Cyril Mann never talked about his Indigenous heritage. When a heart attack claimed his life at just 45, stories of the Yorta Yorta went to the grave with him.
That happened in March 1964, when Cyril was laid to rest in Preston Cemetery - a few kilometres north of the Carlton ground where the high-flying centre half-forward crafted a 42-game career either side of his wartime duties.
For all these years, Cyril’s Indigenous links were not known to either Carlton or the AFL.
Only now, and with the assistance of his surviving daughter Karen Mann-Brooks, can Cyril’s connection with his people be revealed - and it’s a splendid connection.
Karen recently confirmed that Cyril’s maternal grandfather was the great William Cooper, who hailed from the Yorta Yorta territory near the junction of the Goulburn and Murray Rivers. William is remembered as the Australian Aboriginal political activist, much-respected community leader and genuine man of stature whose extraordinary lifetime achievements cannot be properly acknowledged in the limited space available here.
“It was only after Dad died that my great aunty Sally, William Cooper’s daughter, told us a lot of things,” said Karen, who now lives in Andrew Walker’s home town of Echuca, not far from Cumeroogunga where Cooper is buried.
“I don’t remember a lot about Dad because I was only eight when he died. But Mum used to talk a lot about Dad, that he played for Carlton and that he loved Carlton.
“And I do remember on my birthdays that he’d take me up Plenty Road to the shoe shop and he’d buy me two pairs of shoes. That was really good.”
Cyril Stanley Mann, the oldest of three children of Charles and Jessie (nee Cooper) Mann, was born in Carlton on August 31, 1918. He was educated at the local St Augustine’s Primary School.
Details of Cyril’s early years are unfortunately scant and Karen admitted in retrospect that she should have asked her late mother more questions.
But faded newspaper clippings reveal that Cyril represented Southampton Tigers as an Under 16 Footscray footballer of renown, having taken out the Mall Medal for best player in the comp.
The story goes that Cyril was later recruited to Carlton from Silvan, east of Melbourne in the Yarra Valley, on the sayso of the then captain-coach Brighton Diggins, who was taken by the player’s aerial skills in a local league finals match the previous season.
A munitions maker by profession, Cyril’s first senior appearance in a dark Navy Blue guernsey came in the fourth round of 1939, against Footscray at the Western Oval. Diggins led the visitors out, they won easily and Cyril, named on a forward flank alongside Jack Wrout, booted a goal on debut.
Cyril, whose uncle Lynch Cooper took out the 1928 Stawell Gift, was a real eye-catcher. His inherent athleticism was noted by football scribes of the day, not the least of whom was Carlton’s first 200-gamer Rod “Wee” McGregor. A cartoonist perhaps paid Cyril the greatest compliment, captioning his drawing of the high-flyer with the words “Mann marks in positions unthought of by Nash, Todd and Pratt”.
But when Great Britain, France and most of the British Commonwealth declared war on Germany, Cyril, like many, registered for active service.
He continued to play while waiting for the call to arms. He was there in September ’41, (booting three and two goals respectively in Carlton’s second semi and preliminary final losses to Melbourne and Essendon on the MCG) and he managed another five senior appearances through 1942 before finally being called into uniform.
Cyril served in the 2/23 Battalion, which helped defend Tobruk, before his discharge in April 1944.
Karen Mann-Brooks with a photo of her late father, Cyril.
Almost two years later, he saddled up for the Blues again, in what would be Carlton’s Peace and Victory Premiership of 1945. But for reasons unclear he managed just three home and away matches before calling it a day in May of that year.
Cyril furthered his playing career in the Association with Brunswick and, later, Port Melbourne. He earned the plaudits of The Association Football Recorder correspondent for “defeating Ron Todd in the air” and as the club’s reigning B & F starred at centre half-back when the Borough beat Sandringham in the ’47 Grand Final.
Cyril married Evelyn Pendelbury, a Fitzroy girl whom Karen suspects he met at a social on the night after a Carlton game, and together they raised three children – a son Keith and daughters Lorraine and Karen.
Recently, Karen and her husband Warren caught up with this reporter for a cuppa on High Street in Preston, not far from the old Mann family home at 16 Eisenhower Street, Reservoir, where she spent her formative years.
Karen’s love of the club for which her late father once played has not waned – the legacy of those happy times where she followed her mother to the old Carlton ground and in turn led her own children through the turnstiles there.
Then there’s her love for the people of the Yorta Yorta.
“I am proud of that Aboriginal link and I always tell everyone I have Aboriginal in me,” Karen said.
“Perhaps my father was a victim of the times and it was never spoken about, but you grow up now and it doesn’t matter what you are, does it?”
To learn more of the life of William Cooper, click here.
Cyril Stanley Mann
August 31, 1918 – March 3, 1964
Carlton player no. 548
Recruited from Silvan
Career 1939-1942 & 1945
Senior debut: Round 4, 1939 versus Footscray, aged 20 years, 255 days
Final game Round 3, 1945 versus Essendon, aged 26 years, 247 days
Guernsey No 25 (1939-40), 27 (1941 & 45) & 34 (1942)
Carlton’s known Indigenous footballers
Alf Egan – 36 games, 20 goals, 1931-1933
Cyril Mann – 42 games, 65 goals, 1939-1942 & 1945
Syd Jackson – 136 games, 165 goals, 1969-1976
Rod Waddell – five games, two goals, 1981-1982
Mark Naley – 65 games, 74 goals, 1987-1990
Troy Bond – 36 games, 26 goals, 1994-1995
Sean Charles – one game, 0 goals, 1998
Justin Murphy – 115 games, 105 goals, 1996-2000 & 2002-2003
Andrew Walker – 150 games, 115 goals, 2004 -
Eddie Betts – 170 games, 270 goals, 2005 -
Cory McGrath – 50 games, four goals, 2004-2006
Joe Anderson – 17 games, 0 goals, 2007-2010
Chris Yarran – 69 games, 53 goals, 2009 -
Jeffery Garlett – 84 games, 149 goals, 2009 -
Tony De Bolfo is the Carlton Football Club's Historian. You can follow him on Twitter: @CFC_DeBolfo