Caption: Alan Scott is no longer on the Campbelltown Catholic Club board, but still takes a great interest in his club and its future. He is pictured here on his tour of the construction zone before it transforms into the new Food Court.

In our ‘A Drink with Jeff’ series, Campbelltown Catholic Club community liaison Jeff McGill has been catching up with a diverse selection of identities. Former club director Alan Scott is his latest face-to-face.

Al Scott feels, to me, like a bit of a Nowhere Man.

Not in a lonely way: Al’s adored around The Catho.

Not in a vacuous way: Al’s authentic as you get.

Not in an absent way: Al’s big heart is known to most of us, and I’ll always treasure my time knocking around with him as we’ve researched the history of our club.

The Nowhere Man thing popped into my head because, when we caught up recently, he was at first in a surprisingly philosophical mood. Funny old yarns in one breath, then seriously pondering the challenges of the 2020s, then back to 1968 again. It was difficult to tell whether his deepest allegiances belonged to a vanished past or unknown future.

Mind you, Al has every right to be philosophical. He’s just retired after more than three decades on the Catholic Club’s Board of Directors. That calls for some reflection.

In that time, he was a part of so many big wins: from being announced as NSW Club of the Year in 1994 to providing millions of dollars in funding to local schools despite a pandemic closing the club in 2020. But Al worries about unfinished business.

“Like what?” I ask.

“Well, the Catho is a great place for friends to meet, for families to share a meal together, for sporting and social clubs to gather. But not everyone is lucky enough to have those things.

“A few years ago, I was in the bistro when this old bloke walks past, and I said, ‘Howya goin, mate’, and he said, ‘Not too bad’, and we started chatting for five or six minutes. As I moved on, he shook my hand and said, ‘Thanks for taking the time to stop and talk with me.’

“It really hit me. I thought, are we missing something here? Back in the old days everyone knew everyone else, but big cities can be lonely places. I brought it up at the next Board meeting, but there’s no easy fix. It does show, though, how truly important clubs are. We saw that clearly when COVID hit and we had to close our doors. The amount of people who came down trying to get in because they had nowhere else to go. You walk around the Club and, among all the groups of friends and family, you’ll see people sitting there with a newspaper, or watching TV, or reading a book. Why are they here? It gives them a touch of community.”

It was at this point in our conversation that I remembered Bishop Brian Mascord loftily calling the Catho ‘a conduit for deep human connections’. I later found his speech in our 50-year history book: “Our modern society is one where, even with the ever-increasing capacity to ‘connect’ via social media, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness and disconnection. In being a place that builds community, the Catholic Club is providing for one of our deepest human needs—to be known, respected and valued.”

So, I ask Al, how do we better connect with these people?

“That’s the real challenge,” he replied, “More important in many ways than construction and expansion. We can maybe talk about having specific welfare officers, or chaplains, I don’t know what the answer is. But there needs to be an answer. I think it’s a challenge waiting for future Boards.”

In the meantime, Al is thrilled to see The Catho coming back to life after the pandemic years.

We both met up with Club Marketing Manager Graeme Derrig who took us on a quick tour of the construction zone (on its way to becoming the newly refurbished Food Court).

Afterwards, Al and I chat about family, friends, and the ties that bind. In typical Campbelltown fashion, I know most of his kin through other channels. His wife, Christine, worked at the primary school our kids attended. His son Dave is a well-known local plumber. One of Al’s daughters, Michelle McKinnon, is a mate of my sister-in-law, Samantha McGarrity. His other daughter, Kathryn, is married to Wests Tigers great Chris Lawrence (who I recall putting on the front page of the Advertiser when I was the editor, and he was playing his first game while still a student at St Greg’s.) The only Scott I don’t really know is Bradley—a mechanic whiz, says Al.

No, it’s not Harry Potter, it’s Al Scott as a youngster at St John’s Primary School in the late 1950s.

As we laugh, Al beats me cold in the memory department. He’d pop in for a beer at The Catho after it opened in 1968; I was still a toddler. But I do enjoy his old tales, many of which revolve around the strict dress codes in those early days. A tie had to be worn after 6pm… and club manager Leo Callaghan was known for enforcing the rules with an iron fist.

“Gavin Driscoll would regularly wear working overalls into the bar during the day,” Al recalls, “and then stay until the last possible moment before dress regulations came into effect. Leo would circle him like a shark, ready to eject him the second the clock struck 6pm. One night, Gavin, in his overalls, loudly ordered a beer at the bar with just seconds to go and went into the toilet. A delighted Leo lined up outside the door ready to pounce — but, to his shock and everyone’s delight, Gavin walked out wearing a neat coat and tie. It was a deliberate set-up and everyone was in stitches.”

When I ask Al about opening night, on 5 December 1968, he says he wasn’t actually there. “No, I was still a few days off. You had to be 21 to get in and my birthday was 15 December… so I had to wait a couple of weeks.“

My dad [Keith Scott] was member number 32 and had joined back in the really early days of the original club meetings in the scout hall at St John’s Primary School. He was a coach with Collegians football team and my mum [Cynthia, with the ladies auxiliary] was the first Life Member of Collies, with Gordon Fetterplace. She organised a lot of the fund-raising and food.

“I played for Collegians myself, a front rower, and our then-parish priest Father Tom Grant really got behind the team, urging everyone to attend games. I ended up doing my cartilage, and we had two kids by that stage and work commitments, so I stopped playing. But, in those early days of The Catho, it was the football club that really kicked this place along, because the whole community got behind them. All the people barracking for the Collies would come back here to a smorgasbord meal after the game at Bradbury Oval.

“The Collies cricketers did the same thing, so weekends were busy most of the year. I don’t think everyone today realise what those internal clubs have done for keeping the spirit of this place going.”

Al said he loved his time on the Board, from 1988 to 2020, but stepped down when it was recently reduced in size. “I knew my number was up,” he laughed. “But you have to be realistic, you can’t be there forever, you’ve got to give it over to fresh faces.”

He says he hopes there will always be a good mix of people on the Board — “not just accountants and businessmen” — and he was delighted to see when Mary Ellen Bland retired as the only woman on the Board, she was replaced by Julie Burton. “When I joined I replaced the late Jack Crawford, a banker, and was worried because I had no financial knowledge, but the other Board members told me not to worry, everyone brought a different sets of insights and skills.

“You always had your say, and we all got to know each other pretty well. All those presidents: Paul O’ Loughlan, Noel Burton, Kevin Goonan, Dave Olsson. But I do admit we did spend too long in meetings… 6pm to midnight! BHP doesn’t hold meetings that long! “You can have a lot of successes as a Board but you can also get things wrong. When that happens, you need to fix your mistakes straight away—in this changing world they’ll come back to bite you.”

When he looks back, what does Al feel most proud of?

“The Cube… it’s brilliant and stands the test of time. I also think we did a great job securing and restoring Quandong. The whole precinct is quite good, the hotel and all. Getting life membership was nice.”

But it’s the people of the Club he’s most proud of, rattling off a long list of employees he hugely respects. Al is a people person.

I also came to the conclusion Al is not a Nowhere Man, he’s an Everywhere Man. A man who recognises the club is more than some architectural, cartographic or territorial monument, it is a communal campfire, a shared experience.

And if The Catho is truly defined by its human beings, I reckon Alan Scott is a supporting wall.


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A Drink with Jeff | Julie Burton