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A precious letter and the ties that bind

The Journey | S2E7 Season 2 | Episode 7. In the final episode of Season 2 of The Journey, go behind-the-scenes as Carlton wrap up the 2017 season.

WENDY Rushbrook is one of about 600 residents of Stansbury – a small town situated on the east coast of Yorke Peninsula in the shelter of South Australia’s gorgeous Oyster Bay.

Wendy’s League allegiances are not with Adelaide or Port as you might expect. She is in fact a lifelong Carlton supporter – and all because of a treasured letter forwarded to her dear father by the Club’s then secretary Harry Bell more than 70 years ago.

Dated June 28, 1945, and addressed to Pte. P.J. Buck of Kilburn in Adelaide’s inner northern suburbs, Bell formally offers the young Buck an opportunity to try out with the team, whose players would win them and wear them a tick over three months later in the infamous 'Bloodbath' Grand Final with South Melbourne.

Bell's letter to Buck.

As Bell writes: “You have been recommended to me as a footballer who should do well in Victorian League company, therefore, on behalf of my committee, I have pleasure in extending to you a very cordial invitation to join the Carlton Club”. 

Percy James Buck was born in the north-western Adelaide suburb of Brompton on April 7, 1921. His childhood years were spent in neighbouring Kilburn (also known as ‘Little Chicago’ back then, and probably for good reason too according to Wendy).

Percy Buck on his 16th birthday. 

One of nine siblings, Percy left school after grade 7 and toiled as a young labourer. A few local jobs later, he accepted a position with Kilburn’s British Tubemakers, during which time he played footy, indulged in music and basically hung out with his sizeable, boisterous family. 

Percy later joined the army and was posted to Alice Springs with the 109th Australian General Hospital (AIF) – a unit stationed in the Alice for the duration of the war. 

109th AGH (AIF) team, 1943. Percy Buck fourth from the left, front row.

Recently, Wendy saw fit to forward a digitised image of Bell’s correspondence to her father for the Club’s archive. In doing so, she also took the liberty to sound out her 86 year-old uncle Ralph Dunn – a former North Adelaide footballer who knew Percy well.

Wendy Rushbrook with Bell's letter to her father.

“Dad was a ruck-rover who could kick equally well with either foot. He was a fast runner who through the war years participated in many races, and he had a huge vertical leap for someone who stood 5’6”,” Wendy said.

“At the time the letter came through, Dad was in the army in Alice Springs. Apparently, he was asked to play on the proviso that he got an honourable discharge, which he did, but he declined to play for Carlton. He had expressed a desire to play for North Adelaide, but two serious knee injuries sustained soon after pretty much ended his football career before it even began.

“Dad also wanted to stay behind with family and friends and given that he and Mum married the year after he returned from war service in Alice Springs I’m not surprised. They were both very family-oriented.”

Percy and his wife Lillian raised four children, the youngest of whom was Wendy. Though Wendy remembers Percy “for his love of his beach shack, crabbing, playing the piano and singing,” her precious memories of her father are sadly all too fleeting.

As she explained: “Dad died of cancer in 1974, aged 53. I was 10 at the time and I felt a bit lost”.

It’s little wonder then that Harry Bell’s lovely letter to her father ensures that Wendy’s strong kindred connection with the old dark Navy Blues remains in place after all these years.

As she said: “Our family treasures this letter, the original of which is glued to the back of a Kellogg’s cornflakes packet!”.

“I have barracked for Carlton since I discovered the letter as a young girl . . . thankyou for the joy and entertainment your club brings.”