A true Blue achievement

Beryl and Ron Banbury were formally recognised on the big stage of AFL Grand Final day for their tireless decades of service to Catani. 219862 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

“We were told we were out of the will if we ever got a tattoo!”

Catani netball president Angela Banbury couldn’t have been any more straightforward when explaining – albeit tongue in cheek – what would happen if she ever got ‘inked’.

The running joke was that her parents, Catani icons Ron and Beryl, wouldn’t stand for it.

But, suddenly, mid-last year, Beryl had a change of heart – ringing Angela from the Kooweerup pub one night after a game.

“If one of your two teams win a premiership this season, your father and I have decided we’re going to get a tattoo,” Beryl said.

Angela was the playing coach of the Catani B Grade side in the EDNA, and also the coach of the up-and-coming under-13s.

And history was made on the final day of the season in Yarragon when Angela won her first premiership after more than 450 games for the Blues.

In February, Beryl made good on her promise – even though Ron chickened out.

Instead, she took Angela along and they both got matching Catani premiership tattoos.

Beryl won three straight flags as Catani A Grade captain from 1958 to 1960.

And, along with Ron, she’s dedicated decades of her life to the club.

On AFL grand final day this year, during Seven’s coverage, the pair was named joint-winners of the Toyota AFL Community Football Volunteer of the Year award.

Catani really is the family club of the local community, and Ron and Beryl are at the head of that family tree.

Known by many as ‘Mr and Mrs Catani’, they – both now 82 – were named winners of the Victorian Community Football Volunteer of the Year award in October last year, and winning the national award should have meant they took their place in grand final parade in 2020.

But the Covid-19 pandemic put an end to those hopes.

Instead, they found out about their win on grand final day as they watched Seven’s coverage in the build-up to the big clash between Richmond and Geelong.

Only, they didn’t find out from the coverage directly.

“Mum and dad have the teletext going across the bottom of their TV, and it’s right in the middle of the screen,” said Angela, herself a dyed in the wool Catani legend.

“You couldn’t see their names on the screen, so they didn’t even know at first.”

It was actually Angela who told Ron and Beryl they’d won.

And their reactions weren’t quite as euphoric as you may think.

It’s not that they weren’t thrilled with the honour – it’s just that they never expected the recognition for something they’d so gladly devoted well in excess of 60 years of their lives to. They were gobsmacked.

At Catani, life membership is awarded for 25 years of service to the club.

Ron and Beryl have more than doubled that, and don’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“Why would we?” Beryl said.

“We don’t have any other hobbies.”

Kooweerup couple Beryl and Ron Banbury bleed Catani blue. 219862 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

The biggest strength of any club is almost always its people, so it’s little wonder that, for generations now, the Catani Football Netball Club has punched well out of its weight division.

These days, there are more people involved at the Blues than live in the town.

According to the 2016 census, 294 people live in Catani – but a hell of a lot more consider it their spiritual home.

And the Banburys are one of the key reasons why.

When ‘Bez’ spoke to the Gazette just before the Blues’ drought-breaking A Grade netball premiership last year, she said that she and ‘Ronnie’ – her husband of 58 years – never considered flags as a reward for all their years of dedicated service to their club.

Rather, it was their “thrill”, she explained.

And that’s exactly the way they look at their national Volunteer of the Year award win.

What they’ve done to make their club what it is has been nothing short of extraordinary, but in their eyes they’re just ordinary people playing their part.

Ronnie’s footy career actually began in Bunyip in the 1950s.

He was invited down to South Melbourne in 1959 but his big league career could never really get off the ground as he wouldn’t be granted a clearance.

But soon after, a move that would help shape Catani’s history took place – he followed his heart, and a particularly convincing Blues ‘recruitment officer’ (a somewhat unofficial term) to Taplins Road.

That persuasive person was Beryl. They were married in 1961 and lived on a dairy farm in Catani just over a mile from the football ground.

Of course, Beryl’s involvement with Catani started well before – in 1954 – when as a teenager she started playing ‘basketball’ (now netball).

Since ’54, the only season she’s spent away from Catani was when she followed Ron to Moe when he played there for a season.

Together, over a period of well over 60 years, they’ve made an impact on their beloved club so large that most couldn’t even fathom it – let alone dream of replicating it.

Whether it’s helping to cook meals, performing game day roles in the timekeeper’s box, selling raffle tickets, pumping up the game day Sherrins, or even sewing numbers on the back of guernseys – Ron and Beryl have done the lot, and are continuing to.

Bez sewed the numbers on the back of each jumper from 1976 until the end of the age of the woollen guernsey, while Ronnie was club secretary for 22 years.

Ronnie has even been known to meticulously wash the windows and vacuum the carpets at the Blues’ Taplins Road base, but it’s become a bit of a running joke that he does no such thing at home.

Catani hasn’t just been one of the biggest constants in the lives of Ronnie and Bez – they’ve lived and breathed it for decade, after decade, after decade.

And, at various times, they’ve played key roles in keeping that Blue blood pumping for so many others.

“The only recognition that truly matters to us is our life memberships,” Beryl explained, still shocked at hers and Ronnie’s national award.

Angela added that the Banbury name had become synonymous with Catani, and that Ronnie and Bez couldn’t be prouder of that fact.

“You can go somewhere and people would associate Catani with Ron and Beryl Banbury, so it’s nice for them to have that recognition,” she said.

“On social media when this was announced, there was just an outpouring of well-wishes – from people they don’t even know. It was really, really nice.”

But just the simple acknowledgement of all the hard work they’ve put in – that’s what “gets” Ronnie and Bez.

“You just sit there staring at your phone with all these lovely messages and comments on it and you think how nice it is for people to take the time out of their day to do that,” Bez said.

“I just want to get straight back into it as soon as we’re allowed again.”

Ronnie added: “That’s really what keeps us going, honestly”.

And when asked how to describe their beloved Blues in one word, Angela simply said: “Family”.

“It’s seen through the generations – the McFarlanes, the Warrens, the McDonalds, the Fitzpatricks – it’s generational, and people who come to the club see that.

“The Warren family and the McDonald family are even fourth generation.”