DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 8 2022
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21.
Renowned English rugby league club, Dewsbury, advertise for bar staff, at their stadium at Crown Flatt. An Irish patron (male) at Stafford Tavern, says, to a couple of barmaids, standing around, doing nothing: ‘Are You Girls models?’ I thought it was funny. Obviously, those barmaids would not be welcome in Dewbsury, where the local league fans don’t like waiting for their pint. One of my fellow drinkers – former Brothers’ rugby league winger, Peter Skerman, recalls enjoying a Tooths New in the back bar of Murwillumbah’s Court House Hotel, back in the early 1970s, when he was doing his National Service, and driving trucks in Mebbin State Forest (now Border Rangers National Park). The back bar was popular with men who knew their beer. They claimed it was the best in town, poured from a ‘gun’. The Court House was Souths’ pub. Old Boys drank at ‘The Imperial’ and Brothers at ‘Murray’s Murwillumbah Hotel’. Brothers had previously been at ‘The Australian’.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22
Learn of the passing of former trade union official, Owen Gazzard, who I had a lot to do with during my time as an Industrial reporter for the ‘Telegraph’ in the late 1970s. Owen, who was 86, was part of the Telecommunications Workers’ Union. There was plenty of industrial activity during that period, and I often made the first three pages of the paper, with my stories. Also learn of the passing of prominent bush footballer, John Shea, 72. He played for Harden Murrumburrah Hawks, in the Riverina. In 1974, my captain-coach at Murwillumbah Brothers was Milton Whybrow, a product of the Hawks, who spoke glowingly of Shea. My wife, Marie buys blueberries, which are from Tumbarumba, in the Snowy Mountains. Blueberries are usually from Alstonville or Woolgoolga, on the North Coast of NSW. My former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Robert ‘Foxy’ Graham had a season with Tumbarumba. I recall him training at the showgrounds, wearing the ‘Tumba’ strip. Mind you, he had a lot of jerseys. No-one thought about wearing a sponsor’s strip in those days, probably because there were no sponsors.
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23
Someone from the AFL says they are 6,000 umpires short at community level, largely because of abuse from spectators. This says two things. The AFL has a problem with their fans, just like rugby league. And Aussie rules has a massive player base, unlike rugby league.
RadioTAB’s basketball expert, Adelaide based Boti Nagy, recalls playing for Norwood against Coburg, and being down 54-2 at halftime. “I’d never heard of Coburg. It sounded like a disease,” he says. The point of his story was to emphasise the strength of basketball in Victoria. Nagy says the Australian rules rivalry between South and Australia and Victoria is intense, but nothing like the rivalry between Queensland and New South Wales, in rugby league’s State of Origin. TAB have nice interview with Jordan Pereira, who comes from Lower Hutt in New Zealand, and played rugby league in Perth, Mackay and for St George Illawarra, on his way to the Broncos.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 24
A bloke who has been ‘around the ridges’ in rugby league, tells me of a Brisbane official – back in the late 80s/early 90s – who would (allegedly) warn players when he got wind of drug testers, on their way to a training run. Blokes could be seen jumping the fence and taking off.
Learn of the passing of Va’aiga ‘Inga’ Tuigamala, who represented Samoa and the All Blacks in rugby union, before switching to league with Wigan in England, from where he played for Samoa in rugby league. I interviewed ‘Inga the Winger’ when he was in Brisbane for the World Club Challenge match against the Broncos in 1994.
Australian athletics legend, John Landy has died, aged 92. Landy was the world’s greatest miler in the 1950s. In 1956, he took the Olympic oath on behalf of the competitors in Melbourne, and was a popular choice. Landy once stopped during a mile race, to pick up a fallen runner. He later became Governor of Victoria.
Putin’s Russian forces invade Ukraine, after having moved into ‘friendly’ areas earlier in the week.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 25
There is hail and sleet during the Catalans Dragons v Leeds match in Perpignan, France. Catalans prop, Sam Kasiano’s father is in the crowd. It is raining cats and dogs when I arrive at Norths, Bishop Park, Nundah, to MC Men of League Foundation lunch, where the guest speakers are New Zealand Player of the Century, Mark Graham, and his former Brisbane Norths’ teammate, Mark Murray, a rival in the Test arena. Brisbane Easts’ legends, Des and Rod Morris; Alan Currie, John Eales and Errol Slingsby are seated at one table. Former Redcliffe and Tweed Heads Seagulls rugby league forward, Forester Grayson is in the bar, wearing a Cowboy hat. Mark Graham confirms he was never tempted to play New Zealand’s national sport, rugby union. He was always a league man, although he played some union at high school. Other former Norths’ teammates, Greg Conescu and Stan Napa, are also at the lunch, and Greg joins the two Marks on stage for a brief cameo. Napa played club and rep. footy, alongside Mark Graham in Auckland.
The funeral of former Toowoomba representative forward, Trevor Gleeson is held at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Toowoomba. Trevor was the older brother of former Test five eighth, Johnny Gleeson, who died on Christmas Day, 2021. Also learn of the passing of Tony McKerrow, aged 90, a leading community figure in the Tweed Valley of Northern New South Wales. When I think of Tony, I recall the Murwillumbah Musical Festival, which he and his wife, Pat organised. The work they put in, was amazing.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 26
Channel 7 reports that the floods now affecting South East Queensland could be worse than 2011. I hope not.
The crowd of 9,000 at the annual Charity Shield match, between South Sydney and St George Illawarra, in Mudgee , is so subdued. The football is OK. I suppose it is just their laid back country nature.
Former Kiwi rugby league international, Roger Tuivasa-Shek, has a strong rugby union debut for Auckland Blues, against Wellington Hurricanes.
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27
No ‘Macca’ (Ian McNamara) on ABC Radio – just flood reports, some from experienced journalist, Cathy Border, daughter of former Tweed Shire Council engineer, Peter Border, who had plenty of floods to contend with in the 1970s. Lots of planes fly over Grange. There is just one runway in use at Brisbane Airport. Queensland Rugby League Office Manager, Bec Trimble texts that the HQ in Castlemaine Street, Milton is flooded. God knows what is happening to items in our History Committee’s display area. There are sewerage flows in Wilston Village. Things are looking crook, and Kedron Brook threatens to break its banks near our ‘Hermitage Gardens’ town house estate at Grange. Neighbour, Laurie Petrie says ‘stay calm’ – the Brook is doing the job it was designed to do, following extensive flood
mitigation work. Scores of residents watch the raging flood waters pass under the Gilbert Road Bridge, some agreeing with Laurie, others anxious, to say the least. You can put Marie and I in the latter category. Hermitage Gardens’ co-manager, Robyn Moore knocks on our door an hour later, and says ‘Prepare for the worst’, which Marie and I do, by taking many of our valuable items upstairs. There is a canal on what was the footpath dividing our estate. Water has dropped a bit by the time we go to bed, but sleep still difficult.