A welcome participant in the recent Ghosts of Princes Park Tour was Barbara Poulton (nee Elliott) - Carlton Football Club’s Belle of the Ball back in 1960.

Barbara arrived at the old ground in all her finery, proudly sporting the silken dark navy blue sash acknowledging her famous victory of 58 years past. In truth she and her sister Carole could be considered amongst the club’s first “bluebirds” well before Carlton’s scantily-clad cheerleaders were even thought of.

For Barbara, the sash serves as a welcome reminder of a precious family connection with the football club in the days when the great Australian game was truly territorial.

“The first time Mum and Dad went on a date was to the Carlton Annual Ball,” Barbara explained. “When my brothers, sister and I were little kids, a babysitter looked after us while Mum and Dad headed to the ball. Then, when my brother and I were learning ballroom dancing we joined Mum and Dad to attend the ’59 Carlton Ball, which is where I first met Bruce Comben.”

Barbara and her sister Carole are the great granddaughters of Mark Elliott senior, for many years mine host at Elliott’s Clyde Hotel on Elgin Street, where legend has it the Carlton boys changed into their strips before matches at nearby Royal Park. The Clyde was where Carlton’s committee meetings and Annual General Meetings were also convened from as far back as the 1870s.

Barbara, sporting sash and armed with 1960 presentation photograph. (Photo: Carlton Media)

In 1928, Mark junior took occupancy of the house still standing at 78 Garton Street, opposite the since-demolished abode of the Princes Park curator Tom Warne at No. 74. In time, Mark junior’s son Greg, the girls’ father, took occupancy. It was the Carlton Premiership year of 1947, and their recollections of life in the shadows of the old ground are nothing but joyful.

“They were happy days,” Barbara recalled. “The Carlton players Maurie Pope, Vin Catoggio and Mark Maclure lived a few doors up, while Brent Crosswell boarded in nearby Lang Street.

“On matchdays my sister and I would head to the Heatley Stand and throw a rug over the seat to save it for Mum who’d be across the road at home cooking dinner; this often included enough to feed relatives having driven from Traralgon to attend the match. After games we used to run up and down the stands looking for lollies . . . and you’d always find a few unopened Minties.”

Though Comben was front and centre as Captain of Carlton in 1959, it was Barbara who took centre stage in 1960 at the Royale Ballroom – an annexe of the Royal Exhibition Building which fell to the wrecker’s ball some 40 years ago.

Barbara Elliott, Belle of the Ball, 1960. (Photo: Supplied)

In the football club’s annual report of 1960, the social secretary reported the occasion as follows;

“The Annual Ball at the Royale Ballroom was well up to the standard of past years and all guests, including a large party of East Perth footballers who were in Melbourne on their Interstate trip, were lavish in their praise of Carlton’s hospitality”.

Clearly Barbara impressed on the night. To quote a snippet from club notes in a subsequent edition of The Football Record of the day;

“A large crowd of supporters, players and officials enjoyed our Annual Ball at the Royale Ballroom last week. Miss Barbara Elliott of Princes Hill was adjudged Belle of the Ball from three charming and beautifully frocked finalists. Mrs. Marjorie Holmes, wife of President Lew Holmes, presented her with the Carlton sash”.

While Barbara was busy featuring on the catwalk, Carole was active in forging close ties with a number of like-minded individuals who ultimately banded together to form the first Carlton cheersquad.

“Around 1963/’64 the cheersquad took off,” Carole said. “I can remember on Friday nights we tore newspapers into small pieces and bagged them whilst watching episodes of the ABC’s Friday night football preview. We used to throw rolls of coloured paper streamers and the torn newspapers into the air as the players ran out onto the oval”.

Barbara Elliott and Bruce Comben, Carlton Annual Ball, 1959. (Photo: Supplied)

“The first banners were navy and white crepe paper lattice-type arrangements criss-crossing the Carlton players’ race. In time the banners were made larger, and I can recall helping the cheer squad make up one of the banners in the old ballroom at Flinders Street Station; maybe because the boys were playing at the MCG”.

“As part of the cheer squad (in the Robert Heatley Stand) there were seven girls who held up placards with individual letters of CARLTON. We chanted C A R L T O N when the players ran onto the oval or a goal was scored. When Ron Barassi was playing I was one of these and held up one of the giant letters ‘R’, ‘O’ or ‘N’ . I also helped make the floggers too. They were navy and white crepe paper and light, which meant that you could easily wave them, as opposed to today’s huge, single coloured  ones that are so heavy”.

In 1996, the Elliotts put the old house up for auction, thus ending a lifetime association with Princes Hill and the old ground.

For Barbara and Carole, parting ways with No.78 Garton Street elicited such sweet sorrow. As Carole observed: “It was tough, the house was in need of repair and it was time to move on”.

But beyond the bricks and mortar, the Elliott girls’ love for Carlton has not waned – and like most canny observers they’re adamant it won’t be long before blue skies break the clouds over their home away from home.