DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 20 2019.
Luke Howard’s funeral at Buderim is proof, if any is needed, there is a lot that is right with today’s younger generation. What a fine bunch of mates have turned up to farewell a bloke who was the essence of what it is to be an Aussie, and I don’t care if people say that is corny, old fashioned or whatever. There is a special, honorable side to the traditional Australian male, and no amount of sniping by left wing columnists, unimaginative cartoonists or whinging social commentators will convince the vast majority of ‘average’ Aussies otherwise.
Luke’s mates are so emotional. They let their emotions show. I wonder whether my mates would have been so emotional, if I had died at 35, like Luke, who drowned off the Sunshine Coast, on a fishing trip.
The tribute leaflet, at the funeral, started with, ‘Here’s to Lukey. He really was true blue. A man we’ll always celebrate, a legend through and through.”
My wife, Marie and I have known Luke’s parents, Terry and Rhonda since the late 1970s, having met them through squash, the sport my wife and Rhonda played at a high level, when squash was ‘big’ in Australia. Marie, Rhonda and another squash exponent, Margaret Heisner, meet regularly for lunch or morning tea.
Luke’s dad, Terry speaks to Hayden Kenny as we leave the Gregson and Weight Chapel. Hayden was the original Aussie iron man (surf) hero. Terry and Hayden were involved with Alexandra Headland Surf Life Saving Club. Hayden’s son, Grant, made the ironman event ‘sexy’ and later became an Olympic kayaker.
The funeral that was to follow Luke’s, looked like that for a child. There were balloons and people in fancy dress. The business of funerals – wow – it’s huge. And that’s the worst part of listening to 4BC. All the funeral directors’ ads! Must be something to do with the demographics! You reckon, Steve! I remember at high school, back in the 1960s, one of the books we studied was Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One’, about death, US style.
Luke’s wake is held at Buderim Tavern, were there is a lovely slide show, and more impressive speeches.
Meanwhile, the Labor faithful continue with post mortems, after losing the Federal election. ‘They’ bag ‘us’, for the way we voted. Journalist, Mike Carlton declares war on Queensland; Novelist, Jane Caro wants to leave the country – for New Zealand, I think. She will go with my blessing. Another commentator, Meshel Laurie says Aussies are dumb. To the contrary, they – the average Aussie, anyway – can smell a rort a thousand kilometres away, and what Labor was putting up was a rort. It’s like people who bag rugby league players for being dumb. It is an elitist thing.
Coffee with Katoomba based author, Joe Gorman at Q Roasters, Stafford. He is at a loss to explain Labor’s loss. I think’s he is mates with the above crew. Sorry, Joe. He says the Redfern All Blacks rugby league side initially was made up mostly of indigenous lads from Mt Druitt, in Sydney’s west. I had mentioned the fact the Tweed All Blacks, way back in the 1930s, I think, had visited Sydney, and their brand of football inspired the founding of the Redfern club. Joe predicts league will become like the NFL in America, and the grassroots stuff underneath will be touch football.
Michael Nunn, a Boondall (Brisbane North) school teacher, who contributes articles to Ipswich’s Queensland Times newspaper, has a yarn about legendary rugby league halfback, Allan ‘Alfie’ Langer’s mum, Rita who is a volunteer at the the Blair State School canteen in Ipswich, as well as Ipswich Norths’ Rugby League canteen. “We can’t get the ‘youngies’ to do it,” she says. Not so many years ago, the canteen staff at Easts, Langlands Park, were all volunteers. Now, it is my understanding that the canteen staff are paid.
A tiler at Stafford Tavern tells a yarn about two blokes who got done for urinating outside the Tannum Sands Police Station in Central Queensland. The police asked why the hell they didn’t just go into the bushes next to the station, and then probably nothing would have been said. They replied that they were scared of snakes!
Former Great Britain rugby league coach, Maurice Bamford has died aged 83. I interviewed Maurice several times when covering the 1986 Kangaroo tour for the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’. He was a lovely chap, very funny and so passionate about the game. But I did not rate him as a coach.
Radio TAB’s John McCoy says Western Australian indigenous star, Polly Farmer was his favorite Aussie rules player. A guy from the AFL Record (magazine) says Farmer developed hand ball as an attacking weapon. Previously the tactic was used only to get out of trouble.
Now, I don’t wish to boast, but, what the heck…. Way back in 1969, at Murwillumbah High, when I was debating rugby league and Aussie rules with a new student from down south, Gary Deam, I said, if rugby league players switched to Aussie rules, we would just hand pass the ball up the field. None of this taking a mark, walking back and kicking, especially as the defence in Aussie rules was non-existent. Don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of big, physical clashes, collisions etc in ‘rules’ in those days, but the players had no idea how to to tackle front on, how to defend against someone with a step. Deam, who played rugby league for the high school, in the Open Bs, (no Aussie rules in the Tweed Valley in those days), thought I was crazy.
A food show on SBS features school prawns from the Clarence River in Northern New South Wales. They take some beating, when it comes to taste. My grand mother, Eve Ricketts worked in the Clarence River Fishing Co-op at Maclean, in the office.
On the Linked-in network, I am now connected to former Brisbane Easts, Sydney Easts and Leeds (England) forward, Trevor Paterson, a Toowoomba boy who works in Fleet Sales for City Ford. Trevor won the Rothmans Medal as Brisbane’s best and fairest player in 1983. The Medal dinner in ’83, at the Crest Hotel, was a wild affair. That’s a story for another day. At Leeds, Paterson was coached by Maurice Bamford.
MC lunch at Queensland State of Origin legend, Billy Moore’s Augello’s Restaurant at Mooloolaba, with the main beneficiary, the Queensland Homicide Victims’ Support Group. The Group’s Queensland CEO is one of my neighbours, Brett Thompson, who invited me to MC the function. Brett, who coaches hockey, also gave me a lift from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast, and back. Brett’s dad, Bob played rugby league for Taree United in the Manning Valley of New South Wales.
The lunch goes well, as I thought it would, given Billy Moore is an accomplished speaker/entertainer.
Andy Watson says hello. He is a brother of the late journalist, Ron Watson, who worked with Australian Associated Press, and was based in London, in Fleet Street, and took me to a couple of pubs in the area, on one of my early visits. Another guest at the lunch is former Great Britain forward, Simon Haughton, who played for England in the 1995 World Cup, when Billy Moore was part of the Australian squad. Haughton, who lives at Caloundra, played four times for England and five times for Great Britain. He was part of the Wigan squad that contested Super League’s World Club Challenge in 1997. On that trip, Wigan stayed at Greenmount Resort, Coolangatta in the lead-up to the match against the Broncos in Brisbane. Simon admits the Wigan boys had a good time at Greenmount, and their build-up to the Broncos’ match might not have been as professional as it should have been. Wigan’s coach was my good mate, Eric Hughes, and sadly, I had to report – exclusively – (in The Courier-Mail) that Eric had to send home one of his key forwards, Neil Cowie, after Cowie missed a training run at Tweed Heads, following a big night on the drink.
Manly forward, Joel Thompson sledges Gold Coast Titans’ player, Keegan Hipgrave after Hipgrave stays down after a high shot by Martin Taupau. I’m pretty sure I know what Thompson said, and some players, across all footy codes, have got into hot water for less.
Today is the 70th anniversary of indigenous star, Elley Bennett’s knockout win in the sixth round of a fight against American, Cecil Schoonmaker, who was regarded as a contender for the world bantamweight crown. My father-in-law, the late Kevin Donnelly, thought Bennett, who was born at Cherbourg in the South Burnett region of Queensland, was sensational. My close friend, the late Ray Fletcher, the chief rugby league writer for the Yorkshire Post, loved boxing as much as league. Kevin Donnelly told Ray all about Elley, during a visit to Australia in the 1980s. One day, Ray was in the Queen Street Mall in Brisbane, when there was an indigenous sports theme attached to a promotion from the stage. The indigenous MC rattled off the names of boxing heroes, but had not mentioned Elley. Next thing, from the back of the crowd, in a broad Yorkshire accent, came the polite reminder: ‘Don’t forget Elley Bennett’. The indigenous MC was full of apologies. ‘Elley Bennett. Elley Bennett. Yes. He was one of the best, eh brother’. Well, that made Ray’s day.
Former Wigan and Great Britain forward, Terry O’Connor, one of the toughest men to lace on a boot, comments (on SKY Sports) on the increase in crusher tackles in the Super League, after Wigan’s Taulima Tautai is injured. If someone sneezes in the NRL, the repercussions are eventually felt in the UK, and, unfortunately, the horrible crusher tackle is now part of Super League, although nowhere near on the scale of the NRL.
The last dairy farm in the beautiful Numinbah Valley is to close. There were once 50 such farms in the valley, in the Gold Coast hinterland.
Former Sydney Wests’ forward, John ‘Chow’ Hayes turns 80. ‘Chow’, who played for New South Wales in 1961, was manager of the Australian Tri-nations team in 2004 and was a great help to me, when I covered the team’s exploits in New Zealand, Britain and France.
On the ABC, ‘Macca’ (Ian McNamara) interviews entertainer, Billy Field. I didn’t realise Billy was an Aussie. In fact, he was born at Wagga Wagga. I love his song, ‘Bad Habits’.
I also love the satirical song: ‘I wish there were more cooking shows on TV’, by Pete Denahy, who has penned another beauty – ‘Looking at my Phone’.
The Dora Dora pub, near the source of the Murray River, re-opens, just for one day.
‘Steve Folkes Performance Centre’, named after Canterbury-Bankstown’s former Test forward, is opened at Belmore. Steve, one of the bravest men to lace on a boot, died in 2018, aged just 59. Members of the 1984 and ’88 premiership winning sides are there for the ceremony. Steve played second row in both triumphs. Also present are members of the 2004 side, which Steve coached to a grand final win over the Roosters. Sonny Bill Williams and Johnathan Thurston were inter-change players.
My wife’s sister, Carolyn Galea; their brother, Kevin Donnelly; uncle, Jim Donnelly and Aunty Nancy Landrigan (nee Donnelly) and other family members make a nostalgic train trip from Casino in New South Wales, north to Kyogle and through the Border Ranges (spiral) Loop into Queensland, and back. Jim, now long retired, was a railways’ employee, while Marie’s grandfather, Kyogle based William Geraghty, helped build ‘The Loop’, which is one of the engineering masterpieces of the Australian railway network.
The Queensland Rugby League have switched coach (bus) companies, from Murray’s to Belbaker, after heaven knows how many years. Financial reasons, evidently. Sad really, because Murray’s designated driver, Mick ‘Mullet’ Willetts is part of the Origin team. I don’t envy the new driver.
1 Luke Howard
2 Murwillumbah High Open B rugby league, 1970.
3 Brisbane Easts’ rugby league stars (from left) Cavill Heugh, Trevor Paterson, Gavin Jones, Shane McNally, Brett Le Man and Max Sahl
4 Simon Haughton in action for Wigan against Leeds.