SONNY Bill Williams’ signing by the Roosters made headlines in areas where the two rugby codes are popular, but the news hardly even rated a mention in Echuca, Victoria, where my wife, Marie and I were enjoying a holiday, after my final season as chief rugby league writer with ‘The Courier-Mail’.
I was elated at the news of Sonny Bill’s return to the code that nurtured him, and it was to be with club I have supported since I was 10.
It was only a one-year deal, but what the hell. He had been out of league for five years and during that time had become an All Black.
In the Murray River town of Echuca, Australian Rules players such as Ollie Wines and Michael Rolfe were ‘top of the pops’, when it came to sport discussion.
Marie and I had started our Victorian holiday in Melbourne, attending Derby Day and the Melbourne Cup, before shifting base to Dunkeld and then Hall’s Gap (see ‘There’s No Such Thing as an Off-Season’ and ‘What Might Have Been’ on this website).
We drove from Hall’s Gap to Echuca via Ararat, Avoca, Maryborough, Castlemaine and Bendigo. Morning tea at an Avoca Cafe was a rip-off. We were served by an English lady, with an accent reminiscent of the Vicar of Dibley. Marie and I enjoyed a picnic lunch in a park at Maryborough, which boasts a magnificent railway station.
At Echuca, the Palace and American Hotels were closed, so we settled for two drinks at ‘Harvest’, before dinner at the Workers’ Club. It was excellent value – $11 for a t-bone steak and one drink. We toasted our eldest son, Damien, who had accepted a teaching post at Beenleigh High, south of Brisbane. Damien and his wife, Emma were travelling in South America, while we were touring Victoria.
News was breaking in Brisbane that former Test cricketer, Greg Ritchie was in trouble for politically incorrect jokes. He’s still telling them to this day, and the audience love him.
The following day we cruised the Murray, on the paddle steamer, PS Emmylou, and what a great experience. The crew were very funny, joking about it being their first day on the job. The skipper was from Werribee in Victoria and his sister lived at Victoria Point in Queensland.
Lovely brunch at Black Pudding Deli – the food was excellent and such good value.
The sounds of summer – for the first time in the 2010-11 summer I heard the dulcet tones of Richie Benaud, commentating for Channel 9 during their coverage of the Australia v South Africa Test at the Gabba. Everything was good with the world.
We had drinks at the Echuca Pub, which had had $2 million spent on improvements. Cow cockies arrived after cattle sales, wearing their big hats, one of the men with a pony tail protruding. Didn’t seem right, somehow.
Our barman said Australian rules football had gone soft. I wonder what he would think about the game in 2020. FoxSports’ commentator, and former champion player, Alastair Lynch does not believe the current game is as attractive as days gone by.
We finished up at the Palace Hotel, chatting to a real character from Swan Hill. The bar manager came from Saltburn in Yorkshire, England, and his wife from Frome, in Somerset.
The following day we were to head to Beechworth, for the next leg of our Victorian road trip.
More at a future date.
Footnote: The Courier-Mail’s turf editor, Bart Sinclair had accepted a redundancy at the same time as me. Noted race caller, David Fowler put together an hilarious call of the fictional ‘Bart Sinclair Handicap’, for the benefit of Bart and his mates.
1 The PS Emmylou on the Murray at Echuca in 2010
2 Skipper of the PS Emmylou
3 Echuca Wharf
4 More river traffic