The likes of Northern Rivers’ Indigenous heroes, Lionel Morgan, Walter Slockee, Stokel Currie, Alan Lena, Billy McDermott, Claude McDermott and Gerald Chadburn came to mind as I covered the inaugural Indigenous All Stars game at Robina’s Skilled Park on February 13, 2010.
I had heard all about Slockee, Currie and Lena as a young bloke, first at Lismore and then at Murwillumbah.
I played against Claude McDermott and Chadburn, and a host of other indigenous footballers when turning out for Murwillumbah Brothers in the Tweed/Gold Coast League.
I played against many other talented Indigenous or South Sea Islander players, among them Jim McDermott, Athol Noter, Cedric Morgan, Graham Appo and Lester and Earl Browning.
The day I played for Brothers in the 1973 A grade grand final against Tweed Seagulls at Murwillumbah Oval, future Test winger, Larry Corowa played fullback for Seagulls against Murwillumbah Souths in the under-16 grand final. Kerry Corowa (not sure what relation) from Chinderah, was Tweed All Blacks’ entry in the Group 18 Rugby League Queen competition, held at the same time. She was a solicitor’s clerk and her hobbies were horse riding and basketball.
I played rep. football alongside Indigenous players, but I can’t recall any Indigenous player at Murwillumbah Brothers in my time, with the notable exception of international centre, Ron ‘Sooty’ Saddler, (a Riverina product) who was my coach for a brief period in 1975, before I headed south to play with Wingham Tigers. I had played against Ron in 1974, when he played for Old Boys.
Claude McDermott and Chadburn played for Souths Murwillumbah, but also played for the likes of the All Blacks, Seagulls and Cudgen during their Tweed days.
Most of the Indigenous and Islander people on the Tweed lived towards the mouth of the Tweed River, at places like Chinderah, Fingal, Cudgen and South Tweed Heads. I don’t recall seeing many around Murwillumbah itself.
My father, Jon, represented Richmond against Tweed several times, and finished up in hospital after one match, the result of a high tackle from Tweed star, Alan Lena. Dad was in hospital for the best part of a week with concussion, and after that always wore head gear.
Many years later, at a Men of League lunch at the Broncos, I introduced my father to Alan’s son, Graham, who played for Queensland in 1971. There were no hard feelings, as both men talked about the old days.
When Gold Coast Titans’ inaugural signing, Preston Campbell, and club CEO, Michael Searle, came up with the idea of an Indigenous All Stars team playing a NRL selection, I had misgivings about its chances of success, and where it would fit on the league calendar.
But on that perfect summer night in 2010, things couldn’t have gone better, with a sellout crowd of 26,687 and a 16-12 win to the Indigenous side, against the Wayne Bennett coached NRL All Stars.
There were many moving moments, although a couple of things made me cringe. Won’t go into detail.
And from memory, the crowd sang the National Anthem with gusto (whoever he is), but I could have that wrong. I know for sure that the crowd was well behaved and good natured.
Johnathan Thurston and Jamie Soward conjured the winning try (scored by Soward) for the Indigenous side, which was coached by Neil Henry.
Winger, Wendell Sailor had opened the scoring for the Indigenous side, pouncing on a well weighted kick by Scott Prince. The crowd loved it when Sailor ripped out the corner post and played it like a didgeridoo. The match was Sailor’s swan song, as the giant dual rugby international had announced his retirement at the end of the 2009 season.
One of the best things about the match was the intensity of the defence, which won the crowd over straight away.
Thurston received the Preston Campbell Medal as player of the match.
As far as I know, Canberra’s Tom Learoyd-Lahrs was the only Indigenous player with a Tweed background – Cudgen and/or Bilambil from memory.
In the lead-up to the match, I had attended a Former Origin Greats Indigenous lunch at Suncorp Stadium, where I caught up with the likes of former Valleys’ player, Dennis Ride and Beenleigh High principal, Matt O’Hanlon, a former Brisbane Brothers’ prop. Matt is a strong supporter of Indigenous causes.
As a full-time rugby league writer, the first Indigenous player I recall interviewing was Queensland State of Origin fullback, Colin Scott in 1981.
I reckon some of the Tweed heroes I mentioned earlier in this story would have been good enough to play Origin, if they had the chance.
Stokel Currie’s grandson, Tony Currie wore the Maroon of Queensland, and from what I’ve heard, Stokel was every bit as good as TC.
1 Graham Lena (left) and Jon Ricketts.
2 Qld rep., Billy McDermott playing for Wynnum-Manly against Wests at Lang Park.