DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 26 2019
Former Queensland State of Origin centre, Tony Currie and I talk about the future of Origin football, in particular concerns about the depletion of the talent pool in this state, given lower participation numbers, and the fact so many players are Polynesian, and may pledge their allegiance to Pacific Island nations. Tony was one of the finest indigenous footballers to play the game, and thankfully, rugby league remains the most popular sport in Queensland, for the indigenous community. Tony has been trying to get another former indigenous star, Gary French along to Broncos Old Boys’ functions, but without any luck. French, originally from Beaudesert, played for Brisbane Souths, the Broncos and Castleford (England). I caught up with Tony after taking our car to his ‘Tyres And More’ business at Morningside.
Learn of the passing of Rocky Pagano, aged 67. His father, 92, is still alive and resides at New Farm. Rocky was born on March 2, 1952 at Nata a Palmi, Reggo Calabria, Italy. Our eldest boy, Damien has fond memories of Rocky, at Zillmere North Swimming Club, where Rocky was a volunteer and Damien a competitor. Rocky’s wife, Di has been part of the St Flannan’s Playgroup Mothers’ Group for 30 years. My wife, Marie is also a ‘member’.
The Courier-Mail price increases from $1.70 to $1.90 for the Monday to Friday editions. They should have taken it straight to $2.
Marie and the Playgroup ladies have their regular morning tea. They needed to give each other a hug, after the passing of Rocky Pagano, the husband of their fellow ‘member’, Di. She was in attendance, with her sister.
Melbourne Storm’s debutant Queensland State of Origin forward, Christian Welch is interviewed at training at Langlands Park, just across the road from his alma mater, Villanova College. He is intelligent and well spoken, a credit to the school and his family.
I take our grandson, Ethan to a local park. There are children with Sherrins, Gilberts and basketballs. Not a Steeden in sight. Love the SKY News bloke who gives it to the AFL for wanting to remove the pitch at the SCG, for the sake of the Swans. ‘Don’t mess with the Bulli soil’, he says. “It’s only AFL. Tell your story walking.” That’s right mate. The rugby league blokes never complained, and they actually had to tackle and be tackled on the pitch, which took up a huge chunk of their playing area.
As part of an independent screening committee, I vote for the latest Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame candidates. I can’t reveal which way I went.
Legendary French Rugby League forward, Elie Brousse has died, aged 97, in the city of Roanne, which was once a rugby league stronghold. Brousse played 30 Tests between 1946 and 1953, making his debut against England, and playing his last Test against Australia, a 13-5 series clinching win at Lyon, in front of a crowd of 17,454. Brousse, chosen from the Paris Celtic club, was the best forward on the field. He was described as a ‘colossus’ by Gaston Benac, a journalist from Miroir des Sports.
A farmer, Brousse and heavyweight boxer, Edouard Ponsinet, terrorised the Australian pack on the 1951 tour ‘down under’. As well as stories of eccentric goal kicking fullback, Puig Aubert, I was also raised on the deeds of the dreaded ‘Brousse and Ponsinet’ combination.
France won the First Test in 1951, 26-15 at the SCG, in front of a crowd of 60,160, but were baited into fighting by the Australians in the return clash at the ‘Gabba, in Brisbane, and lost 23-11. Brousse and Noel Hazzard, from Bundaberg, were sent off by referee, Tom McMahon.
The following week, Brousse was again sent off, against Toowoomba, along with the Clydesdales’ Test forward, Duncan Hall. The entire French team, led by skipper, Puig Aubert, followed Brousse to the sidelines. It took French manager, Antoine Blain eight minutes to get them back on the field, and the tourists went on to win 20-17. Back at the SCG, in front of a crowd of 67,009, France won the deciding Test 35-14, with Brousse one of the try scorers.
Learn of the passing of Brisbane Brothers’ rugby league stalwart, Des Condon. Condon was treasurer in 1967, after graduating from the playing ranks at the club, where a teammate was legendary coach, Bob Bax. Brothers won the BRL Premiership in ’67, beating Norths 6-2 in the grand final. Don Alroe was Brothers’ president in 1967. Condon was a foundation member of Brisbane Touch Football in 1970.
A fire drill is held at Lutwyche Shopping Centre, which is undergoing renovations, and I am reliably informed major short comings were uncovered, with some shop keepers, particularly from the fast food trade, hiding under the counter, instead of going to the evacuation area. Could give a new meaning to bbq spare ribs in the event of a real fire.
Arte Johnson, from the old ‘Laugh-In’ television series, has died aged 90. I watched the show as a young bloke, because it was ‘trendy’, but really, my laughs were few and far between, given it was such corny American humor. Arte was ‘famous’ for saying ‘very interesting, but stupid’. He got the second bit right.
Marie and I drive north from Brisbane at 9 a.m., heading for Rockhampton, Bowen and ultimately, Ayr in the Burdekin Valley, to catch up with our eldest son, Damien; his wife Emma and their two daughters, Parker and Evan. Evan Joan was only born on May 29, so this will be the first time we have been with her.
It starts raining at Gympie, and doesn’t let up all the way to ‘Rocky’. Pies and coffee/tea at Paninis, Gympie and then another coffee stop at Gin Gin, where the cafe lady is about to take a wallet to the police station. A customer, who was heading to Biggenden, had left it behind.
Book into Travelodge, Rockhampton, where I stayed when covering a rugby league trial between Parramatta and the Broncos, some years back. I remember the Fitzroy River was in flood, but it was a beautiful fine day in ‘Rocky’. That illustrates the size of the Fitzroy catchment area. I interviewed ‘Parra’ coach, Brian Smith while staying at the hotel.
Dinner at Pacino’s (eye fillet – what else, in beef country) and then drinks at historic Criterion pub, with American soldiers, here for Operation Talisman Sailor at Shoalwater Bay, to the north east. One of the soldiers, is a Native American from Louisiana and another is an African American from Ohio. They are great company and love Australia. The Native American, who looks like Tom Hanks, says one of his favorite dishes ‘back in the States’, is deep fried alligator.
Coffee and croissants from a trendy shop in Rocky’s CBD as six American soldiers line up at the barbers. The historic court house precinct is being renovated. The first time I stayed in the city was 1979, when I covered the Labor Party State conference, at the Leichhardt Hotel, for the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’. I was there for a week, which meant I missed training at Norths, so I was reserve for reserve grade on my return to Brisbane. Marie and I endure a nightmare drive in the rain from Rockhampton, north through the notorious ‘Marlborough stretch’, where there are lots of military vehicles. We settle on Maccas at Mackay for lunch. So sad. Get to Bowen at 5.50 p.m. and our granddaughter, Parker is waiting on the balcony for us. Our new granddaughter, Evan is so lovely. Damien and Emma are renting a holiday house at Rose Bay.
AMAZING NEWS FROM SINGAPORE: Our daughter, Melanie and Greg Mariotto, originally from Perth, are engaged. We have never seen Melanie so happy.
Damien, Parker, Marie and I walk from Rose Bay, over the hill to Horseshoe Bay, via Murray’s Bay, in pouring rain. It never rains in Bowen!!! Is Murray’s Bay named after my former Brisbane Brothers’ teammate, Murray Schultz, a Bowen boy? The Horseshoe Bay Cafe is full, as is trendy ‘Sisters Cafe’, so we settle on the (new) Grand View Hotel, (the old pub burnt down in 1927) where lunch (chilli prawns and calamari, Marie and I; pork belly and steak/mushy peas pie, Emma and Damien) is excellent. The McLean family had the pub for eons, but it recently changed hands. There are still plenty of reminders of the McLean era, including photographs of Easts’ (Sydney Roosters) 1986 premiership winning reserve grade side, and Mick McLean with the Immortal Wally Lewis in 1991. Easts’ reserve grade side beat favorites, Parramatta 10-2 in the grand final, with former Wallaby, Tony Melrose kicking four field goals. The side was coached by former Test prop, Jim Morgan and captained by John Tobin. Mick played for the Roosters, Newcastle and Gold Coast, as well as Halifax in England, and represented Queensland in five State of Origin games in 1991-92. There also are photographs of the now defunct Port Denison Rugby League club from Bowen, which the McLean family were involved with. Mates of mine played for ‘The Denison’ (pub team) in the eastern suburbs rugby league competition in Sydney, back in the early 1970s. Damien played a match for Burdekin Roosters (Ayr/Home Hill) at Bowen in 2008, when Bowen was the location for the film, ‘Australia’, produced by Baz Luhrmann. Some of the cast and crew came along to watch the footy. Damien was a goal kicking centre, and landed 26 goals in a row in one golden patch of form. Most of the hotel staff are backpackers, and we are served by Olga, who I think came from the Volga.
Fresh seafood (fish/scallops), bought from Bird’s Fish Bar, is our dinner, with Marie the chef.
On Channel 7, newsreader, Kay McGrath says to sports presenter, Shane Webcke: ‘What about those Lions’, Shane’. McGrath, a Kiwi by birth, is an unabashed Aussie rules fan, and with the Lions finally returning to some sort of form, saw this is as an opportunity to ‘give it’ to Webcke, seeing his former rugby league club, the Broncos, are struggling. I don’t think Shane was impressed.
1 Rocky Pagano (far right) and the St Flannan’s Playgroup mob
2 Brothers’ 1967 premiership side. Des Condon is second from right, Back row. Don Alroe, far right, front row.
3 Elie Brousse (third from left, backrow) in the great 1951 French side.
4 Elie Brousse scores a try, in France’s 35-14 win in the deciding Third Test against Australia at the SCG in 1951.
5 Elie Brousse about to tackle Australia’s Noel Hazzard, in Paris in 1952
6 Granddaughter, Evan
7 Marie Ricketts, with granddaughters Evan & Parker
8 The walk from Rose Bay to Horeshoe Bay, Bowen.
9 Steve and Marie Ricketts with newly engaged couple, Melanie Ricketts and Greg Mariotto.