The last thing Australian rugby league captain, Cameron Smith wanted on Melbourne Cup day, 2012, was to be bothered by a league journo.
But he tolerated my request for a photograph, as my wife and I; my sister, Gay Lynch and her husband, David (‘Davo) alighted from the train at Flinders Street Station, after the Cup meet.
Cameron was with his wife, Barbara, and, like all of us, was in good spirits, after Australia’s premier horse racing event.
I had retired from News Limited on October 12, after 42 years as a journalist, 32 years as a full-time rugby league writer.
NRL Media manager, John Brady had given me the honor of asking the last question at the Melbourne Storm’s media conference, after they had beaten Canterbury 14-4 in the grand final, on September 30. Cameron Smith was there, of course, as the Storm skipper, alongside his coach, Craig Bellamy.
So, Cameron certainly knew I was a retired old person. But once a journo, always a journo, Eh!
Him and Barbara smiled bravely for our cameras, before heading off to enjoy what was left of a well earned off-season, before Cam began the rigors of summer training under coach Bellamy.
Melbourne in Spring. It is a special time, and the races make it all the more exciting.
I’m not a punter, but I enjoy a day at the races, and the ‘people watching’, that goes with big crowds.
Derby Day was the first meet of our Melbourne visit. Catching a train from Flinders Street, Paddy Lynch jumped on, just as the doors closed, declaring it the luck of the Irish. And he is as Irish as Paddy’s pigs, what, with his accent and dressed totally in green. He was 80 then, and lived in the Cook Islands (after marrying a local lass, a Napa) and had trained a horse which ran in the Melbourne Cup. A former jockey, he had not missed a Cup meeting since 1954.
At the races, I ran into former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Terry Carroll, who lives at Mosman in Sydney and works for Telstra. Terry was the manager of a junior league side I coached. The home ground of the Brothers’ club in Murwillumbah is named after his older brother, Bill. Terry told me me that legendary Tweed figure, Pat Dowling had died. Pat was a quality rugby league player, with Old Boys, and then was a founder of the Brothers club, in 1958. One of his sons, John, played State of Origin for Queensland, from the St George club in Sydney. The day I turned 18 (in 1970), Pat was on the doorstep of my parent’s home in Tumbulgum Road, wanting to sell me an insurance policy. This is he did, and we sealed the deal with a beer at Murwillumbah’s Australian Hotel. Pat was a such a legend, he was chosen to carry the Olympic torch for a leg of its journey through northern New South Wales, in 2000.
Also in the crowd at Derby Day, was former Sydney Roosters’ chief executive, Steve Noyce, who I interviewed a number of times. He had been mixing with a group of blokes from Brisbane, who had told him about my retirement.
The Derby itself was exciting, with 40/1 shot, Five and Half Stars, leading all the way to claim first spot.
The following day, we went to the markets at St Kilda, followed by lunch at Il Rococo, and then beers at the Taphouse. Dinner followed at my brother-in-law, David’s brother, Tony’s house, where we debated the merits of league and union. Tony, like David, was brought up on league at Maryborough in Queensland, but Tony has converted to union, which he says is more free flowing. He also says league converts, Mat Rogers and Wendell Sailor were a waste of money. They still managed to play 45 and 37 union Tests respectively, which doesn’t say much for the lads they kept out of the side.
On the Monday, we all watched the Melbourne Cup parade. The highlight was the pipe band, and of course, the presence of legendary trainer, Bart Cummings. Rooftop drinks at Madame Brussels followed, and then an alleyway bar crawl, including Hairy Canary, The Croft (formerly the Morgue) and Lillyblacks. We chatted to fellow Queenslanders, Graham and Ruth Iffland, at one of these haunts.
Melbourne Cup Day. And what a day it was!
We got there early and ‘Davo’ grabbed a table, which we shared with two couples from Western Australia. My sister, Gay started the day with a $5,300 trifecta collect, and then my wife, Marie won $140 backing Fiorente in the Cup, which was won by Green Man (I bet Paddy Lynch backed that one). Redcliffe rugby league stalwarts, Terry Webb and Ross O’Reilly were in the crowd. Ross, who coached Redcliffe to the 1994 Brisbane premiership, was proprietor of the Rosslyn Bay Resort – on the Central Queensland Coast – in 2012. He also coached Workington in England, for two years. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were special guests at the Cup, and I’m sure they would have loved to have met a lad who coached rugby league in the wilds of Cumbria!
We celebrated our winnings with a Chinese meal.
The following night I went to the cricket at the MCG, a one day match between Victoria and Western Australia. A couple of Storm under-20s rugby league players walked by as I entered the stadium. Australian pace bowler, Mitchell Johnson, who was out of favor with the national selectors at the time, whacked a six when it was his turn to bat for WA.
I enjoyed two craft beers at the Baden Powell pub, Collingwood on the way back to our hotel.
The next day, Marie and I headed off on a driving holiday in the Victorian countryside, vowing not to pester Cameron Smith, if we saw him along the way. And no, not for the life of me, can I recall the question I asked to conclude the NRL grand final press conference! Something inane, I fear.
Photo 1: Paddy Lynch
Photo 2: John Dowling
Photo 3: Terry Webb (left) and Shane Bernardin.