DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 10 2017
MONDAY, MARCH 6
Excellent coffee from ‘Yellow House’, Wanganui, where we are staying during our road trip around the Central part of New Zealand’s North Island. My wife tells our motel manager about the cigarette smell in our room and he provides air freshener. A school sports carnival is being held at Cook’s Garden Oval, where triple Olympic Gold Medal winner, Peter Snell broke a middle distance world record in 1962. The statue, in his honor, is bedecked in school colors, which is a nice touch. Inspect the Royal Wanganui Opera building (1899). The American manager (he started a month ago) tells us about the building. He is, he says, an ex-Vaudeville performer and university lecturer from Illinois, which he tells us is a railway town. Lunch at ‘Ambrosia Deli’ is very good. Get the Durie Hill Elevator, but the Memorial (viewing) Tower (at the top) is closed because of painting. Enjoy a London Pride at Rutland Inn. Local groper for dinner.
TUESDAY, MARCH 7
At 7 a.m. we are picked up from our motel, by Val, the South African postie, who is married to a Swiss bloke, Alois. Graham and Sue, from Surrey in England, are also embarking on the ‘postal run’ with Val. We stop at about 80 post boxes in the Wanganui River Valley. It is real backwoods country. (I said backwoods). Morning tea in the convent at Jerusalem, where the documentary ‘How Far is Heaven?’ was made, about the Sisters of Compassion nuns. There are a group of Lutheran chaps on retreat. I notice a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, and a bottle of port in the kitchen. Oh well. When I interviewed Pakistani cricketer, Zaheer Abbas in his hotel room in Brisbane back in the 1980s, he had a half full bottle of Johnny Walker Red beside the bed, for medicinal purposes, no doubt. An old Maori nun says hello. The next leg of the trip is by jet boat up the river, with young Clayton our skipper. His parents married on the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ (where we are headed) when he was about three. He previously worked in a venison abattoir in Rotorua. Lots of canoeists on the river. The movie ‘River Queen’ starring Keifer Sutherland, was filmed here in 2005. There are huge eels below the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’, in the middle of rainforest. Dinner tonight (pizza and calamari) is very good. Turkish chef.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8
Drive north to New Plymouth, with a lunch stop at Opunake, where Peter Snell was born. It is so windy, the car door is almost blown off. Lovely vegie hot cakes at Sugar Juice Cafe. Marie is the first to spot Mt Taranaki, protruding through the clouds. Walk the food off on the Stony River Circuit. In New Plymouth, drinks at Frederick’s Pub. Next stop, ‘Crowded House’, home of Taranaki Rugby Union. Emerson’s beer is so good. Dinner (pork belly and chicken breasts) at Joe’s Garage is excellent.
THURSDAY, MARCH 9
Walk ‘Fairy Dell’ circuit at Mt Egmont, which is covered in clouds. The visitors’ centre is excellent. There is a drone above us. Irritating, to say the least. Also walk Dawson Falls, and then Holland Gardens. Back in New Plymouth, I have two beers at rough ‘Icons Bar’, watching cricket from Dunedin. Controversial catch by South African, Hashim Amla. “He wouldn’t lie. He’s a Muslim,” says the barman, sarcastically.
FRIDAY, MARCH 10
Big walking day around New Plymouth. Lunch at Pukekura Gardens tea house. A large section of the park is closed for WOMAD, an arts, dance and music event. There has been major flooding on the Coromandel Peninsula, where our holiday began.
SATURDAY, MARCH 11
SKY NEWS from England reports that former Great Britain rugby league forward, Mick Adams has died, suddenly, at his home at Tamworth in New South Wales, Australia. Such a shock. Mick was a good mate, and a fine man, an absolute legend at the Widnes club in England. His mum stayed at our place in Brisbane when Mick was touring with the 1979 Great Britain side. Marie and I had first met him during our working holiday in the UK in 1977-78.
Photo 1: Mick Adams
New Plymouth Museum/Library features beautiful color film of Taranaki life, and my wife is particularly taken with scenes of kids with Jersey cows. She was raised on Jersey dairy farms in northern New South Wales. Girl in library is wearing a New Zealand Rugby League jacket. Walk the coastal path to Taranaki Port, where we have brunch at Bach on Breakwater. The Tui beer does not agree with me. Fellow diner wears a Queensland State of Origin jersey. Behemoth IPA, back in town at Ms White’s, is much better than Tui. Inspect historic Richmond cottage. Buy monk fish for dinner.
Watch rugby league from Australia, and commentator, Joel Caine, in a moment of historic reflection during the Newcastle v Wyong (New South Wales Cup match), calls Lionel Williamson a great indigenous Australian rugby league player of the 1960s and ’70s. There’s just one problem. Lionel doesn’t have any indigenous blood. How do I know? Lionel told me. He was embarrassed, that he was included in the book “100 Indigenous Sporting Greats’, because he was depriving a real indigenous person of a place. “If I was indigenous, I would be proud to say so, but I’m not,” he told me. I can only think that because ‘Lionel’ is a popular name (in the minds of white people) in indigenous families, and that Lionel is dark, that people assume he is indigenous. One of his nephews is Luke Williamson, who is as blonde as a Swedish back packer. Former Manly forward, Owen Cunningham is another league player regularly referred to as indigenous, when he is not.
Photo 2: Lionel Williamson
SUNDAY, MARCH 12
Pelts down (with rain) as we drive north to Raglan. Stop on the coastal drive, hoping to see the Three Sisters rock formations, but access blocked because of high tide and flooding. Whitebait fritters at Mokau River. Coffee stop in the railway station at Te Kuiti, the home town of All Blacks’ legend, Colin Meads, who is now 80, and battling pancreatic cancer. When I hear his name I always think of the incident involving Ken Catchpole, when Meads wish boned the Australian halfback in a ruck in a match in Sydney in 1968. There is a great rugby trivia question from that year. Who is the only man to play against the All Blacks, and feature in a rugby league World Cup final in the one year? Answer: Bob Fulton. ‘Bozo’ was doing National Service and played for Combined Services against the all Blacks, as well as representing Australia in the league World Cup final against France. Next stop, Bridal Veil Falls. The ‘Sunset Motel’ at Raglan is better than we anticipated. Watch NRL in sports bar of Harbor View Hotel. Men have tallies delivered to their tables, in milk boxes. Dinner at ‘Blind Tiger’.
Death of Murray Bell, creator of iconic ‘Footroot Flats’ (New Zealand) cartoon strip. I loved it, and even bought a Footrot Flats book.