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The Fan Files – Dave Bowers

Andrew Gigacz  May 10, 2018 12:01 PM

Dave Bowers as Eugene Hamilton. (Photo: Supplied) - Western Bulldogs

Dave Bowers as Eugene Hamilton. (Photo: Supplied)

By night, he is Eugene Hamilton, "the richest man in the world with one of the richest voices in showbiz", who by his own admission, is "the world’s greatest performer of high octane, testosterone drenched power cabaret"

By day, though, he is Dave Bowers, born and bred in the working class Melbourne western suburb of St Albans, champion of fairness, all-round good bloke and a passionate Bulldogs' fan.

Bowers has loved the game of footy for as long as he can remember. Some of his earliest memories include watching the Saturday night footy replay in his dressing gown and a trip to Western (now Whitten) Oval in the early 1970s to see the Dogs play Hawthorn

"I remember being struck by the strong colours of the footy jumpers against the vibrant green of the grass." 

It wasn't the Bulldogs who captured his imagination in his primary school days, though; it was Carlton — or more specifically the high-flying Alex Jesaulenko. "Jezza"'s leaps inspired Bowers to try and emulate them at lunch times and in inter-school footy matches. 

Bowers' passion for the Blues disappeared almost instantaneously when Jesaulenko fell out with the club and departed after the 1979 season. “I was heartbroken and disillusioned and fell out of love with not only Carlton, but the whole [then] VFL.”

Nevertheless. Bowers continued to play local footy for St Albans, showing enough potential to be selected in Footscray’s junior development squad in his teens. Many of his St Albans and school footy teammates were Doggies' fans, and some became players, so Bowers became almost a de facto Footscray fan through them during this period.

But by his early 20s, Bowers, a talented singer and musician, had shifted his focus to his band 'The Nubiles', and fallen in love with surfing. Footy and Footscray had very much taken a back seat. 

And they remained in the back seat until late in 1989, when it looked like the Bulldogs would cease to exist as a standalone football club.

"I vividly remember driving down Geelong Road on my way to the Surf Coast in my 1969 VE Valiant Coupe (with a boot big enough to fit his surfboard) and seeing the volunteers rattling tins to raise money to save the club."

The sight struck a raw nerve with Bowers. "I thought, 'That is just so wrong. Footscray cannot be allowed to die like that.'" He gave all the spare change he could find in the car to the tin rattlers and kept track of the club's fightback campaign from there. 

His fondness for the club quickly evolved into a deep love, and he became a regular on the terraces of Whitten Oval at Bulldogs home games. Even when work or surfing intervened, he kept a close eye on the fortunes of the Red, White and Blue. 

By the mid-1990s Bowers (having also carved out a successful career as an artist with Mambo) had become the lead singer for prominent Melbourne band 'The Stone Cold Boners'. As the group’s front man, Bowers developed an ostentatious alter ego, who went by the name of Eugene Hamilton.

The 'Boners' were renowned for their flamboyant renditions of hits of the ’70s and '80s. With Bowers and several other band members now passionate Bulldogs fans, the band began to volunteer their services to the club, and would often perform at official club functions.

One of their regular covers was a song called 'Lido', a huge hit for Boz Scaggs in the mid-1970s. Bowers, a man with a strongly cheeky sense of humour, had started to alter the lyrics to the song whenever the band performed it. As a result, 'Lido' became 'Libba', in honour of the Dogs' 1990 Brownlow Medallist. On one particular Bulldogs family day at Whitten Oval after singing his unique version of the song, he was approached by a very grateful lady, who said in broken English, "I Libba mother, thank you, I very proud!" Eugene Hamilton’s biggest fan was now Mrs Liberatore and Bowers knew then and there that he was continuing to make a valuable contribution to the club, beyond the donation he had made back in 1989 when emptying out the contents of his behemoth car.

Time passed, but Bowers' love for the Bulldogs did not. It only grew stronger. He continued to sing 'Libba' and also modify others famous songs and their lyrics to reflect his love for the club. The Bee Gees' 'More Than a Woman' morphed into 'More Than a Wingman', a tribute to Doug Hawkins. 

Any lingering doubts about his love for the Bulldogs was erased after the team's heartbreaking Preliminary Final loss in 1997. 

"I remember openly crying, and also a strong urge to go to back to rooms at Whitten Oval. I acutely recall feeling the need to be there."

Dave Bowers (right) and long-time musical collaborator Des Mullan (aka Mister Barry) can barely contain their excitement prior to the 2016 Grand Final.

Bowers became a family man, marrying actor, television presenter, teacher and fellow Bulldogs lover Alice Garner. They have a daughter Olive and two sons, Ted (named of course after EJ Whitten) and Ambrose (named after Ambrose Palmer, a highly talented Bulldog of the 1930s and ‘40s, who also boxed professionally, holding at various times the Australian middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight boxing titles).

His music career has evolved but Bowers still becomes Eugene Hamilton on most Monday nights. He and his band, The Money, continue to belt out reinvented famous songs, giving them a new dimension. 

On most weekends, though, Bowers can be seen at the footy, belting out not song lyrics but words of encouragement to Bonti, Jack Macrae et al, and the odd piece of 'advice' to the umpire or an opposition player.

Make no mistake, Dave Bowers is a Bulldog through and through. He recalls the club 'crisis' of late 2014, which ushered in the Luke Beveridge era. "Even through that dark period, I felt there was light at the end of the tunnel. I knew how talented the likes of Bontempelli, Liberatore, Stringer and Jack Macrae were, and was sure we could build a successful team around them.”

Bowers' confidence was shaken in 2016 when Bob Murphy went down clutching his knee in a heartbreaking round three loss to Hawthorn.  “It was like watching any premiership hopes we had evaporate in front of your eyes again as Hawthorn won in such cruel circumstances, and were seemingly marching towards a fourth consecutive flag ”It seemed such an injustice —and an endlessly recurring one at that.”

He laughs as he recalls what he said in the aftermath of the loss of both the match and Murphy for the season: "Bloody inner eastern suburban Liberal Hawthorn! They’ve already always got the best houses, and the best holiday houses, the best cars, even the best teeth — and now this!”

Of course things would turn around dramatically from there. Bowers watched the Dogs roll over West Coast in the first week of the 2016 finals at home with family and friends, and then cringed his way through the win over the Hawks, not believing the 'have nots' had actually beaten the 'haves' until the final siren.

Bowers found himself in New Zealand with his son Ted when the Dogs faced GWS in the 2016 Preliminary Final. He and Ted had planned to watch the match from their hotel room but torrential rain resulted in the TV signal being lost during the hours leading into the match. 

Almost miraculously, the signal was restored (though the rain continued) just before the game started. David and Ted watched the game uninterrupted and celebrated wildly as the final siren sounded. Moments later, the signal was lost once more.

With the Dogs having broken the Preliminary Final hoodoo, Bowers felt a calm sense of confidence about the Grand Final. And little omens kept popping up.

"We stopped at the remnants of an old rainforest in some dairy farmland in outback NZ, and came across an old bit of graffiti carved into some wood — just one word — 'Easton'.

"And the next dawn we were at a car park lookout when an old lady turned up to clean the toilets. She was wearing a nighty, not expecting anyone to be there, and had a farm dog with her. As I patted the dog, I asked her the dog's name. 'EJ', she said."

Bowers flew back into Melbourne on Friday with Ted to re-join the rest of the family. He was greeted by further good news. The entire family had secured Grand Final tickets through the club ballot. They would watch the Bulldogs break a 62-year drought together.

While he knows just how important the 2016 premiership was to the fabric of the club, he is eager for more success. "It would be nice to have a handful of flags and cups in the trophy cabinet, not just '54 and '16." 

As he looks forward to the team adding to the silverware collection, Dave Bowers will continue to create his art in his backyard studio and ply his musical trade as an "international superstar" in his guise as Eugene Hamilton. 

Eugene Hamilton and the Money are well worth checking out at the Dogs Bar in Acland Street St Kilda each Monday night. It's almost impossible not to smile as you watch Eugene mesmerise his fans. And if he finds out that there are some Bulldogs' fans in the crowd, he might even roll out the old classic, ‘Libba'.