Carlton Towns: Bacchus Marsh

Inspired by the Spirit of Carlton’s recent trip to Kukerin, home of Ross Ditchburn, we will present each week a profile of a country town and the players that they have provided for the Carlton Football Club.


Bacchus Marsh is a leafy relaxed town 50km west of Melbourne, home to superb fruit and veg and some excellent pubs. This town has been a great one for providing players for the Carlton Football Club. The most famous of which was the legendary Harry ‘Soapy’ Vallence. Other players from the town include Jack Skinner, Keith Shea, Les Carr, Les Watkins and the great Ollie Grieve. Premierships, leading goalkickers, best and fairests and a legend, we have a lot to thank the town of Bacchus Marsh. Read on to find our more about each of these past players for the mighty Blues.

Harry Vallence

Henry Francis ‘Soapy’ Vallence is a true legend of the Carlton Football Club, and one of the most prolific goal scorers of all time. In a stellar 204 game VFL career between 1926 and 1938, he kicked 722 goals – a club record that stood for more than fifty years, until it was eventually bettered by another champion, Stephen Kernahan, in 1997.

Vallence came to Princes Park as a 20 year-old from Ballarat League side Bacchus Marsh. At 183 cm and 80 kg, the lean youngster soon impressed, and was nicknamed ‘Soapy’ because he was a slippery customer when the ball hit the ground – especially in wet weather. He was also a powerful, accurate kick and a brilliant high mark. The name stuck, and he wore it proudly throughout his career.

He made his debut for the Blues in 1926, wearing guernsey 22, and soon won a regular place in the team as a creative half-forward. Then in 1929 he was offered a chance at full forward, and never looked back after he topped Carlton’s goal-kicking list with 64 majors. In 1931 he was the club (and the League’s) top scorer with 86 goals, and in 1932 had his best return with 97. Only Geelong’s George Moloney did better that year with 109.

On four separate occasions Soapy kicked 11 goals in a match, and two of those games were finals; the first Semi in 1931 and the Preliminary Final in 1932. He was a renowned big-occasion player, and never went missing when the contest was fiercest. In eight of his twelve seasons with the Blues, he was our major goal-scorer, as well as a standout performer in each of his five appearances for the Victorian state side.

In 1937 Soapy’s form tapered off, and he was dropped to the seconds. Thinking his time at Carlton might be up, he agreed to join VFA team Williamstown. But Carlton’s new coach Brighton Diggins wouldn’t hear of his star leaving, and talked Soapy into staying just one more year. It was a wise decision for all concerned. Regaining confidence and touch, Soapy had another stellar season. He slotted another 81 goals as the Blues won their way into the 1938 Grand Final, and beat the strong favourites Collingwood by 15 points. Carlton’s game plan – which included playing Vallence wide on one half-forward flank, and bombing the ball long to stand-in full forward Ken Baxter – unbalanced Collingwood, and the final score flattered them.

A familiar and popular face at Princes Park for many years after his playing days were through, Harry “Soapy” Vallence was honoured as one of nine foundation members of the Carlton Hall of Fame in 1987. Barely four years later, on July 25, 1991, he passed away peacefully at the age of 86.


Click this link to see a Harry Vallence image gallery featuring pictures from his family collection.

Jack Skinner

Another quality footballer whose career at Carlton was prematurely ended by military service in World War II, Jack Skinner was recruited from Bacchus Marsh, the same club that provided Carlton with star forwards Harry Vallence and Keith Shea (he also played for neighbouing team Darley). He started out as a speedy half-forward flanker, before evolving into a clever and hard-running centreman whose third and last season at Princes Park was his best.

Prior to Skinner’s first senior game in 1939, Carlton selector Horrie Clover claimed that Jack was the fastest man over ten to twelve yards (11 metres) to have trained with the club. Skinner was also originally a right foot kick, but changed to his left when he found that it brought him greater distance. This obviously helped his cause, because he was the only new recruit to force his way into Carlton’s team for the opening round of 1939, on the day when the Blues unfurled their previous year’s Premiership pennant, before taking on South Melbourne at Princes Park.

Skinner played his debut match at half-forward – alongside Jack Wrout and Paul Schmidt – and the reigning Premiers thrashed the Swans by 9 goals. As the season progressed, Carlton often seemed hungry for more glory – but defeats by Richmond in both of our meetings, as well as a couple of other shock losses mid-year, saw the Blues tumble out of finals contention to a disappointing fifth-place finish by year’s end.

In September 1939, just as the VFL final series got underway, Australia was drawn into its second major conflict in a generation. Great Britain had declared war on Germany, so her dominions had followed suit. Within weeks, Skinner, and many thousands of other young Aussies volunteered for military service – just as their fathers and older brothers had done in the Great War of 1914-18. Jack joined the Militia, whose primary duty was the defence against invasion of Australia’s mainland.

Over the following five years, Jack soldiered on in the service of his country. He rose to the rank of Corporal, and was finally discharged in June, 1946 – almost a year after the end of World War II, and nine months after Carlton defeated South Melbourne in the 1945 ‘Bloodbath’ Grand Final.


Keith Shea

A brilliant, gifted footballer who played his first senior match for Carlton before his 18th birthday, Keith Shea was a valuable member of Carlton’s 1932 Grand Final team, and a star for the Blues in the harsh years prior to World War II. After an all too brief stay at Princes Park, he was lured to Western Australia at the peak of his career.

Shea was recruited from Bacchus Marsh as a junior prodigy. Although lightly-built, his wiry frame was deceptively strong. He was quick, beautifully balanced, very capable overhead, and kicked long off his preferred left foot. Still just 17 years old, he forced his way into the Carlton senior side half-way through the 1932 season, and only injury kept him out from that day on.

Remarkably, Shea played under different captains in each of his six seasons with the Blues. In order, they were Colin Martyn (1932), Frank Gill (1933), Maurie Johnson (1934), Charlie Davey (1935), Jim Francis (1936) and Ansell Clarke (1937). Amidst the deprivations of the Great Depression – indeed, because of them – VFL football continued to draw huge crowds throughout the thirties, and players were comparatively well paid. Therefore, places in every team were highly prized and hotly contested.

In just his eighth game for the Blues, Shea announced his arrival with a slashing performance on a half-forward flank against Richmond in the 1932 Second Semi-Final. Although the Tigers won comfortably in the end – by four goals – they couldn’t subdue the youngster in navy blue guernsey number 8. Shea’s creativity, accurate foot-passing and two opportunist goals made him a thorn in Richmond’s side all day.

A player whose career flamed brightly yet briefly across the fabric of the Carlton Football Club, Keith Shea tragically died of cancer on February 27, 1951. He was just 36 years old


Les Carr

Wearing guernsey #34, Carr played 9 games after debuting in Season 1947.


Les Watkins

Les Watkins played a single game for Carlton, running out in Navy Blue in 1938. Watkins would debut in the same game as Arthur Sanger in the #18 Guernsey. Sanger went on to wear that same Guernsey for the rest of his 117 game career at Princes Park. Watkins also managed to kick a goal in this game.

Watkins was born in Heathcote and recruited from Bacchus Marsh


Ollie Grieve

Throughout our long and proud history, the Carlton Football Club has traditionally produced exceptional full-backs. For seven seasons immediately after World War II, Carlton’s champion custodian of the goal square was Oliver Kelvin ‘Ollie’ Grieve – a brilliant, close-checking defender who was a glorious high mark and a powerful, driving drop-kick.

Grieve came to Princes Park from his home town of Bacchus Marsh in 1942, but managed only six matches in his debut season before his football career was interrupted while he served his country in war. Already a reservist, he was called up by the Australian Army in July 1942, and spent the next three and a half years in uniform. Gratefully unscathed at the war’s end, he came home to anchor the defence in the Blues’ 1947 Premiership team, and twelve months later, finished runner-up in the 1948 Brownlow Medal.

With Grieve settled in at full-back and the equally brilliant Bert Deacon at centre half-back, Carlton’s defence was the launching pad of the Blues’ magnificent, last-gasp Premiership triumph in 1947. Trailing Essendon by five points inside the last minute of the Grand Final, Carlton’s captain Ern Henfry pumped the ball long out of the centre to a contest at half-forward. The ball spilt from the pack and was pounced on by flanker Fred Stafford, whose neat left foot snap went sailing between the posts to give Carlton an astonishing victory by one point.

However, perhaps the one game that stamped Ollie Grieve as one of the greats of his era was Carlton’s humiliating defeat by Essendon in the 1949 Grand Final. Spearheaded by their sensational full-forward John Coleman, Essendon thrashed the Blues by 73 points. One report from that match said (in part); ’by half time, star players on each side had been singled out and roughed up – with the exception of Coleman – who Grieve was beating on sheer ability.’

Coleman had started the game needing six goals to crack 100 for the season. However, by the last change Grieve had been heroic in keeping the Bomber star to only two successful shots at goal from a mountain of opportunities. Still, Essendon were ten goals up and in complete control. Throughout the last quarter the Bombers thought only of getting the ball to Coleman by hand or by foot, and in the end, he achieved his dream when he punted through number six with only a minute or so left on the clock. Coleman got his reward, but Ollie Grieve won universal admiration for his grit and determination against enormous odds.

The following year, Grieve took up an appointment as playing coach of Bendigo League club Eaglehawk, and later rounded off his playing days with Sunraysia club Irymple. Some years afterward he moved to Perth, where he passed away prematurely at the age of 58 in February, 1978. In 1994, Ollie Grieve was remembered with deep affection when he was inducted into the Carlton Hall of Fame.


Vale John James

The Spirit of Carlton Past and Present would like to extend its condolences to the James family upon learning that John James passed away in his Robinvale house this morning (8th of December) at the age of 76. John James was a multiple best and fairest winner, brownlow medallist, team of the century and hall of fame member and a much loved part of the Carlton family.


Carlton Brownlow Medallist John James dies

By Tony De Bolfo

James, recruited to Carlton from the famed football college, St Pat’s Ballarat, in the lead-up to the 1953 season, completed his debut against Footscray at Princes Park in the opening round of that year.

Initially employed as a half-forward at Carlton, James earned best first year player honours from the late Max Wenn, and yet the unhealthy goalkicking tally of 8.43 for the season perhaps hastened his relocation to back half, which was of course the making of him as a pre-eminent League footballer.

James, together with centre half-back Peter Webster and the late Denis Zeunert formed one of the more formidable Carlton half-back lines of the mid-1950s.

Zeunert, who together with centre half-back Peter Webster and James formed one of the more formidable Carlton half-back lines, once said of James: “I don’t know whether he had a magnet in his shorts or what, but he could be running the other way and the ball would always bounce into his arms”.

“He had a terrific reading of the game,” said Zeunert.

From, click here to read more.

SOC Golf Day at Sorrento

Supporter Alan Gange, Chris Pavlou, Chris Judd, Syd Jackson; Alan's guest take me (centre) on in the 'beat the pro' contest at Portsea Golf Club in the 2010 'Spirit of Carlton Golf Day. All funds raised were donated back to the ...players training facilities. A great day had by all past and present!

The entire current Carlton Football Club playing group, past players, supporters and sponsors all enjoyed a wonderful day of golf and Carlton comraderie on a sunny day down at the Portsea Golf Club. The Carlton players were in town on a week long training camp which included a bike ride from Princes Park all the way down to Sorrento. The culmination of the week was the Spirit of Carlton golf day where everyone got to enjoy a day of competition and sharing stories. The picture on the left was kindly supplied by Spirit of Carlton facebook friend, Steve Khatib (centre of the picture),  who is ‘The Golf Doctor’, a passionate Carlton supporter, and can be heard on Radio Sport 927AM every Tuesday morning 8.30-9.00am.

Blues greats back “The Farmer’s” lead for men’s health

By Tony De Bolfo

About 303 kilometres north of Albany, way down in the far south of Western Australia, is the tiny wheatbelt town of Kukerin. To the south west of Kukerin is Lake Dumbleyung where, in December, 1964, the late Sir Donald Campbell established a new world water speed record.

With the harvest now in full swing, the Kukerin farmers have put down their heads – for work is hard and gain is slim when the land is ravaged by the on-going effects of prolonged drought.

“The people are so close, and we’ve had some pretty extreme events in the past few years,” says Ross Ditchburn, Carlton’s 1982 premiership-winning full-forward and Kukerin country’s most famous football export.

“In 2004 we had a bushfire, and the whole community stopped what was happening and went to the aid of all those who were affected by the fire. This year there’s obviously a drought, and again the whole community’s got behind eachother to make sure they’re all being looked after, and that if someone hasn’t appeared for a while that they’re contacted to make sure they’re all okay.

Last weekend provided some welcome, albeit brief respite for the good people of Kukerin, when the Spirit of Carlton’s past players came to town.

Richard Dennis, Des English, Wayne Harmes, Ken Hunter, Syd Jackson, David McKay and Geoff Southby, together with the former property steward Ken Kleiman, the Spirit of Carlton’s Bob Lowrie, The Blueseum’s Jamie Sanderson and this reporter, all made the long journey to Kukerin, to renew acquaintance with Ditchburn, the man they know endearingly as “The Farmer”.

Not since the early 1980s, when the then senior coach David Parkin and football manager Shane O’Sullivan crossed the continent to win “Ditchy’s” services, has a Carltonite completed the trek – the triple premiership player Ken Sheldon aside.

But the aforementioned group of former players, who between them share in 17 Grand Final triumphs for Carlton, were truly committed to the cause, not only to see their old mate, but to share in his vision for the bigger picture issue of men’s health.

This story has its origins in Melbourne some months ago, after news came through that Ditchburn, the 28-game player who once reaped a bumper crop of 12 goals in a match against St Kilda at VFL Park, was battling prostate cancer.

When members of the Spirit of Carlton made contact to offer personal assistance, Ditchburn instead suggested that a sportsman’s night be staged in Kukerin to raise funding and awareness for men’s health.

“The night was never going to be a benefit for ‘Ditchy’,” Lowrie explained. “It was his wish that the night was to be supportive of the bigger picture issue of men’s health, and we said ‘No worries’.”

More than 170 people, mostly men who had found time away from their properties in Kukerin, Lake Grace and other locales, filed through the doors of the Kukerin Pioneers Memorial Hall for the event, which earned the support of the Bendigo Bank. There they heard from men’s health experts and shared in the personal experiences of Ken Hunter, Des English and of course, Ditchburn himself.

In the end, around $20,000 was raised for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, the Black Dog Institute and RFDS – all generated from ticket sales and auction returns, together with Wayne Harmes’ generous gift of $10,000 worth of lime won in a local raffle but donated back to the Kukerin community.

More significantly, 56 men in attendance for the sportsman’s night took advantage of free blood testing at the nearby Kukerin Medical Centre the following morning, with the samples forwarded to Dr. Michael Aitken, Carlton’s one-game senior player of 1985, for further analysis. And as Ditchburn observed: “I’m pretty confident with the current statistics around that there are a couple who will get a phonecall and go in for a biopsy”.

“To get 56 guys through a set-up like that in a morning was just an awesome effort . . . and how good would it be if we can save a life out of that?,” Ditchburn said.

“It’s all about early detection whether it be prostate cancer, skin cancer or diabetes – treat the problem and nine times out of ten you’ll get out of it okay”.

By Sunday afternoon, as the sun began to set over Kukerin, Ditchburn finally found time to reflect on the weekend’s events – a kick-off involving Dennis and Hunter in which a Burley footy was booted over an 80,000-ton wheat storage bin; a rowdy session of lawn bowls involving the Carlton types and the town’s locals, and the great yabby hunt which took in three dams dotted around the vast expanses of the Ditchburn family property.

And of course, the campaign for men’s health.

“It’s been the greatest weekend I’ve ever experienced. We’ve covered such a wide range of issues of men’s health, and we’ve met so many people who have turned up in Kukerin,” Ditchburn said.

“The quality of speakers on men’s health, the boys of the Spirit of Carlton, and the feedback has been so positive. The people have really gained a great appreciation of the players, and I know out of the weekend we’ve got some signed-up Spirit of Carlton members who aren’t Carlton supporters, which reflects the pretty big impact the boys have made.”

Ditchburn also flagged a future get-together, suggesting that “now that they(the past players) have been here once, if they got the opportunity and had a couple of weeks spare, maybe they’d make the effort to come back and see me again”.

“That might not happen, but it’s just been fantastic for those guys to see where I live . . . and I hope they’ve gained an appreciation of what I’m about,” Ditchburn said.

“They call me ‘The Farmer’, I live in a pretty special place, the people are pretty special, and it’s a great place to live.”

With the Carlton back-to-back premiership teams of 1981 and ’82 to be lauded 30 years on from next year, expect Ditchburn to be in Melbourne come rain, hail or shine.

As he said: “I’ll be there for sure. Just tell me where and when and I’ll be there.”

“The boys might have whinged a little about jumping on a plane and travelling four hours by bus to get to Kukerin, but gee, every time there’s a reunion on in Carlton they’ve never thought anything of me having to drive to Perth for four hours, jump on a plane, to Melbourne, get back and then drive home again – and that’s something I’d do without even thinking. I’d never miss a reunion with these guys,” Ditchburn said.

“That’s what I stress to young footballers. It doesn’t matter what level you play at – if you play in a premiership side you’re remembered for the rest of your life.”

And what of “The Farmer” himself? For him, this story carries an even happier ending.

“I’m pretty confident that the surgeon has taken enough of the prostate for me not to have a recurrence. I’m still dealing with impotency issues, and I’m not frightened to talk about it. Men’s health is something I’m pretty passionate about,” he said.

“I’m actually a shire councillor with the Shire of Dumbleyung and the deputy president, and I enjoy talking about men’s health issues more than I do committing my time to local government.

“This might be something I look closer at in the future. If I want to spend a bit of time off the farm I’d rather be helping men become aware of potential problems, rather than spend my time arguing with ratepayers and dealing with the red tape. So we’ll see where it leads.”

Oh What a Lovely Pie Me Boys!

Those of us of a certain vintage would remember well the old Four ‘n’ Twenty pies commercial with greats such as Jack ‘Captain Blood’ Dyer and Ted ‘Mr Football’ Whitten. It is a rollicking tune with a group of footballers on a bus. On the way back from Kukerin while watching the 1979 premiership DVD, Bob Lowrie must have looked around the bus we were travelling in and had some flashbacks to this great old ad. So an idea was born and the ‘Spirit of Carlton’ singers belted out their own rendition of the ad on a stop somewhere between Wagin and Dumbleyung.

Senior statesman of the group Ken Kleiman took up the Jack Dyer role with gusto and Geoff Southby and David McKay provided great leadership in the singalong. If any Four ‘n’ Twenty executives read this article and wish to use the Spirit of Carlton singers for any future advertisements just get your people to talk to our people.

The Kukerin Kick Off

Legends abound around our great brown land about the country kid who ‘could kick a bag of spuds over a wheat silo’. This folklore is ingrained, it is a part of who we are and is a unique aspect of the Aussie rules dominated parts of the country, in particular the wheat belts.

Every year the Royal Hotel at Mirrool holds a competition to see who can kick a footy over the local wheat silo. This was won famously by Billy Brownless in 1987.

So it was little wonder that when looking out of the Kukerin pub at the goliath that is the 80,000 ton capacity Kukerin wheat bin, an idea crossed the minds of the tired, parched and bedraggled Spirit of Carlton boys.

“Can we kick a footy over that?”

So it was with a spirit of adventure that Ken Hunter and Richard Dennis trecked across the road the next day. Hamstrings were stretched for fear of breaking, the locally procured Burley ball was tested for proper inflation and shape. A strong cross breeze was coursing across the flat dry wheat fields.

This was no small task, Richard had not kicked a full sized footy for at least two years, Ken wanted the glory but not an injury.

… to prove champions never die wondering both men succeeded in defeating the Kukerin Wheat Bin, Richard with a flat punt and Ken with a lovely left footer.

So the challenge is now out there, for the boys of Kukerin, to become a man the Kukerin Wheat Bin must be cleared. In fact people Australia wide should flock to Kukerin to take on the challenge and video tape it for prosperity. Can you kick a footy over the Kukerin wheat bin?

Owen Catto Speaks About Men’s Health

On the 19th of November in Kukerin, West Australia Wheatbelt Men’s Health community educator Owen Catto gave a talk about how important it was for men in rural communities to take take issues regarding their health seriously. The Spirit of Carlton recorded the talk and present it here. If you have a mate you think might benefit from this message pass it on to him.

Spirit of Carlton at Kukerin

When you think of the Carlton Football Club, the small township of Kukerin, 300 kms southeast of Perth in the vast West Australian wheat belt does not come to mind. Yet, it is from this remote area of Australia that Ross Ditchburn was born and bred, a classic country superboot who travelled across the country to become a premiership player for the Blues in 1982.

When the Spirit of Carlton learnt about Ross’ recent battle with prostate cancer and Ross’ determination to spread the message of mens health awareness throughout rural communities the idea of a mens health weekend supported by the Spirit of Carlton was born. Keep returning over coming days for further details from this marathon footy trip across the country to support a very good cause.

In the meantime enjoy a pictorial summary of the trip from Spirit of Carlton TV on youtube.