Joseph Oswald “Ossie” Bertram was one of Norwood’s most brilliant players of the 19th century. As a footballer and as a man he was greatly admired for his honest, unassuming character, and for his qualities as an inspirational leader.
Always called “Os” or “Ossie” to distinguish him from his father, Joseph Bertram, senior, he joined Norwood in 1887 from St Peter’s College. His elder brother Robert (Bob) Bertram had made his debut three years earlier, and continued to play with the Redlegs’ for eight seasons, from 1884 to 1891.
Remarkably, Ossie Bertram played his first game for Norwood in June, 1887, against West Adelaide, at the tender age of 14 years and ten months. He is likely to be the youngest player in Norwood’s history, and certainly one of the youngest ever to appear in a senior football match.
From 1888, Ossie played in the backlines, alongside his brother Bob. Although it was just his second season, Ossie clearly showed that he was a player of rare ability, as Norwood won the premiership, and went on to defeat South Melbourne for the Championship of Australia.
Hampered by injury in 1889, Ossie still played a vital role in Norwood’s grand final victory over Port Adelaide. Late in the final term, with Norwood leading by just one goal, it was Ossie who secured the ball and put through a brilliant running shot to give the Redlegs a match winning lead.
He was the member of another premiership team against Port in 1891, this time playing at centre half-forward. His greatest fame, however, was won at centre in 1894, when “The Register” newspaper named him as the outstanding player in the South Australian competition.
Coolness under pressure, keen judgement and lightning speed were the hallmarks of his play, both in the air and on the ground. He was very powerful, but never used his strength unfairly, and this was a key to the great esteem in which he was held.
Ossie went on to climax the 1894 season with a best on ground performance in the grand final, leading Norwood’s charge in a very tight last quarter against South Adelaide. As full time drew near, he made a desperate rush along the outer wing of Adelaide Oval, sending the ball to “Tack” Metherell in the south eastern pocket. Metherell’s centring kick was then taken by “Bos” Daly, who snapped truly to put the Redlegs in front. Norwood went on to win its first premiership since 1891, and the 11th in the history of the club from 1878.
Although better-known as a footballer, Ossie was also highly regarded as an oarsman. He was one the best for the Commercial Rowing Club, serving as captain and playing a major role in its success during the early 1890’s.
In August, 1895, after playing almost the entire season with Norwood, Ossie Bertram was transferred by his employer, D & W Murray, to its branch office in Perth. The Western Australian economy was booming on the back of a number of fabulously rich gold discoveries, and several other Norwood players left at around the same time to try their fortunes in the west, including Charlie Atkins, Jim Mullaney and Jack Cullen.
Ossie played football briefly in Perth in 1895, with Rovers in the WA Football Association (now WAFL). Subsequently, in 1896 he appeared as a field umpire in the WA Association, and on one occasion he was physically threatened and forced to defend himself against an irate spectator.
Sadly, his life came to a sudden end on Friday 18 December, 1896, when he succumbed to typhoid fever in a Perth hospital, at the age of 24. The news reached Adelaide the next day, where it was met with shock and disbelief, especially as earlier reports had suggested that he would recover. On Sunday, 20 December, an estimated 500 mourners attended his funeral at East Perth Cemetery.
Before he left for Perth, Ossie Bertram had promised that one day he might come back, and remarked that he would always be ready to help his friends at Norwood. This was never to be realized, but his enduring legacy is the prominent part he played in advancing the Norwood Football Club, both through premiership success, and in the exemplary fashion he conducted himself on and off the field.
C Lane April 2016