DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 21 2021
MONDAY, MAY 24
Former North Queensland Cowboys’ rugby league players, Gavin Cooper and Ray Thompson visit Ayr, on development work for the club. Ray was taught by our eldest son, Damien at Townsville’s Kirwan High. He recalls a school carnival at Kougari Oval, Wynnum, when ‘supporters’ of Woodridge SHS jumped the fence and attacked Kirwan SHS players, after one of the players was floored. One of the indigenous lads playing for Kirwan – not Ray – decked a much bigger rival, after some push and shove. I was there, on a day off, to catch up with our eldest son, Damien, who was part of the Kirwan SHS staff. I had no choice but to file a story for ‘The Courier-Mail’, given the horrendous events that had unfolded in front of me. The people who jumped the fence were all of a Polynesian background, as were many of the Woodridge SHS players. Suffice to say, it was not a great day for rugby league.
Sydney ‘Telegraph’s Dean ‘Bulldog’ Ritchie has written a great tribute to former Test skipper, Bob Fulton. There is nothing about Fulton’s death in the Townsville Bulletin. How can that be?
Marie and I leave Ayr on the next leg of our North Queensland trip, heading back to Townsville, and booking into Allure Apartments, across the road from Koolkuna Kindergarten, where there are a couple of chooks. Townsville is dead. So many places are shut – for good. An old indigenous chap asks me for ‘coin’; a middle-aged white woman ‘prances’ down the Mall; the Yacht Club is closed for a meeting; Gavin Cooper’s photo adorns the exterior wall of Cowboys’ Leagues Club. One of his best performances for the Cows was featured on FoxSports today. The man’s everywhere! Marie and I dine at excellent Commonwealth Hotel – calamari, prawns, onion bhaji, pork belly rolls. The publican (ex-Coles) knows Chris Wicks, the principal at East Ayr Primary School where, Damien is the deputy.
It is 50 years ago today that former rural worker and indigenous rights campaigner, Neville Bonner was nominated for Parliament. I was working at the Tweed Daily News at the time, and it was big news, because the future indigenous, Liberal Senator was born, under a tree, on Ukerebagh Island, near the mouth of the Tweed River.
TUESDAY, MAY 25
Coffee and newspaper from Charlie’s Joint. Head north to the Atherton Tablelands, via picnic lunch at Tully, where we shop at Teitzel’s IGA. Stop at curious Paronella Park, where we buy bananas and avocadoes from the store, and walk to the bottom of the falls on Mena Creek. Paronella Park takes its name from a Spanish immigrant, Jose Paronella, who cut sugar cane in the north, and then cleared the rainforest here for a home, landscaped gardens and a reception centre. The South Johnstone (sugar) Mill is going full throttle. Two Queensland sugar mills have closed in the past 12 months – at Maryborough and Bingera near Bundaberg. Leg-stretch at Crawford’s Lookout, which provides an amazing view of the rainforest and North Johnstone River. Short walk at Henrietta Creek Swimming Hole.
Check into Tree Houses, Tazali, on the tablelands. Our cabin is called ‘Tree Kangaroo’, and previous occupants included French, Dutch, German, Swiss and English tourists. We see two cassowaries on the edge of the clearing near reception. They remind me of Egyptian Pharaohs. Am I alone in thinking this? Possums harass us at ‘Tree Kangaroo’.
There are blackouts in North Queensland (not at Tazali, fortunately) thanks to a fire at Gladstone Coal Power Station. Our youngest son, Lliam, a director of Supply Partners Solar Energy in Brisbane, says the State needs more distributed energy storage to give better energy security – not more coal or gas. Sounds good in theory, I think. All too complicated for me.
Australian rules people reckon tackling is nearly dead in their sport, after a come-from-behind, chase tackle by Gold Coast Suns’ Nick Holman is referred to the tribunal.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 26
Relaxing walk in the rainforest surrounding our lodge. Drive to Mungalli Dairy, where we join a cheese and yoghurt tasting class on the balcony of the main building, before driving ‘The Waterfall Way’. Walk to the bottom of Ellinjaa Falls; the top of Zillie Falls on Theresa Creek and finally, relax at iconic Milla Milla Falls, where there is a ‘Bright Side of the Road’ tour group. A few people, including ladies in ill-fitting costumes, brave the cold waters, below the Falls.
Drinks in Milla Milla pub, where licensee has a tribute to former South Sydney skipper, John Sattler, and the 1970 grand final, in which he played for 75 minutes with a broken jaw.
Learn of the passing of Sir Lew Edwards, 85, the former Queensland Treasurer and chairman of the Expo 88 organising committee. I interviewed him a few times in the 1970s, when I was a general reporter at the Brisbane ‘Telegraph’ newspaper. He was always a gentleman.
THURSDAY, MAY 27
Look out the kitchen window, and there, below me, are two Cassowaries. Marie walks the creek bank looking for platypus, without any luck. She took the sightings of platypus for granted at the family farm at Bangalow, back in the 1960s, because there were so many in Byron Creek. Morning tea at Malanda Dairy Museum Cafe. The Museum has an amazing story about the Emerson family, who brought cattle to the Atherton Tablelands from Lismore, in northern New South Wales, 100 odd years ago. You would hope our school children are being told these stories of perseverance and endeavour, along with indigenous dreamtime stories. Marie and I tackle a couple of bushwalks at Malanda Falls, where there are lots of turtles.
At the tourist office in the village of Yungaburra, the volunteers are amazed to hear that we have seen Cassowaries. At Lake Eacham, there are people swimming, despite reports there is a resident (fresh water) croc. Check into Crater Lake Rainforest Cottages, where the owner, John Wright, is ex-Army, and wears a ‘RA Infidel’ T-Shirt. Originally from Horsham in Victoria, where he played Australian rules, he has the property (circa 1999) on the market. John proves a real character. He provides us with pellets to feed the pademelons and mealworms for the rifle birds, which we hand feed, from the balcony of our ‘Bali’ cottage. We prefer this location and set-up, to Tazali, although Tazali was fine.
FRIDAY, MAY 28
Marie and I walk the beautiful Lake Eacham track, followed by lunch at Lake Barrine Tea House. The pea and ham soup and home-made sausage rolls are delicious. There are 176 BMW motor bike riders rallying from Palm Cove, and we pass all 176 on the Danbulla Forest Drive. One of the participants has a chat to us, as he enjoys a cigarette at Cathedral Fig Tree. He is from Phillip Island in Victoria.
Our youngest son, Lliam returns to Brisbane after having visited Damien at Ayr.
SATURDAY, MAY 29
Wake to the sounds of whip birds. So much better than the sound of barking dogs, at Grange. Afternoon drinks at historic Peeramon Pub, where they are setting up for a 70th birthday party for the barmaid’s father-in-law. Walk off the Tooheys (moi) and ginger beer (Marie) at the Curtain Fig, and then Peterson Creek, where the local Landcare group has done a great job. There is an old railway bridge over the creek. Back at Yungaburra, there are free mandarins in a stall outside a house, and Marie helps herself. Drinks in Yungaburra Pub, where rugby league photos dominate, including one of the 1961 Eacham Foley Shield side, which included halfback, Peter Hanna, who I played against when he was captain-coach of Mullumbimby in the early 1970s. Marie and I watch the start of the NRL match between Souths and Parramatta, as the barmaid boasts she is ‘four from four’ in the pub tipping competition. Back at our cabin, I watch a little of Reds v Chiefs rugby from Townsville, and Chiefs’ player, Damien McKenzie is sent off for a very soft tackle. There is a kicking duel, which I quite enjoy it. You don’t see kicking duels in rugby league any more.
SUNDAY, MAY 30
Lovely lunch with Atherton locals, Michael and Leanne Montgomery at ‘Our Place’, Yungaburra. We met Michael and Leanne on our Scenic River Cruise (Amsterdam to Budapest) in 2019. There is drama out the front of the restaurant, as a police officer breath tests a young bloke in a ute, and then takes him back to the police station.
Michael and Leanne are wonderful hosts, driving us around the district, including afternoon tea at Nerada Estate (tea plantation), where we spot a tree kangaroo. Next stop is the Barron Valley pub, where we catch up with licensee, Mick Nasser, who is recovering from heart surgery. Mick was renowned nationally as the man who gave NRL ‘bad boy’, Todd Carney a job in 2009, when he was ostracised from the big time. Carney played with the local Atherton Roosters, who are part of the Cairns District competition. That year they finished minor premiers, but were beaten in the Grand Final. The Roosters have always been strong, and, in fact, beat the Broncos two years in a row, in trial games. They weren’t full strength Broncos’ sides, but that’s still a mighty effort. Ivan Henjak coached the Broncos’ teams, and was particularly unhappy when the side went down a second time. There are some great photographs around the walls of the pub, including one of Mick’s grandfather, who sparred with legendary African American boxer, Jack Johnson.