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Footballer, cricketer and wartime ace Dowsley dies

Former Carlton footballer Harcourt Dowsley. (Photo: Supplied)
Former Carlton footballer Harcourt Dowsley. (Photo: Supplied)

Harcourt Dowsley, the Carlton footballer and Victorian cricketer who piloted Catalinas through the dark days of the Second World War, has died at the age of 95.

Considered an outstanding schoolboy sportsman in his formative years at Melbourne Grammar, and a member of Old Melburnians’ B-Section Premiership team of 1938, Dowsley ventured into Princes Park on the invitation of the then Carlton Captain Jim Francis, just a few weeks before the former was called up for active service with the RAAF.

It was 1941, and Dowsley’s senior appearances with the team would be confined to just three. Sporting the No.20 later made famous by Wes Lofts, Geoff Southby and Fraser Brown (and now Nick Holman), he would line up at full-forward for Carlton’s 5th, 6th and 7th rounds of ’41 – having previously turned out at full-back in a succession of matches for Melbourne’s reserves.

Dowsley made an immediate impression, booting four goals on debut for the Bentley-coached Blues which met St Kilda at the Junction Oval. He followed up with another two against Collingwood at Princes Park, but at one point lost consciousness after being rammed head-first into the boundary fence.

The arrival of his call-up notice on the Monday after the Collingwood game meant that Harcourt’s seventh round appearance against Melbourne would be his last. He booted a solitary goal against the Redlegs, bid farewell to teammates Chitty, Crisp and McLean, and then went off to war.

Dowsley flies for a mark whilst playing schoolboy football for Melbourne Grammar. (Photo: Supplied)

Dowsley completed months of training as a pilot officer before being assigned to Catalina flying-boats. For the next four years, he and his seven-man crew braved heavily-armed Japanese fighters, anti-aircraft fire, tropical storms and fatigue as they flew daytime and night-time missions against the Japanese in the south-west Pacific.

Though the Japanese surrendered to the Allied forces in August 1945, Dowsley wasn’t discharged from wartime service until April of the following year. By then he was still a comparatively young man of 26, but he didn’t return to the football field. Instead, he turned to his other great sporting love of cricket, and played with distinction for both the Melbourne Cricket Club and Victoria.

On his first-class debut, against Tasmania at the Melbourne Cricket Ground in 1937/38, Dowsley opened the batting and compiled scores of 46 and 72 not out as a hard-hitting right hander. Tasmania would be Dowsley’s opponent in all of his five first-class matches, the first three coming before his VFL stint and the other two after.

Dowsley completed his first-class career having accumulated 336 runs at the healthy average of 56.00 including three half centuries, and he also took two wickets at 37.00 with his right-arm fast-medium bowling.

Dowsley during his RAAF days. (Photo: Supplied)

Later, in season 1948/49, Dowsley captained the MCC to the VCA Premiership.

Dowsley, who sits third on the list of Carlton players known to have goaled with their first kick in League football, after Creswell ‘Mickey’ Crisp in 1931 and Clen Denning in ’35, was, according to his grandson David Packman, an ardent Blues supporter to the end.

“In terms of his club allegiance, Harcourt’s passion for Carlton was there until he died, and whenever possible he would watch the team play on television,” Packman said.

“He followed the fortunes of his team closely.”

Packman added that in terms of the character, Dowsley was determined and never lacking in self-confidence . . . “a man who lived and breathed sport”.

“As well as football and cricket, his exploits on the golf course were equally well-known. He was an incredible golfer,” Packman said.

“He was still playing well into his eighties.”

Dowsley, whose recent years were spent in a Brighton nursing home, died in the Alfred hospital this morning. His wife of 68 years Peggy pre-deceased him in 2010.

He is survived by daughter Sue, twin son and daughter Peter and Prue, and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.