The Cumberland Throw

Vale Leo Keith Hawkins – My Father

Over the years, I’ve written a number of tributes. They’ve been dedicated to former Eels players or people close to the Cumberland Throw.

This time, I’m writing about my own father, Leo Keith Hawkins.

Dad was the reason for me becoming a passionate Eels supporter, but of course he was so much more. My full eulogy is best left for the service and for those who were part of his life. But right now I do want to share something about the man, his love of the Eels, and why my heart is breaking.

A cropped school photo of Dad, aged 7

Leo Keith Hawkins, known affectionately as “Bubby”, was born in 1929. You can probably guess from his nickname that he was the baby of the family. He had two older sisters, Norma and Betty. On his mother’s side of the family, he was a direct descendant of Captain John Grono, an historical figure in western Sydney who also named a number of geographical features on the South Island of New Zealand.

The family home was beside the train track at Harris Park. Dad’s playground was the Harris Park streets, Parramatta Park and in summer, the Parramatta River. He and his mates would jump off Noller Bridge into water that was somewhat safer and deeper to swim in than it is today.

Noller Bridge as it looked just after it was built

Times were different back then. Another childhood pastime for Dad and his mates was joining the tramps and swaggies at their camps in Parramatta Park, throwing potatoes into their fires. To them, the swaggies were characters with stories to enjoy as they chewed on fire roasted spuds.

Parramatta’s Junior Rugby League didn’t come into being until 1946, but when it did, Dad and his mates entered a Harris Park team in the C grade. The club didn’t last long. There was apparently an “incident” that may or may not have involved a referee and the river. The team came back as Parramatta South but it was not long-lived.

Harris Park C Grade – Dad is sitting on the right of the ball boy in this photo.

From there, it was on to more established clubs, especially in the 1950s. There was Merrylands, East Parramatta, and some pseudonym appearances for Guildford. Dad played halfback and if the weather was just right he could stretch to a height of maybe five foot four. When people used to ask him how someone my size was his son, he would reply that he put in an extra big effort for his first born.

Dad played until his mid 20s, only giving footy away due to knee cartilage problems. In 1953 he enjoyed premiership success in the A-Reserve team at East Parramatta, a strong club under the guidance of Norm “Bubbles” Sivyer, an Eels stalwart who was awarded life membership in 1972.

I never saw Dad wear his premiership blazer. Back then the Parramatta Junior League had many A grade teams and so the League was split into conferences. When the two conference premiers were brought together for a special grand final, East Parra lost. In Dad’s eyes, they didn’t win the match that counted.

But that blazer was special to me. As a kid, I would sneak into the cupboard, put on the blazer and imagine myself being part of a winning team.

East Parramatta, A Reserve Premiers 1953. Dad is kneeling, third from right.

Supporting the Eels was a no-brainer for Dad. When Parra entered the NSWRL competition in 1947, he was on board. After all, his childhood playground was the river and park behind Cumberland Oval. And he was a local footballer in the junior league.

Dad took me to my first game as a very young kid, and I was then rusted on. My father was no prude, but I never heard him swear. Nor did I see ever him get emotional at the footy, with one exception – his reaction to the Eels 1975 semi final loss to Manly at the SCG. He wasn’t a fan of Bob Fulton.

Mum and Dad held season tickets until around 2004. Night games were too challenging as they got older. In recent times they became non-ticketed members.

Dad and Mum showing the colours during Covid lockdown

Away from footy, Dad met Mum in 1946 and they married in 1950. They both worked and saved and went through challenges for a long time before they started a family. I was born in 1961, my brothers Grant and Darren followed in 1963 and 1970 respectively.

Dad worked as a mechanic, beginning in his teens at Harris Park Bus company. For a short while he even owned/operated a service station. From there he was a lorry owner driver delivering concrete building blocks. During school holidays, I would spend time at work with him. I can only conclude that OH & S laws were somewhat relaxed back in those days as my brother and I would ride in the truck and “help” to unload the pallets of concrete building blocks.

Dad’s first agitator truck

The Eels connection was still there even at his work. Dad worked from the same depot as Parra legends such as Bob O’Reilly and Barry Rushworth. As a kid I was in awe of seeing them in the lunch room. When Keith Campbell purchased Dad’s truck and visited our house for beers before and after the sale, I was so proud.

After Dad started driving a concrete agitator truck, we saw a bit less of him. He would often work long hours, six days per week. So when he was at home I used to hang on to his every opinion about the footy. He finished the last five years of his work life putting his Jack of all trades skills to use as a general assistant at the Catholic Teachers College at Oakhill.

Dad and Mum – a favourite recent photo

In recent years, as cancer and heart disease took their toll, I became his carer and we became closer. The NRL and the Eels were always at the forefront of our discussions. I didn’t want those footy talks to ever end.

Much of what I’ve shared here is from years long past. There was so much more to Dad’s life than this limited eulogy. He was a father, a grandfather, a friend and an advisor to many. A fuller tribute to his life will be told at our final farewell.

Leo Hawkins lived a long life, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. Despite a challenging last decade, and no shortage of pain, he wasn’t ready to leave. My mother Noreen, his wife of just on 73 years, wasn’t ready either.

I’m proud that such a good man was my father. He will always be dearly loved and sadly missed.

Craig Hawkins (Sixties)

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79 thoughts on “Vale Leo Keith Hawkins – My Father

  1. Monty

    Long time reader, first time commenting. What an amazing tribute. One, I sure your Dad would have been proud of. I hope you have a lot of support around you in this tough time. His memory will always be with you.

  2. Kathleen

    Like Monty, long time reader but first time commenting. Thank you for sharing a small part of your Dad’s story – he sounds like an interesting man and a lovely father. Losing your Dad is very tough to get through and I’m sorry for your loss. I hope the stories and memories of him provide some comfort at this time. RIP Leo.

  3. Joshua Randall

    Very touching tribute. Sounds like your father was a good man. Very sorry for your loss. Condolences to your family.

  4. Milo

    Well written mate and I’m sure your dad would be proud of this – some terrific anecdotes.
    Sad times and may those wonderful memories bring a smile 😊 always to you and the family.

  5. DK Eel

    Thank you Craig.

    Not only for the beautiful words, but for being Dad’s carer over these last years.

    It’s no small thing . Like Dad, I know you don’t ask for the tributes/public recognitions, but I’m going to say it publicly, you were an angel for them, especially dad.

    I love you mate.

    Thank you.

  6. Trapped in the 1970’s

    Sincere condolences Sixties. Never easy losing a loved one regardless of age or circumstances, but you’re fortunate to have such wonderful memories and it speaks volumes about your father and your relationship with him. Especially tough on your mum after such a long partnership. All the best at this difficult time.

    1. sixties Post author

      Much appreciated Trapped. Yes, Dad and Mum have spent an eternity together. They have been blessed in that regard

  7. Peter

    Sincere condolences Craig,I’m sure your dad would be proud of this, thoughts and prayers, to you and rest of you family

    1. sixties Post author

      I wouldn’t describe me as great Tony but I really value your sentiments. I’m proud that he was my father.

  8. avenger

    I am sorry for your loss, sixties. I too lost my own father last year and the run that we had in 2022 to me was dedicated to his memory. My father, Sam was also a massive Eels fan.

  9. Clive

    Thoughts are with you mate. It would have made a Grand final win last year even more special if your Dad got to see another GF win.

  10. Andrew Miller

    They were some great words to read about a treasured family member, condolences to you Sixties and to your family.

  11. greg okladnikov

    Great tribute to your dad. And 73 years married – says a lot about character and commitment. Sorry for your loss

    1. sixties Post author

      Thank you Greg. Together for around 77 years and it would have been spectacular to celebrate 75 years married. They were blessed to have such a long time together. And so true, absolutely committed to each other.

      1. Poppa

        A beautiful story and it does not surprise me that you continue in your father’s footsteps, with the same grace and pride that your father obviously carried.

        Your a good man Craig as obviously as your father before you…..Pride! is something we can feel empathy in with you.

  12. N. Senada

    May your father rest in peace. Look after yourself. I don’t know you personally but I feel your genuine decency in your writing, always. Your father would have been proud of you. All the best

  13. sixties Post author

    Just reflecting on the photos. What a massive difference between the photo of the Harris Park team and the East Parramatta team. One was a rag tag collection of mates. The other was a club run by Bubbles Sivyer.

    1. BDon

      You know sixties, I stared at those photos for ages. The snapshot is one millisecond in time but there are a thousand stories. You think about the team mates, their personalities, what you got up to with them, what became of them, the times of yesteryear In general. Your Dad could probably have written a book.I know my League mates were a bit of everything but solid gold.

      1. sixties Post author

        I was thinking the exact same thing mate. It was an interesting group. I met some of dads friends when they were much older and was surprised by the tattoos. In fact, you could just make out a feint tattoo on Dad’s forearm that he gave himself as a teen – the old ink and razor blade job. And he was not someone that you could imagine doing that. A reminder that even fathers could be silly teens back in the day.

  14. Lynbeth

    Sending my condolences to you Sixties, your family and friends, and especially your dear mum, having so many years together is wonderful, but you understand just how painful it would be for her at this time.
    Those of us who had such special men as our fathers have been truly blessed.
    My Dad especially and my Mum instilled in us our love for our Parramatta Eels, those memories will stay with us forever.
    Take care of yourself Craig.

  15. John Eel

    My thoughts are with you Sixties. I never met your father however I did meet your mother. Based also on your brothers comments and postings in the past, I think a great Parramatta Eels family.

    Your father sounds like a very good man. Great memories.

  16. Julie R

    Wonderful tribute to your Dad – it’s so hard losing a parent especially when you are close. Your parents must have had a very special relationship. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my Dad who I lost suddenly in a car accident when he was 69 (34 years ago) but I still have my mum who is 95 and going strong. I’m an EELS supporter because of them and that won’t change.

  17. Parramatta Tragic

    What a wonderful Eulogy. Condolences to you and your family. Those adventurous times that your Dad lived in are unfortunately now nearing an end. My Dad had a similar adventurous life but its the end of a fabulous era. You were brought up by an obviously fabulous man and it shows in your own behaviour. Your Dad remains alive in those wonderful photos and memories. If only we could run around to the old Cumberland Oval grandstand one more time. I am sure your father would be very proud of your eulogy. Best wishes during this very tough time.

    1. sixties Post author

      Thank you Tragic. Yes, running around to the old grandstand with my brother Grant to lay out the blankets on the seats for Mum and Dad and Darren – the memories!

  18. Roger Irreverent

    Great tribute Craig, encapsulating much of your dad’s varied life activities and explaining your ongoing Eels contribution and fanaticism! I remember attending matches with you and your dad as a youngster; interestingly the first story I heard from him about his own league highlights was about the referee and the river… All the best to you and your family today as you celebrate his life.

    1. sixties Post author

      Thanks Paul. I know you wanted to be here to farewell Dad but you’ve sent some very kind words since his passing and that means a lot. Look forward to seeing you in October.

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