DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 22 2021
MONDAY, MAY 31
The Queensland team is announced for the first match of the 2021 State of Origin series, with injury clouds over several players, one of them Cameron Munster, who plays up to the television cameras by limping into the team’s hotel in Brisbane. Nate Myles, a veteran of 32 Origin matches, is to join the Queensland camp to assist the coaching staff.
My wife, Marie and I continue our North Queensland holiday, with a day trip to Herberton, from our rainforest cabin at Lake Eacham. Herberton is the oldest town on the Atherton Tablelands, and has an amazing outdoor museum.
TUESDAY, JUNE 1
The Gillies Highway from the Tablelands to Cairns on the coast, is quite a challenge, and, of course, there are the obligatory tailgaters, no doubt locals who know the winding road like the back of their hands, but have no time for tourists.
Drinks at Hemingway Brewery, followed by dinner on a fishing trawler called ‘Prawn Star’ – prawns, bug and oysters – while chatting with couples from Cronulla and Middlesborough (England).
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 2
Our cabbie to Cairns Railway Station is Turkish, but has a ‘neutral’ accent, courtesy of eight months studying at Sheffield Uni in England. The check-in process for ‘The Spirit of Queensland’, to Brisbane, is efficient. There is no cafe, on the station platform, so I walk to a nearby food hall for tea/coffee from Muffin Place, where an angry white woman chides a lady of Asian background, for coughing without covering her mouth. The Kuranda tourist train comes in as I return, and memories flood back of our trip to Kuranda in 1983, with our children, Melanie (4) and Damien (3). Lliam, our youngest child, was born the following year.
The tilt train is nothing like the fast, inter-city trains in the UK and Europe. It is quite a ‘milk run’, and the first ‘leg-stretch’ comes at Tully. A crop duster had flown low over the train, as we headed out of Cairns. Very exciting, and a touch scary. Tully Station is so ‘green’. Ingham, our next stop, not so. A fellow passenger says the female guard sounds like a strict school teacher, as she warns (over the p.a.) that smoking is not allowed and alcohol can only be consumed from the club bar etc.
There is an abundance of birdlife in the wetlands near Giru, which boasts a great looking pub – the ‘Giru International’. A bloke towing a boat, just beats the train at a level crossing. Idiot.
Our daughter-in-law, Emma and our granddaughters, Parker, and Evan wave to us from the family car, as the train passes Plantation Park at Ayr. They live just around the corner from the park.
Marie and I have two drinks in the club bar, where a feral looking lady with three kids, tries to pay with cash, but it is a no cash train, which was made clear before the trip. A woman comes to the rescue with her card, and the stressed mum pays her the cash.
Night falls as we approach Bowen Station, which is in the fields, well outside town. There is a comfort stop in Mackay, where the train is refuelled.
THURSDAY, JUNE 3
The train is 20 minutes behind schedule as we approach Cooroy, to the west of Noosa. The Glass House Mountains look beautiful in the early morning light. Journey’s end at Brisbane’s Roma Street Station. Would I do it again? No. It was a good experience, but I couldn’t sleep, despite our ‘business class’ pods, with the train rocking and rolling, and so many stops.
Marie and I witness road rage, as we get a cab home. A bloke in a ‘Concrete Taxi’, pulls out from a garage, in front of a car, the driver of which instinctively gives a blast of his horn. The car gets in front, and then the guy in the ‘Concrete Taxi’ tail gates him, but eases back when he sees a police car in the line of traffic. Welcome back to the big smoke
The kitchen seems to sway, as I read the paper. That would be the aftermath of the tilt train.
FRIDAY, JUNE 4
The fasting habits of jockeys is discussed on Radio TAB. Former Courier-Mail turf editor, Bart Sinclair says some jockeys survived on a cigarette and a good look around.
Broncos’ chief executive, Dave Donaghy and former Broncos’ Test centre, Steve Renouf are my interview subjects at Moreton Men of League Foundation Committee Lunch at Redcliffe leagues Club. The charity auction is conducted by Paul Hogan, a player-manager, and not to be confused with the one and only ‘Hoges’. I put my foot in it when I describe Broncos’ new signing, Adam Reynolds as indigenous. He isn’t. Nothing like doing your research Steve. The attendees include former Brisbane Brothers and St George (Sydney) hooker, Trevor Bailey; former Test halfback, Mark Murray; George Gledhill, a member of Redcliffe’s 1965 premiership winning side; and John Boxsell, a hard working forward for Redcliffe in the 1980s.
The QRL stages a ‘Long Lunch’ at Brisbane City Hall at the same time, to promote the Origin series, with guests including Wayne Bennett, Willie Tonga, Steve Price, Petero Civoniceva and Jake Friend. The MC is Karl Stefanovic. They could have got me for half the price.
The Tigers v Panthers match at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney marks 50 years of floodlit football at the pretty, but antiquated ground. I think the first match I covered there, under lights, was a Tooth Cup clash in the early 1980s. Our eldest lad, Damien, had the honour of playing there for Queensland Universities against New South Wales, scoring a runaway try, just as Roosters’ scout, Arthur Beetson entered the ground.
SATURDAY, JUNE 5
Brothers belt Arana Hills in first grade and also thrash Normanby in the reserves in Second Division Rugby League at Gibson Park, Stafford. There were quite a flew blokes in the Arana line-up carrying a few extra kilos. It is great to watch a bit of local footy, and enjoy a beer with the likes of Graham ‘Bruno’ Brennan, Peter Skerman and Steve Telfer. I passed Wilston Grange Australian rules club’s home ground on the way to Gibson Park, and the locals (the Gorillas) were playing Mt Gravatt in a colts game, and the standard was high.
Rugby league legends, Billy Smith, Brett Kenny and Glenn Lazarus are inducted into the NSW Sports Hall of Fame. I first saw Billy play in the 1966 Second Test against Great Britain in Brisbane. I covered the 1982 and ’86 Kangaroo tours, when Kenny starred. And I was Glenn Lazarus’s ghost writer at The Sunday Mail.
Former Australian and Queensland fullback, Gary Belcher is guest speaker at Padua College Old Boys’ dinner.
SUNDAY, JUNE 6
Fellow league historian, Lyle Beaton is campaigning to have his old school, Churchie play rugby league. Good luck!
More than 80 former players attend a North Sydney Bears’ Old Boys Day at a home match against Blacktown. Jason Taylor is coach of the current Bears’ outfit, which plays in the New South Wales Cup. It was 25 years ago, almost to the day, that I covered North Sydney’s 16-10 win over the Broncos at Brisbane’s ANZ Stadium, with Taylor the star, scoring a try and kicking four from four.
Jack Johns makes his debut for Newcastle Knights, meaning he and his father, Matt are the club’s first father and son ‘combo’. Tully (North Queensland) product, Jake Clifford is good for the Knights. It is Old Boys day at Newcastle and Adam MacDougall says his fellow international, Ben Kennedy was Newcastle’s ‘best and fairest on the drink’.
I understand that some of the former Canterbury-Bankstown players recently caught up with former coach, Warren ‘WOK’ Ryan – players such as Mick Potter, Joe Thomas, David ‘Cement’ Gillespie, Andrew Farrar, Peter Tunks, Darryl Brohman, Paul Dunn and Paul Langmack. That’s good to hear, because I think WOK has been through a tough period in his life.
A caller to Macca (ABC Radio) says Speedway started in Maitland in 1923, before spreading around the world. This is true, at least according to my sports bible ‘The Game’ magazine. ‘The Game’ says historians generally agree that Speedway’s beginning was in West Maitland, and the man behind it was New Zealander, Johnnie Hoskins. News of the new daredevil sport filtered through to Britain, and by 1927, the sport was underway there. The early Australian ‘superstars’ of the sport were Vic Huxley, Billy Lamont and Frank Arthur. More recently, Connor Bailey was signed from Australia by UK Speedway, when he was just 16.
In Central Queensland, the Blackall Magpies Rugby League Club celebrates its centenary.