IT IS said that Katandra takes its name from the Indigenous word for ‘birdsong’ or ‘hunting area’ . . . and yet the Aboriginal words ‘Anunaka’ (‘Ours’) or ‘Dulili’ (‘Together’) could just as easily apply.
That’s because Katandra isn’t so much a town but a community, as its most famous son David Teague will tell you.
The 210-kilometre road trip from Melbourne to Teague territory takes the driver deep into Victoria’s north-east, by way of the Hume and Goulburn Valley Highways. Katandra itself is around 25 kilometres north-east of Shepparton, where the gnarled limbs of peach and pear trees reach for the Goulburn Valley sun.
In ‘Shepp’, Visy’s regional logistics warehouse stands as a weighty throwback to the wartime years, when the Polish migrant Leab (‘Leon’) Przetycki - father of the late Carlton President Dick Pratt - first saw an opportunity in supplying packaging boxes to the local stone fruit farmers.
But the Teague name has been synonymous with Katandra for generations, and history records that the first of the Teagues set sail from Scotland aboard the Australian-bound bark Sea Queen more than 175 years ago.
Flat, open plains broken
only by the occasional corn crop or solar farm feature prominently on the road to Katandra – and by the partly-sealed Delaney Road, about 15 kilometres from the Katandra Football Netball Club - which flanks the Teague family’s old dairy farm.
“I lived my whole life there (on the farm until I moved to Melbourne,” David said.
“I couldn’t tell you what the actual address is now because it used to be RMB . . . and there’s only about six houses on the whole road.”
For 35 years, David’s father Geoff and mother Maree managed the Delaney Road dairy, on what was a 175 acres property, since sold, on the border with Invergordon.
The dairy is within walking distance of the four-bedroom Teague family home – a single-storey weatherboard – where David, his older sister Jacinta and younger brother Gregor and sister Stephanie all spent their formative years. The house is sandwiched between a tennis court and a dam, and there’s an orange tree in the backyard where David spent countless hours kicking a footy.
“I used to get home from school and play kick-to-kick in the backyard, but as Dad was with the cows I often kicked with Mum. She used to kick the footy with me when I was little,” David recalled.
“Our road didn’t have many houses on it, but Barb and Rob Church lived across the road, they had a boy Brad who was a year older than me and I used to kick the ball with him a bit too.”
While David never harboured any real desire to follow the old man into dairy farming, footy was always going to feature prominently because the game was quite literally in his blood. David’s mother Maree, who hailed from up the road at Nathalia, is a second cousin of the great Richmond wingman Francis Bourke, while his father Geoff and uncle Kevin Teague – cousins of the competitive former Melbourne wingman Rod Grinter - were Katandra Football Club stalwarts.
It’s a little-known fact that Geoff, a key position player, followed his football dream to North Melbourne in 1975, but with the likes of Brent Crosswell and Malcolm Blight around the place opportunities just didn’t present.
Geoff and ‘Uncle Kev’ each represented the Katandra Kats (with a ‘K’) in more than 300 senior games. David’s cousin Wes Teague also wore the dark Navy Blue guernsey with interlocking KFC letters in white across the front, and his younger brother, a 200-gamer, followed suit.
David himself strung together around 40 senior games for the Kats from the age of 15 and a few more beyond his AFL career whenever time and circumstance allowed.
“Katandra was a very successful football club in my Dad’s era,” David recalled, “and I was part of four Premierships as a junior and one at 17 as a senior”.
“As a kid I started playing (for Katandra) in the school holidays when they were short. Other players went away and I’d jump in – and as there were no Under 10s, no Under 12s, it was straight into Under 14s. I reckon I was seven or eight when I played my first game, I got one kick in that game and that was because my cousin kicked the footy to me.
“Wes was about six or seven years older than me and I idolised him when I played footy as a junior. Ralph Shaw, my first coach was also an influence, as was Leigh Simpson, a good senior player, who coached me in Under 17s.
“Greg Reynoldson, the senior coach when we won the Premiership in 1998, was a real presence, and Dad, who took over as coach at Under 14s, was the biggest influence.”
The hub of the Katandra community can actually be found in Katandra West. There’s a corner store, service station, kindergarten, primary school (from whose Wall of Fame David’s portrait hangs), fire brigade and Roman Catholic Church - St Bernard’s - where David used to be dragged kicking and screaming in his altar boy days.
Across the way is the sports ground, home of the Katandra Football Netball Club. To get to it you pass a “Welcome to Katandra West” road sign upon which silhouettes of three grazing cows, a gum tree and a tractor feature. Aboard that tractor is the silhouette of a waving driver which may or may not be modelled on Uncle Kev.
Gum trees surround much of the lushing playing field which, it must be said, is in ripping nick. Also prominent is the old Katandra clubroom and alongside it the recently-constructed community centre – a much-frequented social space as there’s no town pub.
It’s at the sports ground that Maree, Geoff and Uncle Kev welcome their visitor from the big smoke (and nicer people you couldn’t hope to meet). Soon after, David’s old coach Greg Reynoldson drops by to say hello.
It is in recounting the many happy days at Katandra, particularly those at the football club, that David’s genuine love for the community and its characters presents itself.
With genuine affection he recounts the tale of how the Katandra footballers of his old man’s generation came up with an enterprising initiative to help build the club’s coffers.
“The old players of Katandra used to dig the graves at the local cemetery. My Dad did it, as did my Uncle Kev, a real character, who ran the cemetery,” David said.
“I remember one year there were a lot of deaths in the area and the grave diggings probably bankrolled the footy club, because families would pay the players to dig the graves, and all by hand - no machines in the early days.”
On becoming a top-up player at North Melbourne and following his football dream to the big time, David’s priorities inevitably changed. With the support of his then coach Denis Pagan, David combined his footy at Arden Street with his tertiary studies at RMIT Bundoora, completing his Bachelor of Applied Science/Physical Education (and he’s a qualified maths teacher by the way).
"Our group is at a really important part of their lives."— Carlton FC (@CarltonFC) December 18, 2019
Players growing as people, the ideals driving pre-season and the meaning of #BoundByBlue.
A must-read from David Teague, who sat down with Carlton Media for the first instalment in a two-part chat.
But for all that, he still found a way home.
“For a couple of years after North games on a Friday night I’d drive back to see my mates back in ‘Shepp’ then play tennis on a Saturday afternoons,” David said.
“I used to bring my washing with me and Mum would say ‘Oh you’re only come back for the washing’, but when I learned to do my own washing I’d come back empty-handed and she’d say ‘Where’s the washing?’
“On the way back to Melbourne, Dad would always give me a can of coke, load me up with food and say ‘Drive safely’.”
While circumstance means the Carlton coach’s forays back into Teague country are sadly all too few these days, David truly knows that the people of his community are as one with him.
To quote Uncle Kev: “Whatever happens in David’ life elsewhere his family is deep-rooted in Katandra and he’s always welcome back . . . he’s got Katandra behind him without any trouble at all.”