FORMER Carlton ruckman Ken Greenwood, who shared following duties with the likes of Brian Buckley, Graham Donaldson, John Nicholls, Maurie Sankey and Sergio Silvagni through the 1960s, has died at the age of 79 after a long illness.
Recruited to Carlton after taking the South Bendigo Football Club’s best & fairest honours, Greenwood, wearing the No.5, plied his ruck craft through 55 games for the Blues under the watch of coaches Ken Hands and Ron Barassi.
John Nicholls remembered Greenwood, a member of Carlton’s 1962 Grand Final twenty, as a capable footballer deprived of opportunity.
“They (Carlton) got him from the Bendigo League, but he was a bit stiff because there were quite a few of us on the scene at the same time – Brian Buckley, Serge (Silvagni), Maurie Sankey and myself - and like ‘Bucks’ (Buckley) he couldn’t get much of a look-in,” Nicholls recalled.
“Ken was a big raw-boned bloke, a bit like Brian Buckley, but probably found it a bit hard to get games . . . and I know I wasn’t going to stand aside for them.
“But he went to Footscray, was a good player there and if memory serves he also served the Bulldogs as an administrator for which he was highly-regarded . . . and he was a good man to go with it.”
Greenwood, who later rounded out his playing career as captain-coach of VFA club Preston, famously came to Barassi’s aid at the end of the ’65 season, when senior coach and player were amongst a squad of 52 Carlton footballers and officials on an end-of-season trip to New Zealand’s North and South Islands.
During the New Zealand foray, both Greenwood and Barassi found themselves in a diabolical predicament in climbing Mount Cook – New Zealand’s highest mountain at 3724 metres – and as Nicholls remembered “they were told not to climb it because they wouldn’t get down”.
The newspapers of the day reported that Barassi had survived a near-death experience on the mountain, having been caught on a ledge at 5000ft.
The following was Greenwood’s recollection of that experience, as told to this reporter in 2015 on the 50th anniversary of the Mt Cook foray:
“We were staying at this chalet-type hermitage at the base of Mount Cook for about three days, and on this particular day the sun was shining, we weren’t doing too much and Barassi said ‘Does anyone feel like going for a walk?’.
Three or four of us set off on the walk up this mountain - Johnny Gill was one and I really can’t remember who else – and we found this track through mountain scrub. After a while, Johnny Gill said: ‘This is getting too far for me – I’m going back’ – so ‘Barass’ and I pushed on.
I said to Barass, ‘How far do you want to go?’ and he said ‘Let’s climb until two o’clock, three o’clock or whatever’. Now I was a boy scout, I’d done a lot of hiking, and I knew we were getting up into the snowline and it was a bit rugged.
We kept pushing on and pushing on, and I thought ‘Well I’m not going to squib it, I’ll keeping going with him’, and as we got higher and higher it got pretty dicey.
Barass was ahead of me and he got us into a situation where we were both climbing quite vertically up the rock – and he got onto a ledge, grabbed a rock above his head to pull himself up, but couldn’t because it was too high. And he couldn’t come back down either because he’d slip, so he effectively became stuck there.
Prior to that, as we were walking along, he said to me: ‘I don’t help you, you don’t help me – let’s do this together’ – which I thought that was silly as you’d always help someone if they got into trouble.
Anyway, he was stuck there on the ledge, he wasn’t moving, his hands were getting wider and wider and I could see that he was getting a bit worried. I was below him, I was quite safe and I said to him ‘You need help don’t you’.
‘Yeah I do,’ came the reply.
So I managed to get up on the ledge with him, put my arm around him and steady him. This enabled him to inch along to another rock, which gave him stability. We were then able to sit down together and he turned to me and said ‘That was close’ and I said to him ‘Well we had to help eachother – we were at a height that was dangerous’.
When Barass said ‘We’ve gone far enough’, we then had to get back down. But when you’re walking down a mountain you get this feeling of falling over and somehow we lost our way. We saw snowdrifts happening and rocks disappearing, and we knew we couldn’t go on the snow. So we got to another ledge where the only alternative from there was to jump onto another ledge. It was a drop of more than 10 feet and Barass said ‘Look, I’ll jump first, then catch you when you jump’. So he jumped, falling forward, and he managed to grab hold of a bush on the way to cushion his fall. But he cut his hand open and I could see the blood even though he put his hand behind his back so I couldn’t see it, and I knew then that because he only had one good hand he couldn’t catch me.
He then said to me ‘Come on, you can do it’, but I was long-legged and lanky and I told him I had a feeling that I did what he did he wouldn’t be able to stop me. But he kept saying to me ‘Come on, you can do it’ and eventually I did it.
We eventually made it back. His hand was cut open, we were both covered in scratches and bruises and we both copped the park ranger who was waiting back at the hermitage for us. He tore strips of us for doing something without telling anybody, for forcing them to send out a search party and for basically putting ourselves in danger – we got a real dressing down and I never saw Barassi look so sheepish.
By the time we had climbed Mount Cook I’d already had a season with Ron, so I knew that he was a driven man. At Carlton he made an enormous impact. He was a breath of fresh air for us young blokes with his whole demeanour, his attitude and his drive for football. It was just terrific and we loved him. Barass had that gritty determination to succeed no matter what, just like on the mountain where he wanted to keep going and going just to prove that he could do it.
Did I save Ron Barassi’s life? I don’t like to say that. Anybody could have done it. The thing was he had nowhere else to go, he was stuck there and if he moved he would have fallen. He just got himself into a terrible predicament on a ledge that wasn’t safe.
We both understood the danger we were in, and in a quiet moment not long after I remember him saying to me, ‘Thank God we were both able to help eachother’. In the years since we have had that special bond and whenever I bump into him now we have a quiet chuckle.”
Carlton senior players will wear black armbands into Saturday night’s match with Brisbane at Marvel Stadium as a mark of respect to the late Ken Greenwood.