In 1976, the United States of America celebrated 200 years since their independence from Great Britain. Australia decided that 200 is a round number and that partying is a good thing. A quick look at a history book revealed that the next 200 on the horizon was 200 years since the founding of the penal colony of New South Wales. That seemed like a nice fit, and coming up soon, so the Australian Bicentennial was born. In order to ensure that the appropriate amount of partying was done, the government kicked in with funding for various events.
John Dunstan, working for Australia Volleyball Federation at the time, notes
“The AVF got a grant to bring volleyball to non major population centres I was “lucky” enough to be working temporarily with the AVF at the time and we decided to go for broke and have 2 tours. Japan Tobacco in the West and Italy in the East. … Tomas Santamaria selected teams based on where the players were.”
Volleyroo Gabriel Mauerhofer adds, “A core group players travelled throughout the tour and was supplanted with local players. You know who you are and kudos to you all.” Teasing the Craig Buck ‘Volleyroo Experience’ that would come up the following year, also representing Australia was a Canadian National Team player named Brian Gatzke, who ironically qualified as a ‘local’ and an ‘Australian’.
The Japan Tobacco portion of the event, should have included matches in Perth, Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns, Alice Springs and Townsville. The games in Townsville and Alice Springs being sold out. However an Ansett pilots’ strike at the time forced the cancellation of the Adelaide match and created havoc with the whole tour. David Eldridge recalls, “Volleyball SA lost thousands of dollars when we did not get a match we were scheduled. Apollo Stadium had been sold out, court set up, we had corporate tents in the car park and all the food had been delivered. VSA President John Reed and I stood in the car park telling the cars to go back home and then we took $1000’s of food to the homeless shelters in Adelaide. Nearly bankrupted VSA.” Gabriel Mauerhofer remembers the whole tour, “The pilots’ strike did curtail the Adelaide leg, and we managed to arrange an overnight flight up the west coast, the “milk run” stopping at Carnarvon and Broome. Having played in Darwin we caught 2 twin prop flights to the Alice, 4 hours mind you, to play, and back. Once back in Darwin, pilot strike over and flew to Cairns via Gove for 4th game against JT then Townsville for 5th. Think it was 1-4 in the end.”
The Italian Military team was scheduled for Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth. The Newcastle match being sold out. With the victory in Perth, Australia won the series 4-3. Edi Vukosa notes, “I remember playing versus this Italian team in Newcastle. A game also won by VTA in 5 if I recall correctly”, while Mark Frisby-Smith played in a match in Adelaide “We were up 2-0 and with a good lead in the third. Tomas Santamaria was coach, he apologised for emptying the bench which swung momentum.” John Dunstan remembers a school band and a trick cyclist warming up the crowd in Canberra before a five setter. He also alleges coach Tomas Santamaria caused him to receive a parking ticket by parking his car in front of the stadium.
John Dunstan concludes “In hindsight the series of marches were probably far too ambitious in its scope for its time, given the level of telecommunications available.”
There are no records of these matches in ‘official’ Volleyball Australia archives and the matches aren’t included in official match totals, although obviously they should be. If anyone has any information I will include it here and ensure it makes the ‘official’ records as well.
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