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Barry Collins

Would you marry someone the locals referred to as the Angel of Death?  Apparently this lady suffered successive husbands, departing the earth at a rather alarming rate, hence the nickname.  This was all speculation mind you, nothing was ever proven, but such a reputation certainly qualified said lady as one of the many “characters” that help make up the legend of Sydney’s Kings Cross during the 1960’s. Some of these characters were gangsters, some were just characters but whatever their sub-category they all made the newspapers and they are all part of folk-lore.

Darcy Dugan was famous for his knack of breaking out of jail.  Ros Norton was the high Priestess of Black Magic.  Bea Miles came from a “well-to-do” background but spent her days wandering Kings Cross as a bag lady and quoting Shakespeare.  There were S.P. Bookies and there were spuiker people like, “Last Card Louie” who made his money with the flip off his last card in a poker game.  The “Mad Russian” was Lube Shakova, a woman capable of “belting the crap out of you”, if you happened to be a policeman encouraging her into the back of the paddy wagon.  On one hand there were notorious figures, like the infamous Neddie Smith, but on the other hand there were gentlemen like Bernie Houghton, the proprietor of the iconic Bourbon and Beefsteak House.

Barry Collins crossed paths with these people.  From 1958 to 1972 Barry served as a Police Officer and Kings Cross was his patch, “There was a fight every night and I lost more than I won”.  One can only image the stories he could tell? The Kings Cross circus was one part of Barry’s life, another is as a Life Member of the City of Sydney Basketball Association.

Barry Collins OAM was born just after the depression in 1934 in Randwick.  He was the third child of Will and Maude.  Will was a veteran of WW1 and at the outbreak of WW2 enlisted in the militia.  He was charged with defending Coogee and was obviously very successful. Barry attended Newington College and graduated as a matriculation student at the age of 18.  Quite the athlete was our Barry, he rowed, played Rugger and was a member of the First XI Cricket team.  He went onto play 1st Grade Rugby for Randwick without making the first 15 at Newington, and is quick to point out that he shares this distinction with former Wallaby Captain, Nick Farr Jones. Nevertheless it was as a tennis player that Barry really excelled. So much promise was displayed that Slazenger offered him a sponsorship (in those days) and he received freebie racquets, shoes and gear, as well as an earner doing promotional works.  Interestingly one of his assignments was to fetch the legendary Gary Player from Arrivals the year he went onto win the Australian Open.

Then the Basketball Gods intervened.  Barry accompanied some mates to the Leichhardt Dispensary Hall to watch them play Basketball.  “This is not bad” thought Barry, so a week later he caught a tram from Randwick and played for the Ozarks in D grade.  He even remembers the date he first used his tennis shoes for something more worthy, on the 17th March 1952, St. Pats Day.     It cost him two shillings and eight pence to register.  Mind you, he was still  heavily into tennis and rugby but the obsess ional foot of  hoop was now in the door. First to go was Rugby but he continued to play tennis until well into his 60’s and did in fact gain some notoriety as a tennis umpire and linesman.  He was both during the early days of pro-tennis and remembers officiating matches that boasted immortal names, Pancho Segura, Pancho Gonzales and Lou Hoad.  Barry the linesman even got to work in a Davis Cup Final; Australia verses Italy (the locals won 4/1).

Anyway all this tennis business earned Barry a Life Membership of the Wyvern Tennis Club (of which he is still President and has been so since 1955) and a Life Membership of the Eastern Suburbs Tennis Association (15 years as a Board Member and social secretary.)  By the way if you are counting, the total so far stands at 3 life memberships. In 1955 the C.Y.O. (Catholic Youth Organization) and a number of other groups and teams joined together to form the Eastern Suburbs competition.  (Notable CSBA Life Members, Bob Staunton (dec.) and Charlie Ammit (dec.) were contributors to this new formation.) Barry joined the new committee straight away which conducted competition at the Maroubra Junction Girls High, but only men’s game at this stage.  Women’s basketball was limited to Canterbury Boys High School and Barry remembers the likes of Pam Willamete as early participants, in particular he remembers “they weren’t bad sorts either”.

Barry left the Ozarks in 1954 and suited up with the Pandas until mid 1955.  It was then that he found his home with the establishment of the Wyvern Club. What’s a Wyvern? A Wyvern is a flying dragon and is the Newington College emblem.  So now you know.  The Wyvern club originally catered for Newington old boys and as Barry was an honorable graduate it was a natural marriage still existing to this day.  (Barry was awarded Life Membership for services to Wyvern).  Even though Barry retired as a player in 1981 he still coaches and is a mentor of the women’s Division 5 Thursday nights’ team.  He describes his team as one which “just enjoys running up and down” but then makes the point “we made the semis this year”.

Let’s backtrack to the mid 50’s.   NSW Basketball wanted to build a central venue, i.e. Alexandria Basketball stadium, so a meeting was called.  To build the stadium the group needed 3 people to go grarantor.  Since Barry owned his own house he put his hand up, passed over the deed and never saw it again for 10 years. To the question” Did you know you could lose your house”? Barry answered “Too-right we did”. Alexandria was NSW Headquarters and the CSBA was a fledgling Association which rented court space.  Naturally Barry joined and so played with both Associations.  In 1968 Barry become the CSBA treasurer and sought advice from his accountancy inclined sister Elva Collins-Dennis (dec).  So frequently did Barry seek counsel that “she got sick of me coming over, so she said she’ll do it”.  In this moment Elva became CSBA Treasurer and did enough of it in fact to be awarded a Life membership.  The first duel-Life membership family in CSBA history.  All in all Barry has been a Board member for approximately 44 years and in that time he has served as President, Secretary and Treasurer: Forty four years of board meetings, now that’s putting in.

Nevertheless, there’s more. Barry has a ‘green thumb”.  “When I was about 21 or 22, I had a sheila I went with, went with her for fifteen years and she was mad-keen about the garden.  She knew everything about planting”. So this “sheila”, planted the gardening seed in Bazza and he joined the Orchid Society in 1962. Then its just like the Basketball story but in Orchids i.e. Board member, President, Royal Horticultural Society Board member then President, a royal show senior judge,  Eastern suburbs Orchid society Secretary then President, foundation member of the Australian Native Society and then President and show Marshall  for the Orchid Society.  Stock-standard stuff for Barry really but nevertheless such service must be recognized, so quite rightly Barry has earned Life membership of the Eastern Suburbs Orchid Society, the Orchid Society, the Australasian                Native Orchid society and the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW.  Now for those who are counting, the score is 8 Life memberships.  Is this a record?  Barry should be awarded a Life Membership for services to Life memberships.

But wait there’s more. In 1953 Barry was called-up for national service and he continued this military link by joining the

Citizens Military Force (1953-1963).  It seems unavoidable then that Barry, who is something of a “joiner” would join our RSL.  And he did.  In 1964 Barry joined the Coogee RSL because “pubs closed at 10p.m. so if you had a late game you couldn’t have a drink, so we all joined the RSL”.  Four years ago he was appointed as a Board member for Coogee RSL and is currently the Welfare Officer.  This means he spends his spare time checking on old soldiers in Eastern Suburbs nursing homes and hospitals. This is particularly admirable.  How good is this that a man like Barry Collins is one of ours? Lastly, no story about Barry would be complete without recognizing him as recipient of the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for services to Horticulture and Sport.

An OAM, an incredible eight Life Memberships and a fifth division women’s basketball semi-finalist, his mantle must be chockers.

SupaCenta Moore Park