All round sportsman still swimming

By Robert Muir

John Hayes has such fond memories of his birthplace Rutherglen he left 58 years ago, with work and sport, and which led to him winning the Stawell Gift in 1954, at age 20.

When he’d won that most prestigious sprint race, he’d become the tallest and youngest runner to win the 120m race, and the fastest in 24 years since Jack Grant won it in 1938.

Off nine yards, Hayes won by four feet and his stable collected 3,000 pounds of which Hayes pocketed 750 pounds. The speedster’s time was 11.8 seconds. He was trained by the man dubbed ‘The Prince of Trainers’ Jack King. 

The Sydney Morning Herald had an article ‘Horse Beats Gift Winner’ which stated Hayes raced against a racehorse over 100 yards. “At Corowa, Hayes started against a racehorse ridden by local football star Keith Williams. Hayes led for 70 yards before being overtaken,” the short article included. 

It was talked about a lot. When asked about it last week, Hayes said: “I think they were being kind to me! You just couldn’t lead a racehorse for 70 yards.” 

Born in Rutherglen, living initially in Harris Street and later in Murphy Street, attending the Rutherglen High Elementary and undertaking a plumbing apprenticeship with his father’s (Alec) business, Hayes loved everything about Rutherglen.

“I have wonderful, fond memories of Rutherglen – a tight-knit community, good to live in 700 people,” he said. “About 20 years ago I wrote a book about personalities who popped up in Rutherglen.” 

Titled ‘The Glen Guys”, the book is still available at the Rutherglen Historical Society. It contains some very interesting, amusing and accurate information of life lived back in the day.

Football highlights for Hayes include the time he made Rutherglen firsts, represented the Ovens and Murray Football League and helped his team win the country championships in Bendigo, and being named in Rutherglen’s best ever team. He was also appointed captain-coach of Chiltern for a number of seasons.

Early in his footy career, at 16 or 17-years-of-age, the eventual 6’2” ruckman wanted to become faster and took up professional running training in the off season to gain extra pace. His speed increased markedly.

With increased speed and further development and recognition as a footballer, the top Melbourne-based clubs came after him.

“Every club except one approached me,” he said. “Only Hawthorn didn’t and they were bottom of the ladder.”

But health issues curtailed his promising football and footrunning careers. His plumbing background in Rutherglen led to him undertaking studies at teacher’s college in Toorak. He became a plumbing instructor and included the training of apprentices at the Army College of TAFE Bonegilla, advancing to the position of deputy director at the college.

Now residing at a retirement village, Broadwater Court Kincumber – about a seven-hour drive from Rutherglen – sport has resumed being a big part of John’s life.

“John Hayes has reached a remarkable milestone, achieving his goal of swimming a total of 100,000 laps of the (about 20 metres long) Waterfront Estate indoor heated pool,” Editor of the Carrack Coffee Club newsletter Colin Kendrick wrote recently.

“John has an excellent record of achieving results. At 87 he is a beacon in our Waterfront Estate.”

That excellent record includes his plumbing and teaching career, football and footrunning. And now swimming, to keep as fit and as healthy as possible.

John’s daughter Jenni Bull lives in Melbourne and described her dad as “a fabulous father and husband, loved and admired by anyone who comes in contact with him”.

“He’s very positive, generous, strong, funny and determined,” Jenni told The Free Press. “Dad loves having people around him, which is why he still has a lot of Rutherglen people who drop in on their way to and from holiday destinations to enjoy his wit and hospitality.

“Rutherglen is and always will be his, and my home-town. As our family is all buried at the Carlyle cemetery and we have friends still in the area, we visit regularly, and it holds a special place in our hearts and memories.”