Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium boasts many fine hospitality suites, but there is nothing to compare with the ‘Gunsynd Bar’ in the old Frank Burke Stand, at what was called Lang Park (and still is, by the ABC).
The offices of the Queensland and Brisbane Rugby Leagues were located below the Frank Burke Stand, along with a licensed club, the dressing rooms and storage areas.
In the 1970s and ’80s, QRL chairman, Senator Ron McAuliffe, affectionately known as ‘Gunsynd’, loved to host guests, particularly members of the media, in his private bar, which doubled as an office during the week. Paul Sweeney and Kev Keliher were two of the media regulars, along with likes of David Falkenmire, Bernie Pramberg, Errol Harris, Barry Dick, Lawrie Kavanagh, Jack Reardon and yours truly.
It became known as the Gunsynd Bar, in honor of the charismatic, grey-haired host.
Former QRL managing director, the late Ross Livermore, recalled that one journalist in the Gunsynd Bar was so ‘merry’, that he spent a fruitless half hour searching for his glasses, which were perched on top of his head.
“I suggested to him the next day, he better apologise to Ron McAuliffe for some of the things he had said,” Livermore said. “The journalist duly phoned Ron, who was totally bemused. The journo hadn’t said anything out of turn, but he couldn’t remember.”
When the new look Suncorp Stadium was unveiled in 2003, The Courier-Mail, in conjunction with the State Government and Suncorp, published a 24-page special, and I had the honor of contributing an article, along with the likes of fellow newspaper journos, Mike Colman, Terry Quinn and Jim Tucker, as well as Moscow Olympic Games silver medallist, Rick Mitchell, and ‘The King’ himself, Wally Lewis.
Mitchell, who was a regular columnist for ‘The Courier-Mail’ at the time, wrote of his attendance at the Second Test of the 1966 Ashes Rugby League series, between Australia and Great Britain. Rick had been to the First Test in Sydney, which Britain won 17-13, and he was desperate for Australia to square things in Brisbane.
“They did, with a majestic score-line of 4-2,” he wrote. “Keith ‘Golden Boots’ Barnes, my beloved Balmain fullback, landed two penalty goals in his farewell Australian appearance, while his British counterpart, Bev Risman, replied.”
I wish the sub editors had handed me Rick’s copy before publishing, because I could have corrected him on a couple of matters, given I was also at that 1966 Test. Australia won 6-4, with Barnes kicking three goals, while Arthur Keegan from Hull, kicked two goals for Britain. Welshman, Bev Risman was captain of the next Great Britain side in Australia, the 1968 World Cup outfit.
Wally Lewis recalled that the first time he ran onto Lang Park was as a member of the Cannon Hill four-stone team, in the state schoolboys’ final. Lang Park was familiar territory for Wally, because his grandparents, on both sides of the family, lived within 300 metres of the ground.
Athletics and cycling were big at Lang Park in the 1930s, with meetings every weekend, and under lights on Wednesday nights. They often combined both sports, with alternate bike and athletic races on the same decomposed granite track.
The ground’s rugby league life did not begin officially until 1955, when Central Queensland Rugby League delegate, Frank Burke persuaded the QRL to sign a 21-year lease on Lang Park, with the Brisbane City Council. It became the headquarters of the code in Queensland two years later – the first major stadium controlled by rugby league in Australia.
A new stand was unfurled in place of the Frank Burke Stand – in 1995, in time for the first season of the ill-fated South Queensland Crushers.
I was recruited by publisher, Brian Lourigan to help put together a book on Lang Park memories, in time for the opening of that new stand.
It was a monumental task, given time constraints, but the book got out in time for it to be placed in corporate boxes at the new stand.
In the chapter devoted to Valleys’ legendary fullback, Norm Pope, the former Test star recalled flattening Wynnum-Manly’s indigenous forward, Paddy Morgan with a stiff arm, and being attacked by his umbrella wielding wife.
“When Paddy came back from the hospital – I may have been a stiff-arm merchant, but I never hurt anyone – we drank together in the Lang Park Leagues Club for three hours, him and his wife and me.
“People in those days never carried grudges after the hooter. Mind you, next time we got on the field, he’d have killed me if he could have got me, and I’d have killed him, probably.
“But that leagues club bar was the place where a lot of fellas got to really know each other after a game.”
Just like in the Gunsynd Bar.
Footnote: You can read more on Wally Lewis’s childhood when his book, ‘Wally Lewis: My Life’ , written in conjunction with Steve Haddan, is released in time for Father’s Day.
1 The Courier-Mail’s 2003 Suncorp Stadium special
2 Australia’s Keith Barnes kicks for goal against Great Britain at Lang Park in 1966
3 Lang Park in the 1930s
4 The Frank Burke Stand
5 The Member’s Bar of the Lang Park Leagues Club. Ross Livermore and Ron McAuliffe are on the right. Bernie Pramberg and Barry Dick are drinking at the bar.
6 The 1995 launch of the Lang Park book (from left, standing) Norm Pope, Mick Retchless, Steve Ricketts, Barry Muir. Seated is Ian ‘Ripper’ Doyle. That’s Johnny Gleeson in the background.