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Footy, farming and the foxtrot keep Frank fit

In this era of professional football training, Frank Howard’s old-time training techniques seem a little quaint.

“We used to train Wednesday afternoon,” the semi-retired 85-year-old dairy farmer from South Purrumbete, Victoria said.

“We were all local farmers and that was the best time for us.”

However, keeping fit was never a problem.

“My main training was to jog along behind the horse and wagon when we took the milk to the factory. I didn’t take much training. I was always that fit from working the farm,” he said.

The system worked well for Frank, who started playing football for South Purrumbete when he was 15, immediately being elevated to the senior ranks.

“I never played junior footy; I played seniors straight away,” he said. “I played half-forward flank. I ran out on the ground and asked ‘where’s this half-forward flank?’ They said ‘get out here mate’. I was pretty quick and graduated to being a winger.”

He played one game with Cobden but broke his wrist.

“Dad was pretty crook on that…I couldn’t milk,” he said.

Frank had won best and fairest awards and when South Purrumbete won a premiership in the Colac and District League in 1960, he decided to go out on a high.

“There were plenty of blokes waiting for a chance. I don’t believe in hanging in. If you’ve had a fair turn at anything, walk out while you’re still going good.”

His connection to football didn’t end, however. He coached the junior team for many years, a task he enjoyed more than any other, and did just about every job around the club, from goal umpire to time keeper.

“Wherever they were short you did it,” he said. “My wife Alma used to work in the canteen. You’ve got to do that in clubs. I met a lot of nice people there.”

Unfortunately, the club folded about 10 years ago.

“It was disappointing but that’s modern life,” Frank said. “Now so many farms are gone the kids don’t get the social life like they used to.”

Frank also spent 10 years as a councillor for Heytesbury Shire, was captain of the Bostocks Creek Fire Brigade for 20 years and was Cobden National Party president for 20 years.

“If you can’t give a bit back to the community I reckon there’s something wrong,” he said.

Frank’s a proud supporter of the Legendairy communication initiative to raise the profile and reputation of the dairy industry and also thinks the Legendairy Farmer AFL Round between Collingwood and Adelaide Football Clubs on April 11 is a great way to encourage young guys on farms to consider playing football.

“I met a lot of great guys through sport,” he said.

Although about to turn 86, Frank remains active on the farm.

Officially he retired 15 years ago but his love of the lifestyle keeps drawing him back. He now lives on the farm with his son Peter and works three or four hours every day.

“I left school when I was 13 and went home on the farm,” Frank said. “I came out of it ok.”

“When I was five I used to go out in the dairy and help,” Frank said. “Lily was my cow. I’d take my mug over and get a few squirts of milk and then try to sneak her some extra food. I always liked my cows. I’d do it all again.”

He’s also a regular on the dancefloor.

From Colac to Winchelsea and over to Cobden, Frank goes to a dance virtually every Saturday night and usually at least one other day each week.

“Dancing and farming keep me fit,” he said. “I have friends who play drums, piano and saxophone and go around to the old folks’ places.

“There are four or five couples who go with them and dance to the music. The folks just love it.”

When he’s not enjoying his old-time dancing, he keeps active around the farm.

“I feed out the silage every morning and night,” he said. “When we harvest I do the mowing and the hay tedding and raking. I don’t bale but I do all the preparation. I love tractor work. I can’t do physical work but I can still go on the motorbike and spray thistles.

“Sitting in the tractor is no big deal now. They’ve changed a lot. They’ve got all the computers and soft seats and air conditioning these days.”

The Howard family has been on the farm for 70 years, gradually expanding over time by investing in 11 neighbouring properties. All four of Frank’s children went into farming.

When he turned 70 Frank handed over the farm to Peter and retired to Cobden with Alma.

After her death about four years ago, he moved back to the land he loves.

He admits he was a bit bored living in town and it wasn’t long after retiring that he started working on the farm.

“I said to Peter I’m bored to death. Do you have any jobs for me?”

Frank started driving out every morning to wash the dairy and other jobs, putting in up to 10 hours a day at harvest.

“That’s why I keep fit I think.”

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