DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 46 2019.
Bush-fire smoke has cleared enough to be able to see Broken Head for the first time, from our apartment at Lennox Head on the North Coast of New South Wales. The old floodlights at the Rugby Union field come down, as my wife, Marie and I enjoy lunch on our balcony.
Former Parramatta rugby league star, Chris King is working in the grounds of our apartment complex, as we check-out. Drive to Stanthorpe on Queensland’s Granite Belt. Morning tea at ‘Lazy Labrador’, Casino in the Richmond River Valley of NSW. It has only been open four months. Good quality. There is extensive bush fire damage in areas around Tabulam and Drake. Picnic lunch at Tenterfield, as school kids play touch football and cricket on a nearby oval, and a girl blatantly trips a boy in the touch.
Water levels at Stanthorpe are at critically low levels, and the town is doing it tough from the effects of bush-fires and drought. But locals are still so friendly. Everyone says ‘g’day’ as I walk the main street. Three beers at Country Club Hotel, where the barmaid is grumpy, bur friendly at the same time, if you get my drift. Blokes at the bar talk about free range eggs, and hanging meat out to dry. A group of six Papua New Guineans walk up the street, as I return to the motel, undoubtedly seasonal workers.
Lovely dinner at Anna’s (Italian) Restaurant with former North Sydney, Queensland and Australian forward, Billy Moore, who I am to interview tomorrow at a leadership function at the civic centre. The restaurant proprietor, a former rugby league player himself, shouts dinner. He didn’t have to do that. All he asked was that Billy signed a plate for him.
Billy Moore officially unveils the ‘Queenslander’ sign at his home town, Wallangarra, on the border with New South Wales. He was born at Tenterfield Hospital, but says he didn’t take his first breath until he was back over the border in Queensland. Billy didn’t invent the ‘Queenslander’ call, but he is the man people associate with it, after Channel 9’s cameras captured him in full cry at half time in the first State of Origin match of the 1995 series.
Billy is a hit at the civic centre lunch, where at least 50 percent of attendees are high school students. My wife sits with Southern Downs’ Mayor, Tracy Dobie, who is delighted that Marie has done her bit for the local economy by buying a dress in Stanthorpe. Our drive home turns into a nightmare, on the Heifer Creek Road, where there is 5km of loose, blue metal and hot tar. A semi drives too fast, coming the other way, with stones hitting our wind screen. Then a young dick head, in an Astra, ignores the speed limit and overtakes us, at a great rate of knots. A real Rhodes Scholar. I don’t recall those blue metal obstacle courses in all our travels in Britain and Europe. It just seems there is a special level of incompetence in road building in Australia. Refuel at Rusty’s in the Lockyer Valley, where it is $1.91 a litre, the most I have ever paid for petrol in Australia.
Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley Men of League identity and historian, Andrew O’Brien is special guest at our Queensland Rugby League History Committee meeting at QRL headquarters, Milton.
QRL CEO, Rob Moore provides a video presentation, paying tribute to South East Region manager, Michael Pease, who is set to retire. Wayne Bennett and Chris ‘Choppy’ Close were asked for their comments and provided hilarious anecdotes, about ‘Treacle’ a former member of the State of Origin support staff. He is nicknamed treacle because he moves slowly, but ultimately covers everything. Fellow history committee member, Paul Hayes shows me old programs. One is from the 1968 World Cup final at the Sydney Cricket Ground, between Australia and France. I attended the match, along with other members of the North Coast under-9 stone team, who had contested the State titles at Gosford. One of the curtain raisers to the Cup final was Far North Coast (Opens) Combined High Schools v Sydney Metropolitan. We arrived only in time for the big game, which was a shame. The FNC Coast team included future St George Sydney first grade winger, and Australian Rugby League CEO, Geoff Carr (Grafton); Tom O’Connor (Ballina) and Colin Andrews (Murwillumbah). I played against O’Connor the following year, in the University Shield competition. FNC were coached by John Clunne, who was our PE teacher at Murwillumbah High, and was my Opens league coach in 1969 and 1970. In 1968 my coach was science teacher, Keith Midgley.
The Sydney Metro team included future Australian winger, Neville Glover.
The Australian Schools’ Rugby League are holding a meeting at the QRL, at the same time as our history committee. I have a quick chat to former Wynnum-Manly and Canterbury-Bankstown premiership winning forward, Brian ‘Nobby’ Battese, whose dad, ‘Nobby’ Snr played rugby league with my father, at South Lismore. Brian has coached the Australian Schoolboys rep. side, and is on the executive of the national body. Former Test winger, Larry Corowa is also at the QRL, for a meeting to discuss the game’s partnership, with people with disabilities. Larry lives at Bilambil, just over the border in New South Wales. I have lunch with former Courier-Mail colleagues, Bernie Pramberg and Andrew Dawson at Newstead Brewery, and we are joined by our History Committee’s North Qld rep., Greg Shannon. Greg is delighted to meet Bernie, who was a top league referee in the 1970s.
It is mango season in the Burdekin in North Queensland, where our son, Damien is deputy principal at East Ayr Primary, and a couple of boxes of the delicacy have arrived at the school. The Lance Armstrong book is on sale at the Burdekin Library – for 20 cents.
Phil Amidy has been added to the Group 3 Rugby League Hall of Fame, along with John Adamson, Brian Eakin and ‘Snow’ Clarke. I played against Amidy in 1975, when I was contracted to Wingham Tigers and he was playing for Wauchope.
TV heaven for my wife, Marie this morning – Davis Cup and equestrian (Prague). Then she does her bit with the Bush Care people at Grange Forest, but no billy tea, because of fire restrictions. The Bush Care volunteers are shocked that some local residents have dumped rubbish over their fences, into the forest.
Lunch with my sister, Gay Lynch and her husband, David at Rico’s in the city. OK, not great. Then to River Bar, where bitchy women are commenting on other people’s attire. Not ours of course. As we look across the river, Gay and David’s son, Patrick is fishing at Kangaroo Point.
1 Steve and Marie Ricketts with Queensland State of Origin legend, Billy Moore
2 Geoff Carr in action for St George in 1970
3 Teaching staff, Murwillumbah High 1970. Rugby league coach, John Clunne is second from left, in the middle photo
4 David Lynch, his wife, Gay and Marie Ricketts.