DIARY UPDATE: Week 20, 2021

DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER

WEEK 20 2021

MONDAY, MAY 17

Mitch Brennan was selected for Australia in 1979, but St George told the national selectors he was unfit, and therefore he wasn’t given the chance to go through the team medical. It turns out he was fine, and the former Brisbane Souths’ star played that weekend in the Sydney premiership, resulting in a $500 fine for the club. That’s how the story goes, according to the man himself, Mitch Brennan in an interview with Michael Nunn from the Queensland Times in Ipswich. Mitch played four State of Origin games for Queensland, but never got to represent his country. Nunn has had another former Origin star, Willie Carne visit the Boondall State School where he teaches. Willie proved a great hit, doing playground duty. Willie attended Ipswich Grammar.

My wife, Marie and I are staying in an apartment at South Misson Beach in North Queensland, and today we climb Bicton Hill, where there are great views. I see a bloke wearing a Mayne (Brisbane) Australian rules jersey. Bart Sinclair would be pleased. Prime Minister Scott Morrison visits Struddy’s Sports Wear in Logan City, where they make jerseys, mainly for rugby league.

TUESDAY, MAY 18

There is a monument to Cyclone Yasi at Mission Beach, and this evening I get a small taste of the anxiety locals must have experienced back in 2011. A wild storm hits, and our large, deck umbrella blows onto the roof, threatening to become a deadly projectile. I thought I was about to do a Mary Poppins’ impersonation, as I tried to stop the umbrella from blowing across the rooftop, but the wind died down, and I was able to get the umbrella back to the table, and secure it.

NRL 360 panel members talk about media bans, and there is reference to Wayne Bennett telling a certain journalist that he had been down one too many dry gullies with him, and that there would be no more talkies. They didn’t mention the journo’s name, but that would be me. (see ‘Ban Lifted for PR Reasons’ on this site).

WEDNESDAY, MAY 19

Marie and I head south to Ingham, via Cardwell, where we pay our respects at The Battle of Coral Sea Park. After driving through Ingham, we head west to Wallaman Falls National Park, walking to the base of what is the largest permanent, single drop waterfall in Australia. It is hard going, but we do it better than a young, overweight couple from South Australia. Lots of cattle on the road as we drive back to Ingham for our overnight stay at Motel Ingham. Many Ingham residents have Italian heritage and the town is twinned with Conzano in north western Italy. Chat to traffic controller, Brian Murray who is staying in the unit beside us. He played rugby league for the Newtown club in Toowoomba, alongside the son of former Test centre, Noel Hazzard. Originally from Mitchell in Western Queensland, Brian worked previously in the car game.

Marie and I have dinner at Lees, the original ‘pub with no beer’. Fortunately, it has plenty of beer these days. The pub’s Herbert Valley Steak House is somewhat pretentious, and the steaks a little tough.

THURSDAY, MAY 20

In the Ingham Newsagency, a woman says ‘Hello Mr Connor’ to a young bloke. I reckon he is a local teacher. Drive south to Ayr, via a picnic lunch at Anzac Memorial Park in Townsville. We attend assembly at East Ayr State School, where our eldest lad, Damien is deputy principal, and his daughter, Parker a pupil. Assembly is lovely, and Damien does such a good job as MC. He dons a wig to promote crazy hair day. Damien cooks dinner- snapper – which we bought at Ingham Road Seafood in Townsville.

There are reports dual rugby international, the controversial Israel Folau, will play for Southport Tigers in the Gold Coast Rugby League, with the backing of millionaire, Clive Palmer. When I played against the Tigers in 1972 (they were known as Gold Coast Tigers back then) they boasted future League great, Steve Rogers in the centres, with Clive a dashing winger, believe it or not. Young journos, especially those with a Sydney background, like to call comps like the Gold Coast – ‘park footy’. I don’t like that term. I think ‘park footy’ is second division, or commercial house footy, like the competition that was played at Sydney’s Domain. When you can get crowds in the thousands at Coast games and at other regional competitions, to me, it is a step-up from ‘park footy’. Park footy brings to mind open fields, where there is no entry fee. Park footy is a Sydney term and not part of the Queensland vernacular.

FRIDAY, MAY 21

An indigenous chap wearing a Burdekin Roosters’ jersey walks by, as I wait for my coffee at Chill in Ayr’s Main Street. The locals are proud of their Roosters. A local, who emerged from a ute, praises my QRL History Committee polo shirt. A woman pulls up with some urgency in her car and urges the Toyworld manager to stop his window washing and to go into the shop and serve her. She emerges with new a bike helmet. Mission accomplished.

The song, ‘Jesamine’ by English (Lincoln) group, ‘The Casuals’, plays in Coutts Commercial Pub as I enjoy a beer, late in the afternoon. I still have the Jesamine vinyl 45, which I won in a 2MW (Murwillumbah) promotion. There are some rough blokes at the bar, but the barmaid is just as rough.

Parker plays touch at Burdekin Roosters Rugby League fields where I chat to Bob Clerke, an ex-Coffs Harbour; Brisbane Brothers; Mareeba and Home Hill rugby league forward, who has a reputation as something of a pied piper among the kids. Bob played alongside former Brisbane Souths’ forward, Darryl Higgs at one of his bush assignments. Watch the NRL on Damien’s Kayoh – Warriors v Tigers and then Sharks v Saints. There are comical errors in both games.

SATURDAY, MAY 22

Former North Sydney and North Queensland Cowboys’ forward, George Bartlett once rated Kirwan High’s John Nash the best schoolboy footballer he ever saw. Bartlett was a teacher at Kirwan at the time. John was signed by Wests Tigers in 2005, but knee trouble put a premature end to his career. Nash is part of the crowd at junior soccer at Ayr, where our granddaughter, Parker is playing. Lots of Dads are wearing North Queensland Cowboys’ gear. Greg Shannon, the North Queensland rep on our QRL History Committee, is also at the soccer, as he has a nephew playing. Greg says former Queensland and Newtown (Sydney) forward, Joe Vasta’s son played rugby union for Burdekin, and in a trial game against Queensland Reds, ‘took out’ Wallaby centre, Tim Horan.

Damien and Emma attend Burdekin Growers’ Race Meeting at Home Hill and are guests of Rocky Ponds Produce. I drop them off, along with the principal of East Ayr State, Chris Wicks and his wife, Jane and their friend, Nicole. I have one beer at the Malpass pub in Home Hill’s main street. A bloke at the bar answers a call from his wife, and tells her the fencing job took longer than expected. Two blokes beside him, munching away on pizza and drinking their VBs, chuckle under their breath. ‘Gem’ channel is showing on the pub television, and the movie is ‘Will Any Gentleman’, starring George Cole (1953). Gripping stuff. There is a huge crowd at the Growers Cup, with North Queensland Cowboys’ hooker, Jake Granville one of the punters. Damien backs three winners from the six races. ‘Rebel Luke’ wins the Burdekin Cup and pays $3. One of the Kirwan students Damien taught years back, had $100 on Rich Princess, which finished second. Every race goer gets a carton of fruit and vegetables, courtesy of local growers. Damien and Emma go for melons and capsicums. You can pack the boxes yourself.

SUNDAY, MAY 23

The local Rotary Club’s charity Rubber Duck race is held in Ayr’s Plantation Park, and proves hilarious. One youngster is wearing a Hawthrone (AFL) jersey and it looks so out of place here in the north.

News breaks that English born, Australian Rugby League great, Bob Fulton has died aged 74, after a battle with cancer. Mark ‘Spud’ Carroll, who Fulton coached at Manly and in Australian sides, is very emotional. I get teary myself. It came as quite a shock. I had no idea Bob had been battling cancer. I first met him in 1971 when he came to Murwillumbah for a sportsmen’s dinner, and then I interviewed him countless times as a rugby league reporter between 1981 and 2013. I think the last time I spoke to him was when I phoned the Continuous Call team on Radio 2GB/4BC about a Men of League Foundation or QRL History matter. During our on-air chat, Bob confirmed he came close to signing with Brisbane Brothers in the mid-1970s, FoxSports News wrap has a lovely tribute to ‘Bozo’, including highlights from the 1970 home Ashes series against Great Britain, which the Brits won. My great mate, Greg Grainger played against ‘Bozo’ in the Amco Cup in 1975. Greg played for North Coast, and ‘Bozo’ was playing for Manly as part of a Lang Park double header.

Also learn of the passing of former Australian television personality, Lorrae Desmond, 91, and journalist of renown, Sylvia Florence de Costa-Roque, 84, who I worked with at The Courier-Mail.

Local hero, David Peachey is in the crowd at the NRL match between Penrith and Souths at Dubbo. Damien went out with ‘Peach’ two nights in a row, when David was in Townsville years back on league business. Damien was his chaperone. I spend six hours sub-editing a few chapters from a league book being written by Tasmanian based, Billy Roberts. He makes a good point about NRL chair, Peter V’landys perhaps selling the rights to Channel 9 a little cheaply, given Nine then apparently used the savings to buy the rights to telecast rugby union.

League great, Wally Lewis’s daughter, Jamie Lee breaks an ankle playing for Valleys against Tweed Heads Seagulls.

View from Bicton Hill

Wallaman Falls

Bob Clerke at Burdekin League fields
Damien and Emma at Burdekin Growers’ Cup

Duck race in Plantation Park, Ayr.

Bob Fulton tackles Great Britain’s John Gray as John ‘Lurch’ O’Neill comes across in cover during the 1974 Ashes series

2 responses to “DIARY UPDATE: Week 20, 2021

  1. Such an interesting read. There is always some one I know or have known mentioned. I can relate to many places having been there at some stage during my life… even though only once and for a very brief time. It’s amazing how your can see the people and places through the window of your mind as they are mentioned. Have a great day. Tricia Nagle

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  2. I’d forgotten Darryl Higgs like brother Adrian played for Souths Magpies. Last time I saw their brother Chris, he too was up Burdekin way as a ploughing contractor. 20 years ago that was. In 74 when I was a recently turned 15 year old 5/8 playing under 18 in the Roma comp, if it wasn’t Wattles lock Darryl Higgs trying to KO me at scrum base it was the next weekend assignment, Wallumbilla’s lock Charlie Frith. I swear Charlie never put his head in the scrum till he caught your eye. I refused to look his way and always did a lot of arm movements like I was organising tactics. Main tactic was go wide.

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