Brian Perry has had a long and interesting life. Surviving polio at an early age, Brian went on to take up table tennis at 12 years-old. From there he moved on to professional bike riding and even football umpiring. Later in his career he took to local politics and even became the Mayor of Waverley. Fraser Walker-Pearce spoke to Brian about researching his family tree, getting a table tennis club in Benalla started, and what it takes to become a champion.
Cats or dogs? Dogs.
When did you move to Benalla? In 1993.
Where did you move to Benalla from? From Melbourne.
When did you start the table tennis club here? I helped the club get going again in 1995.
Would you rather skydive or bungy jump? Neither!
What super power would you have? I think I’d like to fly.
When did you first play table tennis? I started at a youth club in 1947.
What do you enjoy most about the sport? The skill involved, and it’s enjoyable.
You have your finger in a lot of pies around Benalla’s sporting scene - but where did the involvement in sport start for you?
I suffered from polio from an early age - I was around nine I think. And I was in hospital for a long time. When I was better and came out I joined a local youth club at about 12 years of age, where one of the trainers there helped rehabilitate my muscles, which were in a state after the polio. He took me round a number of exercises every night I was there, and the last exercise we did for a bit of fun was a game of table tennis, and I just loved it. So that was my first real involvement with the sport, and I have played for most years since really.
After that first taste of sport you also took up cycling is that right?
Yes. Cycling was very good for my legs, and building up those muscles. I took up cycling at age 15 where I borrowed a mate’s bike to race at the local club in Kurri Kurri (in New South Wales), where I grew up. There were a lot of towns around Kurri Kurri with cycling clubs at the time, but that was the closest one. So we had to ride the nine or so miles to the club, compete in the race, and then cycle home again every weekend.
You must have been pretty fit doing that every weekend?
Yes I guess we were. I won my first handicap race that year, which was a points race over eight weeks. Then I won my first trophy and I was stoked to have won. I became the club champion at age 16, so I branched out to other clubs in the area. Soon enough I found myself on the club’s committee doing their communications and as the publicity officer. I used to have to do my race, write up the results, then send them off to the local newspapers, and also cycle to the local radio station to talk about the results.
Sounds like a long day - when did you turn professional?
The club I was with was given the option of joining a professional league, where the top however many riders would actually win some money for a high finish. The committee talked it over and we decided we should join up. After I’d won a few races when I was 17, I decided to get some better equipment and I used to train every night of the week to get better. We did an enormous amount of sprint training, as well as long endurance training, which sometimes meant you left early in the mornings and returned late in the evenings.
So when did you make the move south to Melbourne?
In 1956 I decided I had got to the top of the local circuit and that I had to go to a new club. So I made the move from Newcastle to Melbourne over the course of a week and met up with some other riders doing the same as me. A lot from Sydney, a few from Newcastle, as well as a lot of international riders all trying to reach the top. I thought it was fantastic but I had to return to Newcastle with my job. But the year after I decided to quit my job and move to Melbourne to do it full time. I trained with all of those blokes and even some world champions - I never quite made it to the top, but I was there to improve, and I did that. I raced on the Olympic Velodrome in Melbourne with some champions in the game, but I had my last race in Coburg in 1959 when I decided I couldn’t do the early morning starts any more.
And further down the line you tried your hand in local politics?
Yes I did. It was at a time where our eldest son was three, and we were in Waverley trying to get him enrolled in the local kinder. But there was only a couple of kinders in the area and they were all at capacity in a suburb that was growing, and it was growing in terms of the number of young parents there who needed kinders. So a group of us dads got together and decided we needed to do something about it. We gathered and decided we should put someone forward for the upcoming council elections and do something about the situation. A lot of the others had commitments or reasons why they couldn’t so I decided I’d do it. I’d only ever had experience on committees and working groups before but they thought I was the best candidate. I’d never even been to a city council meeting before that, but gradually as the campaign went on we got more traction and had more stories in the paper and things like that. In the end I got in by an absolute majority, on the promise that we would sort out the kinder problem and get more youth centres into Waverley. Years after that I actually became the Mayor of Waverley and we got all of that sorted, along with a lot of other projects.