Ron Barassi
Ron Barassi

Ronald Dale Barassi Jr talks footy, fighting and family

RONALD Dale Barassi Jnr is one of the true greats of Australian rules football.

His statue outside Gate 4 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where he was a part of a record 10 VFL (later AFL) premierships, is testament to that fact.

In bronze glory, 'Barass' stands among other footy immortals Leigh Matthews, Haydn Bunton and Dick Reynolds, as well as cricketing royalty such as Sir Donald Bradman and Dennis Lillee, who all thrived in battle at the colosseum.

He too was the first to be given official 'Legend' status in the Australian Football Hall of Fame following a VFL-AFL career that included winning six flags as a player with Melbourne and four as a coach with Carlton and North Melbourne.

The list of accolades associated with his exploits on the footy field goes on. However, it is those he received after one single act far away from the adoring crowd that had reason to give him most satisfaction.

During a new year's celebration in the early hours of January 1, 2009, Barassi had been dining with friends not far from home in the inner-city Melbourne suburb of St Kilda when he witnessed mother-of-three Tess Green attacked.

Intervening, the then 72-year-old gave chase to one of the thugs, tackling him to the ground like he was still at the height of his powers as a ruck-rover in a red and blue Demons jumper ... before he himself was kicked repeatedly.

Speaking exclusively to APN this week, he recalled: "I'm quite proud of that ... even though I came off second best in one respect.

"To see this woman get belted - it's just not on. You can't just stand around (and do nothing). I acted very quickly. I didn't have time for second-thoughts."
 

For his chivalry, Barassi was awarded a Bronze Medal for Bravery in 2012 by the Royal Humane Society of Australiasia and a Commendation for Brave Conduct by the Governor-General in 2013. 

He was also named Victorian of the Year in 2009, and was an Australian of the Year finalist in 2010.

"I've had debates on this," he says. "A lot of people said to me later 'you were foolish doing that Ron'."

But, he defiantly adds: "I did it... I'm glad I did it."

Putting his body on the line for others runs in the Barassi family.

It is well-documented that his father was the first VFL footballer to be killed during combat in World War II.

Ron Snr had himself been a premiership player with the Demons in 1940 before being called into action for his country.

He died in Tobruk, Libya in 1941 when Barassi Jnr was just five years of age, and still living on the family farm near Castlemaine in central Victoria.

Barassi first made an emotional pilgrimage to the Tobruk War Cemetery, where his father is buried, with his wife Cherryl in 1984.

"I banked up my feelings for that situation," he recalls.

He returned in 2011, with his own son, Ronald James, and walked the trenches where his dad had fought.

Barassi is now suffering from some age-related memory loss, but he remembers vividly the telegram arriving announcing his father's death.

"Australia should be proud of their past world history ... we took part in winning freedom for the world in World War I and World War II," he says.

"I'm proud my father was a help there."

So too was an uncle-by-marriage, Fred Breitag, who fought the Japanese in Papua New Guinea during the 'Great War', until becoming a POW alongside Edward 'Weary' Dunlop.

"He was, in fact, one of the first ones that got captured early in the piece," Barassi explains. "He spent four years in a Japanese prison."

Barassi completed the Kokoda Track on his 70th birthday in 2006, not long before famously 'walking on water' during the opening ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Ronald Dale Barassi Jr
Ronald Dale Barassi Jr "walks on water" at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne

 

While he admits "old age" is catching up with him, Barassi still gets to about eight games of footy a year to watch his beloved Demons, who he desperately wanted to play for growing up to follow in his father's footsteps.

He was zoned to Collingwood, but in order to get him to the club, Melbourne successfully lobbied the then VFL to introduce a father-son rule, which has been carried on today.

As well as being apart of four premierships as a player (1955-57, 1959), he would skipper the Demons to two more (1960, 1964), before his four flag wins as coach of Carlton (1968, 1970) and North Melbourne (1975, 1977).

An innovator, he masterminded the so-called Irish Experiment that brought Gaelic footballers such as Jim Stynes to the country in the mid-1980s, before taking on his biggest challenge - making the Sydney Swans relevant again during the dark days of the early-1990s.

Away from the football field, in 2009 Barassi called for the moving of Australia Day to May 27 in order to commemorate the day indigenous people of this land were finally granted equal rights in 1967, and has also campaigned heavily to make his country a republic.

He may never have fought in any war like his father, but the way Barassi has fought for his teammates, his clubs, his game, his beliefs - and the odd damsel in distress - has made him a hero to so many. 



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