Proud to be baton bearer

February 15, 2018

Mooroopna's Kenneth Birkett was thrilled to be chosen to run with the Queen's Baton.

Starting up the Mooroopna Hockey Club is just one of the many things Kenneth Birkett did for hockey across the state.

Birkett yesterday carried the Queen’s Baton through the the streets of Shepparton, although the proud Mooroopna resident hoped it might take a detour.

‘‘I wanted to divert the bus to Mooroopna, they wouldn’t let me,’’ he said with a laugh.

But Birkett, 82, was overjoyed to be chosen as one to hold the baton in preparation for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in April.

‘‘It’s been a wonderful day and I’m just chuffed, it was fantastic and they did it so well,’’ he said.

‘‘What they said is that we as baton bearers are four times as important as gold medal winners.’’

The comment got Birkett even more excited about the honour of walking with the baton than what he already was.

Birkett moved from Melbourne to Mooroopna in 1980 to take up a position as manufacturing manager at Ardmona Food Products, and quickly found the nearest hockey club.

Birkett began playing with Shepparton Strikers and took the field alongside son Ric and son-in-law Ross Meeking.

‘‘We all played together and that was great fun and we played together until I got too old and gave it away, but then I coached,’’ he said.

Birkett’s high level of experience would help him become a handy coach, leading the Strikers to an A-men premiership in 1983.

But in Mooroopna he saw an opening for the town to have a team of its own.

‘‘I started the Mooroopna Minkies in Mooroopna and then it became the Mooroopna Hockey Club,’’ he said.

But it was in Melbourne where Birkett showed his prowess in hockey.

At the Camberwell Hockey Club he picked up the skills that would take him to five years of state representation.

‘‘I initially started as the under-16s schoolboys captain (in 1952) and then every year after that I played for Victoria in the championships,’’ Birkett said.

He showed talent beyond his years, starring for the Victorian Colts under-21 side despite only being 16 in his first year playing in the competition.

In 1955, he was one of the 11 players selected in the All-Australian side after competing at the carnival in Western Australia.

The hockey genes have passed through the family with daughter Linda Meates, as well as grandchildren Hannah and Ben Meates all successful in the sport.

After giving up hockey, it was not unusual to see Birkett having a hit at Mooroopna Golf Club, among all his commitments to the Mooroopna Rotary Club.

All of Birkett’s four children — Ric Birkett, Sue Meeking, Jenni Cormick and Linda Meates — were among a strong family contingent to watch him run with the baton.

His family produced the submission to recommend Birkett be one of the 15 baton bearers yesterday.

‘‘They got together and sort of wrote the whole thing out, I didn’t see it, I only found out when I was contacted,’’ Birkett said.

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