The following is the eulogy delivered by Graeme Backen at the funeral of Stan Melville on 11 December 2011.
The family has asked that I speak on their behalf about STAN MELVILLE’S significant rugby history. For that honour I thank the family.
This honour is also a challenge, as I played senior rugby for Norths for only 3-4 years between 1973 and 1976. In writing this Eulogy, I received great support. For that I personally thank, John Madden, Chris Lord, Peter Lawler, Ross and Bruce Walker, Ted Kaye, Axel, Gary Petherbridge, Bryan Lenthall and Bill Rowe.
My name is Graeme Backen and despite my limited Senior time at Norths I had played Norths juniors since the age of 9 or maybe 10. In 1971 I was proud to be selected in the ACT U18 representative team to play at Country Week.
My coach was Stan Melville, who also subsequently coached myself in the NSW Country team to beat Sydney that year. This resulted in three Norths juniors being selected in the NSW state side to play Qld. They were Bill Rowe, Wayne Boreham and myself. It is undoubted that Stan Melville had a lasting influence on me and my Rugby. In 1971 I experienced his passion, his organization, his professionalism and his philosophy for the game we all love.
The following year, 1972, Stan coached the Norths Under 19 team, A number of players from that team are here today. Stan and Denise were welcoming to a man to us as a group of young men, introducing them to the Norths camaraderie and that family atmosphere and belonging that was forever engendered in our senior Rugby years and most memorably at the Scottish Bar of the Canberra Rex Hotel.
Bill Rowe this morning sent his condolences and apologies from Hong Kong and I defer to him;
“In 1971 he brought a group of young, some might even say raw but talented footballers together into a cohesive group. Not just to continue the ‘galloping green’ culture but help to form the next generation of the Northies family.
…I think it is fair to say that by the end of the season we all were well and truly part of the Senior family, That was Stan’s strength. But not his only strength.
As a skilled rugby player, devotee and aficionado of the game, he not only instilled the Northies credo into his players but melded a team of green gallopers who attacked and ran the ball at every opportunity. (Even Ax got into a canter in most games!)
Stan began his schooling at Ainslie Primary and Canberra High School where his prodigious sporting prowess became obvious, playing club and Junior representative rugby. Teddy Kaye, in a message from Darwin this morning says they won most school rugby matches and he was nearly always the best player He was an ACT Junior Pennant tennis champion, represented ACT in basketball, played cricket for Ainslie/Turner and played golf off a single figures handicap. It was in this period of schooling that a close rugby relationship began with Teddy Kaye. A Teaching Scholarship allowed the symbiotic Stan and Teddy relationship to prosper in the three years at Wagga . Stan on graduation was posted to Toongabbie Primary in 1960 and found a rugby home at Parramatta where he played and was appointed First Grade vice captain between 1960 and 1962. I believe he was offered and declined the captaincy, due to being ‘the new kid on the block’ and not wanting to offend the current Captain.
Stan scored well in the Sydney Morning Herald ‘Best and Fairest’ poll in these years and in 1961 was selected for Sydney City Colts to play Newcastle in a curtain raiser to the North Harbour vs South Harbour rep trials. He was included in the Sydney training squad in 1962 though was not selected to travel to New Zealand with the final selected team.
The return of Stan to Canberra in 1963 witnessed a change in Rugby fortunes for both Northern Suburbs and ACT. It appears undoubted that Stan’s experiences in Sydney were to have a profound effect on club and representative Rugby in Canberra.
Allow me to quote Norths historian John Madden;
“his enthusiasm, leadership and ‘professionalism’ had an immediate impact and led to greatly improved performances throughout the grades at Norths, such that by the end of the season the 1sts were premiers and 2nds and 3rds finalists. The ACT team made the final at Country Week and then went on to take the trophy for the following three years, while Norths played in 5 consecutive 1st grade Grand Finals, winning again in
Teddy Kaye expands;
“He was an outstanding 5/8 and captain of Norths and a really good bloke and there are many happy memories of playing with him for the best Rugby club in Canberra!
Stan was troubled by injury between 1965 and 1967, suffering recurring ankle and wrist concerns but in tribute to his passion for the game he was able to return to Captain the ACT team against the All Blacks in 1968. One wonders, without these cruel injuries how far Stan’s talents would have taken him. His skills with the rugby ball were often highlighted in the Canberra Times and he was described as a shrewd tactician, a fine tactical kicker and his approach to the game as Captain was often considered crucial to the game’s outcome.
ACTRU president, Alan Ryan in reflection on the 1963 representative season, forecast, sadly incorrectly, that both Stan and Teddy Kaye would tour New Zealand with the Wallabies the following year, 1964.
Stan continued his Rugby service at Norths often playing lower grades if necessary and when called upon, played first grade up until 1974, when he would also often give rugby lessons to the young opposition ‘prima donnas’ playing at 5/8. 1974 witnessed Stan taking the Norths First Grade coaching role without ultimate success.
A contribution to Norths ‘off field’ activities offset Stan’s Rugby passion. He loved a session of guitar playing and a sing-along although I have it on reliable authority that he was always happy to take requests, but sometimes reluctant to play them; always seeming to have something else to play before the requested tune. He was involved in making sure that the Norths event ‘the Gundaroo Gallops’ was a success and reflected the rural background of many of the club stalwarts. He was a keen critic and spectator of the club and Brumbies performances, always possessing a discerning opinion of the modern game and a willingness to discuss his thoughts and philosophy with any captive audience.
We are all the poorer for Stan’s loss and we grieve today with the family. I would like to repeat some thoughts that have come my way in recent days that reflect the esteem in which Stan was held.
From Bob Gordon ex Sports Editor of the Canberra News (1970’s) and ex Editor of the Gold Coast Bulletin;
‘Stan was out of his time; he would have walked into a Wallaby jersey in this day and age. He knew how to play 10, unlike the current crop of Wallaby pretenders’
From Peter Lawler, ex ACT Rugby Referees President and long term on field custodian;
‘from the point of view as a referee who had the pleasure of refereeing when Stan was playing is that he was a true sportsman. He played his heart out and took the odd decisions that went against him with dignity.
To sum up, he was a gentleman and he was a gentle man. No higher tribute can be given to any man in my opinion.’
With that I say “Farewell Stan, dear friend- you leave us with an indelible mark on the sport you love and the people you influenced”