DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 50 2020
MONDAY, DECEMBER 14
John Leahy says it is a misconception that Tweed product, Lionel Morgan was the first indigenous man to play for Australia, in either rugby code. John, an avid reader of this site, assures me that Cecil Ramali, who was born at the New South Wales/Queensland border town of Mungindi, was the first.
He was Indigenous/Asian, his dad being an Indian Muslim trader. His mum, Adeline Doyle, was a local aboriginal woman. Ramali played two Tests for the Wallabies in 1938. John says Cherbourg’s Frank ‘big shot’ Fisher, the grandfather of Olympic Gold Medal winner, Cathy Freeman, should have been an Australian rugby league rep. – back in the 1930s – and John is certainly not alone in that view.
Current and former Courier-Mail sports department writers gather at the home of former colleague, Paul Malone, for Christmas drinks. Paul is a quadriplegic, the result of a fall in 2019. Bernie Pramberg brings homemade sausage rolls, while former Turf editor, Bart Sinclair provides corned beef.
John says Commerce Faculty rugby league team at Qld Uni, back in 60s, I think, boasted the likes of future Broncos’ chairman, Paul ‘Porky’ Morgan; Mareeba’s John Eales (who would later be chosen for Queensland, and not to be confused with the Wallaby of the same name); future QRL chairman, Bruce Hatcher and future Valleys’ star, Tony Perkins. John said the hardest games were against the Ag boys, who were led by Max Williamson.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15
Former Queensland State of Origin skipper, Trevor Gillmeister is ‘out west’ on a shooting trip, doing his bit for the environment by ridding us of feral animals, while the inner city ‘basket weavers’ debate climate change.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 16
Former Brisbane soccer star, Mike Lane arrives at Eric Pappas’s barber shop at Stafford, as I am having my hair cut. He quit the game early because of the loss of sight in one eye. Another customer, Les, a fanatical Canterbury-Bankstown rugby league supporter, ‘hates’ News Ltd journalist, Phil ‘Buzz’ Rothfield.
My former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Greg Grainger, now based at Maitland in the Hunter Valley, recalls that former Test forward, Kel O’Shea was licensee of ‘The Volunteer’ pub at Maitland. The Volunteer burnt down in 1971. Kel, a product of Ayr rugby league, in Queensland’s Burdekin Valley, was captain-coach of Maitland when they won a premiership, in the 1960s. After one match, Kel was assaulted (allegedly) by ‘Mrs Lawrence’, over something Kel had done on the field, to her son. “You hit harder than your son,” Kel said, to the woman. When Kel had the Redland Bay Hotel in Queensland, there was a sign which read: ‘Free drinks to all patrons over 80, accompanied by their parents’.
My brother, Jeffrey and his wife, Ann watch the new Australian movie, ‘High Ground’ at a special preview at University of Queensland.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 17
There are reports the state schools at Murwillumbah, my old ‘home town’, will consolidate into one super campus.
Australia’s cricketers wear black arm bands at the Adelaide Oval, in honour of former Australian all-rounder, local legend, Eric Freeman, who was also a fine Australian rules player, with Port Adelaide. Freeman, who played 11 Tests, was the first man to open with a six, in his first time at the crease as a Test batsman. Freeman was 86 when he died on December 14.
Marie and I enjoy live music at Wilston Village bar.
Our Devon (England) friends, John and Glenda Tapp are enjoying a winter break at Longleat Estate in Wiltshire.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 18
Former equestrian star, David Butler is new manager of the Rugby League Europe Federation.
Gold Coast real estate legend, Max Christmas has died aged 81. Max also was a fine surf life saver. He opened his first real estate agency in 1971, the year I started as a cadet journalist at the Tweed Daily News, Murwillumbah.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19
Former Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Doug Anthony, has died, aged 90. I met Doug, a real gentleman, a couple of times when I was a young journalist at the Tweed Daily News, but he wasn’t ‘home’ all that often, given his commitments in Canberra. I wrote a story about his pig farm polluting (allegedly) a local creek, but the paper didn’t run it. I forwarded it to ‘The Sun’ in Sydney, and they sent me a cheque. Sorry Doug.
When I started at The Daily News, general manager, Wally Baird told me it was a Country Party paper, and while the Labor Party would not be ignored, the Country Party would dominate the front pages. Doug played rugby league for Murwillumbah (High School) Old Boys, and then represented Queensland in union, when he went to UQ. (He would never have been good enough to represent Queensland in league).
My father, Jon Ricketts recalled having a drink with Doug at the Imperial Hotel, the ‘home’ of Old Boys rugby league. The last time I saw Doug, he and his wife, Margot (nee Budd) were having fish and chips on the banks of the Tweed River at Chinderah. I briefly went out with Robyn Budd, a relative of Margot’s, I believe.
Cricket commentator, Ramachandra Guha suggests the term, Mankad should be dropped, because it is racist. I imagine Mario Fenech, a rugby league player of Maltese extraction, would love to see the term ‘Falcon’ dropped from the rugby vernacular.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 20
Currumbin has always been one of my favorite Gold Coast beaches, and it is wonderful to be heading there to spend three nights with family, at Sandcastles. On the way down the M1 we are overtaken by three 1950s American cars. There are so many surf board riders at the mouth of Currumbin Creek. Marie and I swim in the flags area, near the surf club, where we bump into Broncos’ chief executive, Paul White, who looks extremely fit, in his speedos. Paul is a former Emu Park (Capricorn Coast) surf life saver. He will leave the Broncos in the New Year, to be replaced by former journalist, Dave Donaghy. Paul will probably do a bit of consulting.
Paul says he was head hunted by English rugby union club, Saracens, and was set to take up the offer, until Covid. Lovely breakfast at Beach Shack – brekky Burrito (moi); corn fritters (Marie). Rock melons, grown at Ashmore, are on sale at bargain prices. The farmer brought them to the cafe, because, otherwise, they would have rotted in the field.
Damien’s mate, Andrew Arnall; his wife, Clare McNeill-Arnall and daughters are visiting Sandcastles. Clare, whose father hails from Gort in County Galway, and her mum from Wexford, has an Irish Dancing Academy at Helensvale.