DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 50 2017
MONDAY, DECEMBER 11
Tenterfield is our ‘home’ for the next few days, as we enjoy the ambiance of one of the town’s old pubs, the Commercial. Coffee from Willow Tree is good. Tenterfield has an annual Festival of the Willows. I remember, when I was in my teens, my parents brought the family to Tenterfield for the festival, and there was absolutely nothing happening. I think dad expected there would be floats and parades going up and down the main street all the time. I certainly did. You couldn’t Google ‘festival activities’ in those days, and a phone call was an expensive ‘trunk call’. (Look it up). When Marie and I visit the Tenterfield Tourist office, we are looked after by a gentleman with the surname Roberts, who comes from the family long associated with the old New England Bus Company. He said the great entertainer, Peter Allen (who came from Tenterfield, hence his hit song, Tenterfield Saddler) would hitch hike to Lismore, and then get a lift with members of the Trevan family, to Ballina. Evidently his first gig was at the Lobster Pot pub, which is now the Slipway. My father stayed at the Lobster Pot quite a bit, when he was a Shell Oil Co. rep.
Marie and I spent an hour or so in the excellent Henry Parkes Museum. It was here, in the banqueting hall of the school of arts, that Henry, who was born in Warwickshire, England, delivered his speech on the merits of Australia becoming a Federation of States. Hopefully, this is something taught in our schools, and what a great place for a school excursion. After lunch, at Corner Lifestyles, we drive to Mt McKenzie Lookout to the west of the town. I think it is a bit of a Lover’s Lane. There are a few young couples there. One bloke, wearing Tenterfield Rugby League footy shorts, looks down at his town, turns to his girl, and says: “It’s a shit hole”. Ah. Young love. Speaking of Tenterfield rugby league, and I’m sure you were. My good mate, Peter Skerman, when he was captain-coach of Texas, hated playing at Tenterfield because of the slope of the ground. “If you ran up-hill, the players coming at you looked like giants,” Skerman said. One of my former teammates at Murwillumbah Brothers, Charlie Kaehler, an excellent prop, had a stint playing with Tenterfield.
On my return to town, I have two beers at Telegraph Pub, which is quiet, and ‘basic’. We go to Bowls Club with intention of eating there, but the staff are rude, so we leave, and eat back at the Commercial – Hoki, chips and salad (moi); steak (Marie).
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 12
Bush drive today, down Snake’s Gully, then Bald Rock Road, which ends at a private property, with a road closed sign. There is an orchard of some kind here. Next we drive through a state forest, where Neville, an ex-timber worker, advises us to turn back because the road is not going to get any better. He is looking for a log, for his woodwork hobby. He says that the people who own the property at Bald Rock Road, have no right to put up a road closed sign, because it is a gazetted road.
Back in town, we see a female wearing a t-shirt, which says: “I will not stay calm. You can get f……”, only she doesn’t have the last word blanked out. I think ‘feral’ is the word that describes her best.
While we are having dinner, five men arrive, look around, and one says: “It looks a bit posh for us”, but they stay. Granite Belt Brewery owner delivers kegs.
News breaks in Sydney that former Canterbury-Bankstown rugby league chief, Raelene Castle is the new boss of the Australian Rugby Union. She is a real league girl, given her dad, Bruce, captained the Kiwi League side in Australia in 1967. He played two Tests for the Kiwis, his first against Great Britain at Odsal Stadium, Bradford in 1961, and his second six years later, against Australia at the SCG. The Kiwis lost both matches. I buy a copy of Rugby League Review, a magazine which is hard to get in Brisbane. My good mate, Terry Holmes from England is a contributor to the mag., which is edited by Terry Liberopoulos, who leaves me for dead as a rugby league train spotter.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 13
See a lad wearing the Australian Rugby League World Cup jersey in the main street. Newsagent unfriendly. I find that is quite a common ailment with newsagents. Marie buys goat chops (sorry vegans) at Premier Meats and a dress at Simply Country, before we leave town. Also have a look at the historic cork tree. Marie walks around it three times, for luck. A new bridge is being built over the Clarence River at Tabulam. Not sure what will happen to the old one, which is a beauty, and is often mentioned on Macca’s ABC show. Drive up the Theresa Creek road to see the farm where my wife, Marie, spent the first few years of her life. She would ride from the farm, bareback, to the local school. You tell the kids of today about that and – well, they probably couldn’t care less. Lunch at Zeebras Cafe, Casino (near Kwong Sings, where Marie’s Aunty Isobel Turner worked) is very good. Hamburger (moi), quiche (Marie). Afternoon tea at Marie’s sister, Carolyn’s place in Lismore, before checking into our apartment at Lennox Head. A Crushers v Broncos Australian Rugby League match is playing on FoxSports as we get organised. It’s not too bad, either. The Crushers went OK. It is followed by Balmain v Cronulla, and the great Englishman, Ellery Hanley is playing for Balmain.
In Perth, our daughter, Melanie is courageous enough to attend a pub frequented by the Balmy Army, to watch the Jeff Horn v Gary Corcoran fight from Brisbane. Australian pace bowler, Josh Hazlewood is there.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 14
Looking from the lagoon at the southern end of the beach at Lennox, it is picture perfect view of coastal Australia. People swimming, stand-up paddle boarders out in front and surf board riders doing their stuff off Skennars Head, with hang gliders above them. Back in the main street is the business of board maker, Frank McWilliams, who is currently working on three boards for clients. On the walls of his ‘Coast’ cafe, the ex Cronulla resident features the surf art of Scott Christensen.
Former Parramatta second rower, Chris King is on duty at the Lennox pub when we rock up for a drink. We are friends with the King family with two of Chris’s brothers, Andrew and Matt, also having played in the NRL, with Matt representing Australia. Chris was on duty earlier this year when New South Wales State of Origin players, Blake Ferguson and Josh Dugan rocked up for a beer and a bet. He said local patrons were surprised, to say the least, to see Dugan and Ferguson there, a few days out from the third and deciding Origin match. The NSW boys were in camp on the Tweed Coast. Chris played rugby union in the United States when his league career was over. He played 96 first grade matches for Parramatta between 1991 and ’97. On the way back to our lodgings, we have a drink at Shorty’s, where our friendly waitress hails from Zeebrugge in Belgium, a place Marie and I passed through on our 1977 Trafalgar under-30 tour of Europe.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 15
Lismore’s Gollan Hotel has re-opened, after being closed because of flood damage. There were fears it would not trade again. The Queen and the Duke stayed there in 1954, and I’m sure they would have been disappointed, if trading had ceased.
The body corporate committee from our Hermitage Gardens town house estate, back in Brisbane, wishes everyone a “Happy Holiday Season”. Happy Christmas, it should be, and no-one will be offended, trust me.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 16
Morning tea with Marie’s brother, Kevin Donnelly and his wife, Beth at their Alstonville home. They have lovely photographs of the Menindee Lakes on their walls, a reminder of one of their many four wheel drive trips. Their property is huge, and boasts wood ducks and all sorts of birds, including magpies, who come into the kitchen.
Marie and I have lunch at Harvest, Newrybar, sitting on the verandah. Share zucchini flowers, cuttle fish, pulled lamb and sour dough. Drive down Broolket Road, specifically to buy fresh lettuce – two for $2. There is evidence of hail damage in the area. Dinner at My Thai, Lennox Head – chicken green curry (moi), Kashmir lamb (Marie).
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 17
Live music at Lennox Bowls Club is excellent. A bloke who looks like John Paul Mellencamp, and his stunning female partner, sit near us, drinking soft drink.
Learn that former Toowoomba Queensland Cup coach, Gary Lawrence has been coaching Clifton-Allora Wattles in the Toowoomba regional rugby league competition. Gary was coach when the Clydesdales won the inaugural Qld Cup in 1996. Toowoomba beat Redcliffe 8-6 in a classic game at Lang Park.
Photo 1: Bruce Castle (centre) middle row with other members of the 1967 Kiwi touring side to Australia. On his right is the manager, Allan Gore and his left, co-manager, Cec Mountford. The huge bloke beside Mountford is Garry Smith from Wellington.
Photo 2: Chris King and Marie Ricketts.