A tribute to the late Frank Brew.
IN THE Carlton Premiership year of 1995, when Frank Brew retired after almost 30 years as curator, so ended a 99-year run shared with his two predecessors - Bert Warne and Bert’s father Tom, who in 1897 lovingly tended to the first blade of grass on Princes Park.
At the age of 92, Frank, a Life Member of both the Carlton Cricket Club and the Carlton Cricket & Football Social Clubs, recently succumbed to the coronavirus, having led a full life which included lofty on-field achievements in the traditional summer and winter codes.
Born up the road in East Brunswick in 1927, Francis Brew’s early childhood days were shaped by The Great Depression. Though territorially bound to the Carlton Football Club, fate’s fickle finger pointed Frank to the Lakeside Oval after the Blues waived their recruiting rights.
As a fleet of foot wingman with a wicked left foot, Frank turned out for South Melbourne in the immediate post-war years. In the 5th round of 1947, against Geelong at the old Corio Oval, he completed the first of what would be 87 senior appearances in seven seasons with the Bloods – the best of them 1952 - through the days of Jack Graham and Ron Clegg.
On the completion of his League career and prior to him returning to Melbourne and pursuing his district cricket career with Northcote, Frank headed bush, initially up to the Riverina and then down to Gippsland.
Ian Collins, the Carlton Premiership player of 1968 and former club Chief Executive and President, remembered crossing paths with Frank on a football field when the former was playing for Sale, the latter for Yarram.
“I recall playing in a pre-season practice match for Sale against Yarram, and here was this little fat bloke running around getting all these kicks . . . and that was Franky Brew,” Collins said.
Similarly, as a left-arm wrist spinner blessed with a terrific googly, and an aggressive if unorthodox lower order batsman, Frank similarly made his mark in the creams. His quickfire 47 in the famous district cricket Final of 1965/66 - when Northcote, led by Bill Lawry with 282 not out, chased down Essendon’s 514 – is forever etched into the cricket club’s history books.
It was at about this time that Frank, then employed at Northcote Council, replaced Bert Warne as Princes Park’s curator.
“He moved in to the Warnes’ old house at the back of what is now the Heroes Stand, and I was playing cricket for Carlton when he first started,” Col Kinnear recalled. “He was under enormous pressure from the outset, because the Warnes had been curators from day one – and as with Tom, his sons Bert, Cliff and Vern Warne all played cricket for Carlton – and Vern ended up a curator for the MCC.”
Kinnear who together with Adrian Gallagher is the only surviving Life Member of both the Carlton Cricket and Football Clubs, also recalled Brew’s skills as a diplomat in dealing with the four bulls in the china shop – the Carlton Cricket Club President Howard Houston and captain Barney Jones, and the Carlton Football Club President George Harris and captain-coach Ron Barassi.
Frank was employed by the Carlton Cricket & Football Social Club, which at that time comprised a Committee of five cricket club delegates, five football club delegates and five independents – with the cricket club the holder of the social club licence.
“The footy club and the cricket club had control of Princes Park for six months each, and come finals time – whether it be the footy club in September or the cricket club in March – you’d have both teams training on the ground at the one time,” Kinnear said.
“But ‘Brewy’ read the play beautifully. The fact that he played 160 games with Northcote in cricket and was a Life Member of Northcote and a legend there, and also played his 80-odd games of footy at South Melbourne, meant that he understood both footy and cricket.
“He worked long hours too. When we were kids, ‘Scholesy’ (John Scholes), ‘Gags’ and myself used to go down to Carlton on a Friday night to have look at the wicket, and ‘Brewy’ would be out there rolling the track.
“He was a wonderful servant for both the footy and cricket clubs. He used to put the nets up and take them down, and even later on when he was long-retired as a cricketer, he’d get involved. When ‘Stacky’ (Keith Stackpole), Johnny Douglas and myself would be having a hit in the nets early on, ‘Brewy’ would trundle in in his overalls and bowl his little left arm spinners . . . and you could hear the ball fizz. He could really spin the ball.”
When the Warnes’ old house was demolished to make way for the then Elliott Stand, Frank temporarily relocated to a dwelling in nearby Parkville. On completion of the stand, Frank returned, taking up accommodation in a flat at the back of the grandstand where the Maintenance Manager Henry Gardner later lived and recently died. As Kinnear said: “For 29 of his 30 years at Carlton, Brewy lived at the ground, and the only time he didn’t was when they built the new stand”.
Kinnear was of the view that cricketers wanted to turn out for Carlton in summer due to the immaculate wickets Frank prepared, in keeping with the lofty standards set by the Warnes – and so too the footballers in winter.
“Yes, the Carlton ground got muddy in winter back then - but you’ve got to remember there were periods where there were games also involving the Under 19s and the reserves as well as Hawthorn and Fitzroy as co-tenants - and some of the other grounds, by comparison, were disgraceful,” Kinnear said.
“That said, Brewy never let anything get to him. Through the winter he’d put the covers on - and people like ‘Collo’ (Ian Collins), ’Goughy’(Stephen Gough), ‘Marty Shannon and myself would go out to help him because he’d always go the extras for you.
“That was because he took terrific pride in the ground and how it looked. He was just a terrific servant, a pleasure to work with, a wonderful man and a real character.”
Kinnear’s view was resoundingly echoed by Collins. “Brewy was terrific. He was the most reliable bloke you’d ever meet, he was a good worker and a real character. He was a member of a group which used to gather of a Friday night in the old Social Club, which I think was called ‘The Whatrot Club’, and he’d go up there and have a beer with them,” Collins said.
“Yes, there was always overlap with cricket and footy, but it was never a problem for Brewy. He was a great mediator and he just did his job.”
On his retirement, Frank relocated to West Rosebud where, according to Kinnear he kept to his time-honoured ritual of downing a long neck when he sat down to watch the nightly news.
But as with Henry Gardner, Frank won’t be afforded the farewell he so richly deserves. As Kinnear said: “It’s so very, very sad that Brewy’s died under these circumstances where we can’t pay our final respects to him in death as we did in life”.
Frank Brew is survived by his daughters Glenise and Dianne, sons-in-law Graeme and David, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren, as well as his sister Ina.