Bert Augustus ('Mick') Grace
‘Mick Grace was a speedy centre who was converted to the right wing on the 1933 Wallaby tour of South Africa .
Born on 29 April 1912 at Sydney, he attended the Cranbrook School where he was a champion athlete and played rugby. He was the son of Albert Edward Grace, one of the founders of the Grace Bros. Department retail store chain along with his brother, Joseph Grace. Old A.E.Grace gave young Mick every chance to excel in sport and he was outstanding in athletics, rowing, cricket, swimming, rifle shooting, tennis, ice hockey, ski racing and soccer. He also had an interest in chemistry but suffered an injury that maimed his right hand while conducting an experiment in chemistry.
He joined the management of the chain on leaving school. His father took over as managing director when Joseph died suddenly in 1931. An avid sportsman, Grace also continued playing rugby after school and he joined Eastern Suburbs as a thrustful centre and, in 1931, he was a member of the Easts team that won the Sydney first grade premiership. He was speedy and possessed a fine physique ,standing 6 ft 1 in , and weighing 178 lbs.
As a centre, he faced stiff competition for the State team from the likes of Cyril Towers, Harold Herd, Syd King, Eric Hind and others for representative honours. After the All Blacks decisively outplayed the Wallabies in the second Test at Brisbane and went on to win the third Test match to wrap up the rubber, the Australian selectors held a series of trial matches in August 1932 as an aid to choosing the Wallaby team to tour South Africa in 1933.
The New South Wales selectors gave Grace his chance in two matches for the State and he was impressive enough to gain a place in the touring team, captained by Dr Alec Ross. Given the composition of the team, it appeared that Grace had been selected as a winger.
He disliked his Christian name ‘Bert’ and preferred ‘Mick’, but to his friends he was nicknamed ‘Bunny.’ The Queensland and New South Wales members of the Wallaby Team assembled and put a team in against Victoria en route to Perth. The Victorian Wallabies, Dave Cowper, Own Bridle and Gordon Sturtridge, played for Victoria. Grace ran well in this match and his two tries impressed the selectors, who earmarked him for a right wing spot.
The team sailed to South Africa in April 1933 on the ‘Ulysses’. During the voyage, Grace celebrated his 21st birthday and received a birthday present of 25,000 pounds from his parents. “Yes,” agreed Graham Cooke, a team mate on the tour, “Mick Grace did receive 25,000 pounds but we didn’t see any of it.” Grace arrived in South Africa as the selectors’ choice as the number one for right wing ahead of the unknown Queenslander, Doug McLean, and he played in five of the first eight tour matches, while McLean figured in just two.
In the opening match of the tour in Durban against Natal, captained by Phil Nel, Grace appeared on the right wing and impressed with some strong running. The eighth tour match was against a formidable Northern Provinces team led by Phil Nel. The side was composed of players from Transvaal, Natal, Orange Free State and Griqualand West. The combined forwards were a powerful lot but the Australian forwards had converted Max White to the front row to add more weight and packed 3-4-1 in the South African manner, forsaking the traditional 3-2-3. The Wallaby forwards matched the combined team’s pack but their backs had a disastrous day with a poor display by Gordon Bennett, deputising for the injured Syd Malcolm. Poor Grace had little chance to shine and, as he had not scored a try on tour, he lost his place to McLean for the entire series of five Test matches.
His only other outings were in minor country games. He scored his first try against North Eastern Districts at Aliwal North, got another against Border at East London and two tries against South Western Districts at the ostrich town of Oudtshoorn.
In all, Grace played in ten of the 24 tour matches and scored four tries. It was a disappointing tour for one who promised so much. On his return to Australia, Grace assumed more responsibilities at Grace Bros. and dropped out of football.
In 1938, his father, old A.E.Grace died, and Mick headed the store chain. When war broke out, Mick enlisted in the RAAF on 29 April 1940, his 28th birthday. As a squadron leader in the RAAF, he flew numerous sorties from Britain, the Middle East and Malaya and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was presented to him on 16 June 1944 by the Governor-General at Admiralty House, Sydney. After the War, he was a member of the NSW Royal Agricultural Society Council for many years until his death on 28 March 1982.