Dave Hadfield, one of England’s finest sports writers, was keen to explore the Australian ‘bush’, after covering the 2008 Rugby League Centenary World Cup ‘down under’, and the Four Nations tournament, which followed in 2010.
I was only too happy to oblige as his ‘tour guide’ for part of those two adventures outside Brisbane, the city which hosted the final of both campaigns.
In 2008 Dave, explored Queensland’s Southern Darling Downs; the Granite Belt and the Tenterfield district, over the border in New South Wales, while in 2010 it was a Far North Coast of New South Wales adventure.
After Australia lost the World Cup final, the players and support staff sulked like buggery – no interviews – leaving the international media contingent shaking their heads in bewilderment, given these guys were supposed to be the ultimate professionals.
I remember leaving the Kiwi dressing rooms, to the sound of ‘Buffalo Soldiers’, as their crew celebrated. Coaching staff member, Dean Bell was particularly happy, after the disaster of the Kiwis’ loss to Australia in the 1988 World Cup final at Auckland’s Eden Park, when he was the skipper.
The Poms were happy for the Kiwis to have won – they like anyone who beats Australia – after their lads bowed out to the Kiwis in the semi-final in Brisbane.
The night after the final, Dave and I were joined by the Sydney Morning Herald’s Steve Mascord for drinks at Brothers Leagues Club at Grange, followed by further drinks at our ‘Hermitage Gardens’ town house, on what used to be Brothers’ playing fields.
Dave told me that, based on the Indian graveyard principle, anything built on the former home of a rugby league club was hexed.
“Housing estates built on the site of former grounds, like Watersheddings and Station Road (in England), are places of misery, with statistics for marital breakdown, mental disturbance and home repossession, which are way off the graph,” Dave wrote in in his book, ‘Down & Under’, which chronicled his wanderings, in and around the Centenary World Cup. “It is a negative equity of the soul and it is the way the unquiet buried spirits of rugby league get their own back.”
The following day, I drove Dave and fellow English writer, Terry Holmes to Warwick, on the Southern Darling Downs, via Aratula, Allora, Leyburn and Sandy Creek.
We had pie and peas at Aratula, and then toasted sandwiches at the Railway Pub, Allora where Wendy, the manager, entertained us with yarns about Julia Creek, Downlands College and other matters. Next stop, Leyburn, but the owner of the town’s pub, former Test prop, Shane Webcke wasn’t home. The licensee of the Sandy Creek Pub had previously been in Mount Isa and Bundaberg, and he was home.
At Warwick, we met local league identities at the Horse and Jockey Pub, among them, Greg Carey and Peter Coote, with Peter taking us on a tour of the Warwick Rugby League ‘Museum’, at Father Ranger Oval, where the local team, the Cowboys play their home games.
Terry and I returned to Brisbane, leaving Dave at the mercy of the Warwick locals. Terry had to return to England the next day.
Dave even managed to make the front page of the Warwick Daily News, with local reporter, Gerard Walsh interviewing him, the story featuring a photo of Dave, looking at a monument to the amateur rugby league players from Warwick, who lost their lives in World War 1.
After a long NRL season and then the World Cup, I was keen for a break, so Marie and I spent a few days in a cabin in the Girraween National Park, near Stanthorpe, before collecting Dave from Tenterfield, and returning to Brisbane via lunch at the Kalbar Pub in the Fassifern Valley.
Dave rated the Stanthorpe Rugby League ‘Gremlins’ the best named club in rural Australia.
Back in Brisbane, I took Dave to the Crown at Lutwyche, hoping to catch up with former Test halfback, Tom Raudonikis, who was a regular. No luck.
In 2010, the bloody Kiwis did it to us again, winning the Four Nations final 16-12 at Suncorp Stadium, with Nathan Fien scoring the winning try with 70 seconds remaining. In 2008 the Australian coach was Ricky Stuart, this time it was Tim Sheens who felt pain of defeat. But this time the Australians were accessible to the media.
After wrapping up the tournament with four stories in the office the following morning, I picked up Dave from his city hotel, and took him to the Alderley Arms Pub for a couple of ales, before adjourning to Brothers Leagues.
The next day, I took Dave to my home town, Murwillumbah, driving across the border on the mountainous, scenic Tomewin Road.
We booked in at the Murwillumbah Motor Inn, and then adjourned to the Imperial Hotel, once the ‘home’ of the ‘Old Boys Rugby League Club’, where I told Dave about the regular attendance of my former Murwillumbah High School teachers, Bill McGuiness and Keith ‘Clackers’ Kennedy, back in the 1960s, and through the 1970s. ‘Clackers’ and Bill were out the gates of Murwillumbah High as soon as the bell rang for the end of lessons, and it was straight to the Imperial for a Tooheys New or two.
Just as I finished telling the story, in walked ‘Clackers’, with ‘Bomber’ Brown.
Keith is a legend of rugby league and surf life-saving on the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, and Dave lapped up the ensuing conversation, over a Tooheys or two.
Keith was coach of Old Boys under-18s in 1968, and they were hot favorites ahead of the grand final against my team, Brothers, at Knox Park, but we got up 10-4, something I felt I had to remind Keith about.
After a couple of ales at the Court House Hotel (former home of Souths’ rugby league), Dave and I caught a cab to Brothers Leagues at West Murwillumbah. The driver was Billy Nolan, a former neighbour from Bray Park, during my childhood, in the 1960s.
At Brothers, we chatted to stalwarts Lionel Alexander, Brian Walsh and Damien Quinn, on a busy night, given competition touch football was being played on the adjoining ground. Lionel had given great service to Brothers; Brian had forged a wonderful career in Brisbane with Wynnum-Manly, representing Brisbane, while Damien had played for the Brisbane Broncos, as well has a stint with the Celtic Crusaders Rugby League Club in Wales.
From Murwillumbah, we drove to Nimbin, now best known as a hippy town, but ‘back in the day’, a timber and dairy centre, which fielded a rugby league side. We fielded three approaches from drug peddlers during our coffee stop.
Next stop was Kyogle, where we had a counter lunch at the Exchange Hotel, where the publican, Peter Goodwin, 41, said he was planning a comeback for the local league side, the Bush Turkeys, the following year. Also there to meet us was Northern Rivers Rugby League chairman, Robin Harley, who I had met previously when he managed the New South Wales Country under-18 side. Robin presented Dave with a copy of the Kyogle Rugby League’s 50th anniversary book. Another local character, ‘Stig’, said he was mates with my former sports department co-worker and former jockey, Gary Legg, a mad Canterbury-Bankstown and New South Wales supporter.
The president of the Bush Turkeys , Andrew, was only 26, and had to give up footy after a work accident, at a time when Parramatta were looking at him as a possible signing.
When I left Kyogle, Dave was watching a cricket match at the Don Gully field.
Marie and I were booked in at Mediterranean Apartments, North Burleigh on the Gold Coast for a few nights, so I left Dave to his own devices.
He got as lift with one of the locals, from Kyogle to Casino, where he booked into the Commercial Hotel and checked out some of the local league history at the RSM Club.
The next day, Dave stayed at the Gollan Hotel in Lismore, where the Queen and Duke stayed during their Royal Tour of Australia in 1954. He dined at the Richmond Hotel, my late father-in-law, Kevin Donnelly’s old watering hole, and gave the thumbs up to the paella.
I wasn’t without my rugby league connections at Burleigh. At the Miami Pub I chatted to Darren Appleby, who played with the Illawara Steelers and Gold Coast Giants, before having a sting in England with Keighley. And there also was a chance meeting at North Burleigh Surf club, with former NSW halfback, Des Kimmorley (1971 inter-state series) whose son, Brett had played 22 Tests, and was contracted to Canterbury in 2010.
Dave arrived on the Gold Coast on Friday, November 19 and booked into the Greenmount Resort, right next door to the Greenmount Surf Club, where he caught up with former Manly-Warringah winger, Mick ‘Dolly’ McLean.
I had coffee with Dave at the resort on the Saturday morning, and said my goodbyes, as he was returning to the UK.
Dave said he found Australians, for the most part anyway, wide-open people.
“If you can’t strike up an entertaining conversation with a stranger in Australia, there is something radically wrong with you,” he wrote in ‘Down & Under’. “Or, you have run into Wayne Bennett on a bad day.’
1 Dave Hadfield (left) and the BBC’s Ray French
2 The Courier-Mail sports department in the good old days for newspapers (from left) Matt Marshall, Steve Ricketts and Robert ‘Crash’ Craddock
3 Monument in Warwick’s main street
4 The press box
5 Pom league journos in Sydney
6 Aussie journos (from left) Steve Ricketts, Karl de Kroo, Matt Marshall and Peter Badel.