As a 16-year-old, Wes Parry was invited to train at Footscray in 1963 under the legendary Ted Whitten. Already a senior player at Yarram in Gippsland for two years, it was a dream come true. He played two practice matches and was offered accommodation and a job with the local hardware. But it didn’t work out. Footscray’s loss was to become the Sunshine Coast’s gain.
More than 50 years on, Parry reflects not on what might have been at Footscray, or even at Carlton, where he played a couple of practice matches two years later. Instead, it is the booming growth and healthy state of Australian football on the Sunshine Coast, particularly at Maroochydore, that fills his heart with pride.
Now retired, living next to the Nambour Football Club at Palm Woods with wife of 56 years Bev, he’s been a powerhouse figure in Maroochydore football and is a Sunshine Coast Football Hall of Famer. Now he’s among the game’s elite of elite in Queensland.
The Parry path to a possible career at Footscray was blocked by his father, who at the time was suffering serious ill-effects after a hit on the hip from a cricket ball. It caused major bruise decay and in time would see him undergo 76 operations. Forever cautious thereafter, he decided Wes was too young. Footscray gave him a train fare to get home.
So, having left school at 13 and started work to support his family, Wes found himself back in Yarram, which today is the family home of Brisbane ace Josh Dunkley. It was where in 1960, young Wes was judged ‘Best First Year Player’ in the Third XVIII, where he’d made his senior debut at 14 and showed enough promise to catch the Dogs’ eye.
It 1964 he trained at Carlton but again found himself back in Yarram, where he won the best and fairest at 17. His dream of playing in the ‘big time’ was over, and in 1968, newly married and wanting a fresh challenge, he packed up and moved to Maroochydore. A plant operator at the time, he had no problem finding work but was horrified to learn that there was no local football club and no football league.
He joined a bunch of enthusiastic locals who together formed the Sunshine Coast League as a three-team competition in 1970 made up of Maroochydore, Noosa and Nambour. A centreman/rover, he played in the club’s first five games before a work transfer took him to Emerald, but he returned to win the Maroochydore best and fairest in 1971-72 and was twice judged ‘MVP’ in representative games against SQAFA.
He was 100% a Roos man, and in 1975, while still playing, he coached the Under 14s and soon was president of the juniors and a member of the senior committee. He was just beginning.
In 1976 he received the ‘Mr Football’ trophy from the then president, a tag that would have made the great E.J. Whitten proud. It was a family affair. Bev helped out wherever she was needed, often in the canteen or as goal umpire, and occasionally even as team runner. Son Greg played in the juniors, and daughter Kerryn was ‘Miss Junior Football Princess’ and played if numbers were short.
Maroochydore had until then, played at the local high school, on a temporary ground at Mooloolaba, which is now a motorway, or at Caloundra. But when Parry took over as president, he decided it was time for a new home. He met Shire Chairman Eddie De Vere and local developer MAK Thompson and soon was granted a lease of 15 acres of land (6.1 hectares) on Wises Road. With the president by now employed as a road supervisor adjacent to the new site, he quickly had bulldozers and machinery ready to begin work. Six months later, a new ground built 98% with volunteer labour from senior players, junior parents and supporters, was ready.
Parry was a playing president when Maroochydore hosted their first game at Wises Road in 1978. It was a rare twin role, but Parry was a man of rare passion and it only got better. They beat Caloundra in the grand final and he was awarded Life Membership.
His job at Maroochydore done, he joined the Sunshine Coast League in 1979 and not just as a junior operative – he went straight in as chairman. Serving until 1986, he was known across the coast as a clear-thinking and decisive operator, prepared to make the hard decision. Along the way he worked with dedicated committeemen like Secretary Axel Anderson, treasurer Peter Tuckwell, Ron Smith, Kingsley St. Clair, Bill Chalker and John Dillon, and formed a life-time friendship with Noosa equivalent Len Daddow.
Awarded Life Membership of the Sunshine Coast League in 1982, Parry was especially committed to upgrading the League representative program, and worked tirelessly with Daddow, Shane Johnson, John Townsend, and Chris Stephenson to that end. Many years on he remembers the coast greats like Marc Housley, Ray Murray, Don Smith, Billy Main, Daniel Dzufer, Bert Thornley, Josh Drummond, Bert Thornley, Tom Kitson, Greg Page, Mark Vagg, John Murnane and Phil Hart, among others.
“Promotion was the name of the game,” he said, and soon he was a household name, appearing with Daddow on Radio 4NA and with Benny Pike on the Channel 7 sports show while travelling from one end of the coast to the other to promote the code. All while also helping out as an umpire and serving on the tribunal.
Junior registrations and the flow of players from junior to senior ranks escalated as club facilities and the overall standard of the game did likewise. In 1986, with Australian football now the No.1 code on the Coast, he successfully lobbied the QAFL for a pre-season match between Queensland and Footscray to be played at Maroochydore and stepped down at the end of the year.
It was time for a change again. He coached the Maroochydore Under 17s to a flag in 1987 as home life started to get almost like normal. Until at the end of 1989, when the QAFL disaffiliated the Sunshine Coast League, and he was part of a four-man committee appointed by head office to take over the administration. It was Parry, Daddow, St.Clair and dual Grogan Medallist and Queensland captain Barry Clarke, who by then was living on the coast. John Sobey was also enlisted later.
In a special honour, the League Best and Fairest was named in honour great mates Parry and Daddow. Since 1992, after major changes to the competition structure, Maroochydore has played Noosa on Anzac Day each year for the Parry/Daddow Medal. It is one of the big games of the year in honour of two of the code’s pioneers, who fittingly will together join Drummond and fellow ‘coasties’ Shane Johnson and Asta O’Connor as 2023 Hall of Fame inductees after Bill Magin, Dean Warren and Craig Edwards were in the original intake in 2008.
Having also served on the Queensland Country League, Parry was a foundation member of the Sunshine Coast Hall of Fame in 2010, was named in the Maroochydore Team of the Half Century, and was among 40 nominees for a similar Sunshine Coast team.
Forever a football man, he was proud to see Maroochydore junior Drummond inducted into the Hall of Fame after a stellar playing career with the Brisbane Lions and extended coaching stints at North Melbourne and the Gold Coast SUNS. He is proud these days to see Sunshine Coast juniors Eric Hipwood, Jack Payne and Noah Cumberland playing in the AFL, content that more will follow.
“Anzac Day this year (2023) marked the 50th anniversary of Sunshine Coast football and that’s what makes me most proud,” he said.
“When we started, we had three senior teams and junior teams, and now there are literally thousands of kids – boys and girls – playing the game. That’s what I’m most proud of. I’m proud to see people who have been lured to the game by others then going on to give back to the game themselves. It’s special to be able to say it’s the No.1 code on the coast.”
A Civil Works Inspector of 40 years, with vast experience in road infrastructure construction, it was a perfect match. He built six-lane highways just as he built football clubs. An 18-year member of Rotary, he was president of the Mooloolaba branch and once went to PNG on a voluntary mission to help build a school.
Also, an experienced overseas tourist and 35 years a caravan man, he’s travelled three times around Australia and has seen ‘most’ of the country, and he’s passed on his football passion. After starting at Maroochydore son Greg played and coached at senior level with the Glenmore Bulls in Rockhampton, where he was named Coach of the Decade 1993-2003 and coached the State Secondary Schools team. He now lives in Malaysia, managing schools all over the world. Daughter Kerryn is a bank manager on the coast and another keen football fan. After all, she’s a Parry. It’s what they do. They love football.