I opened the palatial doors of the CJ Coles Executive Recreation on Little Bourke Street in Melbourne and was greeted by a distinguished looking bloke, about 6 feet in height , gray hair in his mid-50’s who seemed in reasonable shape albeit with a slight beer drinkers paunch common to Aussie men of his age. I immediately sensed by his confident manner and slightly limping gait that he was probably an ex Aussie Rules footballer.
Mike James? he asked extending his hand. “Yes Mr. Leehane, pleased to meet you” I replied
“The names Tom, not Mister you think I look like that bloody TV horse Mr.Ed”, I might smell like a horse but the names Tom from now on Ok?” he replied
Somehow he said all of this with a slight smile in his voice that got his point across in a half aggressive, half joking manner. It was a trait I had seen in many irascible Aussie blokes of his age so I was not taken aback at all. With his approach I also sensed he was like me, from Melbourne’s rough and ready Western Suburbs.
Tom then proceeded to show me around the facility which was quite lavish for its time with a table tennis area, well equipped gym, mini golf driving and putting area, executive lounge and Male changing room.
“No women’s change room Tom? I asked.
“No Coles doesn’t have any women executives, so that probably decreases your interest by about 100 per cent’ Tom replied.
“Not at all Tom, I’m such a professional I never let business mix with my social life” I quipped sarcastically.
“Oh please tell me another one” he replied with a mock groan of disbelief. “I was a young bloke once too ya know “
With the tour over we then sat down in the lounge area for the formal interview. Leehane didn’t waste any time
“You’re a fit looking bugger no doubt about that, but what’s with the beard and longhair are you a surfie or a hippie? I can’t work out what the bloody hell you are?”
I could sense he was trying to see if I had a sense of humor so I decided to reply in kind. “I’m actually hoping to start a career in pornographic movies” I replied.
That must have struck a chord because Tom immediately burst out laughing but within 5 seconds adopted a stern poker face
“ You ought to be ashamed of yourself you realize you a talking to a God fearing catholic who has a wife and seven kids don’t you !”
Rather than apologize I decided to take the game up to him’
Well I’m a Catholic too Tom, but my mum married a Mason and after 4 kids, me being the last and a birth weight of 10 lbs., she said enough was enough and shut up shop !
“Your dad’s a Mason? Tom replied with mock indignation
“Was, he died about 15 years ago” I replied.
Within an instant Tom changed his tone ‘Oh sorry to hear that Mike, how is your Mum keeping now, financially I mean is she ok?” he asked.
“Yeah she’s comfortable. Fortunately Dad was a war veteran and she is pretty well set up for a pension and medical benefits. She’s not wealthy by any means but ok financially.”I explained
That’s good so your still at home he asked
“Yep I am actually Tom” I replied
“Yes your mum shouldn’t be left on her own. As long as you don’t try to bring any of your porno starlets home you shouldn’t annoy her too much I imagine.” he said.
While I was busy laughing and trying to think of a smart arse reply he changed tack again “So if you’re a Catholic where did you go to school? he asked.
“St Bernard’s college West Essendon Tom” I replied
“Typical I should have known, another smart-arse Essendon bastard… you follow them in the footy I hope” he asked.
I later found out that Leehane had played for Essendon in the early 1950’s, so my next comment was bound to get a reaction
“No I follow Collingwood Tom” I replied waiting for the inevitable barrage of abuse we Collingwood supporters have become accustomed to over many years
“Bloody hell a porn star who barracks for Collingwood I don’t know which is worse. Then again better than half the other derelicts and pick pockets they have following them” he said while shifting uncomfortably in his seat and wincing at the mere mention of Collingwood, Essendon’s mortal enemy for over 50 years
Sensing a no win situation I tried for a quick change of topic
“Where did you go to school Tom?
“In bloody East Brunswick if it’s any of your business you nosey bastard!” he replied
Oh Coburg, you mean that big sandstone building on Bell Street? Pentridge Prison? Luckily for me he laughed at that too.
“That’s where you’ll end up one day for murder ya cheeky bastard. Your jokes are killing me for starters” he replied
“Speaking of pains in the arse like yourself, I’ve been having this hamstring problem Mike, will stretching help that you reckon?” Tom asked grabbing the back of his leg with a grimace.
I then launched into a mini lecture on the importance of flexibility, static and ballistic stretching techniques etc. all of which he listened to intently, asking questions along the way about duration and intensity. Relevant questions that made me realize this bloke more than he lets on.
“You certainly seem to know your stuff Mike”, Tom replied. “Now along with your studies in Phys Ed I understand your also working part time at other places right? Yes correct Tom, 2 fitness clubs and a local Company 10 minutes’ walk away from here that has a small gym “I replied.
“Ok, so with all of your studies and experience what’s the most important thing you have learned? He asked. “Well I think it’s all about communication Tom, you can have all the book knowledge in the world but if you can’t talk to people at all levels and don’t like people what use is it?
Tom listened intently and then rather abruptly stood up and said “Well look we are looking for new staff at a gym we are building for our staff just across the road in the Leviathan building in about 8 weeks’ time are you interested or what?”
“Well yes if you will have me.” I replied
Well you’re the first Phys Ed studying bastard who isn’t up himself and you have at least some semblance of humor so I’ll call you back in 6 weeks,” he replied
“Sounds good to me Tom, any chance you could go missing for a half hour so I can see what’s worth knocking off here.” I said with a sly look over my shoulders that would have made my Irish convict forebears smile with pride and my Christian brother’s teachers wince with embarrassment.
“Yeah I’ll have to bloody start counting the golf balls now. See you in 6 weeks Mike.” Tom said while shaking my hand goodbye
I was very happy. I had never experienced a job interview like this before. In our 30 minute meeting Tom Leehane had found out about my family background, where I was from, interests, sense of humor, fitness expertise and communication style all in an informal setting. I sensed that this bloke named Tom Leehane would become one of the most influential people in my life.
For the first time I actually began to discern an answer to my eternal question.
What the f#$% was I going to do with my life?
Now suddenly on this beautiful Melbourne Summers day in 1980 I was certain Tom Leehane, GJ Coles and Corporate Fitness were all going to be a big part of the answer.