DIARY UPDATE: Week 26, 2021


WEEK 26 2021


THE FIGS (Former International Greats), via secretary, Peter Hogan, seek permission to post my Flashbacks on their Facebook page, which has 6,000 followers (about 5,700 more than me). I am only too happy to oblige. Fellow historian, Lyle Beaton calls the French Rugby Union side, ‘Vichyballers’ because of the Vichy Government’s decree of 1941, which brought about the dissolution of the French Rugby League Association, but allowed union to continue. Got to love Lyle’s passion.

Wyong Roos have ‘taken over’ the Woolgoolga Diggers Club, and reportedly are spending $5 million on upgrading the place. My wife, Marie and I had drinks there, while holidaying at Woolgoolga a few years back. Evidently the cheap beer prices at the club have had an impact on the local pub (Seaview Tavern), as you might expect. On the rugby league front, Woolgoolga Sea Horses and Orara Valley Axeman (reportedly) had to combine forces to field an under-18 side. My former Brothers’ under-18 teammate, Darryl ‘Little Rooster’ Gear, was heavily involved with the Sea Horses for quite some time. He now lives back on the Tweed. Another mate reminds me that white football boots were hung over the front door of the Manning Hotel at Chatham (New South Wales), when the licensee was Graeme ‘Chang’ Langlands. ‘Chang’ was one of the all time great footballers, but a lot of people, when they hear the name, associate it with the 1975 Sydney Grand Final, when he wore white boots, and his club, St George, lost 38-0 to Easts Roosters. To quote Ian Heads: “It was the most wretched day of Langland’s illustrious career, with a pain killing needle having missed its mark, rendering one leg almost useless. The white boots, which Langlands had agreed to wear at the urging of sponsors, Adidas, made his discomfort all the more conspicuous”.

The Union Jack, which used to fly at the Windsor International Hotel in Brisbane, has been replaced by the Indigenous flag.


So many things have been postponed or cancelled, following the latest State Government proclamation, re. Covid restrictions, with a three day lockdown from 1 a.m. today, after an unvaccinated health worker came down with the virus. The Gold Coast Marathon; Laidley Show; Burleigh Bears Rugby League Re-Union and Sunshine Coast Men of League function are some of the events cancelled. I was to attend the Burleigh and Sunshine Coast events, in official capacities. The Burleigh boys were going to honor the 1971 team, which made the Group 18 Gold Coast Grand Final, only to lose to South Murwillumbah. Burleigh beat my team, Murwillumbah Brothers, in an elimination final at the Murwillumbah Showgrounds. I was the fullback that day, and had to trudge off to work at the Daily News offices that night, while my teammates drowned their sorrows. Our captain-coach, Ray McCarron returned to Brisbane the following year to play with Wests, and went on to represent Queensland against New South Wales. 

With the lock-down applying to South East Queensland, Townsville, Magnetic Island and Palm Island, the ‘grey nomads’ are remaining out west, and places like Charleville are packed to overflowing.


My great mate from Murwillumbah, Andrew Clarke turns 68. He was born in Malta (conceived in Ireland) of an English mother and an Australian father, who served in the Royal Air Force. Andrew’s grandfather, Edward Langley Clarke, served with the AIF in WW1. He was a rural worker, and then a bank messenger, after the war. Andrew talks fondly of rugby league, but despairs of the fact the game does not look after its history as well as other codes. “Many kids have never heard of Johnny Raper, and they even laugh at the name,” he says. Andrew played for Old Boys in Murwillumbah, before going to the University of New England in Armidale, where he took up hockey.

Learn of the passing of Ray Balkin, 88, who had the Seaway Kiosk at Southport on the Gold Coast, for many years. Ray, who was also a long serving publican, was the brother of Broncos’ founding director, the late Gary Balkin, who was a fine rugby league winger. The Balkin’s roots go back to Kilkenny and Antrim in Ireland. Ray and Gary were great company, and proud of the family’s connections to Gympie and the village of Gunalda.

Former Australian Test prop, Jason Ryles is to join the Sydney Roosters’ staff, after a stint with English Rugby. Australian Sevens rugby union player, Maurice Longbottom says his hero is rugby league superstar, Johnathan Thurston, but his inspiration in life is his ‘Pop’, Henry George Longbottom.

Marie and I have our first Covid Test – at Newmarket. While we enduring lockdown, things are cruisy in the Hunter region, with my former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Greg Grainger and his wife, Maree dining at Raymond Terrace Pub, where face masks are not required.


Another former Murwillumbah High School friend, Laurence Lock Lee tells me his family arrived in town, from Inverell, in 1934, to help set up Tong’s (grocery/clothing) Store. Laurence is boss of Swoop Analytics, and lives in the Hunter region. Tong’s store was an institution in Murwillumbah for over 50 years.


Former Test lock, Paul Vautin tells me he was first choice kicker at Wests Panthers in Brisbane, for a short time, in 1978. “I was kicking at only 34 percent and (coach) Don Oxenham gave me a tap on the shoulder,” Vautin recalls. “I think Mark Hogan, a centre from Taree, and Henry Williamson took over.”

St George Illawarra beat New Zealand Warriors 19-18 in Gosford. The Warriors kept setting up their superstar, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck for the dump. No wonder he is going to rugby union. Neither side had a clue about setting up for the field goal, but St George Illawarra five eighth, Corey Norman eventually landed one, two minutes from the scheduled end of golden point extra time. Penrith v Parramatta at Penrith is a tough contest, with Penrith winning 13-12. The match was sold out ages ago, but Covid put an end to that, with no fans allowed. Penrith players drink XXXX Gold in the sheds. It’s everywhere. The round of Queensland Cup rugby league is called off.


Queensland Rugby League chairman, Bruce Hatcher apologises to Cronulla Sharks, for suggesting they should relocate to Queensland. Tough day at the office for FoxSports’ commentator, Shane Flanagan, given his son, Kyle is five eighth for the Bulldogs, who are thrashed 66-0 by Manly, a record score. Former Raiders’ player, Percy Knight appears nervous, as he prepares to blow the Viking Horn before the home match against Gold Coast Titans. The Titans lead 34-0 after 57 minutes and Raiders’ fans file out of the stadium. The final score was 44-6, Gold Coast’s biggest win over Canberra. All Blacks beat Tonga 102-0 in Auckland. It seems the Tongan rugby league side has far more talent than the union team.

Marie makes a good point (she makes many) – there have been few dogs barking in our town house estate this week, because the owners are home, instead of leaving their pets alone for the day, while they go to work.

Pubs re-open at 6 p.m., and I know of at least one bloke (not me), who was waiting outside for the doors to open at Stafford Tavern.


Marie and I use our Suncorp Stadium Silver Memberships for the first time, for the Broncos’ home match against Cronulla. Police evict a couple of Cronulla fans near us – not sure why. The Broncos enjoy a worthy 26-18 win over the Sharks, with Kotoni Staggs making a solid return from injury. Staggs has a fiery duel with Ronaldo Mulitalo. Broncos five eighth, Tyson Gamble makes a great try saving tackle – a real game changer. Marie and I have two drinks at Darling and Co afterwards, and a young bloke in a Broncos’ jersey goes right off, as he talks on his phone. It was weird.

Community television station, Channel 37 (I think it was Channel 37, maybe Channel 31) is no more. I remember my former Courier-Mail colleague, Gary Keep being involved in a harness racing and/or greyhounds segment.

I send a text to Wally Lewis reminding him it was 40 years ago today that he made his Test debut for Australia – against France at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He has no idea (about the milestone) and thanks me for reminding him.

Darryl ‘Little Rooster’ Gear (left) with Steve Ricketts

Steve Ricketts with drinkers at the Woolgoolga Pub in 2009

South Murwillumbah fans get behind their team ahead of the 1971 Group 18 Gold Coast Grand Final in Murwillumbah. Claude McDermott leads out the Souths’ team for the match against Burleigh

Marie Ricketts at Suncorp Stadium before the Broncos v Sharks match

Wally Lewis in his Test debut against France.

2 responses to “DIARY UPDATE: Week 26, 2021

  1. Being a Qlder, never heard of the Orara Valley Axeman until yesterday or the day before. Now you too Steve. From reading the Australian newspaper of yesterday, I can inform all interested that Sam Burgess is their coach for 2022 and I also think I saw it reported Sam as attempting Registration as a player and willing Benji Marshall and Greg Inglis to play some guest appearances. All of which is interesting. The Axemen now on the map eh?
    I can only marvel at a district that identifies with the Axeman. It’s a world now gone. I proudly remember my roots with the Atherton District and the sight of the axemen (the real deals of the 1960s) at the local agricultural show. What a contest, what a spectacle that was. To think those guys could fight it out thru the local show circut (Eacham) and qualify for somewhere big, maybe Cairns Show, maybe Townsville. These are guys who likely had to milk cows twice a day every day yet could possibly get invited to the Cairns Show and take the muddy road off the farm, hit the narrow tar seal and find Cairns has their name printed on a woodchip program was as big as Foley Shield Rugby League. Ever seen Jack Thompson in Sunday too Far Away, 1975, there is even a better story in the untold Axemen and their now disappearing achievement.

  2. In the early 1970s, I covered the Festival of the Fish and Chips at Brunswick Heads, and part of the program was a woodchop competition which attracted some of the best axemen from Australia and overseas. I loved it – the crowds were big, and one could adjourn to the lovely Brunswick Heads pub across the road from the riverside park, where the woodchops took place.

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