Vale, Ted Hopkins

| November 23, 2023

Ted Hopkins and I had neighboring change room lockers at Carlton Football Club in the AFL. We shared not only the same birth date, but the rivers of Gippsland in Victoria flowed in our veins.

The great St Kilda player, Nathan Burke, said that “football is what I do, it’s not who I am.” Ted decided early on that football would not define his future. He made that choice deliberately. I had it thrust upon me by accident, but that’s another story.

Even though he had decided not to be defined by football, it could be argued that Ted played an important role in redefining the game. In 1995, he founded Champion Data, to systematically record AFL match statistics. The company went on to revolutionise coaching and how the game has evolved through objective analysis.


Ted Hopkins with Max Thomas, Ron Barassi and teammates in their playing days for Carlton.

Ted and I reconnected 40 years after the 1970 grand final stamped its mark on his life. Inevitably, others wanted to relive their vicarious recollections of that episode. I saw a man accost Ted one day at the Prahran market to reprimand him for his part in Collingwood’s demise on that glorious day, long before the assailant could have started school.

A few years ago, Ted and I ventured onto Blue Rock Lake on the Tanjil River in one of Ted’s Kayaks, not far from his beloved Lake Narracan on the Latrobe River.

I was paddling furiously trying to keep pace with him when he announced that my paddling was rubbish, or words to that effect. Never a wise thing to do from the back seat. His hearing wasn’t good, so my only response was to increase the cadence of my efforts, if not the efficiency. I thought Ted deserved an occasional splash in the face to remind him of his exploits as the Australian junior water-ski champion.

Back at the boat landing, sans fish and wet-arsed, our attempts to reunite with terra firma didn’t go unnoticed by two young chaps looking like reflections of our erstwhile selves. Certainly nothing like two sixty-somethings flailing helplessly in the bilge.

“You need a hand?” One of them asked, before landing me like a gasping carp on the deck. Ted was grimly holding on with a hand behind his back as Carlton did in the first half of the grand final all those years before. With the other hand, he waved them away and struggled ashore regardless of the odds against him.

Footballers know the phrase ‘sold the dummy’. It describes a feigned move designed to deceive an opponent into thinking the opposite of what is really intended. Ted’s blog, titled “Sold the Dummy” was a collection of essays on topics ranging from sport and art to politics and the environment. We often collaborated to highlight issues that governments and authorities would prefer to overlook.

Churchill said, “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” The same can be said of town planning. Yallourn was a marvellous example of how intelligent town planning can profoundly influence the life of communities. Ted’s passion for the Gippsland township of Yallourn was always evident and he wrote extensively on this.

An exhibition at the State Library of Victoria featured Ted’s insight and talent for seeing things in a wider, if sometimes idiosyncratic perspective. The exhibition focused on the how the Latrobe Valley had literally generated Victoria’s prosperity. Dressed as a briquette, Ted drew attention to the human and environmental costs of destroying the town to win cheap brown coal for electricity generation. Ahead of the pack, he understood the economic externalities associated with so-called ‘development’.


Ted Hopkins and Max Thomas working on Ted’s scheme to promote renewable energy.

Ted had an old fishing mate in the Western District of Victoria. Both of them lamented the degradation of their favourite angling spot. With my background in agricultural and environmental science in the water industry, I had the privilege of working with Ted to identify how this had come about. His interest in the big picture soon had me doing more useful things in retirement.

As one of his former opponents in the Latrobe Valley Football League and having arrived at Carlton from Traralgon a year ahead of him, I was asked to help attract Ted to Princes Park. That didn’t happen, but I don’t think my influence would have had much effect in any case.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the generosity of an Italian-Australian shoe shop owner in Lygon Street, I wouldn’t have had proper training footwear, let alone the money to shout Ted lunch. Much later, we could afford to laugh at that over lunch while discussing his latest scheme to promote renewable energy.

Ted once wrote this to me: “Over the journey I’ve begun to appreciate more the role of serendipity and our capacity to grasp the opportunities falling from the sky.”

Vale, Ted Hopkins.