On Saturday 9th June, 2018, the Coly Blues and their supporters stood together in a one minute silent tribute to honour one of their great past players, Larry Chirgwin, who passed away on the 7th June, 2018.
This standing tribute at the Coleambally football oval honoured not just a great player but a man who always made life a bit of an adventure, and whose many adventures bordered on the wild and extraordinary.
Larry Chirgwin was born in Robinvale, Victoria in 1949, and two of his greatest passions in life were football and a love of the bush. Born within coo-ee of the Murray River he spent his childhood catching Yellow Belly and Red Fin, trapping rabbits and playing football.
In 1965 the Chirgwin family moved 3500 kilometres to Kununurra in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia where Larry’s father, Noel, grew cotton.
Then 16, Larry convinced his parents to let him leave school to work on the Kununurra farm, which he did until 1970 when he moved to Farm 583 out at Yamma in the last of the Coleambally farm ballots.
In the Kimberley, Larry played football for both Kununurra and Wyndham, the nearest next town.
Since there were only three teams in the league, the third being Wyndham Meatworks, one team necessarily had a bye every other week. In order to get in as much football as possible, Larry played for Kununurra one week and Wyndham the next.
This proved a problem when both of the teams he played for made the grand-final.
He chose to stick with his hometown, Kununurra, which was a good choice as they won. His family consider this his second premiership win. His first was played for the Robinvale Fourths in 1965. Adding to the three grand-finals later played for Coleambally, Larry participated in a total of five football premierships.
Known as ‘Sam’ on the Coleambally footy field, Larry played half-back flank for the original Coly Demons, the ‘red and blues’. He played in the Demons’ three winning premierships on the back of which the team moved into the Murray League where they became the Magpies.
In this higher league they were hammered, winning only a handful of matches including one against Deniliquin in a year that Deni hadn’t lost a single game.
Larry stuck with his team through this time as well as undertaking the coaching of the Under-18s which included some of Coleambally’s great future players, including amongst others Mick Breed, Kerry Painting and David Honybun.
At the 50th Anniversary of the Coleambally Football Club in 2015, David Honybun, who went on to play in the AFL, spoke of Larry’s ability to jump off a tractor, grab his footy boots and get to training, still in his work clothes.
At 18 Larry decided to widen his horizons a little further and travelled up to Darwin in his white EH Holden ute. Here he landed a job at the Rum Jungle Uranium mine having convinced his employers that he was old enough to work in the mine there.
This ruse was soon discovered and when his family visited him a few months later they found him working not as a miner but as a sweeper pushing a broom. This was never going to satisfy a wild spirit like his and so came his next (and short-lived) career move as a ‘professional’ crocodile hunter.
With his mate Ray Alvin, the two tried their croc hunting skills on the Victoria River in the Northern Territory. Crocodile hunting being somewhat more difficult than they had anticipated, they fell asleep in the boat and drifted out to sea but survived to make the return trip home.
Crocodile hunting was soon after crossed off the list of possible careers.
Larry was 20 years old when he first came to Coleambally, still with the white Holden ute. He celebrated his 21st birthday at the Morundah pub. Like many others in those early years, he lived in the farm shed where the outside bathroom facilities housed not just plenty of red-backs but the occasional King Brown too.
He was bitten by one and nearly by the other but lived to tell the tale. Early after his arrival in Coly, he made himself known at the local pub by enquiring out loud to the front bar, “What’s a fella got to do around here to get a game of football?”.
The then football president who passed on this story signed him up on the spot and so began his love affair with the Coleambally Demons. He was a die-hard Swans supporter dating back to the days when they were still South Melbourne.
Football was central to his life and at his funeral on Tuesday 11th June, 2018, his great mate Bill Litchfield, number 11 to Larry’s number 10, told the many stories, all true and for the most part unrepeatable, of Larry’s football days.
Bill described his great mate as the ‘funniest man who never told joke’ because everything that ‘Sam’ did and the things that happened to him were just too funny for words.
In 1972 Larry married Patricia Kelleher from Berrigan and together they had three children – Jason, Tamileigh and Carl, all of whom live and work in the local area. Larry’s best men at his wedding were his neighbours, John King and Rex Boag.
All three were young farmer-bachelors who came to Coleambally at around the same time. John King told of the ‘competition’ he and Larry used to have when they were doing night tractor work back in the day.
Each could see the other’s headlights in the distance as they weathered the night without the warmth of the standard air-conditioned cabin now considered common practice. John said they rugged up and fortified themselves with something ‘a little stronger’ and that the ‘competition’ was apparently won by whoever tractor lights went down first.
Larry went on from farming to laser work, had a stint as a worm farmer amongst other things, but finally returned to his great passion for the bush, establishing with his second wife, Di Kelly, the Coleambally Saltbush Native Nursery, specialising in native plant and saltbush planting and seed collection.
At heart, Larry was a passionate bushie and environmentalist and his knowledge of the local native flora was next to none.
Larry married Di Kelly in March, 2003, and together they have three children, Xavier, Dusty and Clancee.
Their wedding reception at the Jerilderie Civic Hall happily coincided with a fireworks display held over from the January 26th Australia Day celebrations at which time it was deemed a fire risk. Consequently, the newly-weds enjoyed a free fire-works display as an unexpected wedding gift.
True to form, when Larry passed away in early June this year, he managed to time his passing with the 50th year celebrations of Coleambally township and another free fire-works display as an unexpected send-off. He would have thought this very funny. His family thought he was worth it.
Larry’s knowledge about the bush in his local area was part and parcel of his insatiable curiosity about everything around him.
He had a natural intelligence that was informed by his interest in everything and everyone who had a story to tell.
He embraced new ideas and new adventures and was just as interested in world affairs as he was in those of his local area.
He loved a challenge and always saw the possibilities in any new venture.
When he became involved in 2014 in a farming venture with Chinese businessman, Richard Wang, he was offered the opportunity to travel to China to visit Richard and his family.
He returned from this trip with eyes widened by the experience and called it ‘the trip of a lifetime’.
He recalled in absolute detail the things he had seen and people he had met and hoped that one day his children would also get the opportunity to make this trip.
Although he lived most of his adult life in Coleambally, Larry never forgot the Kimberley, returning there several times throughout the 1990s especially.
He had a deep affinity with the people and the land there, and his life-long friendship with Patrick Birch meant that he had the very unique privilege of travelling onto Aboriginal lands, fishing for barramundi and camping under the stars.
At his request, part of his ashes will return to the Kimberley, and be taken by Patrick out onto this country that Larry found so special.
Larry always believed that everyone deserved a go, and sometimes a second one, too. His open-mindedness made him accepting of people from every walk of life. Consequently, he made many friends in his 68 years.
At his funeral there were as many people outside the church as inside and as he was carried out of the service by his children and grandchildren from both marriages, the community’s footballers old and young formed an impromptu guard of honour as a final parting gesture.
A fitting departure for a man who faced his illness with immense bravery, held his nerve to the very end in his resolution to die in his own home with his family around him.
As son, husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin and friend, he will be truly missed. The words of his children say it best – ‘a true legend, forever in our hearts, thanks for being worth missing’.
Larry is survived by his mother Joyce, wife Di, children Jason, Tamileigh, Carl, Xavier, Dusty and Clancee, grandchildren Alicia, Taran, Courtney, Lara, Jaxon, Kayne and Rhys, brothers Pete and Kev, and sister Sue.
The family would like to thank all who supported Larry and his family through his illness, the visitors at their home, the food parcels, the volunteers at the nursery, the many quiet words of support received and well-meant, and the final celebration of a life well-lived.