These old eyes still see Ian Davies as a little boy - a shy, weedy kid who wore glasses, a threadbare Carlton footy jumper and a sad smile. We were inseparable playmates from the time we learnt to walk. Actually, Ian didn't walk much at all. He liked to run everywhere.
In the early 1960s, Longford's recreation ground was our field of dreams. Every afternoon, when school ended, we raced to the footy ground - five or six boys kicking any old bulging ball we could find. We mixed with our heroes at training, until darkness descended upon us and the hunger in our bellies told us it was time to go home.
Ian's well-worn footy jumper, with its frayed cuffs and collar, was two sizes too big, and hung loosely off his spindly frame. But he treasured that jumper and wore it every day. It had been presented to him in the Carlton clubrooms during grand final week of 1962. Carlton had flown Ian, his sister Helen and mother Joan to Melbourne to be its guests at the big game. Ian's father, Fred Davies, had been a giant of the Carlton Football Club.
A colossus of a man, 'Mulga Fred' was vice-captain and kicked five match-winning goals in Carlton's 1947 premiership victory. In 1953 Longford recruited Davies as its captain-coach, and he became the most revered figure in the town's history, leading our country team to three northern premierships, including the 1957 state flag. Tragically, Longford's greatest hero died of cancer on August 13, 1961, the day before his 40th birthday.
Ian was five when his father died. In the months and years after Fred's death there was a great sorrow in the Davies house. Despite the ever-present sadness, Ian and Helen made friends, as kids do. However, Joan was so depressed she never overcame her loss. In March 1965 Joan decided to start a new life in America - she took her two children to live near her sister in the Midwest, at Galesburg, Illinois. On the night before the family flew out of Launceston's Western Junction aerodrome, Ian and I made a pact that we would write to each other regularly, which we did for several years.
The next time I saw Ian was in 1979, when I was in the US working for a Melbourne newspaper. He had grown to twice the size of the weedy kid I remembered - 198 centimetres tall, and even more physically imposing than his dad. And Ian still liked to run everywhere. He had graduated from college as a basketball superstar and I caught up with him playing for the Maine Lumberjacks, a professional team in America's second tier league.
Travelling with Ian and his team for a few weeks, it was staggering to see how famous he had become. Davies' long-range shooting and uncanny goal sense were outstanding - he ran rings around his opponents, just as he had when he was the little boy who liked to run everywhere.
I wrote an article about Ian for the Melbourne newspaper, and that story sparked a series of phone calls from Launceston officials who were putting together a Tasmanian team to join the National Basketball League. Within weeks Ian was suiting up for the fledgling Tassie outfit. Things moved quickly.
In early 1980 Ian was selected for the Moscow Olympic Games, where he dominated for Australia and became the highest individual scorer in the entire basketball tournament. In 1981 he led Launceston Casino City to a rags-to-riches championship victory, and he again shone in the 1982 world titles and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Over the next decade he played for powerhouse clubs Newcastle Falcons, Geelong Supercats and Sydney Kings, and was made assistant coach of the Adelaide 36ers.
Davies' miraculous three-point shooting had changed the game. Basketball icon Andrew Gaze says Davies was the Steph Curry of the 1980s. Upon his retirement from playing, he was appointed director of Sydney's Darling Harbour Sports Centre. In 2001 he was inducted into the NBL's Hall of Fame. Because he travelled so much, always on the run, Ian lost contact with his friends from Longford days. Our lives took different paths. Sadly, on November 7, 2015, Ian died of unspecified causes, aged just 57. He was in Hobart, where he had been living for a short time.
At that time the only recognition of the Davies name on Longford was a sign that hung in the ancient grandstand. The sign, engraved with the words 'Fred Mulga Davies Memorial Grandstand', had been made by much-loved local identity George Robertson. In 2019 Northern Midlands Council decided to demolish the old grandstand, considering the structure to be an eyesore. Thankfully, long-time supporters of the footy club and ardent locals fought vehemently to save the town's only memorial to 'Mulga Fred', and the council eventually backed down.
Since then, the call for proper acknowledgement of the Davies family has grown louder, and last April the council officially named the recreation ground as the Fred Davies Memorial Ground. The naming came with a superb mural, listing the famous deeds of 'Mulga Fred'. More than 40 members of the Davies family flew in from around Australia to attend the official opening, and Ian's sister Helen tuned in to the ceremony from her home in North Carolina.
The mural is heart-warming, but the story of the Davies family can only be described as bitter-sweet. The dad, the town's most treasured hero, was taken at 39. Joan Davies had her last wish granted - her ashes were spread on the Longford football ground. Now Ian has been inducted into the Tasmanian Sporting Hall of Fame, due recognition for an athlete who lifted the island state to national glory, who was chosen as a hall-of-famer on the national stage, and who topped the scoring at the greatest sporting event of all.
Eight years after his passing, the name Ian Davies has finally been given a place in the pantheon of Tasmania's sporting elite. But these old eyes still cast back six decades, to a shy kid who wore glasses and liked to run everywhere.