The old grandstand which bears his name faces the city to which Carlton footballer, President, watchmaker, auctioneer, state parliamentarian and alderman, John Gardiner JP dedicated more than half his life.

That he also captained Victoria in its first inter-colonial match - against South Australia at the East Melbourne Cricket Ground on the Separation Day holiday of July 1879 – is another of Gardiner’s many and varied personal distinctions.

“He (Gardiner) was a famous footballer in his youth. He was one of Carlton’s first captains and his play was characterized by determination and skill. He was known as “Tiger” Gardiner,” reported The Herald at the time of Gardiner’s passing.

“All his life he had taken a very keen interest in the welfare of the Carlton Football Club and for some time was president.”

John Gardiner, the son of James and Rose Gardiner (nee Murray), was born in Spring Street, Geelong, on November 3, 1848.

Details of Gardiner’s formative years are sketchy, but archival material suggests he remained in the Geelong district for at least the first 25 years of his life. It is also known that he married Anna (“Annie”) Sidley – a native of Limerick, Ireland - at the dwelling of J James Martin at La Trobe Terrace, Geelong, on September 26, 1874.
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Anna bore Gardiner two sons, John Carlton and Vincent Sidley – later League footballers in their own right - and two daughters Lilian and Daphne.

At some point the Gardiner family relocated to Carlton, where his vital links with the neighbouring football club were first forged.

“I believe they first settled in Park Street, on the north side of the Carlton ground,” Gardiner's great grand son Bill Ward said. “There is a lot of hearsay, but I’m led to believe John had a bit of money, but lost it in the land boom.

“John and his family later relocated from Park Street to 166 Rathdowne Street, North Carlton. He ran a jewellery and watch repair business and other things he was involved in, and I believe his residence was upstairs.

“He was a legend in the family. Everyone called him ‘Papa’ and often talked about ‘how Papa did this’ and ‘Papa did that’ and when you read up on John Gardiner’s history, he did.

“He was evidently a very prestigious man. As a Justice of the Peace he often had to bail out people like ‘Squizzy’ Taylor who had problems with the law at the time, and he was never seen with ‘Squizzy’ Taylor in public even though he was quite happy to help.

“He was obviously a dominant Carlton figure who, with his political and council influence was able to help a lot. His name graces the top of the stand and you don’t get your name up in lights for nothing do you?”

Gardiner’s career as a Carlton footballer of the old VFA days are sketchy, although The Age offered the odd clue back in ’29.

“In his younger days Alderman Gardiner was a famous footballer who played for Carlton and up to a few years ago he was President of Carlton Football Club, the organization which originally claimed his allegiance,” the newspaper reported.

“He was one of those who took to the newly-invented Australian game, and as one of Carlton’s first captains, earned a great reputation for skill and dash. He captained the team that went to Sydney with a view to popularising the game there. This team played a New South Wales team, a match partly under Australian rules and partly under the rugby code.”

A watchmaker and jeweller who worked from his premises at home, Gardiner also served as an auctioneer for the house and land agent firm of J & R Gardiner & Co., property agents, around the turn of last century, then pursued other business interests of his own.

Gardiner entered the Legislative Assembly in 1880, when he defeated Mr James Munro for the Carlton seat. This seat he held until 1892, when he was defeated by FH Bromley.

Listed high amongst Gardiner’s many achievements in political life was his formulation of the bill allowing for the eight-hour working day, together with Alfred Deakin, later Australia’s second Prime Minister.

He then devoted his full attention to his City council interests. He was elected a member of the council for the Victoria Ward in May, 1890, and retired on November 1, 1894. He was re-elected for the Victoria Ward in March 1904, and became Alderman in May, 1915.
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Alderman Gardiner was chairman of the Town Hall and Baths Committee, and a member of the Abattoir and Cattle Markets Committee. He took a keen interest in the rebuilding of the Town Hall after the fire.

One of alderman Gardiner’s acts was to bring about improvements to the North Carlton, North Melbourne, and Batman Avenue Baths at a cost of more than £25,000.

The Argus reported that fifty years of public life in Victoria had afforded the alderman a wide circle of friends in all sections of the community.

“ . . . His Gardiner’s entry into public life was a direct result of his prowess at sport. In unusual circumstances he obtained a seat in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. In November, 1879, Mr James Munro, who was thought to have an absolutely ‘safe’ seat as representative of the Carlton electorate withdrew his support from the Berry Ministry and went before his constituents to obtain endorsement for his action. He was opposed by Mr John Curtain, but he held the seat by a large majority. Parliament was dissolved in the following January, and it was regarded as a foregone conclusion that Mr Munro would again win easily. Alderman Gardiner was at the time captain of the Carlton football team and without much hope that he would overcome Mr Munro, he was induced by several sporting organizations to become a candidate. He won the seat easily, and held it for many years until finally he was defeated by Mr FH Bromley. Following his defeat, he lived in the country for some years, returning in 1904 to contest a seat in the Council for Victoria Ward, for which he had previously been a councillor for a short term. He was successful, and held the seat until his death. In 1915 he was elected alderman.”

Gardiner died less than a week short of his 81st birthday, on Monday, October 28, 1929 – the same year in which Mr. HCA Harrison (“the father of the Australian game of football”) also died. As a mark of respect to Gardiner’s passing, the City’s flags flew at half mast.

The Carlton Football Club annual report of 1929 recorded the following in respect of their late President, who served with distinction for ten years including the back-to-back premiership years of 1914-’15.

“Every year takes its toll of some of our staunch and valued members, and it is with sincere regret that we record the following:- Alderman John Gardiner, who was a member of the Club almost since its inception, and one who played an important part in the affairs of the Club, both as player and administrator. In his early days he was captain, and had the honor of leading the first Interstate side, whilst in latter years he was an enthusiastic official, occupying the position of President from 1914 to 1924, when he retired. Although he was a public man, he did not lose his interest in the Club, and he was a regular attendant at our games to the last. Reference to his death was made at the meeting of the Australian National Football Council and the Victorian Football League.”

Gardiner’s two sons, Jack and Vin, both represented the Carlton Football Club. Jack turned out in 16 matches for the Blues between 1901-’02 and (later) Melbourne in 70 appearances from 1903-’08. Vin was rejected by Melbourne after just two senior matches in 1905, but later represented Carlton with distinction in 157 matches between 1907 and ’17.

“Vin, of course, was an excellent place kick for Carlton in those days,” Ward said. “He topped the goalkicking in the VFL, but he was full-forward for Carlton and Jack was full-back for Melbourne. There was a little bit of friction, they didn’t get on a lot and Vin always blamed his brother Jack for kicking him in the shins, which left him with an ulcerated shin from that day on - which is why he wore protective white socks for the rest of his life.”

Gardiner family lore has it that Vin later inherited the unflattering nickname of “Potsy” due to a “pot” belly. He was great mates with Carlton’s half-forward flanker and dual premiership player Perc Daykin, so much so that the pair was often heckled by their own supporters because they tended to look for each other a lot. In the end though, Vin was a revered and popular Carlton identity who served the club in later years as its resident doorman.
Alderman Gardiner’s love for the great Australian game never waned. His last appearance as a footballer came in 1924, when in his old Carlton uniform he led a team of veterans against another 18 captained by the late Albert Thurgood, at a charity match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
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In the City Council, it was known that alderman Gardiner “was revered for his sincerity of purpose and his keenness. No work was too onerous if it would benefit the city”.

On Gardiner’s passing, the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Councillor Luxton, was lavish in his praise.

“Alderman Gardiner gave fine public service over a long period, both in parliament and especially in the city council,” Councillor Luxton said.

“In addition to watching closely the interests of the ratepayers in his own ward, he had the interests of the city as a whole in his heart at all times. He was very jealous of Melbourne’s prestige.

“In his later years he devoted himself, as chairman of the Town Hall and baths committee, to the rebuilding of the town hall after its destruction by fire several years ago and to the improvement of the swimming baths at North Carlton, North Melbourne and Batman Avenue. Unfortunately he did not live to see the fulfilment of his plans. The baths are now being remodelled, and will be re-opened later in the summer.”

Gardiner’s funeral procession left the late alderman’s residence, 166 Rathdowne Street, North Carlton, for Melbourne General Cemetery. There he was buried with his youngest daughter Daphne. The Argus reported that many interests were represented among those who paid their last respects to the memory of Alderman Gardiner at his funeral at Melbourne’s General Cemetery.

“Among the chief mourners were Mr R Gardiner, a brother of Alderman Gardiner, The Lord Mayor (Cr H Luxton) and Crs Sir William Brunton, Sir Stephen Morell, Sir George Cuscaden, Alderman Crespin, Alderman Deveney and Crs Hardy, Reynolds, Stack, Kane, Cockbill, Campbell, Collins, H Gengoult Smith-Morton, Wales and Carter, Mr Smith MLC, and Mr Solly MLA, D Crone (President of the Carlton Football Club, officials of the Victorian Football Association, Mr F Williams (President of the Carlton Cricket Club) and other officials, Messrs W Woodfull and WH Crate, representing the National Federation,” the newspaper stated.

“Among those present were Mr RJ McCulloch, who was a Carlton cricketer with Alderman Gardiner 50 years ago, and Mr J Tankard, who played football in the same club with Alderman Gardiner more than 40 years ago.

“The pallbearers were the Lord Mayor and Crs Sir William Brunton, Sir Stephen Morell, Hardy and Reynolds, and Messrs J Melville, (Secretary of the Carlton Cricket Club) R Heatley (past President of the club) and G Robertson, an old Carlton football player. “The Rev A Banks, of St Jude’s Church of England, Carlton, who conducted the service, paid tribute to Alderman Gardiner as an eminent citizen who sought to serve his fellows. Alderman Gardiner, he said, besides possessing a strong civic conscience, was a genial companion. His life was ripe with experiences and usefulness.”

The 100 year-old brick and cast iron edifice that is the Ald Gardiner Stand still casts its shadow over the Carlton ground. Not surprisingly, Gardiner’s descendants are delighted that the stand has escaped the wrecking ball.

“The family got together after news first circulated that the ground was going to be redeveloped. We were worried that they were going to knock the Gardiner Stand down and we were worried about what we were going to do. Then another article appeared which indicated that the stand wasn’t going to be knocked down, which pleased everybody no end,” Ward said.

“It’s a funny thing. I went to Eltham High School many years ago and represented the school in the high jump on the oval at Princes Park and I can remember my mother saying, ‘Make sure when you go there to have a look at the Gardiner Stand’.

“Now I was 16 or 17 then and when you’re a kid that age you look at it and think ‘Oh well, it’s just a stand’. But now that I’m 67 it means so much more.”