DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
Week 8, 2020
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25
Erica Elizabeth O’Neale (nee Clear) was one of the unsung heroes of the Queensland Performing Arts scene. She traversed the length and breadth of the state, helping to promote the arts, in schools and remote communities. Today she is given a fitting farewell at a funeral at St Mary Magdalene Church, Bardon in Brisbane’s west (although the squealing from kids in the schoolyard next door, is over the top). Fr Gerry Kalinowski conducts a Latin Mass, which I love. The petite female singer is excellent. Erica and my late mother, Lola were great mates, often catching up for lunch, usually at the Sheraton in Brisbane’s City Centre. Erica went to the UK in the 1950s, a lady ahead of her time. She returned to Australia, forgoing an exciting lifestyle and opportunities in the arts, to be with her mum, during trying times. I have a nice chat to Erica’s husband, Bill and their son, William, who was in the Army Reserve with my brother, Andrew. Little Lillian has her grandmother’s eyes. Chat to Bill’s former Goulburn Reds’ rugby union teammate, David Pollock who also played rugby league with Goulburn United, when Great Britain star, Phil Jackson was captain-coach. As chairman of the Queensland Rugby League History Committee, I visit Peter Vernados, who lives at The Gap, on land that used to be a dairy farm. Peter and his wife, Collette are lovely. We have a great chat about footy, particularly in the Nambour district, and Peter’s Greek heritage. Peter played for Souths’ Nambour in the 1950s, winning a premiership in 1956. He donates photographs and a State jersey, which was worn by Queensland hooker, Hugh O’Doherty. One of Peter’s neighbours is former Courier-Mail movie reviewer, Des Partridge, a devoted Brisbane Souths rugby league fan.I vote, at the request of the NRL, on 30 iconic images from the code, from the last 30 years. It wasn’t an easy task. I was, of course, part pf a panel of ‘experts’. John Lang and Geoff Richardson, two stars of the Queensland sides of the 1970s, dine with their great coach, the legendary, Barry Muir, on the Gold Coast. Learn of the passing of former Australian representative rugby league player, and later coach, Don Furner, aged 87. Don was coach of the 1986 Kangaroos in Britain and France, a tour I covered for the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’. I also interviewed him many times, when he was chief executive of Gold Coast Seagulls. Tonight, I watch the First Test of that ’86 tour, at Old Trafford, Manchester. Don was most closely associated with the Canberra Raiders, where he was inaugural coach, and then CEO. The virus from Wuhan in China is tipped to become a pandemic, and stock market shares nose-dive. Our daughter, Melanie Mariotto and her husband, Greg have returned to Singapore, after a visit to Brisbane, which included bucks and hens’ parties, and their wedding at a registry office. The ceremonial aspect is to be held in Thailand later in the year.
Coronavirus – I will continue to call it Chinese flu – is taking its toll. The Italy v Ireland Six Nations rugby union match is called off, with the virus rampant in northern Italy, where union is strong. I take our grandson, Connor to a local park at Grange, and a lady of Asian background, with a little boy, comes near us, and I think that I shouldn’t get paranoid, but it is hard not to. Our daughter, Melanie says Singapore is leading the way in terms of combating the virus. Connor loves his uncle, Nathan’s dog, Laurence. When I say Laurence is funny, Connor says: “He’s not funny. He’s just A DOG.” Learn of the passing of Val Pettigrew, 81, widow of Alan, the former boss of Queensland Cricket, who predeceased her. I interviewed Alan a number of times in the 1980s, and enjoyed his company. There is a field named after him at Shaw Park in Brisbane.
Former Bronco, Corey Parker says there is a lack of ‘real men’ in the game. Not that players aren’t tough. It’s just that young players at many clubs, in particular the Broncos, don’t have role models. They don’t have men like Shane Webcke and Brad Thorn, who can pull them aside, and tell them not to be dickheads. Brisbane Norths have gone into camp on the Sunshine Coast, ahead of the start of the Queensland Cup. My wife, Marie goes to movies at Newmarket to see ‘Emma’. There is a blackout with 10 minutes left in the show. Those in attendance get a free ticket as a result. Australia’s emergency response to Covid is activated.
Wallaby rugby union great, Tony Shaw and I chat, after meeting during our morning walks. Tony, who played junior rugby league for Brothers, is a supporter of under-siege ARU boss, Raelene Castle, whose father, Bruce captained the Kiwi rugby league side on their tour of Australia in 1967. Tony says there are big plans in the pipeline for his old (senior) Brisbane union club, Brothers.I MC Men of League Foundation lunch at Norths Leagues, Nundah, interviewing ex-Norths’ stars, Mark Murray (who also played for Valleys and Redcliffe) and Campbell ‘Zulu’ Dews, and former Souths’, Brisbane Easts’ and Balmain prop, Geoff Naylor, in particular addressing the 1980 Brisbane grand final, in which all three men played. Norths got a famous victory over the favorites, who were coached by legendary former South Sydney forward, Bob McCarthy. Norths’ coach was Kiwi, Graham Lowe. Mark Murray, a former Norths’ coach and chief executive, now works in real estate at Redcliffe. After the lunch, ‘Zulu’ and his (female) partner head to Blackbird Retreat, near Mullumbimby for a weekend break. ‘Zulu’ is a fly-in fly-out miner, and lives on the Sunshine Coast. Geoff Naylor, who works for Toll Holdings as a driver trainer, caught the train to Nundah with former Souths’ teammate, Lyndon Cullen. Lyndon, who had a stint as captain-coach at Stanthorpe, played alongside me at Norths in 1979. Dennis Keogh says hello. His daughter, Emma was at Gallipoli for ANZAC ceremonies at the same time as our two eldest children, Melanie and Damien. Emma was also a member of Zillmere North Swimming Club, with all three of our children. My former Courier-Mail colleague, Matt Marshall’s father-in-law, Graham Perrett is also in the audience. Matt is in lock down in the UK, where he and his wife are based.The Adrian Vowles Cup (juniors) is held at Charleville, with devoted league fan, Laurie Parker (regional manager for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service) one of the ground announcers. Our QRL History Committee donated items for a State of Origin display in the local library, to coincide with the Cup, which is named after a former Origin rep. who hails from the town.
A Leap Year. Lovely morning at our grandson, Ethan Ricketts’ fifth birthday party at his parents, Lliam and Channelle Auchenflower residence. I chat to Lau Meianz, a Kiwi, who is a program manager, working in the State Government’s space industry. He has been as far north as Airlie Beach, checking out cities for the program. Model and actress, Erin McNaught is also at the party. Lliam’s solar energy company, Supply Partners, has enjoyed a record month of trading, but he expects a slower March. Our grand daughter, Evan says ‘Dad’ for the first time, much to the delight of our eldest boy, Damien at his home at Ayr in North Queensland. A minute’s silence is observed at Mudgee, for the late Brian James, ahead of the South Sydney v St George Illawarra Charity Shield match. James, a stylish winger, was a premiership winning player with Souths and represented Australia in 1968. Souths retain the Shield thanks to a 26-12 victory. Channel 9 commentator and former Test forward, Paul Gallen is pissed off at plans to make some age divisions non-contact. I agree with ‘Gal’. If you want non-contact, play touch or Oz-Tag. Kids don’t get hurt in those really young age brackets. It is a panic reaction, obviously, to the large Polynesian kids steam rolling others out of the code. Weight divisions, please. And don’t say it is too hard. Bulimba, who have been promoted to a new look Brisbane competition, play Darling Downs’ team, Pittsworth. Not sure of the result. Also not sure what sort of standard Bulimba will provide to a comp., which has had pretensions of a return to the prestige of the pre-Broncos’ era.
Toronto Wolfpack V St Helens’ Super League match at Halliwell Jones Stadium makes for sad viewing, given the stadium is nearly empty. It is a Toronto home game. Toronto’s former Gold Coast Titans’ player, Bodene Thompson is sent off, as the Canadian side is belted 32-0.Marie and I drive to Kerry Valley, south of Beaudesert, to Tommerup Dairy Farm’s Autumn Market. Thank heavens we are early, because the hordes arrive at 10 a.m. We buy lots of produce, including bacon, ham, sausages, roast pork, loin lamb chops, red gum salted butter plus Digga’s Pale Ale, from Mount Alford. The dark pigs look happy in the mud – like pigs in mud really!”Are they real pigs”, a little girl asks her parents. A t-shirt on a boofy looking white guy reads: ‘If it Involves shooting terrorists, count me in”. Channel 7 news revisit the dispossession of Cribb Island residence for the new Brisbane airport. Cribb Island became popular during the Depression of the 1930s, when lodgings were cheap and there was plenty of fishing. Its peak was the mid-1950s, when the population topped 1300. A graduate of Cribb Island Primary School in 1961 was the Bee Gees’ Barry Gibb. Cribb Island had its own rugby league side. I was sent there by the ‘Telegraph’ in the late 1970s, to interview residents, as they were kicked out by airport authorities. They were certainly ‘different’ people. The last residents left in April, 1980.NITV carry a replay of Athlone v Cork Women’s Gaelic Football match, with Cork winning. The commentary is in Gaelic. Cork’s captain speaks English in post-match interview.Just a couple of hundred competitors in the Tokyo Marathon, because of the Chinese Virus. Neighbour, Paul Bowes turns 70. Paul, who has been in a wheelchair since a work accident as a young man, is a noted fitness trainer and has an extensive home gym. Paul and former Test halfback, Tom Raudonikis are great mates. A regular visitor to Paul’s place is my former Murwillumah Brothers’ teammate, Alan Nunan.
1 Nambour Souths’ 1956 premiership winning side
2 Campbell ‘Zulu’ Dews about to get a trim
3 Geoff Naylor (back left) playing for Brisbane Easts. Des Morris is on the right. John Lang tackles Norths’ Nick Geiger
4 Ethan Ricketts’ fifth birthday party at Auchenflower
5 Autumn Market in the Kerry Valley near Beaudesert
6 The Tommerup Dairy crew.