1978: Te Awamutu Old Boys’ Bill Bartie out-leaps Hamilton Old Boys’ John Sicely. a member of the Waikato squad, during Saturday’s game at Albert Park. Photo / Bob Bradley
From the Waikato rugby engine room to fitting and turning, Te Awamutu-based former Junior All Blacks lock Brian “Bill” Bartie has been a jack of all trades.
A bloke’s bloke, Bill loves his cars, welding,
old school rugby and few cold ones.
Born during 1952 in Te Awamutu, Bill grew up in Puahue, attending Puahue School.
“I started barefoot playing rugby for Puahue School then went through two or three of the grades with Te Awamutu Old Boys. One of my mates from Puahue, Greg Morgan, his father Lou used to coach us and he ended up coaching the Te Awamutu Peace Cup team.”
Back in those days Bill played in the backs before his transition to lock.
He trialled twice for the Te Awamutu Gwynne Shield side but didn’t make the cut.
While attending Te Awamutu College he played for the 1st XV in 1969 with the likes of Waipā District Council Mayor Jim Mylchreest and future Te Awamutu Courier manager Alan Price, they even traveled to Sydney.
In his first two years out of high school, Bill represented Kihikihi Rugby Club along with future Waikato prop Kiwi Searancke.
“I’d become mates with Kiwi and a bunch of other guys from Kihikihi at high school.”
They both made the move to Te Awamutu Old Boys in order to gain exposure at a higher level of club rugby in the Waikato.
When they first joined Old Boys there were 36 senior teams in Waikato Club Rugby, split over three divisions where they would play promotion/relegation.
Bill says “the guts of the team stayed together for three or four years” and after placing third in 1977, June 1978 saw them win the Waikato club competition.
Although Te Awamutu Old Boys finished first equal with Hamilton Old Boys, they became the first name engraved on the Has Catley Trophy (former Waikato centurion and All Black who died in 1975) as they had beaten HOB earlier in the competition.
That was the first round of the season (best of 12) before they played top six.
Bill had also started his apprenticeship as a fitter and turner in 1970 in Hamilton.
In his spare time, between rugby and work, he got involved with stock cars and raced on Saturday nights at Forest Lake Stadium in Hamilton, where the netball courts are now.
“I was working with a tradesman [Graham “Snoopy” Smith] who was building a stock car. He asked me to give him a hand and I got to race at C grade while he raced at A grade. Snoopy used to race for the Hamilton team, the car was really strong and pretty quick,” says Bill.
“The first year I got involved in it was through Smithy and his sponsor was looking for some guys to build a roll car. In those days, the roll car used to go out between races and roll over. His sponsor had a Morrie Eight ( Morris Eight), a beautiful little car and we just wrecked it.
“So I rolled that 35 times and the last one was a double roll and the motor dropped out and it was pissing out oil, so I said “‘well that’s it, I’m not fixing the bloody thing again’. It was the year after that I helped Smithy build his stock car and got to drive it.”
Bill, a family nickname, became quite confusing when his work and social friends met as he was known as Brian, his legal/birth name, to his apprenticeship mates.
In 1972, Bill played for Waikato Under 23 alongside the likes of future Waikato flanker Ray Stafford.
This side beat Thames Valley, Hawke’s Bay, Taranaki and Counties Manukau but fell short against rivals Auckland.
In 1973, he was first selected to play for Waikato and made his debut against the Ian Kirkpatrick-led Poverty Bay side in Gisborne, becoming Waikato No 690.
“It was quite unexpected; I was playing for Waikato juniors. John Gillett (Waikato lock 1970-1973) blew his knee out and somebody phoned me up. We probably had one training with the squad [before playing],” says Bill.
“All the committee members supplied the cars to go to Gisborne so we got to know them. The actual game itself was magic, it was a lovely day. There were guys behind me lifting me [in the lineouts] and all I had to do was catch the ball and deliver it.”
After leading 18-12 at halftime, Waikato had to fight hard for their victory but came away with the win 21-19.
In those days Waikato played between 13 and 15 regular games a year and Bill played the rest of the 1973 season games.
“A lot of those older guys when I first got in had mates all around the country and they’d see them every year.
Bill says in those days they didn’t do any gym training, although he wasn’t into training much at all.
“My gym training was picking up hay when I was a teenager,” he says.
“There was no money of course in those days. Whenever you got a game for Waikato you weren’t paid for it so it was hard for some guys with families. I suppose there was the glory of playing for the team and you’d have to swallow some lean times, then there was the chance of getting injuries as well.”
Tokyo’s Daito Bunka University had a six match tour of the Waikato region in 1973 and the team’s manager/Tokyo University Rugby Club chairman Onishi Tokyo extended invitations to St Pat’s (now Te Awamutu Marist) Andy Baker (carpenter), as well as Bill and Searancke (electrician) from Te Awamutu Old Boys, to attend and play for Daito Bunka.
The trio had been members of the Te Awamutu invitation team which beat the touring side and then joined Daito Bunka as they beat a Pirongia side.
“We played at Pirongia when they first got their lights, a night game. It started raining and then it turned to sleet and it was freezing.”
It was said that Daito Bunka coach Morio Akiba was impressed with their ability, playing and sportsmanship.
As the three locals headed to Japan, one of the touring students returned to play for Te Awamutu United in 1974.
“I think we must have been the first to go to Japan,” Bill says.
“When I finished my apprenticeship, I had just turned 21 and that was the end of ’73 before I headed to Japan in ’74.”
He played a few matches in New Zealand that year before heading abroad.
One being his sole appearance for the Jack Gleeson coached New Zealand Junior All Blacks came on May 19, 1974, ironically with a 55-31 victory over Japan.
Two days previous to the Junior All Blacks game Bill had played for the Harlequins side against a NSW Country team which was full of Wallabies.
NSW Country won the match but Bill says it was one of his favorite matches he played in.
He also played one match for Waikato in the 1974 season before heading to Japan.
On his return, Bill was named to play in an All Black trial match.
“It was the week I got back from Japan, via Canada, and I hadn’t been playing in Canada, it was winter up there. I’d had a few runs but I should have withdrawn in hindsight, but I didn’t because to,” he says.
“I thought it might be the only chance I got to trial, and it was.”
There was a few other Waikato players trialling including Stafford, center Greg Kane and winger Peter Gilbert while Bill locked with future All Black captain Frank Oliver.
That year Bill played three games for Waikato and also won the Peace Cup with his Te Awamutu sub-union team against Matamata, retaining it for a year.
1976 saw him take the field nine times for Waikato, scoring his one and only try for the province, but he missed opportunities due to knee cartilage problems.
The following year saw Bill play for Waikato B and his knee recovered.
Te Awamutu lost the Peace Cup to Maniapoto in the third defense of the season, and Maniapoto lost it to South Waikato the next week.
Bill’s 23rd and final match for Waikato came in 1978 with a win against Counties Manukau.
That wasn’t his only appearance in the red, yellow and black strip though as he played all five games for Waikato B while continuing to represent his Te Awamutu and Te Awamutu Old Boys sides.
It was quite a legendary B side winning all five of their matches beating Thames Valley B (40-3), Hawke’s Bay B (7-4), Auckland B (13-6), Taranaki B (38-6) and Counties Manukau B (64-4).
The Waikato team, which included the likes of John Boe, Mick Donoghue, Dene Mullins, Bruce Smith and Bruce Tyler (captain), scored 162 points and only conceded 23.
Wayne Smith was also part of this team.
After Bill finished with Waikato he played a match with the Harlequins side in 1979 before venturing back to Canada in 1980.
“In Canada, I drove Cat 627 twin engine motor scrapers in summer and was engineering in winter when the ground freezes, which I really enjoyed.”
His second Canada stay was for two and a half years at the end of which, he and wife Mary did a Contiki around Europe before returning to New Zealand to play rugby again.
While in Canada, Bill played his rugby for Calgary Irish.
Each season they would travel three and a half hours to Edmonton, Alberta, for a few games.
One weekend they flew to Vancouver, British Columbia, for a tournament.
They won both of their games on the Saturday, including against the London Irish side from England, beating them 6-3, and played in the final on the Sunday.
“The locals from Vancouver Island brought in fresh troops on the Sunday and cleaned us up pretty easily,” he says.
“It was a great trip of course, a pretty social trip around Vancouver.”
Bill recalls that there were about four teams from Vancouver as well as one from Ontario and a team from the USA.
“Our first five Mark Scheffler, he played many years for Canada. He was an English guy and had played for the England Junior team. Our hooker had played for the England Juniors too so we had a top class side. It was a good bunch of guys from all over the world.”
Bill was the smallest of the three locks and he says the other two were mobile and had good skills.
As a proud tradesman, Bill returned to New Zealand where he set up a mobile welding truck in Te Puke making kiwifruit bin trailers and the like.
After half a season with Te Puke Pirates, he started playing for Kihikihi again.
“I always said, because we played there in third grade (under 21), I might give it a crack at the end.”
Some of Bill’s mates, who he played with in the Kihikihi third grade team, were still playing for the club when he returned, more than a decade later.
Bill retired from around the game in 1984 and focused more on his work from there as well as another trip back to Canada.
“I’m just as proud of my working career as I am my rugby career. I enjoyed my job. In the last 20 years I ended up contracting with a digger and a truck (Bart’s Contracting). I really enjoyed that too.”
These days Bill sticks to his Te Awamutu workshop and occasionally enjoys watching local club footy.
Rugby is a game that gave him plenty of experiences, good and bad, but it became a vessel for him to travel the world alongside his professions.
Bill’s career saw him play three games in Texas, three in Wales (golden oldies), at least 10 in Japan, three in Australia, at least 20 in Canada (including two in East Canada) and lots in New Zealand.