MONDAY, MARCH 7.
Former New South Wales forward, Des O’Reilly passed away today, aged 61, finally succumbing to the stomach cancer which had made his life a misery. He leaves behind a wife, Christine, and five children.
Marie and I fly to Melbourne, the Brisbane Airport experience a pleasant one. There is a Mackay Cutters’ rugby league player in one of the departure lounges, and a McArthur Mines Rescue bloke is next to me as I buy coffee. On the flight itself, the young bloke beside us listens to music the whole way. Our steward is the oldest I have seen. He looks like the bald guy from the Benny Hill Show.
Our destination is Balgownie Estate in the Yarra Valley. The countryside is so dry, and it is disgusting to see so much litter on the side of the M80, even into the countryside! We have beef and bacon pies for lunch, from a bakery in Yarra Glenn, followed by one drink at Hargreaves Hill Brewery bar, a former Colonial Bank building. We do wine tasting at Balgownie. Then a spa in our room as rabbits frolic outside. Watch Melbourne Storm hang on for a victory over. there were, in my view, some ‘home town’ calls – crowd or player influenced – from referees, Grant Atkins and Gavin Reynolds. Penalties went 9-4 to Melbourne.
TUESDAY, MARCH 8
Walk across the road to Yarrawood Winery for lunch. Very good. I have flathead tails and Marie lamb shoulder. Our waitress is travelling to Yandina in Queensland for a break in May. She loves the pub and the nearby cafe. Back in 1988 I took two prominent Wigan rugby league officials to the Great Britain v Wide Bay match at Gympie, and we stopped at the Yandina Pub on the way. The two Poms were wearing jackets and ties, and looked out of place in the pub, where there were sugar cane laborers and the like in shorts, singlets and thongs. One of the English blokes was a coal miner in his younger days, and he felt embarrassed at being so well dressed.
Tonight we eat at Rue’s restaurant at Balgownie Estate. I dress up, but there is a bloke near us wearing a Lions (Aussie rules) polo shirt, shorts and thongs. Hello! My French onion soup is lovely, but duck a bit chewy. Marie’s porterhouse steak is good, but the citrus tart is not home made.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9
Driving day. Lunch on the river bank at lovely Warburton, where children having a great time doing rubber lilo rides through the rapids. Wild looking bloke takes greyhound for a walk along a bush path and it (the dog) shits big time. This dashing young male leaves the pile where it dropped. We drive the Yarra Valley Range and it is spooky seeing dead trees from the disastrous 2009 bushfires. Marie and I were in Launceston, Tasmania at the time of the fires, and the weather there was almost intolerable as well (39 degrees), but fortunately, no fires. One drink at Healesville Pub. Our barmaid is from Westport, Ireland, a town I have visited twice – once with my wife and my parents in 1994, and again in 1998, with my rugby league tour group. The group was hosted by Matt Molloy himself at Matt Molloy’s pub, with the great man playing the flute, along with his son, while an elderly local gentleman sang for us. Judy Jennings, who ran a Celtic Gift Shop in Brisbane, reckons it was my greatest achievement on the three tours I had taken overseas to that point. As we left Matt’s pub, he shoved a pint of Guinness in my hand, to drink on the way. The Healesville Irish barmaid tells me the old singer from the pub has passed away since then, as has Matt Molloy’s wife, Geraldine. At the Healesville Pub two gay blokes are very fussy about the cleanliness of their table, and also ask for the music to be changed.
Local media full of stories about African carjackers in Melbourne.
THURSDAY, MARCH 10
Lunch at fog shrouded Toolangi Tavern. Our waitress is Polish. Lovely drive through Myers Creek Forest to Innocent Bystander Winery and then Napoleone Brewery. Last stop, Yarra Valley Chocolaterie. In other words – a day of indulgence. Clay target shooters do their stuff in the paddocks near us, on our return to Balgownie.
Watch ‘Fox Footy Show’ and Ben Ikin and Paul Kent mention a letter Mick De Vere wrote to Broncos coach, Wayne Bennett, asking for a chance. All that is detailed in my book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’. Penrith and the Bulldogs play a thriller tonight with former Singleton player, Kerrod Holland kicking a sideline conversion after the full time hooter. Holland then gives an hilarious, refreshing post match interview.
The Sydney Telegraph run a lovely story on the late Des O’Reilly, featuring a photograph of him and fellow long hairs, Ian Schubert and Russell Fairfax.
My good mate Greg Grainger phones to say former St George rugby league player, Grahame Buckley has died of a heart attack, while paddling his surf ski. And legendary Australian entertainer, Jon English, a devoted Parramatta league fan, passes away today as a result of complications following surgery.
FRIDAY, MARCH 11
Hot air balloons make a pretty picture as they soar above Yarra Valley. We have a good run into Melbourne, and picnic at Gosch’s Paddock, as a junior Aussie rules side trains nearby. Book into Medina Apartments at South Yarra and then explore Prahan Markets, buying blue eye cod for dinner.
Drinks at SOS near South Yarra Station. The manager is chatty and loves Byron Bay. Next stop Arcadia Pub, a basic establishment with a big pool room. A 21st is being held upstairs. The pub does not serve schooners, only pints. Dare I say it, that is un-Australian. Final stop, South Press, is the best. I enjoy a Coburg Lager while Marie downs a Paraza (Rose from the Languedoc region of France). A photographer is doing a special on the wine bar, and we feature (so it seems) in lots of shots.
The Broncos beat New Zealand Warriors 25-10 at Suncorp Stadium. Our daughter, Melanie attends (along with 35,229 others), but is sitting by herself (poor thing) as Margaret Heisner (my wife’s usual footy companion) decides to have a night at home.
Learn of the death of former New Zealand rugby league five eighth, Sel Belsham. Belsham, from Auckland, played 10 Tests in the 1956-57 seasons. He later became a first class referee.
Noted sports radio announcer, Pat McErlean also has passed away. His bowls show was popular in Queensland, and he also did a rugby league segment, with Queensland Rugby League boss, Ross Livermore.
SATURDAY, MARCH 12
Walk to South Melbourne, via Melbourne Grammar, where I got a scoop story back in 2009. The Broncos trained at the school, and, as usual, I checked with my copy of ‘Big League’ that all the players named were actually on the field. I noticed prop, Joel Clinton was absent, but none of the other journalists or cameramen made mention of it, because they had not even noticed he was missing. After the press conference I stayed behind, and discovered that Joel had been dropped because he had broken team rules by bringing a female back to the team hotel. He was later fined $50,000.
Have a look at the Boer War monument at South Melbourne, as preparations step up for the Australian FI Grand Prix. First drinks stop is the Coppersmith Pub, where the staff are friendly and efficient. It has a lift to a rooftop bar. But the purpose of our walk is the Mussel Festival at Cecil Street, South Melbourne and things are pumping. A jazz band does a great version of Kinks’ songs. Marie has two lots of mussels, while I hop into nine Coffin Bay oysters. So creamy. Estrella beer at Spanish stand is flat. Watch NRL in sports bar of George Hotel. Drama on the street. A dog escapes from a car, and a frantic female, wearing only a towel, gives chase. Great entertainment. Walk ‘home’ via Temperance pub.
SUNDAY, MARCH 13
Breakfast at a cafe, where our niece, Eliza Lynch, is part of the wait staff. She is hung over, but still does an excellent job. We walk along the Yarra River to Moomba Festival’s sideshow alley. Hot and dusty, like the Ekka. Water ski-ers provide brilliant action on the river. There had been gang riots at Moomba overnight, with Africans and Polynesians getting stuck into each other, and dragging innocent bystanders into the fray. To Federation Square, where we have a drink at Beer De Lux, followed by pizza at Cafe Vicolino. Next stop, Swan Street, where we watch the NRL match between Cronulla and St George-Illawarra on the big screen in Vaucluse Pub, where an old bloke is updating his diary – over a glass or two of red – and getting cross at noisy kids. Don’t blame him. Kids are not meant to be in public bars. Lots of Storm supporters in the pub and we join them on the walk to AAMI Park for Gold Coast Titans match. Run into Queensland’s unofficial poet laureate, Rupert McCall outside the stadium. Our tickets, for seats high in the eastern stand, cost $59 each. Storm’s Test fullback, Billy Slater does his knee, and there are fears he will be out for the season. His replacement, Cameron Munster from Rockhampton, slays the Titans, as Storm win 34-16.
Stop at the Great Britain Hotel on our way back to the apartment.