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Vale Ivan Rohrt, 1920-2016

Former Carlton President Ivan Rohrt has passed away.
Former Carlton President Ivan Rohrt has passed away.

Former Carlton President Ivan Rohrt, a member of George Harris’ famed Progress Party and a key figure in the establishment of the old Social Club, has died.
 
Rohrt, whose role as Melbourne City Councillor proved vital to the club’s interests through a golden era both on and off the field, passed away on Wednesday afternoon in a Camberwell nursing home just a fortnight shy of his 96th birthday.
 
Rohrt’s son Richard said his father simply died of old age – “and he’d always joked that he’d already seen his epitaph at the club”.
 
“Dad’s surname was often confused with Jack Wrout’s and he remembered that after Jack died he was sitting in the stands when the cheersquad raised the banner upon which were the words ‘RIP JACK ROHRT’.
 
“Dad felt terrible for Jack’s family and came home saying ‘I’m really spooked – I’ve just seen my name on an RIP’.”
 
Ivanhoe Borch Rohrt, the son of a Norwegian-born father and English-born mother, was born in the South Gippsland town of Yarram on March 23, 1920.
 
In an interview with this reporter for the club’s publication “Out Of The Blue” some years ago, Rohrt talked of how he “always had a soft spot for Carlton”, particularly after fate dealt its hand.
 
That happened when Rohrt’s father, a local cream carter, was advised by a GP that it was in the best interests of his health to ditch the heavy labor and find employment elsewhere.
 
In 1940, the Rohrts took over the running of North Carlton’s famous watering hole The Rising Sun Hotel (now the chic Italian food and wine providore Enoteca Sileno) at 920 Lygon Street.
 
“There were 32 pubs in Carlton and we always reckoned we had the best beer,” Rohrt said of The Rising Sun. “If you didn’t support Carlton then your pub was no good, and that was why I was a Carlton supporter.”
 
In those carefree days, cars were scarce and supporters would tram it to the pub, down a couple of thirst-quenching ales, then hotfoot it up Richardson Street and through the turnstiles into the old ground. Rohrt, who later combined civic duties with those of his family’s hotel business, unhesitatingly declared Saturday “the busiest day of our week”, and such was the frenetic nature of matchday pub life that he was rarely able to get to Princes Park.
 
Until one day when Carlton got him.
 
“It was Melbourne Cup morning 1964 and two fellows came in off the Lygon street entrance. One of them said to me ‘Are you Councillor Rohrt?’, and I said yes that I was a Melbourne City Councillor for 15 years (and a member of three major committees, including the finance and public works committees),” Rohrt said.


L to R, Russell Ohlsen, Ivan Rohrt, Mark Maclure, syd Jackson, Alex Jesaulenko and Ian Thorogood, circa 1976. (Photo: Carlton Football Club)
 
“Initially I thought they were ratepayers coming to talk to me about a hole in the footpath or something. Anyway I said to them ‘I’ll get back to you when I settle down here’.
 
“It got a bit quieter in the next half an hour and I said ‘What can I do for you two?’ and the taller man said ‘My name is George Harris and this is Eddie Fakhry. You’re a city councillor – would you be interested in joining the (Carlton Football Club) reform group?’. Naturally I said ‘Well, I’ll have to ask the missus’ and my wife Joan was not fussed. After a couple of days of giving it some thought I rang George Harris and said ‘Yes, I’m prepared’.”
 
Rohrt believed that he was approached to join the Harris ticket in late 1964 after the late Don Chipp rejected an initial approach. Incredibly, he had never previously met any of Harris’ running mates, but was unfazed nonetheless.
 
As he said: “It was a very exciting time because it opened up a new era for me, and a hotel keeper being involved in the main sport in the area was a good business move too”.
 
Not withstanding his role in the Barassi putsch, Rohrt’s impeccable connections with the City of Melbourne ensured that he would be a key player in future negotiations to secure funding for just such an entity – and yet the process took a substantial personal toll.
 
“It was one of the most stressful times I had in public life. My hotel licence was hanging on it and it was a very worrying time for me. I’d put a lot of time into getting the money for Carlton,” Rohrt said.
 
“It’s been on my mind now and again for many, many years. After the council meeting  was over and we got this money to build the social club, one of the councillors said to me ‘You’re in a bit of trouble, Rohrt’. I said ‘What trouble?’ and he said ‘you’ve got a pecuniary interest. I said ‘pecuniary interest?’. I thought that was putting a quid in your pocket.
 
Regardless, Rohrt resolved that it would be in his best interests to step aside, albeit temporarily.
 
“I rang George (Harris) and told him that because I was a hotel keeper I’d run the risk of losing my licence if I was challenged and there’d be a gaol term associated with this,” Rohrt said.
 
“I said ‘George, I think I better resign’ and George understood.”
 
At a subsequent meeting, influential Carlton powerbroker Sir Leo Curtis addressed the faithful and strongly urged Harris to reinstate Rohrt if ever a vacancy became available.
 
“That (a vacancy) happened a few months after that speech and I was grateful to get back onto the board because I loved the club and helped them so much,” Rohrt said.
 
The Carlton Social Club was officially opened by the former Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies prior to the first round match with Geelong at Princes Park on April 15, 1968 – the same day the precious talent who was Brent Crosswell made his senior debut in Dark Navy.
 
By the end of ’69, the social club had generated profits of more than $150,000, vindicating the extraordinary lengths to which men like Rohrt had gone.
 
A Vice-President at Carlton, Rohrt was later elevated to the Presidency with Harris’ departure. His reign as President was somewhat rocky. On March 31, on the eve of the 1976 season, John Nicholls resigned as Captain-Coach and five days later Secretary Allen Cowie suddenly died.
 
And yet it was under Rohrt’s watch in that same year that Carlton secured the American-based company Avco for what was then the largest sum ever pledged to a VFL club - $135,000 over three years.
 
Richard Rohrt said his father was of a time “when Carlton was a family . . . and he loved every minute of it”.
 
“It really goes back to the old fashioned days when the President and members of the Committee would all gather for training, get their two pennies’ worth in with the match committee and the Chairman of Selectors who was Jack Wrout, then retire to the committee room’s bar where Dad would open up,” Richard said.
 
“As a man, Dad was tall and well-presented, and nothing was ever a problem. He was one of the longest-serving members of the Melbourne City Council representing the Labor Party and there was nothing he wouldn’t do for anyone. He wanted to represent as many people as he could.”
 
Rohrt is survived by his beloved wife of 67 years Joan (now 90), son Richard, daughter Susan and six grandchildren.
 
Funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.
 
Carlton players taking to the field for Friday night’s Nab Challenge match with Sydney will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to Ivan Rohrt and the club’s late long-serving bootstudder and Life Member Dennis Turner.