Ballina councillor Eoin Johnston and local legend Barry Saxby have a long history together, as Echonetdaily discovered when Barry’s race-walking champion daughter Kerry Saxby-Junna was honoured in Ballina last week.
Cr Johnston said, ‘My memory of Barry goes back to when I was at Young, South West Slopes, Barry was the agricultural science teacher, and the only subject I was good at was agriculture, and I put that down to the fact I loved the subject and had a very good teacher.’
Barry Saxby said, ‘I always remember the troublemakers!’
Cr Johnston said, ‘Barry was also the first grade rugby league coach, and he was quite a renowned boxer. I’m 75 and he’s 87, so when I was 12, he was only 22, and he was still making his mark at that early age.’
‘You didn’t mention that I got the young record for highest cricket score then, 320 not out,’ Mr Saxby reminded his former student.
Eoin Johnston credits Mr Saxby with helping him overcome a childhood stutter, to the point where he was later able to become a barrister.
Echonetdaily asked Barry Saxby how his famous daughter got her start in race-walking.
‘Kerry always race-walked as a side issue at events,’ he said. ‘The coach of Cowra Athletic Club said “this girl’s going to represent Australia”, and she was only 14 then. It didn’t ring a bell at the time, but later on she got more serious.
‘She got picked in the Australian team as a reserve to compete at the Isle of Man, the World Titles. She got ninth in it and beat all the other Australians.’
When the family moved to Ballina, Mr Saxby remembers the coach at the Australian Institute of Sport asking about his daughter’s training program.
‘She said about 100 kilometres a week, running. He said, “if you get serious about race walking you’ll blitz it.” Kerry got a scholarship to the AIS and she went on from there.’
In the early days, Barry Saxby was his daughter’s main trainer, but he remembers she didn’t need much encouragement. ‘I just rode the bike. She made me get out of bed to go training with her!’
Barry and his wife Janice have remained stalwarts of the Ballina athletics scene since those early days. He said he’s seen some other big talents come through the area too.
‘We had Cathy Sharp, she won the Australian high jump championship. Sharon, our other daughter, she won the Australian 800 metres, with a scholarship to Hawaii, but she tore her Achilles tendon over there, and it was never right ever since, so that was sad,’ he remembered.
Eoin and Barry meet again in Ballina
Cr Johnston says Barry Saxby was ‘instrumental’ in organising the Ballina 10,000m race, as well as the Shelly Beach Handicap on Sundays for the last forty years, where ‘all kinds of people from kids to grandparents turn up’ to have a go.
The two men were reunited again after many decades when Cr Johnston was working as a patrol captain with the local lifesavers.
Mr Saxby remembers, ‘He was supposed to be guarding the surf, and suddenly he’s kicking us off the beach!
‘I said “wake up to yourself, do your bloody job properly!”
‘He said who did you think you are? I said “I’m a very important man.” And he went and talked to my son Justin, and he said we’ve just come up from Young. He didn’t recognise me ’til then – didn’t want to!’
‘I came all the way up here to get away from him!’ said Cr Johnston with a grin.
A few years after that, Barry Saxby talked Cr Eoin into coming to Shelley Beach for a race, but Mr Saxby had a heart attack that day and had to be rushed to hospital. Fortunately he made a full recovery, and these days is as active as ever.
Eoin Johnston said, ‘The great thing about Barry is that he’s never stopped raising funds for his beloved runners or his little athletics. He has to go to Shaws Bay and drink beer and sell raffle tickets, hates the beer bit but he loves selling tickets don’t you? And he’d be doing it now if it wasn’t for the COVID.’
Mr Saxby added, ‘and at the Slipway Hotel too for the hockey club!’
It’s not hard to see why Barry and Janice Saxby won the Senior Citizen of the Year Award for Ballina in 2020. This year’s awards will be announced at the Lennox Head Cultural Centre on Tuesday.