HE was the voice of cycling and football for more than three decades and arguably Warrnambool’s best tourism ambassador.
John Holland’s funeral this week is likely to be one of the biggest memorial turnouts in recent memory with mourners from across Australia.
Tributes were flowing yesterday and included international cyclists who knew him personally.
The 75-year-old died at the weekend surrounded by his family after a long battle with cancer — positive to the end.
He will be buried on Friday after an 11am service at Our Lady Help of Christians Church, east Warrnambool.
Even in his downward health spiral, he found the energy to do commentary at the Sufferfest triathlon two weeks ago.
“He will be a huge loss to his many friends and for his contributions across many sectors,” Warrnambool’s mayor Michael Neoh said.
“In terms of tourism promotion, he was the unofficial mayor of Warrnambool.
“I’ve known him since I was a boy and never once heard him complain.”
Born and raised at Coragulac in a family of seven children, Mr Holland finished his school education in Colac before starting his first job at the age of 14 in the spare parts department of a local car dealership.
From there he expanded his skills into tenpin bowling centres in Colac and then in Warrnambool where he settled in 1967. A promotional venture into radio triggered a long part-time career in broadcasting local football and road cycling which later took him interstate to cover major events.
He also operated a mini-golf business on the Warrnambool foreshore for about two decades, flying international flags and spruiking the region to visitors.
His former business partner and long-time co-commentor Lyndsay Hill said they never had an argument in their 50 years of friendship. “I’ll miss him like mad,” Mr Hill said yesterday.
“He was a wonderful ambassador, a wonderful friend and a fantastic businessman.
“If he had an idea he’d go for it.”
Hampden Football Netball League president Bob Guiney remembers when he was an apprentice technician at radio 3YB helping set up the football broadcasts.
“John’s knowledge of local footy was fantastic,” Mr Guiney said.
“He could call a match and know all the players by their kicking style and movements without looking at information sheets.
“As well as footy and cycling John and Lyndsay also did broadcasts at belle of the ball events.
“I don’t think we’ll ever see another partnership in broadcasting like that.”
Ace Radio Warrnambool manager Peter Headen said there would be a special on-air tribute this morning and at the opening round of HFNL next month when 3YB returns to live-broadcasting after the Holland-Hill coverage was controversially axed about a decade ago.
“John was a larger-than-life presence,” Mr Headen said.
“His only regret was not being able to persuade the authorities to put a Welcome to Warrnambool sign on the water tower at Albert Park. His footy broadcasts were famous for his references to the mini-golf wind sock and his pronunciation of ‘Teerang’.”
Cycling promoter John Craven described Mr Holland as a legend. “I’ve never known anyone to cling to life as he did,” Mr Craven said.
“I first met him in 1973 with Lyndsay Hill and they covered Melbourne to Warrnambool Classics, Sun tours around Victoria and Tasmania and Great Ocean Road marathon athletics.
“We also went to the Tour de France in 2005 with a number of prominent sports personalities.
“In 2010, he travelled with a cancer-awareness ride around Australia and did all the on-road broadcasts.
“Young riders, international stars, they all loved him.” The Standard racing writer Tim Auld said Mr Holland was a regular at May Racing Carnivals and was an enthusiastic part-owner in several horses.