.


I was terribly homesick. I used to ride a motor bike up on Thursday nights for training, played on Saturday and came straight home again. It was virtually 100 miles from the island to the Footscray ground. It wasn’t much fun, and Footscray were the wooden spooners that year too.

Dad built the tennis court because of having five boys. They played competition tennis for five years every Saturday on our courts, because there just wasn’t that many courts on Phillip Island. There was some terrible sportsmanship though! Us boys would belt balls at each other....two blokes would get onto was shocking!


Tennis was big back in those days. There were four teams in Cowes – Maroons and Blues and two others – San Remo and Newhaven had teams. There would be three men and three women in each team. Heather and May Webster, June Stephens, Elaine Williams and Aileen McGuiggan were all good players. There were some memorable matches here. There are great facilities in Cowes today compared with our time.


Then we started playing cricket for Ventnor in about 1958. We’d practice in the tennis court and if you hit the fence on the full you were out. That taught us to keep the ball on the ground so we didn’t get caught out. We won 8 premierships in the last 11 years. I think there were three comps – Phillip Island, Blackwood and Outtrim. We’d go as far as Korumburra to play cricket. They all feared Ventnor. Dr Ben Weiss was captain for four years for four premierships, took a year off, went back and got another premiership. His motto was “Whatever you make, we’ll make more”.



I opened the bowling for 20 years straight, and John opened the batting. Our brother Don opened it sometimes. We had some great mates. Ben was the only doctor here and at 11 a.m. Saturday he would be off! He had a big Jaguar car and the police knew if they saw a Jag flying hard it was the local doctor and to let him go. Ben still visits us. He was a bloody good bat. A very attacking and consistent batsman. He came in after the first wicket down. But I was very much a hit and miss guy, and would come in about 6th or 7th. I’d take risks, but I didn’t concentrate as well as John.


JOHN REMEMBERS...  Laurie got 8 for 27 in one grand final. A few times he would get 5 for 25. We loved Country Week cricket. Laurie’s best batting performance was 142 in a semi-final at Newhaven where he hit 14 sixers and 9 fours. But our team got beaten on the last ball of the day by one run! They lost the ball that day and three of us went down next day and found it in the scrub, so it’s a souvenir.


LAURIE REMEMBERS...           John was a good opening bat because he didn’t take risks and he could concentrate really well. You don’t take risks, especially in a final. John opened for 20 years. He loved fielding and did a lot of wicket keeping. His highest score was 145 not out in a Grand Final. We were playing Kilcunda-Bass at Rhyll on a stinking hot day. They made 366. We had them 9 down for 256 and the last 2 put on 110. They thought they were going to thrash us but we ended up with five for 408, and they refused to come back for the last day.


Another memorable game was playing against a team that hadn’t lost one game all year. We got them out for a low score. In the wash-up we won outright in the second innings by nine wickets!


All the Grand Finals we played we always batted second because of Ben’s motto: “Whatever you make, we’ll make more”. We always chased runs.



In the old island competition we remember going into the fifth day in a Grand Final. When we played against Rhyll, no matter what I bowled, Malcolm McFee and Jimmie Osterlund would just block it.


 Players in the Ventnor side included Bob McRae, Don McRae, Gerald Jeffery, who was the captain, his dad Bob Jeffery, Chris Stone, Noel Nichol, George Regos, Geoff Burrell. There was also Dennis Jeffery, Brian Ide the school teacher at Ventnor State School, Harry Harris and Barry Toovey. We made a lot of good friends far and wide out of cricket.


JOHN REMEMBERS.... At the same time we were playing sport so hard, we were working hard on and off the farm too. We’ve been farming all our lives. Shearing, fencing, tractor work, carting hay. In our younger days we used to do a lot of work cutting trees with cross cut saws and tree pullers. No dozers or front end loaders – they couldn’t get heavy machinery across the old bridge. When we were shearing with Alan and Robert Cleeland, our best year we shore 40,000 sheep. We shore at Shetland Heights, Glen Forbes, French Island, even up to Broadford to shear sheep that had been burnt in a fire. We were also in a shearing team in Western Australia in 1961 for a season. I also did some shearing in New Zealand.


JOHN CONCLUDES... We loved our sporting careers, especially the cricket. We met lots of terrific friends that way. We still have great mates from football also.


LAURIE CONCLUDES... We enjoyed our careers. It was good playing with my twin brother. It meant there was always someone to practice with and play for the team.