Talking with lacrosse legend, Henry Williams
Henry Williams with Doug Fox
Henry Williams was the outstanding centre and attack player in Victoria in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. He turned heads when he switched clubs from the Adult Deaf team to Caulfield in 1948 and promptly scored 100 goals to head the A Section season ranking by 40 goals ahead of Roy Reddaway.
Henry is about to turn 95 years and recently LV Historian, Doug Fox, caught up with him for a chat. His is an inspiring lacrosse story.
Born in 1922, deaf and without a voice box, Henry’s childhood in Wonthaggi was spent helping his father on the land. With no capacity to communicate by speech, Henry was not able to join his eleven siblings at school. This frustrated him greatly and led his parents to the Victorian Deaf Society School in Melbourne where he was admitted and came under fulltime care from the age of 11 years. With special teaching he learned to read and speak by ‘signing’ and his world began to open up.
Lacrosse and cricket were prominent at the Deaf School and Henry’s athleticism soon came to the fore in both sports. He commenced in the VLA “F” grade junior competition in 1933 and played as a junior before returning to Wonthaggi to live. Lacrosse was disrupted during the World War years but Henry returned to Melbourne and resumed playing when he was 21 years. In 1945, the Adult Deaf team defeated Malvern in the “B” section grand final and from thereon Henry’s lacrosse was all at the top level. He was speedy, tough and highly skilled. State Team selection in 1946 and 1947 set the scene for his transfer to Caulfield and he played in State teams and National Championships through until 1951, gaining All-Star Australian Team selection for his performances in 1947 and in the 1950 Melbourne Carnival. He also represented the Victorian Adult Deaf in 1945 in the annual Interstate match played against South Australia’s Adult Deaf.
Henry played his last game in 1954 and he and his wife raised a family in Thornbury while Henry worked as a warper for cotton spinners, Davies, Coop & Co. Today he lives in a nursing home in Cranbourne and is alert and in amazingly good physical shape. Doug Fox was stunned when he handed Henry an old Lally’s Special lacrosse stick to see him respond with a grin and commence a cradling motion which he then switched to his other hand. His family, daughters Thelma and Wendy and son Arthur, never saw him play lacrosse but they have a stack of photographs and news cuttings which testify to his sporting talents.
Asked about his memories of lacrosse 70 years ago, Henry pointed out his broken nose and laughed about his battered right hand and broken ribs. Unable to hear the referee’s whistle, Henry and other deaf players relied on the simultaneous wave of a flag when an infringement or time was called.
Asked to nominate who he ranked as the best players he had played with or come up against in his time, Henry named Camberwell goalkeeper Sam McCorkell, Malvern attackman Alf Evans and University attackman Geoff West. He recalled the tough rivalry and rough games that existed between Caulfield and Malvern and smiled as he examined a modern plastic Brine attack stick. One can only wonder what Henry would have achieved with this lightweight equipment.