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News > Docco's Diary > Docco's Diary | Bob Vollugi

Docco's Diary | Bob Vollugi

There have been many teachers at St Peter's College who have been remembered with respect and affection. Bob Vollugi is one of them.

There have been many teachers at St Peter’s College who have been remembered with respect and affection by old scholars and some would say that great teachers have made a great School.

Bob Vollugi retired exactly fifty years ago in December 1972. He is held in high regard by large numbers of old scholars. It is perhaps an appropriate time to consider his enormous contribution to the life of our School.

Most of the following material about him is taken from an obituary written by Harry Palmer in the 1988 school magazine after Bob had died on 12th October 1988:

“Bob Vollugi was born in 1909 in Melbourne and after attending Melbourne Grammar School he moved to the University. He obtained Blues in football and cricket, scoring centuries against Adelaide and Sydney. He started his teaching and coaching career at the Hutchins School, Hobart in 1931. He captained South Hobart in district cricket and played league football as vice-captain for Lefroy.

He joined the staff at SPSC in 1937, and in 1938 he became Sportsmaster and commenced his long and incomparable reign which brought abundant success in athletics, cricket and football. He was Master-in-Charge of each game and premier coach in athletics and football.

The Teaching Staff 1972

At Speech Day 1940 Headmaster Guy Pentreath said “I congratulate the Sportsmaster, Mr. Vollugi (a wizard of a football coach the boys say!) upon his skilful handling and controlling of our sports and games at school which have led to these big successes at Adelaide Oval”. Thus, Bob Vollugi in three years had made his mark on the sports scene at St Peter’s College from which time his reputation and prowess were to grow to immense proportions.

During World War II, he was, like several other teachers, absent on war service.

After his return to the School in September 1944 John Hill (Acting Headmaster) had this to say of him at Speech Day “We welcome him back again after his army service and note with pleasure that he seems to have suffered no ill effects from his experiences in New Guinea. Next year he will resume his old appointment as Sportsmaster”. In cricket he worked in close conjunction with Tim Wall (ex-Australian Test cricketer) who joined the Prep. staff in 1937 and coached the First XI till 1945 when he had to give up due to ill health. Bob took over this extra coaching stint until the end of 1954 when the Intercollegiate cricket match was last played at Adelaide Oval and resulted in a win for Saints. This was a fitting end to a successful nine years as premier cricket coach. So, in 1945 he was not only Sportsmaster, responsible for the organization and control of all the games in the school but also Master-in-Charge and first team coach of athletics, cricket and football. Bob shouldered this heavy burden unflinchingly, willingly and devotedly, indeed seeming to thrive on it.

Since joining the staff he had been a resident master in School House where he learnt much under the expert tutelage of Housemaster John Hill who later become Acting Headmaster and died suddenly in 1945. In 1946 the new Headmaster recognised the outstanding qualities of Bob Vollugi for the pastoral care of boys, promoting him to Housemaster from 1947, a position he held for eighteen years. Now he was directly concerned and responsible for the academic and social education of sixty five boys in the House, in addition to the sporting activities of all boys in the school, besides a full classroom teaching time table. It was a responsibility he discharged admirably through his patient and thoughtful care for the welfare and success of his boys. Nothing was too much trouble as he methodically and painstakingly solved all difficulties brought to him no matter how long it took. He never gave up as there was always some way for him to reach the final goal.

After three years of unrelenting toil he decided he needed some help and much to everyone’s astonishment quietly announced his engagement to Sister Elizabeth Stolz, Matron of School House. This union proved beneficial to the House as Elizabeth’s hospitality was renowned, applauded and approved by everyone. Bob carved himself a niche in the history

Bob and Elizabeth Vollugi

Many are the stories and anecdotes which are related with affection, appreciation and no doubt embellishment, of Bob’s stewardship as Housemaster. For instance, a boy rang up, with his mate beside him for permission to report back from weekend leave at 8.45 am in the morning instead of 6 pm that night. There was a long pause from Bob, so the boy said to his mate “The silly old man has gone to sleep”. As quick as a flash, Bob replied “The silly old man is not asleep, the answer is ‘No’ and get back here at 6 p.m.!” “Trunk” as he was affectionately nicknamed, due to his smoking a pipe, loved to tell this story against himself, chortling all the way through it.

On another occasion a resident house tutor was surprised in 1955 when Elizabeth beckoned him to view a new addition to the Vollugi household. A little baby, Peter, had taken up residence and was soon nicknamed by the boys. Now ruling at the eastern end of School House there were “Trunk”, “Suitcase” and “Kitbag”!

Colin Gordon once said of him “He is a funny old duck but he has a heart of gold and when you get to know him, you will get on famously with him as he is kind, generous and helpful”. He was a wise and discerning schoolmaster, listening to the heartbeat, feeling the pulse and diagnosing the ills of the House, before providing the necessary effective treatment.

1947 Intercollegiate Football Team

It is difficult to understand why this remarkable man was so successful as a coach when disabilities of narcolepsy, a nervous illness of unknown origin in which there were periodic attacks of sleepiness, a lack of fluency and inaudibility in his speech, militated against it. He was able to overcome these handicaps with his quiet application, dedication, enthusiasm and his deep knowledge of the technical skills of the sport, so that boys could follow his instructions implicitly and perform brilliantly. His coaching seemed to have the happy knack of lifting a team or an individual by inspiring confidence, concentration and the will to win. Everyone who has had the benefit of his coaching applauds his methods and registers the debt owed to him for their success. In his heyday an opinion was bandied about by many old scholars which said “If you can’t win under ‘Trunk’ you couldn’t win under anybody”.

Alistair (“Scotchy”) Gordon came under his influence as a boy in School House and became an outstanding sprinter to reach Commonwealth Games  level. He said this of his lifelong friend, Bob Vollugi, “He’s the man who made Saints the athletics school it is today. He was one of the greatest athletics coaches in Australia”. Other champions to come out of the Vollugi stable were Bill Bruce, a long jumper who won the silver medal at the 1948 London Olympics, Leon Gregory, a quarter miler, and Ian Bruce a decathlete and long jumper, both at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and Nicky Birks, a Javelin thrower, at Commonwealth Games level. Outside the school he will be remembered as an outstanding athletics coach but his contemporaries in school would include his football and cricket achievements in the same bracket. He had twelve successive wins in intercollegiate football, eleven in intercollegiate athletics, and five intercollegiate cricket wins in nine years and three old boys Alan Dowding, Bill Hayward and Tony Jose appeared in Cambridge — Oxford cricket matches at Lords in the years 1950-53.

1947 Intercollegiate Cricket Team

At first some boys would think he was dour, unapproachable, incomprehensible, grumpy and a bit abrasive, but after the initial fear and nervousness had worn off, they found him helpful, gentle and sincere. He brooked no ill-discipline, ruling with a rod of iron if necessary but much preferring to coax and persuade boys to do their utmost in and out of school. He had a wry, impish sense of humour which he could use with marked effect. After his serious heart illness in 1956, which precluded him from acting as an official at the Melbourne Olympics, he had to monitor his weight most carefully, so every four or five days he weighed himself on the accurate scales kept in the Infirmary at School House. One evening a resident master quietly chipped him about not breaking the scales as they had only just been repaired! His colleague watched Bob tip the scales slightly below 15 stones (95.5kg) and checked his own weight which to his horror registered 15 stones 9 pounds (99.5kg). Bob chuckled and made some scathing remarks such as “over­weight and underfit for a young fellow!” The next day in the queue for tea in the Common room Bob was dithering and chuntering to someone and so holding up the traffic. His School House colleague gently reminded him to hurry up. LRV turned to make the quick stinging reply “Ho-ho, make way for the Belsen Kid!’’ He had evened the score sixteen hours later!

Like all Melbournians, Bob was an avid follower of Victorian football and as his father had played league for Essendon he was a “one-eyed” supporter of that club. The other clubs, particularly Melbourne, did not rate very highly with him and, although he lived in the Norwood district of Adelaide from 1937, he was not particularly impressed with the Norwood Football Club. They had the same uniform as Melbourne! Whether this was one of his wry jokes or simply a facade for his inner opinions or whether he was completely serious we will never know, but early in his career at Saints when Elizabeth inadvertently knitted him a dark blue and red pullover he said “I can’t wear that. It’s not the right colours!”

Bob was athletics writer for “The Advertiser” for six years continuing his association with athletics in retirement through St Peter’s Old Collegians. He was recommended by the SAAAA for an Award of Merit in 1972. In 1987 the International Amateur Athletic Federation celebrated its 75th anniversary by honouring various persons throughout the world who had made great contributions to Athletics and Bob Vollugi was the recipient of such an award for excellence in coaching. The actual presentations were made at a luncheon in the John Landy Room at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on 4th December 1987.

Bob was not well enough to attend the function so “Scotchy” Gordon, who was in Melbourne competing in the World Veteran Games, was asked to accept the award, a magnificent plaque, on his behalf. This he did and he was able to hear the great accolades bestowed upon his old coach and great friend before receiving the plaque from the Hon. Nigel Bowen, Deputy Prime Minister.

1967 SPSC Athletics

When he retired from the Housemastership of School House in 1964, its old members organized a great dinner for him to show their appreciation of him as a schoolmaster, sportsman and true friend. They came from far and wide with his first House captain flying in from Sydney to be part of this memorable occasion. A magnificent desk was presented to him which was cherished for the rest of his life.

Eight years later, on his final retirement from the school, a Sportsmen’s Dinner was given in his honour by a group of Old Scholars with the guests coming from all stages of his coaching career. A painting by Hugo Shaw, Art master at the school and one of his former athletes, was presented to him. Probably these two occasions were unique in the life of the School, indicating the respect, affection and esteem that these men felt for their mentor and friend.

A Memorial and Thanksgiving Service was held in the School Chapel on October 14th, 1988 when Archdeacon Andrew W. Cheesman, Old Scholar and former colleague gave a sincere, moving and apposite address to a full congregation of family and friends.

The Saints Athletics Club website says this of Bob Vollugi: “Arguably the greatest school coach ever, coaching 14 Intercollegiate Football victories and at least 10 Cricket Intercols. He also immersed himself in athletics coaching, Bob along with the then Headmaster Colin Gordon who himself was an Olympian and 1930 Empire game silver medallist in High Jump formed the St Peter’s Collegians Athletics Club (now Saints Athletics Club) in October 1946. Bob played a significant role in developing at least six of our Internationals including Theodore Bill Bruce, Ian Bruce, Leon Gregory, Scotchy Gordon, Nicholas Birks and Bruce Frayne”.

Bob Vollugi for all his idiosyncrasies and foibles was a strict disciplinarian, there being few boys who dared take any liberties with him, but he tempered justice with mercy, always acting fairly and impartially as his boys well knew. His most lasting memorial will be in the characters and careers of the boys whom he inspired to seek the same ideals of honesty, fair play and sportsmanship as he himself practised and preached. “To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die”. Bob Vollugi will live long in the hearts of those who knew him.”

Researched and written by David Docwra
David Docwra retired from St Peter’s College in December 2015 after 37 years’ service and is fondly remembered by many as a dedicated teacher, a committed coach of squash, cricket and soccer, and most especially as a passionate Head of Hawkes House for 21 years. David remains connected to St Peter’s College and regularly provides historical articles for the St Peter’s Old Collegians newsletters.

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