Things turned ugly on Great Britain’s tour of Australia, with Queensland, in particular, accused of being poor hosts, after a controversial Second Test at the Gabba.
It even got to the stage where Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, Alderman Chandler questioned the value of tours, if they were to lead to bad blood between the two countries.
The tourists were counting the days until their return to New South Wales, after a particularly unhappy road trip to Toowoomba, on a bus which was missing a door! The British players got back into Brisbane at mid-night, only to find there was no food or drink at their hotel.
Britain had won the First Test 6-4 in Sydney, but crashed 15-3 in the return match in Brisbane, following the dismissal of Wigan halfback, Tommy Bradshaw and Wigan club mate, prop, Ken Gee, by controversial Brisbane referee, Frank Ballard. Ballard also recalled British five eighth, Dicky Williams (Leeds), as he was set to score between the posts, and gave a penalty to Australia. Even the parochial home crowd thought the forward pass ruling was ‘tough’. A try then would have given Britain an 8-2 lead, after 20 minutes. As things turned out Australia led 5-3 at halftime, with Tom Danby (Salford) having scored for the tourists and Johnny Graves (South Sydney) for the home side.
Ballard dismissed Bradshaw and Gee on the basis of abusive language and constant questioning of his decisions.
Australian halfback, Keith Holman (Wests, Sydney) kicked magnificently, negating spotting tactics by the British backs, while prop, Jack Holland (St George Sydney) turned in arguably the best game of his career.
The Courier-Mail’s L H Kearney, a former referee, had warned the British camp before the match that Ballard would not stand any ‘nonsense’.
Bradshaw was banned for two games, while Gee escaped with a caution, when they fronted the QRL management committee. Ballard told the committee the remarks from Bradshaw and Gee were ‘unpublishable’.
On leaving the committee room, Bradshaw broke down.
” I hate being called a liar,” he told The Courier-Mail’s Jack Reardon. “I was never spoken to by the referee for talking, or questioning the decisions before being sent off. I was spoken to for my method of putting the ball into the scrum.”
Gee admitted his offence, and said he had lost his temper.
British business manager, George Oldroyd derided the Australian system, which saw the Test referee chosen from a panel of three men, nominated by the host state.
Oldroyd was disgusted at the ban placed on Bradshaw, particularly as Queensland’s Test forward, Duncan Hall had been let off with a warning, after being sent off in an inter-state match for fighting.
“I suppose it suited the Australian body to let him off,” Oldroyd said.
Three days after the Second Test, Britain defeated Toowoomba 44-12 at the Athletic Oval, with Danby scoring four tries, bringing his tour tally to 24. Toowoomba’s best were centres, Bevan Hoyle and Bill Callinan, and they received warm applause from the mid-week crowd of 7,000.
Two days later Britain defeated Brisbane 18-8 at the Exhibition Grounds with referee, ‘Digger’ Chambers blowing the pea out of his whistle and failing to keep control of the scrums.
The young Brisbane team, which included 18-year-old Norm Pope at fullback, tackled magnificently. Pope’s defence was described as ‘deadly’ by The Courier-Mail’s L H Kearney. The crowd was 15,100.
It was at the post match reception that Alderman Chandler made his comments.
But British team manager, Jack Spedding and skipper, Ernest Ward (Bradford) assured Ald. Chandler that the ties between Australia and Britain remained strong.
Ald. Chandler had opened his address by saying that he wondered whether visits by overseas teams did a lot of good, or a lot of harm.
“Lately we seem to have got into a very bad habit of holding inquests and post-mortems, and finding faults, instead of playing the game, for the game itself,” he said. “Instead of building up good will, we might build up bad will.”
Spedding replied: “What does it matter in the field of sport, so long as we can cement the happy relationship, the great friendship and the real loyalty between us, so that when things become serious in other than the field of sport, we can remember we are the same kith and kin.”
Ward said his team’s first responsibility was to play football, but he acknowledged they were also ambassadors.
“But there is a certain element of people who have tried to upset calculations,” Ward said. “I am pleased to say they will not succeed.
“We had a Sydney newspaper reporter representing the other day, that we did not like Queensland, and that we were afraid to wear our blazers in Brisbane. Our blazers were put in to be dry cleaned. Whenever we have been in Queensland we have been met and welcomed from Queensland hearts. I shall go back to England, and tell them of the warmth of the Queensland welcome.”
But Australian Rugby League Board of Control chairman, Jersey Flegg kept the flames of controversy burning when he said the only time Britain complained was when they were beaten.
“We can only hope, if there is another tour, it will be a happier one,” Flegg said.
Britain lost the Third and deciding Test 5-2, on a quagmire surface at the SCG. Australia’s series win was their first in 30 years against the old enemy.
And that mischievous Sydney reporter who said the Brits did not like Queensland, was on the money, because, back in England, tour hooker, Joe Egan, from Wigan, told a mayoral reception in his home city, that “the Brisbane sporting community are the worst sports in the world”.
FOOTNOTE: After the 1950 Test series, each Australian player was presented with an inscribed silver tray, by the Australian Rugby League Board of Control. During renovations of the offices of Queensland Newspapers at Bowen Hills, I found the plate which was presented to Maitland born Johnny Graves. Through fellow historian, David Middleton, and other sources, I have attempted to find members of Graves’ family to hand over the tray, but without any luck. How it came to be stuck behind a filing cabinet at Bowen Hills, one can only guess. I imagine the tray had been given to one of the league writers of the time, L H Kearney or Jack Reardon, for safe keeping, and was just forgotten about. Graves’ only Test in the series was the Brisbane match.
1 Great Britain prop, Ken Gee scores a try for Wigan against Barrow
2 Great Britain’s 1950 squad
3 Johnny Graves.