Norm Blight and Rooster Wishart pictured together in 1979
November 19, 2011
The recent retirement of Graeme Wishart from interstate bowls marked the end of an illustrious career at the top level. The veteran of three hundred and forty two State games, a record number for a West Australian bowler, decided to step down a quarter of a century after making his debut in 1986.
Most of those games were as a skipper, but he remembers fondly his first game for the black and gold, as lead for Dennis Katunarich.
Wishart is a link between two generations of bowls, and has played with and against the best of both. He maintains that the bowlers in his early days were the best he has ever seen.
"There might well be another Katunarich, there could even be another Steve Srhoy, but there would never be all those champions together in the same team like we had in those days," he said. "The Kat was the complete package, Peter Sardelic could read a head like no other, Steve Shroy, all grit and guts, Ron Taylor and Geoff Oakley were the tacticians, Johnny Rainoldi, the best left hander ever, and many others we were blessed to have. I was so fortunate and honoured to play and be a team mate with blokes like that. "
"Looking back, I didn't appreciate the fact we would have such talent in one group at the one time like I do now."
"The characters seem to have disappeared over the years, too."
Graeme recalls the wit of Percy Gibbs and Abo Jordan. "They reckoned they were driving home from a country race meeting one night when they hit a kangaroo. Propping the unfortunate roo up against a tree , Abo took his hat and coat off and put them on the animals' head. As Perce went to take a picture, the flash from the camera alarmed the seemingly unconscious kangaroo and off it hopped into the night, with Abo's wallet containing the day's race winnings secure in the coat pocket."
After his pennant debut at seventeen leading for Max Angwin in sixth division, Wishart quickly became a familiar figure with his flamboyant style in a comparatively conservative era of the sport.
"Max Kitto was a steadying influence on me," he said. "He harnessed me a bit, taught me when to show my emotion and rein the enthusiasm in. Max also hammered into me the old adage: practice makes perfect."
"It was Larry Bandy who first nicknamed me "rooster." He commented that with the hair halfway down my back and my cockahoop manner I was like a rooster." It certainly has stuck over the years, with many people not knowing his real name is Graeme.
Wishart went from junior football and cricket to the Victoria Park bowling green, a decision influenced by his father, Rod. Rod Wishart has been one of Western Australian Bowls's most loyal and hard working servants and has been at the forefront of the administration of the sport in this State for many years.He was the longest serving President of Victoria Park until stepping down last season, was a State and Australian selector and is a life member and former President of BowlsWA.
When Graeme debuted in first division as lead for Max Kitto, Alex Hodge, and John Sheridan, about the only others around his age were Tommy Norac and Peter Burge, and in 1986 he became the youngest ever State representative at twenty seven to be accompanied a year later by another whipper snapper, Kym Jones from Kojonup.
Wishart has won a State Pairs event with Marko Krajancic, a State Fours with Mark Clancy, David Armstrong, and Neil Payne, two Masters Pairs with Vic Andrijasevich and John Rainoldi, and recently the State Triples with Shane Knott and Daniel Patterson.
Graeme was also successful on the National scene, with three Australian Super League gold medals, including back to back triples. He was also a big performer in Interstate Carnivals, part of five WA Alley Shield successes, and three times winner of the Allan Eddy Medal, which is awarded to Western Australia's best player in an Interstate Carnival.
"One of the most memorable wins for me was in the Australian Super League at Moama.,Kyle McIlroy, Johnny Slavich and myself played three Australian reps in Barry Lester, Lee Schraner and Matty Flapper from Victoria for the Gold Medal. We were rank outsiders but won and didn't play the last three ends.To this day Aka, Chevy and myself still talk about how we played and the feeling and bond we have created since then …great blokes …great mates"
He has won everything possible at Victoria Park, but for many years never contested a club singles, preferring team events. However, in recent years Wishart relented, and has pocketed four singles championships in five seasons. Wishart's thirty one years of fine service at the Park was punctuated by a four year odyssey in the eighties.
"My grandfather Tom, Dad Rod, and myself started a business in Kalamunda, and I was travelling from Como to work each day," Graeme recalls."Wife Terri and I decided to buy a house in the hills, so I joined the local club, Kalamunda."
His two seasons in the Tigers lair bore fruit as the club made top division red, but it was Robbie Ball who persuaded Wishart to join him at Bedford. "The two seasons I spent at Bedford were good, with nice people and brilliant players, but were most notable for the greatest piece of under achievement in One Red," he said. "We had a terrific sixteen, with players such as Norm Pascoe, Graeme Scott, Archie Marriott, Graham Aminde, Tom Norac, Cliff Graybrook, Ned Bull, Jack Wheelock, Dennis Mullenger, Harry Matsen and Robbie and Terry Ball plus others, but I don't think we even made the top four."
With charming wife Terri, three lovely daughters(Hailee, Jayde, and Kacey), and a strapping young bloke in Trent, Graeme Wishart is a happy man. "I've had a great life in bowls, been lucky enough to play at a the highest state level, and have made plenty of great friendships through the sport." He is quick to attribute his success to wife Terri. "She has been the solid rock in her support and tolerance of a bloke spending far too much time at the bowling club. I couldn't have done it without her or have the family I am blessed with now"
Asked about the toughest player to beat over the years, there was no hesitation. "Marko Krajancic,"
He said: "You knew if you drew Kracker you were in for an all day battle, he is a very intense player and demands the best from his side even from the roll-up. In saying that we teamed up to win a State Pairs together and even though we never lost a game in the National Champion of Champions we still didn't make the final. He is also a really good friend of mine and has the ability to make me laugh even when he doesn't mean to."
An Eagles supporter, Graeme loves the social life, barbeques and parties with friends on top of his favourites list. Graeme Wishart's love of the game has always been clearly evident, and hasn't diminished over thirty five years.
He still loves the pennant competition, regarding the Saturday fixtures as the highlight of his career, and hasn't changed his game one iota. He encourages his players to do well or better, he displays positive body language, never "bags" his players for a bad shot but instead will advise them on correction and he motivates the players across all the rinks.
GRAEME WISHART'S TOP SIDE OF ALL HE PLAYED WITH:
Dennis Katunarich(skip), Robbie Ball, Norm Pascoe, Tom Norac
Peter Sardelic(skip),Ron Taylor, John Caffell, Geoff Adjuk
Steve Shroy(skip), Marko Krajancic, Keith Doncon, Geoff Ellis
John Rainoldi(Skip), Max Kitto, Geoff Oakley, Pieter Harris