DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 23 2021
MONDAY, JUNE 7
WHEN I think of Tim Pickup, the 1972 Second Test between Australia and New Zealand at Lang Park, immediately springs to mind. I was in the Frank Burke Stand on that July day, with a group from the Brothers’ club at Murwillumbah, and behind us were a group of North Sydney supporters. As the Australian team took the field, they began singing, to the tune of ‘Teddy Bears Picnic’ – “And here comes Georgie Ambrum, and Timmy Pickup too….” Winger, Ambrum and five eighth, Pickup were the two North Sydney players in the Australian team, which belted the Kiwis 31-7. It was the Test debut of winger, Wayne Stewart from Wests in Brisbane, and he landed five goals. Pickup and Ambrum had made their debuts in the First Test in Sydney, which the Aussies also won – 36-11 – with Ambrum scoring two tries. I never met Tim, but former Broncos’ media manager, Trad McLean had a lot to do with him, and said he was real character and great company. Tim died today, aged 72, following a battle with dementia. Trad’s father, Mick ‘Dolly’ McLean and Tim were teammates at North Sydney. Trad says he has rarely seen his father as upset as he was when the news came through of Tim’s passing.
Also learn of the passing of Andy Stubbs, a journalist, who covered the rugby league round at the same time as me, and had a lot to do with the Gold Coast Titans, in their early years.
A bloke at the pub tells me how one licensee at St George, in South West Queensland, sold flagons of cheap wine to indigenous people, living on an island in the Balonne River. That was back in the early 1970s. I’m sure there were many similar, sorry tales from around the state.
TUESDAY, JUNE 8
Channel 9’s Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin says he knows of lots of people who are not watching the NRL any more, or are leaving their loungerooms, or switching channels at half time, because of all the hold-ups in play. One bloke told me he had turned off league when it went from being an evasion sport, to a collision sport.
My wife, Marie and I watch our eldest grandson, Ethan at Jiu Jitsu at Suncorp Stadium PCYC. Mark Haseman, an Eight Dan Black Belt, is the instructor. His son, Chris was wrestling coach at the Broncos for a number of years. Marie and I have dinner a China Sea in Park Road, Milton, a restaurant which boasts John Travolta as a previous customer. There is a photograph of the 2014 Brisbane Broncos’ side on the wall, although it says it is an Origin side.
Funny how some songs stick in your head for 24 or hours or so. Today it is The Honeycomb’s ‘Have I the Right?’
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 9.
‘Turbo’ Tommy Trbojevic scores three tries for New South Wales in their 50-6 thrashing of Queensland in Game 1 of the 2021 State of Origin series in Townsville. ‘Turbo’ set the scene for his man of the match performance with a couple of amazing ‘carries’ in the first set of six tackles. Debutant NSW five eighth, Jarome Luai calls referee, Gerard Sutton ‘Bro’, which I’m not really comfortable with. Whatever happened to ‘Sir’. Hope he didn’t call his school teachers ‘Bro’. Our eldest lad, Damien reckons 80 percent of the Burdekin town of Ayr, where he lives, have gone north to Townsville for the game, which was originally scheduled for Melbourne, but was shifted because of the rising number of Covid cases in Victoria.
Greg Shannon, our North Queensland rep. on the QRL History Committee, has written a newspaper column about the 1924 and 1976 visits of Queensland sides to North Queensland. Greg makes the point that the Origin game did not mark the first time Queensland had played in Townsville. ABC Radio picks up the salient points made by Greg. The ’76 side got beaten by the northerners, a result which infuriated State coach, Barry Muir. It seems a number of players had not taken the match seriously, and had been out on the drink the night before. There was no ‘Mad Cow’ (night club) then, but plenty of pubs, some of which are now shut. Former Queensland skipper, Gorden Tallis says there was Origin in Townsville before tonight’s game. “I played Origin every day in the front yard (in Townsville) when I was growing up.”
There is speculation that Davies Park, West End will be the new headquarters for the Queensland Rugby League, probably five to 10 years from now.
THURSDAY, JUNE 10
Former QRL official and State or Origin team manager, Michael Pease’s dad played for an ‘Australian XIII’ against France, in Melbourne, in 1951, a match won 34-17 by the tourists, in front of a crowd of 4,660. It wasn’t a Test match. It was essentially an exhibition match to showcase the wonderful French side in the Victorian capital, where Michael’s father worked.
Walking around Grange this evening there are kids training for soccer at Lanham Park, and everyone has a football. At Emerson Park, Valleys junior league kids are doing their stretching exercises.
FRIDAY JUNE 11
Surf Life Saving legend, Ron Rankin is my interview subject at Beer and Beef Club lunch at Morrison Hotel, South Brisbane. Ron was involved in some amazing surf rescues.
My wife, Marie attends funeral of New Zealand born, Kenneth Woki Clifton, the son-in-law of our friends, Paul and Lyn Grady, who died of a heart attack. A haka is performed, in his honour.
We finally get our car back from the panel beaters, after it was rear ended by a furniture truck. The car radio is on some sort of Arabic station. It was on 4KQ when it was towed.
There is a tribute to Manly great, Bob Fulton at Brookvale Oval ahead of the Sea Eagles’ match against North Queensland, with his four grand daughters bringing out his footy jersey, while his two grandsons lower the flag to half mast. Fulton died on May 23, and was given a State Funeral at Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral on June 4. Manly do him proud by thrashing the Cowboys 50-18.
SATURDAY, JUNE 12
Samford Markets are smaller than we anticipated, but are still very good. Marie buys cakes, honey, peas and avocados. On the way back to Brisbane, we walk the Samford Valley Rail Trail, past the site of Queensland’s worst rail disaster, which occurred in 1947. Sixteen people were killed on a Customs House, picnic excursion, when the train went off the rails on the downward run into Samford.
Watch Valleys v Brighton at Emerson Park, Grange, with former Valleys’ coach, Don Gailer calling the action on Facebook. Noted league author and Valleys’ tragic, Steve Haddan yells his support from the balcony, with his son, Billy by his side. Also chat to former Valleys’ players, Greg ‘Hammer’ Walker, Ziggy Strasser and Bob Knight, as well as Brisbane Men of League Foundation president, Reg Green. ‘Hammer’ has no time for former Test referee, Eddie Ward. ‘Hammer’ had a stint with Carcassonne in France, and said the club never expected to win on the road. I’m told the the Valleys’ team song was borrowed from the Collingwood Aussie Rules Club in Victoria and was introduced to the club by player, Karl Dank.
I watch some of the 1963 movie, Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which I saw at the Regent Theatre in Murwillumbah. One of the classic scenes involved a dying Jimmy Durante, who, as he took his final breath, kicked a bucket which was on the ground next to him. “That guys dead. You better believe it.” says Jonathan Winters. The Big W was the focal point of the movie, and I don’t mean the store.
SUNDAY, JUNE 13
Macca (Ian McNamara) can’t understand why St George are getting rid of fullback, Matt Dufty. “Maybe he passed wind at a team meeting,” Macca says on his ABC Radio show.
The Mitch Cronin Hill is unveiled at Kougari ahead of the Wynnum-Manly v Souths Logan match. Broncos’ contracted winger, Corey Oates scores the winning try on the bell, for Souths. Mitch Cronin, who died in 2020, aged just 27, had played for both Brisbane clubs, as well as the Canberra Raiders. The Cronin family sit down with players from both sides for dinner.
There is a great community haka for the Warriors at Gosford, to thank the New Zealand team for helping to keep the NRL, alive by basing themselves in Australia. Winger, Ken Maumalo is in tears, as he farewells the Warriors, after scoring three tries in the 42-16 loss to Melbourne. He is making a mid-season switch to Wests Tigers.