28 May 2014, Napier Park Chapel, Bendigo, Australia
Bob Sizer - what a character! Bob Sizer created a few ripples at our very conservative bowling club when he wandered into the place. We were lucky to stock heavy beer, let alone have one of our members drink copious amounts of it! And he had the temerity to challenge our resident experts on everything from bowls to world events.
Bob became so enthusiastic in these debates that others couldn’t get a word in. Finally, rules of engagement were introduced where Bob had to raise his hand, then be invited to contribute to the conversation.
But through the noise, froth and bubble that inevitably surrounded Bob some major character traits shone through:
• Honesty, both with himself and his dealings with others.
• Generosity of spirit. I have personally seen many times Bob dip into his kick to help others that might be going through a rough trot.
Bob Sizer was a lovable rogue who has been missed from around our club since he became too ill to get there... and that he will never be back saddens us all.
A couple of weeks ago I visited Bob at Stella Anderson. He was in bed and asleep. After some procrastination I woke him. He had been in a deep sleep and was startled when I spoke. He hadn’t been feeling very well and was obviously quite down emotionally. He said ‘I’ve had enough of this. I’m getting weaker and can’t even get out of bed. I know it is wrong to say this but, I wish I was dead.’
Bob’s mind was still as sharp as a tack but his body was letting him down. We struggled for conversation for the first time ever. I had been considering asking Bob if he wanted me to take down some notes of his life story for his eulogy rather than leaving it to others who might miss aspects that were important to him.
It is a difficult and sensitive subject to raise but this seemed to be as good a time as any. He paused to think about my request for a moment and said, ‘I don’t know if anybody would be interested...but maybe there might be a few things.’
I was expecting that he would go through the basics of his life, such as where he was born, went to school, his work and family. It should have been no surprise that what followed was a history of his sporting life.
Bob was a sports fanatic with a memory for the details that he retained to the end. What started as a trickle became a flood as he warmed to the task. Once he was in full swing the words came quicker than my ability to record them. It was hard to believe that this was the same person that I had roused from sleep just fifteen minutes before. The following is a shortened version of what Bob told me that day because I would like to tell two of the Bob’s stories in detail.
Bob didn’t grow until his mid to late teens, so wasn’t much suited to robust sports as a lad. As a youngster he played tennis on the asphalt courts around the corner. He had told me earlier of playing mixed doubles with his sisters. He took up golf after tagging along with some other neighbourhood kids to the Brighton Golf course and volunteering to be caddies. He was a good caddy as he had a good eye for finding the balls.
There was a competition organised for the caddies to play against each other. Bob was a left hander but had to play right handed as they didn’t have any left handed clubs. In his first game he ran out of golf balls after nine holes so hurried over to the pro shop to get some old balls. He ran out of balls again on the 17th but handed in his card anyway. His score after 17 holes was 181 and he came last.
Bob improved rapidly, and to quote him, he became ‘deadly around the green.’ He was the caddy champ two years later. He came second in the Todd Stewart Cup for under 16’s to the assistant professional at the club. This guy led the Australian Open after the first round a few years later. This won Bob free membership to the club. He won a number of club events over the next few years. His handicap got down to 9 when he was 17 years old. He stopped playing soon after.
He had started to grow and everything changed. Robert Andrew-Arthur (I think this was his name...my writing was not too good) played tennis at the Church Club and also played squash. His regular squash practice partner had stopped playing so he asked Bob if he wanted to practice with him. They played at the Ormond club every week for months. Bob never won a game. The people at the courts asked Bob if he wanted to play pennant. He agreed to give it a go and defeated all fifteen rivals at the trial games. His pennant squash career was under way.
Bob worked his way up to the A grade pennant competition. Revered coach Gordon Watson offered to take Bob under his wing but Bob chose to stay playing with his mates. Gordon and Bob agreed, when they met again years later, that passing by this opportunity had cost Bob the chance to become a really exceptional squash player. Bob suffered a double hernia and had to stop playing squash while he recovered. After 12 months or so without playing, a couple of friends asked Bob to come along for their regular hit at A1 Sports. They ended up playing pennant. The team was in C Grade and as Bob got fitter he started to dominate. They were premiers that year.
After the grand final win they dragged Bob out of the shower for a team photo. The fact that it appeared on the back page of the Sun the next day may have had something to do with Bob’s teammate: Herb Elliott. Bob was obviously a very good squash player and he told me many stories of big games he had played in over the years. He said that his form could be closely correlated to his weight. If he got down to 13.5 stone watch out!
I think it was after a squash game that Bob starting drinking...He said ’that there was nothing else to drink.’ He certainly made up for lost time from that point on. Apparently it is only coincidence that the Lake View Hotel has gone broke since Bob stopped going there. On the way home from squash one day Bob bumped into a mate who asked if he could help them out by playing cricket for Bentleigh Meths (Methodists?) the next day. They had a late withdrawal. This happened to be in the A grade. Bob recalled that he batted at 11 and made 35. He was fielding at mid wicket and decided to move himself towards square leg (does this sound like Bob?). The batsman obliged by hitting a catch straight to him. Instead of congratulations the captain gave him a blast for moving without being instructed.
Bob played mostly in the B grade thereafter batting at 6 and bowling medium pacers. They were premiers the following year. After his playing days Bob became a cricket umpire of some renown, officiating in 20 A grade grand finals in a row. He later began travelling to Bendigo to score for Spring Gully particularly over the finals. Bob spoke often about lawn bowls and the people and clubs he had been involved with. But on this day he said that his mate Terry Clark (I think from McKinnon) probably had him sewn up when he said ‘Bob, you may well have been a champion cricketer, squash player and golfer but you would have to be the worst bowler at this club!’
He became a legendary barracker at the bowls. A number of our teams believe that Bob’s support was the difference between them winning and losing finals. Many opposition teams shuddered when he waddled through the gate.
There are two of Bob’s stories that I would like to share with you today. I imagine that most of you have heard them before but these a real Bob stories and it’s appropriate for us to hear them again today. I’ll try to retell them as he told me.
The first is a cricket story. Bob was an accomplished slip fielder with a quick eye and safe hands. It was from this vantage point that he watched the skipper of the top team pulverize the Bentleigh Meths attack in their regular season game. He scored 96 as his team cruised past the 225 run total set by Bentleigh Meths. Bob noted that he scored most of his runs via a shot through the onside. He also noticed that this shot was played in the air for the first metre or two. A plot formed in his mind. After just scraping into the four, Bentleigh Meths fronted the top side in the semi final. Bob pleaded with his captain ‘Macca, put me at short leg, I reckon I can get this bloke.’ Macca relented. Bob teed up with the bowler to angle the first two balls wide of outside off stump, then to spear the third one in at the batsman’s pads. He took up his position at short leg, so close that he had one foot on the concrete wicket. The first two balls were wide of off stump and sailed through to the keeper as planned. Bob readied himself as the trap was set. The next ball was directed at the batsman’s pads and, sure enough, the batsmen moved into his favourite shot. He clipped it perfectly....straight into Bob’s hand. The ball had moved so quickly that the players were baffled where it had gone. Until Bob held it aloft, the ball still firmly embedded in the palm of his hand. There was some conjecture about how the ball had got there and in fact whether it was a catch. Until the square leg umpire, who had recalled Bob’s fairness in denying a catch two weeks before, indicated that it was legal. Bob had got his man.
The next story is a punting story. Bob’s punting stories could fill a book and his annual trips to Sydney for the Autumn Carnival could provide enough material for a series. There was one particular day in Sydney that Bob described as his best and worst day on the race track. It started the day before when he and five mates fronted up to a club (??Rooty Hill RSL) for lunch and a few beers. They played a few games of pool before lunch but settled into a fiercely fought euchre battle afterwards. Bob’s side were victorious 13 games to 12 when they threw in the cards. It is a wonder they could play at all, given they had had 4 shouts each (ie 24 schooners). One of his mates invited Bob back to his place for dinner but his wife refused to let Bob in. They were so drunk. Bob took the taxi back to his motel and flaked out. He woke the next morning as crook as a dog. Now I’m using Bob’s word here. It took him 2 hours, 4 shits and 3 spews to get through breakfast. As sick as he felt, he was determined to get to the track. He had set aside $1,500 for just three bets that he was really keen on. They were in races 1, 3 and 7. He got to the track for the first still feeling terrible. In between 4 Fanta’s and another couple of shits and spews he managed to place his each way bet. The horse ran a place and he got back his money plus a bit. Hanging around for race 3 was hard but with the help of some more Fanta and a couple more visits to the toilet he made it. But the horse he backed failed to live up to Bob’s expectations and did no good. He was tempted to go but his best bet of the day was in race 7. He spent a miserable couple of hours waiting for the seventh to come around. He was feeling no better. His head thumped and his guts squirmed. His bum hurt when wiped it and his chest muscles were strained from vomiting. He was sick of Fanta! Finally race 7 arrived and he couldn’t believe that his fancy was a $20 outsider. He placed his remaining $900 each way and crossed his fingers. When they rounded the corner Bob’s horse was in front...a sitting duck. “You’ve murdered him Mallyon!” he yelled as it was being slowly hauled in which each bound. Bob’s horse surged as they neared the post and stuck its head out to win. It was the biggest win of Bob’s punting life but he was too crook to celebrate. He also felt vulnerable. He had over $16,500 in his pocket. He couldn’t wait to get home so slunk out the gate to catch the early bus. He sat next to a girl in the bus who made conversation. When asked, Bob said that he’d had a good day but gave no details. The girl said that she’d also had some good fortune. She explained that she had seen some old dero put a huge wad of money on this horse in the 7th race. She thought that if it was good enough for him to back this thing, then she should have a crack as well. And it won.
She was flabbergasted and embarrassed when Bob confessed that the ‘old dero’ was him.
Helen and I, and all those at Bendigo East Bowling Club, will miss Bobby Sizer.