Taree-born Bob Wallace’s love of sport and adventure has taken him on a journey that many of us could only dream. Born in 1940, the 68 year-old has a house full of mementos and priceless photos that would fit nicely into any collector’s exhibition.
Attending primary and high school in Taree, Bob found he had a natural talent and affinity with sport. Rugby Union, Rugby League and Cricket are where he displayed above average ability. This was highlighted by playing in the Taree under 19s competition at the age of 14.
“I was small and played in the halves,” said Wallace. “It enhanced my skills and taught me to be a tougher player.” That initial introduction to representative sport was the beginning of his sports career.
Matriculating from high school, Bob had only one career in mind – to be a teacher of sport, and he attended the Teachers’ College in Sydney. Keen to maintain his association with football, he joined the Randwick Rugby Union Club, where he was selected to play for the Randwick Colts.
During his initial season his talents did not go unnoticed and found his name on the list of, at the time, prestigious South Harbour under 21s team to play arch rivals, North Harbour at the Sydney Cricket Ground. “Running onto the SCG was a great feeling – it was the best ground.” Bob’s effort in that game did not pass the selectors’ eyes, and he found himself with his first representative guernsey when selected in the New South Wales Colts side that travelled to Melbourne to contest the Australian Championships.
The following year, with Rugby Union being an amateur sport, he decided to try his hand at Rugby League as a way to earn extra money. With his reputation high as a player after his prior season in Union, he decided to trial with the South Sydney Rugby League Club. Trialling successfully, he signed his first contract in 1958 – a contract Bob still proudly retains. He was paid fifteen pounds for every win. The legendary Clive Churchill was coaching the South Sydney first grade side in 1958. Bob was unable to impress Churchill, and spent his first year in the red and green colours playing in the lower grades.
Churchill left the club at the end of 1958, and under his new coach Bob played his inaugural first grade game for the Rabbits in 1959 as five-eighth. Looking forward to his next year in first grade, Bob was convinced he was heading for big things, however his year ended after one game. “I broke my collarbone; it took a long time to heal. Medicine was not as advanced as it is today. These days I would be playing after a couple of weeks.” In 1961 with his injury plagued season behind him, Bob was determined to make it back into first grade and quickly headed to the top grade to partner Billy Stokes in the halves positions.
In 1962 he graduated from Teachers’ College and was posted to Woy Woy High School as a physical education teacher, where he became captain-coach of the local League team, leading them to win their inaugural premiership.
Two years on he was transferred to Wagga Wagga, where he linked with Rugby League legend, champion player and former Australian captain, Arthur Summons at the Wagga Magpies. Staying six years, he decided to move closer to home and applied to be transferred. He found his way to Gloucester and immediately was appointed as coach of the Old Bar – Taree Rugby League Club.
After a thee year stint as coach, Bob decided to retire from playing football and headed to another sport he loved – cricket – where he played for many years with Taree. With his involvement in sport, Bob was always mindful that our youth had to be nurtured, so he started to fund and promote junior cricket teams in the Manning Valley – an involvement lasting 25 years.
Bob’s love of sport was very strong, and he decided in 1980 to attend his first Olympic Games at Moscow. “I enjoy travelling. If I was to head overseas, then visiting an international sport event was my destination. The Moscow games were on, so off I went.” The experience of his first games was overwhelming: “They were fantastic, and I have not missed an Olympic Games since.”
Returning from Moscow, Bob make a change to his lifestyle. He did not like the way Communism worked, which confirmed his strong beliefs that the free enterprise system was the best. “Moscow’s restrictions and system of Communist Government made me realise how great the Australian system of freedom was.”
On his return he decided to purchase a business at Chatham, trading as Wallace’s Corner Store, combining his teaching with store ownership. Always one for new ideas, his corner store was the first to rent videos in Taree, and at one stage had more than 10,000 titles on his shelves. “They were busy times. Being the first gave us the edge, and we became the largest distributors in the Valley.”
As time passed, Bob kept attending the Olympic Games every four years and recently attended his eighth consecutive games in Beijing. “They were good – one of the best. I did not know what to expect, but overall they were good. Sydney has been the best, followed by Moscow and probably Beijing.”
During his visits he has met some of Australia’s and the world’s best athletes. Taking pride of place in Bob’s collection of memorabilia is his favourite female athlete, Flo Griffith-Joyner (Flo Jo). He has several photographs taken with the legendary runner, all enhanced by her personal autograph dedicated to Bob. “She was brilliant – the perfect athlete. Carl Lewis was the best of the males – he was awesome – the perfect build.” Watching Australia compete on the international stage is an incredible atmosphere: “There is nothing like watching your own athletes compete – it is a great thrill. There have been many great Australian performances I have witnessed.
“It is hard to go past the incredible swim of Kieran Perkins in Atlanta, when he won the 1,500 metres. The atmosphere was electric, matched by his swim – just brilliant.”
Retiring eight years ago he has maintained his zest for sport and is an avid watcher on television. Like all South Sydney supporters he is a South tragic, loyal and still attends their functions. His participation in sport is restricted and has been slowed by a hip replacement and being diagnosed with diabetes. “I still do some exercises. I do swim exercises daily, then ride a bike and lift weights.”
Apart from his sports love, Bob spends plenty of time with his two children and four grandchildren and maintains an active lifestyle at the home he was born. “The house where I live is where I was born. Due to expansion of the CBD, the house was destined to be demolished in Albert Street. I bought it and had it re located to its current site fifteen years ago.”
Bob Wallace would not live any where else but the Manning Valley. He believes the region has the best river, magnificent scenery, and great people. If his health is good, Bob plans to head to London in 2012 for another Olympics.