The following was written by George Mraz, one of the mainstays of early Australian volleyball and one of the top six players of the first 50 years of Volleyball Australia. I will let it speak for itself, but if any participants would like to share of their own stories or photos or other information, I will happily include it here.
Following the National Volleyball Championships in in 1970, held at Albert Park Basketball Stadium in Melbourne, a Men’s team was selected to represent Australia in what was then Ceylon. The squad was:
Jan Culka (Vic), Joe Durakovic (Vic), Olah Evhart (SA), Jaroslav Frundl (NSW), Theo Hristakos (Vic), Albert Khasey (NSW), Nick Kimov (NSW), Boris Konakoff (NSW), George Lubimoff (NSW), Uldis Ozolins, (SA), Henry Rybak (Tas), Jouni Salmi (ACT), Hans Siig (ACT), George Silis (NSW), Ctirad Uher (NSW), Eddie Van Der Ploeg (Tas), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Jeff Wellink (NSW).
There may be some errors and some omissions in this list but is accurate as far as I am able to ascertain. Sadly this team did not travel to Colombo, and I have no idea why. However, it is the first recorded Australian Men’s Volleyball squad selected.
In 1971, following the National Championships in Adelaide both a Men’s and Women’s team were named, consisting of players who had represented their states that year. The teams were as follows:
MEN: Uldis Ozolins (SA), George Mraz (Vic), Gordon Duffus (ACT), Emil Prizzi (SA), Jeff Wellink (NSW), Theo Hristakos (Vic), Ctirad Uher (NSW), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Olaf Evhart (SA), Nick Kimov (NSW), Hans Siig (ACT), John Kruk (Vic), Joe Hiller (Coach) (Vic), Mike Dell (Manager) (Tas)
WOMEN: Anne Karner (Vic), Kai Sumbak (NSW), Marta Ostermeyer (NSW), Christine Maasepp (NSW), Dianne Biebrick (SA), Mari-Anne Kirss (SA), Lynne Newman (Vic), Aime Lomp (SA), Aldona Morkunas (SA), Sue Dansie (SA), Aija Briedis (SA), Jan Stoll (Vic), Alfred Strauts (Coach) (NSW), Les Leber (Manager) (Vic)
At the time there were no tournaments planned for these teams to compete in. It was simply an honour to be named amongst the top 12 players of that year. These two teams became the foundation players for future representation in International games.
The first of these international games occurred when a men’s team was invited to play in a friendly tournament in Tahiti in August/September 1971. It was more a holiday than a serious competition, but a competition none the less! A ring-around was conducted to see who was able at travel at very short notice. This required some personal expenses as well as time off work and, from memory, we did not have a lot of time to get organised. Hans Siig forgot to pack his playing shoes and had to borrow some from Bob Foot!
The trip was friendly and relaxed, with only 3 matches over 12 days. We had time to visit other islands, and generally play tourist. Three matches were played and Australia won 2 – 1. The team was:
Ctirad Uher, George Mraz, Uldis Ozolins, Gordon Duffus, Hans Siig, John Kruk, Nick Kimov, Theo Hristakos, Jeff Wellink, Joe Hiller (coach), Wally Lebedew / Bob Foot co-managers.
During the trip to Tahiti, the first Oceania Volleyball Region was instigated by Wally Lebedew and Bob Foot.
Next up the 1st Oceania Volleyball Championships was held during September of 1973, at Narrabeen, a northern beaches suburb of Sydney. This was a type of urban camp setting and I am fairly sure all teams stayed in the dormitory style accommodation on site. It was the first real tournament the Australian Teams had played in and we were all very excited. The teams for this tournament were:
MEN: Ctirad Uher ©, George Mraz (Vic), John Kruk(Vic), Nick Kimov (NSW), Theo Hristakos (Vic), Tony Naar(ACT) , John Hiller (Vic), Hillary Ranniko (SA), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Sakari Ryopponen (Vic), Russel Newman (Vic), Jorma Soinenen (SA). Joe Hiller (Coach) (Vic), Jim Wilson (Assistant Coach) (SA), Ray Frost (Manager) (Vic), Mike Dell (Assistant Manager) (Tas)
WOMEN: Aija Ranniko (SA), Sue Fisher (Vic), Nola Murray (NSW), Dianne Biebrik (SA), Jan Stoll (Vic), Lynne Newman (Vic) Sue Dansie (SA), Christine Maasepp (NSW), Mari-Anne Kirss (SA), Jana Zrno (NSW), Fay Singleton (NSW), Marta Ostermayer (NSW). Alfred Strauts (coach) (NSW), Johan Olesk (assistant coach) (SA), Rute Zvaigzne (manager) (SA), Dagmara Ozolins (assistant manager) (NSW). Bob Foot (Head of Delegation) (ACT).
The Men’s team competed against New Caledonia, Guam, American Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand, playing a round robin of 5 games followed by 2 finals. Australia finished the tournament undefeated and became the first Oceania Champions. The Women’s team had matches against New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Fiji and New Zealand, playing a double round robin. Australia also became the first Oceania Women’s Champions.
The New Caledonia Men’s team, who were current Pacific Champions, played an awesome power game. And I remember one player in particular, a left handed spiker called Clovis Logologofalau. He had a huge jump and a very powerful spike. Fortunately, our blockers were able to control their power and New Caledonia finished second.
In March 1974, Japanese team Asahi Kasei bought a team to Australia for some friendly matches. At that time Japan were the Olympic Champions, so their Club teams were incredibly strong. Asahi were led by Masayuki Minami, a veteran of 3 Olympic Games, 3 World Championships and 2 World Cups. He was 196 cm and the best player we had ever seen. The Australian Team for these matches consisted of:
Ctirad Uher (NSW) ©, George Mraz (Vic), John Kruk(Vic), Theo Hristakos (Vic), John Hiller (Vic), Hillary Ranniko (SA), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Sakari Ryoppenen (Vic), Russel Newman (Vic), Karl Neumann (SA), Eddie Kruk (Vic),Eddie Van Der Ploeg (Tas), Darian Stirzaker (SA) and Jorma Soinenen (SA). Joe Hiller (Coach) (Vic), Jim Wilson (Assistant Coach) (SA), Ray Frost (Manager) (Vic), Mike Dell (Assistant Manager) (Tas)
We played 2 matches in Adelaide, one in Wangaratta, one in Melbourne and 2 in Sydney, and did not win a set in any match! However we did try to learn the Japanese diving technique, a new innovation to us, and many split chins resulted from our trying to emulate the Japanese players.
In May 1974 in Sydney, we hosted Racing Club de France, a French Club team, and again lost both matches. Although we were able to take 2 sets in game 1 and 1 set in game 2.
It should be noted that the Australian team, whilst mostly stable, gained and lost players depending on who was available at the time. Many had work and family commitments which limited the amount of time an individual player could spend playing for their country. For these 2 matches the team was:
Ctirad Uher (NSW) ©, Hillary Ranniko (SA), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Sakari Ryopponen (Vic), Russell Newman (Vic), George Mraz(Vic), Wolfgang Woerner (Vic), Jack Atkins (Vic), Peter Boudeville (Qld), Tony Naar (ACT), Richard Clews (Qld). Joe Hiller (coach) (Vic), Peter Marr (manager) (Qld)
Next came China! What a career highlight for all those lucky enough to be selected. The Chinese and Australian governments embarked on a ‘Diplomatic’ tour by the Australian Men’s and Women’s teams in January/February 1975. We were the first large sporting teams to visit China since the Cultural Revolution.
MEN: Ctirad Uher (NSW) ©, George Mraz (Vic), John Hiller (Vic), Sakari Ryopponen (Vic), Russell Newman (Vic), Tony Naar (Vic), John Kruk (Vic), Wolfgang Woerner (Vic), Andrew Burns (Vic), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Jack Atkins (Vic), Hillary Ranniko (SA), Joe Hiller (Vic) – Coach, Jim Wilson (SA) – Ass Coach, Peter Marr (Qld) – Manager
WOMEN: Dianne Biebrick (SA), Sue Fisher (Vic), Lynne Newman (Vic), Christine Maasepp (NSW), Marta Ostermayer (NSW), Mirka Hofr (SA), Julie Kelaher (NSW), Sue English (NSW), Mandy Ridgeway (Vic), Janelle Wasley (Qld), Julie Ellis (Qld), Mirva Korhonen (ACT), Juhan Olesk (SA) – Coach, Eugene Kolodoczka (SA) – Ass Coach, Inne-lee Prima (SA) – Manageress, Bob Foot (ACT) – Head of Delegation, Harry Lozenizens (Vic) – Referee
We flew in from Hong Kong where the temperature was over 30 degrees, to zero degrees in Peking (now known as Beijing). We were met at Peking airport by Chinese representatives who had a huge pile of navy blue winter down coats. We were asked to choose one in our size and we used them for the entire trip. Many of us also purchased fur hats with ear flaps as it was Northern Hemisphere winter and we had come from an Australian summer! The airport was very stark with massive photos of Lenin, Stalin, Engels and Marx on the walls. I don’t remember a photo of Mao.
I do remember feeling very insignificant. We were a party of about 35 in a country in excess of 1 billion! We were treated as honoured guests throughout the tour. Our host even supplied beer and wine at breakfast on the first few days, but the management team soon put a stop to that. Many dinners were held in our honour and again, alcohol was supplied for toasts. There were many toasts at each meal so again, we were carefully monitored by management!
Our first game in Peking was against a Chinese Province team in a stadium which held 20,000 spectators and it was full to capacity! It was very hard to judge the flight of the ball and the peripheral dimensions of the court in such a huge stadium, and there was a haze of cigarette smoke filling the air as well. If we won a point, the announcer would instruct the spectators to clap our efforts, not those of the Chinese team, and during the first set the opposition team were instructed not to block.
We played matches in Peking, Nanking, Shanghai, Taishan (which is where Volleyball was first played in China) and Canton. In Taishan we were given a tickertape parade. The teams were standing on the hotel balcony with a large crowd below, clapping, waving and asking us to sing.
We didn’t win many matches (those we did win were against junior institute teams), but what an exceptional experience. We were afforded great hospitality throughout the tour but I do remember our hosts being sticklers for punctuality, something we were not so good at.
From Canton we travelled to Hong Kong where we played and won two matches, then to Jakarta for 2 wins and one loss. Some players then returned to Australia and the rest travelled to Bali for some R & R and one match on a grass court. Editor’s note: A photo gallery of the tour and Forty Year Reunion is here.
The First Asian Championships were held In Melbourne in August 1975 and having just read about the organisation required for these games I am in awe of the organisers, Wally Lebedew, Eric Hayman, Wolfgang Gollong etc. As a player, I had no idea what was required to stage such a tournament. Nor did I understand the problems facing our Manager Peter Marr, both prior to, and during the tournament. I was a player, doing something I loved, but obviously with my head in the sand.
MEN: George Mraz (Vic) ©, Ctirad Uher (NSW), John Hiller (Vic), Sakari Ryopponen (Vic), Russell Newman (Vic), Tony Naar (Vic), John Kruk (Vic), Wolfgang Woerner (Vic), Andrew Burns (Vic), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Jack Atkins (Vic), Hillary Ranniko (SA), Joe Hiller (Vic) – Coach, Jim Wilson (SA) – Assistant Coach, Peter Marr (Qld) – Manager
WOMEN: Sue Dansie (SA) ©, Sue Fisher (Vic), Lynne Newman (Vic), Ingrid Randva (SA), Marta Ostermayer (NSW), Dianne Biebrick (SA), Julie Kelaher (NSW), Aija Ranniko (SA), Mandy Ridgeway (Vic), Janelle Wasley (Qld), Denise Evans (Qld), Mirva Korhonen (ACT), Juhan Olesk (SA) – Coach, Eugene Kolodoczka (SA) – Assistant Coach, Inne-lee Prima (SA) – Manageress, Bob Foot (ACT) – Head of Delegation
The Men’s team for this tournament was the same as the team which toured China except for Roy Bruynius (Qld) replacing Russell Newman (Vic) who was the team emergency. Sadly, Roy was unable to play the tournament because of an infected hand, but, because he was named on the first team sheet, no emergency was allowed.
We had an approximately 7 day training camp in Warrnambool as well as 18 weekend trainings, mostly in Melbourne. Interstate players were billeted with Victorian players. During the camp in Warrnambool our team Manager, Peter Marr, an avid punter and bookmaker, took a few players to the greyhounds with the sole purpose of winning enough money to fund the team. Sadly, it wasn’t his night!
During the actual games we stayed in the student accommodation at Rusden Teachers College, as it was university holidays. For the first time in our playing experience a player’s oath was part of the Opening Ceremony. As captain (for the first time), it was my responsibility to read this on behalf of all the participating players. I was more nervous performing this task than playing for my country, but it remains one of my proudest moments.
I have a wonderful photo of Korean player Man Soo Kang (all 195cm of him), holding our 9 month old son Danny on his shoulders. The Asian team were totally enamoured of Danny whose blonde hair was very out of the ordinary for them. He was a very popular photo opportunity during that tournament.
Our results in the first Asian Championships were as follows:
- v Phillipines – won 3-2
- v Indonesia – won 3-2
- v New Zealand – won 3-0
- v Japan – lost -0-3
- v Korea – lost – 0-3
- v China – lost – 0-3
Japan won the first Asian Championships, with Korea second, China third and Australia a commendable fourth.
The Women’s Team competed against of Japan, Korea, China and New Zealand. Australia lost 3-0 to the might of Japan, Korea and China but defeated New Zealand 3-0, resulting in a 4th placing.
In January 1976 the 2nd Oceania Volleyball Championships were held in Nelson, New Zealand. Nelson is a small coastal town on the South Island. It was disappointing that only 3 counties participated: Australia, Fiji and New Zealand for both Men and Women.
MEN: George Mraz (Vic) ©, David Wright (Vic), Karl Neumann (SA), Sakari Ryopponen (Vic), Tony Naar (Vic), Phillip Roberts (Vic), Hillary Ranniko (SA), John Kruk (Vic), Andrew Burns (Vic), Trevor Skinner (Vic), Toivo Puusepp (Vic), Jack Atkins (Vic), Joe Hiller (Vic) Coach, Mike Dell (Tas) Manager, Wally Lebedew (SA) General Manager
WOMEN: Dianne Biebrick (Vic) ©, Sue Dansie (SA), Ingrid Randva (SA), Mirka Hofr (SA), Julie Kelaher (NSW), Mirva Korhonen (SA), Sue English (NSW), Kath Parker (Vic), Anne Wilson (NSW), Juhan Olesk (SA) Coach, Eugene Kolodoczka (SA) Assistant Coach, Jenny Dell (Tas) Manager
The tournament was based on a double Round Robin with 2 finals. Both the Men’s and Women’s teams from Australia defeated New Zealand in the finals. The social highlight of this trip was a bus tour by some players from both teams to Mount Cook. We camped out under canvas following the completion of the tournament.
There were no further trips for either of the Australian teams until May 1978 when both the Men’s and Women’s team were Invited to a tournament in Noumea, New Caledonia. Four countries and the hosts competed (Australia, New Zealand, French Polynesia (Tahiti)). A round robin format for the competition, and Australia won all matches. The tournament was played in very hot and humid conditions and we struggled to hear the coaches’ instructions during time outs because of the enthusiastic spectators.
MEN: George Mraz (Vic) ©, Phillip Roberts (Vic), Toivo Puusepp (Vic), Karl Neumann (SA), Tony Naar (Vic), Phillip Borgeaud (Qld), Peter Lunstedt (SA), Kerry King (Tas), Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Doug Vainsaar (SA), Necip Akarsu (Vic), David Wright (SA), Antti Veijalainen (Vic) Coach, Brett Stirzaker (SA) Assistant Coach, Mike Dell (Tas) Manager
WOMEN: Dianne Biebrick (SA), Mirva Coser (Korhonen ) (SA), Ingrid Randva (SA), Sue Dansie (SA), Zinta Zvaigzne (SA), Marta Ostermayer (SA), Jenny Mc Waters (Vic), Anne- Marie Riordan (Qld), Kerry Mitchell (Qld), Julie Kelaher (NSW), Juhan Olesk (SA) Coach, John Griffiths (NSW) Assistant Coach, Jenny Dell (Tas) Manager
The Second Asian Volleyball Championships for Men were held in Bahrain in the Middle East in December 1979. The team consisted of:
George Mraz (Vic) ©, Ilkka Veijalainen (Vic), Bob Coupland (Qld), Wayne McNamara (Qld), Tony Naar (Vic), Phillip Roberts (Vic), Doug Vainsaar (SA), Brook Ramage (Vic), Phil Ellery (WA), Peter Lowe (Vic), Antti Veijalainen (Vic) Coach, Andrew Lowe (Vic) Manager, Wally Lebedew (SA) General Manager, Ken Breen (NSW) Referee
There were 4 groups and we won all our matches in Group A against Kuwait, New Zealand and Bahrain. In the crossover medal matches we lost to Japan, Korea and China therefore achieving 4th place in the Asian Championships.
In our match against the Chinese team, we experienced back court attack for the first time. We had no idea which of the 5 spikers were to spike the ball!
As a personal highlight, I was awarded a trophy for the “Most Spirited Player” of the tournament.
By finishing in 4th place, and because Japan, Korea and China boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games of 1980, we became the Asian representatives by default. The Australian Volleyball Federation then supported the Australian Government’s stance that all Australian teams boycott the games, though some sports did participate.
At about the same time, the Australian Women’s Team competed in Hong Kong. I think this was the Women’s Asian Championships. I have no results, but the team was:
Dianne Biebrick (SA), Mari-Anne Baker (Kriss)(SA), Lyn Roberts (Vic), Sue Brenecki (SA), Sue Dansie (SA), Sue English (NSW), Mirva Korhonnen-Croser (SA), Jenny McWaters (SA), Kerry Mitchell Styles (Qld), Marta Ostermayer (SA), Indrid Randva (SA), Anne- Marie Riordan (Qld)
I retired from the National Team soon after this tournament, having participated in all the matches played by the Australian team from 1971 to 1979 – playing 54 games and captaining 25, certainly one of the highlights of my life!
Tagged – Volleyball History, Australian Volleyball, Volleyroos
Great to see! There are a few overseas trips missing and I can send further details separately. I (Nola Murray-NSW) was in the Australian Women’s team that toured New Caledonia in 1971 and New Zealand in 1972. I also gave the Athlete’s Oath at the Opening Ceremony of the 1st Oceania Games in Narrabeen in 1973 – the honour was because I was the youngest in the Australian Women’s team and still at high school – another girl from Tahiti gave the Oath in French.
you don’t have a pic of the 1976 womens team that went to Nelson NZ. I was the driver there.
I do not. But if you do, I will be happy to post it.
Great write-up. Stumbled across this… I remember dad (Bob Foot) doing many of these trips and have one of those Chinese hats with ear flaps still today! I think (but i’d have to check interstate) the family have some photos of some of the delegation wearing those coats when you got to Peking (Beijing). How volleyball has changed since those days…
PS. I keep seeing ‘Wally’ Lebedew instead of ‘Mark’ 🙂
Hey Mick. Thanks for the comment. I remember your dad clearly, if not well.
Coincidentally, my dad passed away just yesterday.
Hi Mark, really sorry to hear that… Dad and Wally were great mates. They had their differences (there were many, between many, back then) but I’m in absolutely no doubt that people such as my father, your dad, and probably a handful of others brought volleyball to the mainstream in Australia. Nothing like it is today of course – but it had to start somewhere, and start it they did.