The Story of Stan Bisset

by Don Hughes
6th July 2020

Warrandyte son: hero of Kokoda

“I SAT WITH him for six hours — he was quite conscious at times — we talked about Mum and Dad, our good times and bad times, what we did as kids.

“I sat with him until about 4am, when he finally left us.

“We buried him beside the track.”

As Butch Bisset lay dying in his younger brother Stan’s arms, the battle to protect Australia along the track was intense.

Grossly outnumbered, the Australians needed every ounce of courage, luck and tenacity to slow — and then stop — the relentless thrust of a determined enemy.

Stan Bisset was born in Balaclava in 1912; he and his brother Butch spent their formative years in Warrandyte, an adventurous life of hunting, rafting and sporting pursuits.

Stan was a natural athlete, who just blossomed as a youngster in the bush around Warrandyte.

He was a fine baritone singer, tennis player, boxer and rower.

But it was with the ball he excelled; Stan was asked to try out for St Kilda in the VFL, however his preferred code was Rugby Union, in which he represented Australia.

Stan’s career as an international rugby player was, unfortunately, cut short.

After his Victorian debut against the touring Springboks in 1937, alongside fellow war-hero-to-be Edward “Weary” Dunlop, Stan was selected to join the national team, and head abroad with the Wallabies.

Stan described the events to Kokoda historian, Dave Howell:

“I was selected to go to England with the Australian Rugby Union team in September, 1939.

We met the King and Queen, but we never played in England because we arrived there the day before World War Two was declared.

The tour was called off.

We played one game — against the British army in Bombay, India on the way back to Australia.

We won comfortably.”

The tour was abandoned, and the team returned to Australia, many signing up with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

Half a century later, Special Forces soldier (Afghanistan) and Kokoda expedition guide, Andrew James, walked the track with Stan, who recounted his war experiences.

His terrific book, Kokoda Wallaby, is a lasting testimony to our heroic Warrandyte sons:

“Stan Bisset was a real hero, both in battle, on the rugby pitch and in desperate armed combat against the Japanese during the Second World War.

As a member of the ill-fated 1939 Wallaby touring team to England, he was a rugby legend.

In the Middle East and on the Kokoda Track, he was one of Australia’s most distinguished and heroic combatants.

But above all else, he personified so many attributes of the Australian soldier: moral and physical courage, compassion, selflessness, independence, loyalty, resourcefulness, devotion and humour.”

Growing up during the Great Depression, and a frolicking childhood in the bush around the Yarra, Stan enlisted as a Private in the 2/14th Battalion along with his brother Hal (Butch) in 1940.

Stan was rapidly promoted to Sergeant, and Butch to Warrant Officer.

Both were selected for Officer Training in the Middle East and graduated as Lieutenants.

Both brothers ended up defending Australia on the Kokoda Track.

Stan survived the war — but lost his brother and many friends.

Despite returning home with the honours of a Mentioned in Dispatches (MID), Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and Military Cross (MC), he returned home a changed man.

Local resident Ken Crooks, who volunteers at the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance, is a passionate advocate of the great legacy the Stan Bisset story brings to Warrandyte.

Secretary of the Warrandyte Historical society, Valarie Polley said Ken has organised a number of exhibitions highlighting the Bisset brothers.

Captain Stan Bisset MC, DCM, MID was also awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the Queens Birthday Honours, 2000.

He passed away on October 5, 2010.