Austin Robertson Snr
21 November 1907
6 May 1988 (aged 80)
Age at first & last AFL game
First game: 19y 174d
Last game: 29y 238d
Height and weight
Height: 180 cm
Weight: 82 kg
South Melbourne: 30, 16
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Pre 1965 stats are for selected matches only
Old Xaverians product Austin Robertson was a superb all round sportsman who, for a time, looked most likely to reach the top in cricket. Ultimately, however, he elected to split his attention between football, and professional sprinting.
During the early 1930s, Robertson, known almost universally as 'Ocker', was world sprint champion, and given that he was also playing league football with South Melbourne at the time there seems little doubt that he was one of the fastest footballers ever to play the game. Newspaper cartoons at the time typically depicted him with wings growing from his feet. Nevertheless, there was much more in his armoury than just speed; he was also an accomplished ball handler, strong mark and excellent kick, and could play in virtually any position.
Robertson made his VFL debut with South as an 18-year-old in 1927 and went on to play a total of 154 games over the next 11 seasons. To his immense disappointment, however, he missed the chance to play in the club's 1933 premiership win because he was in the USA at the time, endeavouring - ultimately without success - to arrange a head to head challenge against the American sprint champion, Eddie Tolan.
In 1937, Austin Robertson was enticed west by West Perth supremo Alec Breckler, who was desperate to give his team the vital push it needed in order to make that year's finals. The arrangement was that Robertson would play the last four home and away matches of the year with the Cardinals, plus the finals if they made them, in return for some substantial nest feathering. He would then be free to return home to Melbourne.
Unfortunately for West Perth, the plan broke down when Robertson dislocated his elbow in the penultimate match of the year against East Fremantle, a game which the Cardinals ultimately lost to wreck their hopes of making the finals. However, West Perth's loss was to be the Perth Football Club's gain, as while Robertson was recuperating in hospital after surgery to his elbow, he received a visit from Redlegs secretary Jack Sheedy, who made him, in Robertson's own words, "an offer I was not going to be able to refuse"¹.
Perth wanted Robertson as its coach, and was prepared to pay handsomely to procure his services. Clearly, the Perth committee was far from complacent about its lack of success, and was prepared to take fairly drastic action to turn things around. Although Robertson did not turn out to be, on paper at any rate, a success, his appointment as Redlegs coach was arguably a seminal event in the emergence of what might be termed the 'new Perth', the club which would, in post-war years, gradually transform itself from perennial chopping block into the most professionally run and, for a short time at least, the most successful force in West Australian football.
After two seasons in the west, Robertson returned home to Victoria, and his football career took a new turn when he lined up with Port Melbourne. Playing mainly as a fast, elusive centre half forward, Robertson was a key contributor to the Boroughs' success in procuring back to back flags in 1940-41.
After a seven-season break from football, Robertson returned to Perth as non-playing coach in 1948, steering the side to fourth place in his debut season, and a losing Grand Final against West Perth in his second. With other commitments pressing in, he then resigned, but once again, and this time even more conspicuously, he had been instrumental in pushing the club in the right direction.
Remaining in the west, Austin Robertson continued to afford passionate support to the sport he loved. During the 1960s and '70s his son, Austin Robertson junior, carried on the family tradition by playing with distinction for Subiaco, South Melbourne and Western Australia.
Author - John Devaney
1. Ocker: the Fastest Man Alive by Austin Robertson, page 53.