Harry Wells is still kicking goals and tackling life’s curveballs

Photo of Harry Wells with Team of the Century photo on the wall in the background

90-year-old Harry Wells is an inductee of the National Rugby League Hall of Fame. He represented Australia throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s for teams such as the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Western Suburbs Magpies, and is named as one of the country’s best players of the 20th century.

With his wife, 85-year-old Yvonne, Harry continues to live his best life at home while keeping in regular contact with family and friends. However, he’s noticed that lately – at times – he needs to slow down.

As he recovers from the recent removal of a malignant melanoma tumour on his leg, Harry underwent an Aspire4Life assessment to determine which referrals should be made for services.

Having received support for community nursing, housework, goods and equipment, it means the couple can continue enjoying life on their acreage at Telegraph Point on the North Coast of NSW, and thriving on their shared passion for their local community.

Harry and Yvonne also enjoy sharing their time with family members – they have three children who have their own families – and a selection of birds they care for in aviaries, as well as a much-loved emu who lives on their property.

“We’ve still got an emu – we’ve had him for 35 years and he doesn’t look like he’s giving in. We call him Hector,” Yvonne says. “We did have peacocks, but they only last 25 years.”

Supports, healthy habits, and a daily dose of molasses

With a little help, Harry and Yvonne are still living in the same home they have shared for the past 44 years.

“The supports are great,” Harry says. “We are both getting old and they are putting the brakes on me.”

During an Aspire4Life assessment for Harry’s health conditions, referrals were made for supports to help the couple with housework, adjustments such as a handrail for the bathroom, and access to goods and equipment such as a robot-vacuum.

Future supports could include help with outdoor work and yard maintenance.

“We still do our own cooking. We eat well, we use a lot of vegetables, we have the same breakfast every day which is cereal with a lot of fruit,” Yvonne says.

“And Harry is a great believer in molasses. Somebody told him years ago about molasses, and this person was 90. Harry said, ‘You don’t look 90,’ and he said, ‘I have a spoonful of molasses every day.’

Harry has since adopted the routine of daily molasses taken with hot water.

Yvonne says the couple receive “massive” supports which have included visits from wound nurses three times a week to help Harry care for his leg after the melanoma was removed.

These visits have been reduced to twice weekly and, in the meantime, Harry has had five days of radiation treatment and regular immune infusions.

Yvonne – who is to have a hip replacement after Christmas – says, “He can’t do heavy work but he can do other things. He’s just now put dessert on the table for us and hopefully he’ll wash up afterwards.”

Harry and Yvonne value their connections in the community and are well-known in the area for having run the iconic local grocery shop in Port Macquarie, Flynn’s Beach Post Office Cellars, for more than 50 years – Harry retired when he turned 70.

The shop is still owned and operated by their daughter-in-law, and Harry and Yvonne often donate items from the shop for raffles to raise money for the Men of League, which covers an area including Taree, Forster, Port Macquarie and Kempsey and helps to care for the men, women and children of the rugby league community through fundraising and wellbeing visits.

“I’d never been to a football game in my life”

Yvonne was working as the secretary for the Illawarrra Leages Club and Country Rugby League when she first met Harry. Her boss was a tour manager for the Australian Kangaroos side when 21-year-old Harry came to their office.

“I probably wasn’t all that impressed,” Yvonne says.

But when Harry returned from the tour, he asked Yvonne out.

“I’d never even been to a football game in my life,” she remembers.

The couple were married in 1956, and football became their life.

“For Harry’s first tour, before we met, they were still travelling by boat. It was an eight-month trip, with six weeks either side for travel to England and France. And they wouldn’t have been luxurious ships in those days.”

Harry represented Australia in 29 rugby league Tests between 1952 and 1960, scoring 13 tries.

Birds and how to bargain

Over the years, Harry has spent much of his time with the beloved birds he’s raised, looked after and, sometimes, raced.

“Harry is a great parrot fancier. At one stage he had 60 bird cages – he’s had nearly every brand of bird that was Australian.

“Instead of going back with the others after training, he’d be racing home to feed the birds before dark.”

The couple’s pride and joy is a 53-year-old black cockatoo, Smiley, they were given in 1969.

“Harry was out coaching in Longreach, Queensland, and one man came to see him with this little fluff of a bird in his hand and he said, ‘If you can tell me what that is, you can have it.’

“Harry said that it was a red-tailed black cockatoo and he said, ‘Well, you can have it.”

Smiley now lives “in a very nice comfortable cage”.

“He rules the roost and tells us when something needs to be done – he’ll probably outlive us.”

Harry also has Eclectus parrots; he began breeding this type of bird after he was given a pair in the 1950s.

“He’d been overseas a bit, and it was getting towards another trip. He was walking towards a training field in the old Sydney Cricket Ground when a big black limousine pulled up and a voice called out, ‘Harry, come here.’

“It was Dr Clive Evatt, Leader of the Opposition, and he said to Harry, ‘What can I do to make you go on this tour?

“It was 1956 and Harry said, ‘Get me a pair of Eclectors!’

Yvonne says Clive Evatt spoke to the head of Taronga Zoo, and was able to secure two birds which he gave to Harry.

“He went on the tour and bred the birds from then on.”

Currently, Harry and Yvonne have seven bird cages that they are renovating, plus three that are near their house.

“We’ll end up with 10 cages with about 20 birds which will be the black cockatoos and Eclectus parrots.”

Life lessons

Yvonne describes the couple’s life as “diverse”. As well as being the wife of a footballing legend, she has pursued her own interests such as gardening, craftwork and handiwork along the way.

“I used to play tennis, but when I met Harry that finished! And I did have a go at squash. I used to play the piano, but I haven’t had the time.”

Exercise such as walking, she says, is important to living a healthy life.

“Even feeding the birds. Getting around the five acres is good exercise.”

And, what’s Yvonne’s advice for others?

“You’ve got to persevere in life, irrespective of what happens. Be kind to people, be honest, and enjoy wonderful friendships,” she says. “Enjoy every day that you can.”