The strangest and most interesting encounters often have the smallest and most innocuous starts. Back in June I received a message through Flickr from a user called Truts1.
For a couple of years now I've been collecting old rugby programs and annuals. I've put some of the more interesting images from them on Flickr, including this one. This is what Truts1, whose name is Anton Truter, saw when he went in search of images from the 1965 Springbok tour of New Zealand. And so he emailed:
Sorry to bother .....Hadyn I have been researching info for my fathers 70th and came across your photos on flickr. Do you or your family have any connection to the 1965 test where South Africa Played New Zealand...my father Trix Truter played in the test....and was looking for old photos of the game....
I have to say that at first I was wary; such is the state of the internet that unsolicited emails from anonymous community members can lead to adverse outcomes. But I (correctly) assumed that Anton was sincere, but sadly I had to reply to him that all I had was the pre-tour guide, and the only photo of his father, JC "Trix" Truter was a profile headshot.
Of course even looking at the profiles from the 1960s is like archaeology. Just from the page Trix is on there are five other Springboks, one is a doctor, Trix is an electrician, and none of the photos look like they were taken for the official program. Brynard, the doctor, looks like he's just come off the field and Nomis' image looks like a Facebook photo taken at the beginning of a party.
This is what the rugby world was like pre-professionalism. There were no cookie-cutters. The "rugby schools" existed as did the "jobs for the boys" but so did the truck-driving players, the farmers whose idea of off-season training was, well, farming. And this how the game is still played at the non-professional levels.
Caleb Borchers wrote about a recent experience with the American rugby team.
…the week of a test against Georgia this summer, three Eagles had to travel 3.5 hours to Aspen. Why? So that they could bale hay for another player that was rehabbing. This allowed the fourth player to play instead of doing work back home at the farm.
A far cry from having 747s painted with your image.
A few days after Anton's email I was on a lunch break and on a whim popped into the antique bookstore on Lambton Quay where I usually purchase the programs. Sitting on the top of a pile of old pamphlets, annuals and books documenting various All Black World Cup failures (not to mention more than a few copies of Boots ‘n' All) was this: A Pictorial of the 1965 Springbok Tour.
I couldn't believe it. It seemed a little too fated. Of all the people Anton could've contacted, he happened upon the one who found exactly what he was after. Of all the gin joints and so on.
I took the book home and uploaded all the images from the book that were of Trix (the captions are the original captions from the book and make for interesting reading). Then I emailed Anton and waited.
Anton is based in London so I waited a couple of days before emailing to make sure he got them and that they were indeed of his father. His response almost broke my heart.
I am actually sitting here crying with joy at these photographs, my father celebrating his 70th only has one or two photos of his rugby playing days and these are a miracle.
It turns out Anton had been searching for four months for any images from that tour. On the off chance I contacted the National Library but the best they had were the cartoons (albeit they have cool one that was drafted 'just in case the All Blacks lost the last test) and a few pictures from the game against the New Zealand Maori. In one book I had discovered more photos of Anton's father playing for his country that he had ever seen before.
The search for images from that time was fascinating. I'm not going to go so far as to say that it was a Golden Age of the sport, far from it. Two years after the 1965 tour, New Zealand would refuse to send a team to South Africa because of the ban on Māori players. And captions like this one imply a little about the "what goes on tour" attitude.
But the photographs make the players look like human beings. In this photo, not only are they wearing beautiful sweaters, but you can see individual attitudes (including Trix on the right with apparent sea-sickness)
These aren't the professionals we know today with media managers and pre-memorised sound bites on what to say about the opposition. These were, well, they were electricians and farmers and pilots and sand contractors (whatever that is). You ask a farmer what he thinks and he's liable to tell you (and chances are you'll disagree).
So I sent my birthday wishes to Trix and the book (after scanning it for posterity). And yesterday I received a bigger thank you than I could have ever expected.
His party was thrown by the Natal Club (the Sharks) who he played for over many years, and his birthday happened to coincide with the lead-up to their game against touring British and Irish Lions this year. So part of the package was a commemorative jersey (yes the stripes are stitched together not printed).
Also included was a CD with photos that other guests had brought along, other guests who also happened to be Springboks. They are frankly amazing. Some are wonderfully candid photos of the team having time off:
And of course the man himself:
And I really don't know anything about him. I don't know his history, his political views, I don't have a clue what his views about the 1980's Springbok tour are. Nothing. All I know about him is what I have read in the books, seen in the photos and heard from his son. He was a wing three-quarters, in the old language, and on the '65 tour he was a reserve wing. He played against all of the provincial teams, and started on the bench in at least one of the tests against the All Blacks. Trix must've been pretty quick because a lot of the photos show him charging the ball down, and the grounds don't look like the fast tracks we have today.
And he raised a very generous son. I got one more thing as a thank you.
It's a bit like a voluminous green tent on me (it's XXL); South African's are pretty big so maybe they assume that everyone must be as big as they are. But it's the perfect size to wear over a sweatshirt for cold games. So last night a group of us went to the Caketin in the freezing rain and wind to watch Wellington play Southland (real rugby weather). The game was terrible.
Trix played Wellington in 1965, but it was daytime and at Athletic Park. The Springboks lost and Wellington was presented with the traditional Springbok head. Hopefully Trix didn't mind that I wore his jersey to another Wellington win.