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Sartori rises to challenge

Saturday, 28th March, 2020

Ray Sartori shows off the blazer he earned when he played against Yugoslavia, the European champions of 1949. PICTURE: Michael Murphy Ray Sartori shows off the blazer he earned when he played against Yugoslavia, the European champions of 1949. PICTURE: Michael Murphy

By Michael Murphy


young Ray Sartori rode a Triumph, an immaculate machine with brass over the spokes and a big aerial with a flag on the back.

He would polish it every Friday and go out riding the streets of Broken Hill.

He was riding it the day he met a girl. She thought he was a bit of alright, and when it eventually got serious, he was invited back to her place to meet the parents.

Her father served in the Second World War, guarding Italian prisoners of war at a camp near Renmark. He enjoyed a drink.

“I came in this night and walked into the kitchen and was introduced to the brothers,” Ray said.

“And her father walked in, and he looked at me and said: ‘I used to shoot so-and-sos like you’.”

It isn’t easy growing up in Broken Hill when you’re a little bit different, but Ray’s a man who thrives on challenge.

Ray’s Italian parents and older sister moved to the Silver City at the height of the Great Depression. He was born in 1931, grew up in the family home in Argent Street, and his father worked on the mines.

Ray’s mother was a tailor and made all his clothes, and she sent her son to school when he was three.

Ray did it tough. He was a “Dago” and a “Grill” - and his small stature made him an easy mark for schoolyard bullies.

He never passed an exam at school. His mother told him he needed to find work after hours and during holidays. He delivered eggs for a local poultry farmer, a push-bike run in the morning and another one in the afternoon. He sold newspapers for a penny, he worked in a dry cleaners and grocery stores.

A turning point in his life came when a Scotsman named Benny Thompson, who lived across the road, introduced him to soccer.

At the time, there was only one team in town, the Napredak, headed by a bloke called Rudolph Alagich. Twelve-year-old Ray and two of his mates - Jimmy Nardelli and Leo Smaniotto - rode their push-bikes out the South for training.

Ray rode over the Line of Lode every Sunday, using a track that was an extension of Oxide Street, coming out on the backtrack near where Mawson’s Concrete is today.

Ray’s mates pulled out, but he continued the trek and trained with the club for a year before they played their first match against a club team in Adelaide.

“It was raining, and the ground was heavy,” Ray said. “One of the players said to me, ‘Ray, don’t head the ball’.

“The ball was a bigger one, and it was leather, and when it got soaked with water, I virtually couldn’t lift it off the ground.

“One ball come over, and I was near the sideline. I had to head the ball because it would have went out. “It hit me on the head, it flattened me.”

Ray lifted himself off the ground and must have played the game of his young life because at the end, they gave him 10 shillings for his efforts.

He came home, and got his name in the paper.

School became a bit more bearable after that.

“When they put my name in the paper, I was treated differently at school as if I was recognised, respected.

“There was still those who had a go at me, but only a few ... because I played a Wog’s game.”

Under coach Benny Thompson, local club Juventis was born (it later became Broken Hill United, to be a bit more “inclusive”).

The Italians, and two Aussies, would square off against the Yugolavs. They were very serious about their soccer.

“Rudolph was goalie, and when the ball came overhead, and it was going to the goalie, we would rush him, so if he dropped the ball we would be there,” Ray said. “Cheeky Pirak was fullback (for the Yugoslavs), and I rushed up to Rudolph but stopped, and Cheeky Pirak followed me.

“Pirak was a grown man and a renowned wrestler, while Ray was still a teen.

“As I turned, he went ‘whack’ and snotted me,” Ray said, pointing to his slightly bent nose.

As it turns out, Ray had a fan club, because all the women spectators then rushed the pitch and told “Cheeky” what they thought of him.

One of the major highlights of Ray’s career was when he played for “Australia”, a Broken Hill team against the European champions in 1949.

“The Yugoslav team came out (to Broken Hill) because of the big Yugoslav community here,” Ray said.

“I stood the world’s best right half back ... don’t ask me how I went.

“They just kept tapping the ball to each other and the ball never touched the ground.

“Their goalie had a hand bigger than a plate ...

“All he did was take one step and dropkick the ball, and it bounced over the goal posts over the other end ...

“They were brilliant, oh, they were brilliant.”

Ray was an exceptional soccer player, and had a few lucrative offers to join metropolitan clubs during his younger years, but he turned them down, preferring to stay in the Silver City.

“Sport to me was fun, I always played my hardest, always played to win, but I enjoyed it ... I played for pleasure, it was a let out for me.”

Years later, Ray was instrumental in bringing the game to new generations in Broken Hill.

A City Council employee who knew him got wind of a new junior soccer competition being created through the schools in the city, and Ray said he was happy to train the boys at Marist Brothers.

He asked the brothers for permission.

“They said ‘yes, if you can get the players’. I said OK. My sons all played, that was four, and I had to go to the parents of some of the boys that wanted to play and ask them.

“Well, I got all sorts of comments, some of them said: ‘Awww, he’s a sissy’ and I said, ‘Well, he may want to play’.

“I formed a team.

“I had a big Ford Customline, I used to go pick them up to play and train, and take them home again.” Junior soccer in Broken Hill became hugely popular. It was initially played where the Lamb Oval is now.

Ray was involved when the city created the O’Neill Park soccer ovals, where they still stand.

“Initially it had nothing,” he said. “So I went to a friend’s place and pulled down an old shed.

“I took it down to O’Neill Park and resurrected it, sold pies and pasties out of it, and that’s how it started.

“Anything I needed for the juniors I would only have to ask.

“I would go to the Forner brothers and ask for bread, and they always gave it to me ...

“I would go to the Zinc Mine and ask for timber or something, and they would say get it ... they always gave.”

Over the years, Ray’s working life was varied. He was one of the first students to graduate from the technical college Annex after they converted the building where Ray’s sister was among the workers who made bomb parts during World War Two.

He studied to become a mechanic, and worked for Trevor Williams who had a workshop near the Centennial Hotel. He also worked for an electrical contractor, a major North Mine contractor, worked at the North Mine, and had a couple of stints at the Water Board, where he was working when he met his wife Lorraine.

It was Lorraine’s father that put Ray on the back foot that day when he came to “meet the parents”, but Ray said he eventually came to regard his father-in-law as a “true gentleman”.

So Ray met Lorraine’s parents; it was time for Lorraine to met Ray’s.

“My mother was a very strict Catholic, in fact, I spent just as much time in church as I did at home,” Ray said.

“I took her home and we were in the lounge-room, and my mother said: ‘No way, she is not Catholic, no way. “So Lorraine stormed out crying, and I said to my mother: ‘Whether you like it or not, that’s the girl I am going to marry, and I stormed out.”

They had a few more hurdles to jump before they could actually tie the knot, and Ray believes they were the first couple in Broken Hill - a Catholic and a non-Catholic - to be married in front at the altar at the Cathedral.

Ray’s sister was to sing at the wedding (she was a great singer), but she couldn’t stop crying, so she had to pull out.

“We had nothing going for us,” Ray said. “Everything was against us, everyone was crying.

“It didn’t matter, we did what we wanted.”

Sixty years later, in February this year, the Pope sent the Sartoris a letter congratulating them on their union.

The letter is framed and now hangs in their dining room.

Ray is one of those people who is always doing something. He built his own home, brick by brick ... he literally made the bricks, mixing sand, cement and water by hand in his shed.

He built a boat and sailed it on lakes Menindee, Pamamaroo and Speculation.

He even took it to West Beach, Adelaide, for a run, but he wasn’t a great lover of the sea, he doesn’t like sharks.

The Sartoris have climbed Ayers Rock, travelled around the world, and they both lived and worked in New York for six months, Ray as a mechanic.

Ray plays golf every Monday (and he’ll probably cop some sort of penalty for having his picture in the paper), and, along with Lorraine, they volunteer at the Sulphide Street Railway Museum and deliver Meals on Wheels.

“I’ve always been very energetic,” Ray said.

“I mean, I don’t stop, I’m out in the yard all day, I only come in for lunch or a cup of tea.

“We’ve really had a full life, up and down, nothing going for us but we are still here.

“My mother always said to me that when you are young, don’t be frightened of anything, nothing.

“Because with your youth, she said, if you get into a situation that you haven’t been in before that’s difficult, you will find a way out.

“And it’s exactly right.

“You will find a way.”

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