DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 28 2019
Coffee from Lure, Yeppoon is yummy. Young bloke out front, with his dog, looks the archetpyal ‘bushie’. At the tourist office we meet a lady who has been volunteering there for 34 years. She also has been a volunteer for the local rugby union side, but her grand-kids play rugby league.
On our way south, we have a picnic lunch (banana prawns, bought at Rosslyn Bay) at a park near Mt Morgan Railway Station. My uncle, Bill Ricketts, first posting as a young police officer was Mt Morgan, which was a much more lively town in those days – the early 1960s.
We drive past crops of milo, flax and rye on our way to Cania Gorge camping ground, where we are to stay for two nights, in a cabin. We get there in time for the daily bird feeding, and also manage a walk along the creek. Spanish mackeral (from Rossyln Bay) for dinner. It is roast beef night at the camp ground! Local television here has news and advertisements from places like Mt Isa, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. I can understand the first two, but Tassie! Former Cowboys’ star, Matt Bowen features in an ad about lead poisoning at ‘The Isa”. There is also a Northern Territory Indigenous Legal Service ad., urging people to ‘Stop the Fighting’.
Free damper and billy tea at 10 a.m., provided by camping ground management. Chat to a Kiwi couple, now residents of Birkdale, in the Redlands Shire, where rugby league legend, Wally Lewis and his family live. The Kiwis sometimes see Wally, at the local ‘cheppy’. Also, have a long chat to a couple from Tasmania (near Hobart). He is an ex Hobart Hospital plumber. They head north for three months each year.
Marie and I do a variety of walks, including ‘Two Storey Caves’, ‘Dripping Rock and Overhang’, ‘Dragon Cave’ and ‘Bloodwood Cave.’
Former Bronco, Peter Ryan, now defence coach at Queensland Reds Rugby Union, visits Broncos’ training and is impressed by the talent he sees in the forwards. ‘Rhino’ is a straight shooter, so that is high praise.
Another former Bronco, Mark Hohn is featured in an interview by Michael Nunn, in The Queensland Times, Ipswich’s daily newspaper. Mark recalls the time I described the Broncos backrow – Terry Matterson, Trevor Gillmeister and Alan Cann – as Lilliputian in size, compared with other backrowers in the competition, such as Mark Geyer, Paul Sironen, Scott Gourley and John Cartwright. Gillmeister was 82kg when he started his first grade career with Norths in Brisbane, and never played above 92kg. The trio took what I wrote as a criticism. (I was surprised they knew what Lilliputian meant. Just joking boys). They called themselves the ‘Putts’ after that. Anyway, ‘Hohnie’, who was an inter-change forward in the Broncos’ 1992 grand final victory and a starting prop in the ’93 triumph (both wins over St George) told Michael Nunn he believed I was put up to it – (probably by my sports editor). No. It was something I wrote, without any intervention from others at the paper. It certainly fired up the lads, and I’m still not sure why.
Bitterly cold as we leave Cania Gorge for Fraser Island, via Monto (newspaper, ham, bread and sausage rolls); Mt Perry, Childers (where a cane train goes by), Torbanlea and River Heads. Driving through Torbanlea, memories flood back about the closure of the local coal mine, in the 1970s. A Telegraph photographer (it was either Brian Church or Frank Moran) and I covered the last shift, coming up from the mine, and then attended the wake, at the local hall, with beer and prawns put on by the mine owners. Coal had been mined in the area for 130 years.
At (Mary) River Heads, the check-in procedure for the barge trip to Fraser Island is efficient and friendly. The crossing is smooth, and Marie and I toast our stay with drinks at Kingfisher Bay Resort’s Sunset Bar, looking back towards the mainland. We chat to a Dutch couple, who are disappointed the weather is so cold. He has a road building business. There is a promotional photo shoot on the beach, and the producers gift us a prawn platter, which was used as a prop.
Manager of the Kingfisher Bay store is an ex league player from Rockhampton, who said he marked Test winger, Kerry Boustead in 1978.
Marie and I walk Sunset Beach to Dundonga Creek and the Northern Lookout, and then back track to the ruins of Z Force, World War II Commando School, and then down onto the beach at McKenzie Jetty. Z Unit was formed in 1942, in response to the rapid Japanese invasion of the Pacific region, to organise agents and missions into enemy occupied areas. Training at the camp was intense and leave for the troops was not allowed.
Dinner at the resort is excellent. My Darling Downs sirloin is tasty, and Marie’s Victorian duck breast is tender. The broccolini and kipfler potatoes are also very good.
Marie enjoys a massage from a lass who hails from Sawtell in New South Wales, and is here, at the resort, for three days, with her fiancee’. Later, we walk part of the Lake McKenzie Track. Drinks at Sand Bar with a couple from Buderim, who have been on a European River cruise with Avalon. We are doing one with Scenic next month. She is originally from Mt Tyson on the Darling Downs, and knows Barry Desmond from Pittsworth, who was part of my 1998 ‘Supporters Tour’ of Europe. Marie and I went to Mt Tyson, back in the 1970s, to the village’s (now long closed) dairy factory, to buy local cheese. I believe the factory is now turning out confectionary.
After three lovely days at Kingfishers Bay Resort, we head back to the mainland. Petrol at Maryborough, where a school fete is in full swing. A mad P plate driver overtakes us on a dangerous section of road, as we leave the Bruce Highway, at Yandina, for Coolum, where we book into an apartment for two nights.
Former Brisbane Easts’ lock and 1974 Rothmans Gold Medal (Best and Fairest) winner, Jeff Fyfe, the hero of the Tigers’ 16-15 win over Valleys in the 1972 BRL grand final, has died, aged 70. Fyfe had played his one and only match for Queensland – against New South Wales – earlier in 1972. He played for Easts from 1969 to 1975, before retiring, aged 25, because of work commitments. In 1972 he kicked the field goal which won the match for the Tigers. It remains one of the best grand finals I have ever seen. I was there, on an end-of-season trip with members of the Murwillumbah Brothers club. Former Brothers’ hooker, John Dowling was a contracted player with Easts that year, but did not play in the grand final, with Test hooker, John Lang the Tigers’ number one rake.
Excellent coffee from ‘The Shop’ at Coolum, but the old bloke who makes it, takes forever. There is an Anglican church near our apartment, and it seems most of those attending a service, are older women.
After breakfast, we bump into John and Carmel McCoy, who have had a unit here at Coolum for ages. They had had a big night at Noosa, after Tatts Race Day in Brisbane. John is a stalwart of Tatts Club. One of Australia’s top sports commentators, he is a member of the Queensland Rugby League History Committee, of which I am chairman. Marie and I have lunch at ‘My Place’, Coolum and our Spanish waitress has trouble pronouncing Coffin, when she says the oysters are from Coffin Bay in South Australia.
Former Test rugby league lock, Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin has turned 60. I think the first time I interviewed him was ahead of his State of Origin debut for Queensland in 1982.
1 The Jetty at Fraser Island’s Kingfisher Bay Resort
2 Easts’ star, Jeff Fyfe gets a beer shower from Valleys’ rival, Russell Hughes after the 1972 BRL grand final.
3 John McCoy (centre) with fellow Radio TAB sports commentators, Peter Psaltis (left) and Paul Sawtell
4 Paul Vautin (right) in his role as Queensland State of Origin coach in 1996, chats to Jason Smith.