Diary of a retired Rugby League writer

2015 – WEEK 2

MONDAY, JANUARY 5
Napier today, and the locals are outfitted in 1930s gear to welcome us to this art deco town. Walk up very steep Tiffen Park where possum baiting is going well. Hawkes Bay Brewery outlet is unimpressive. No local pilsener and the Wild Duck Lager is warm. Backpack on the floor of the public bar has been there three days and has not been claimed! Move instead to Lone Star Bar which features a series of photos of the Magnificent 7 – seven tries scored in a famous rugby union win by Hawkes Bay over Waikato in 1967. ‘Hello Country Bumpkin’ is played in the background as I down a Steinlager and I shed a tear. That is INDEED sad, Stephen.

Back on board we watch excellent singer, Chris Powley.

TUESDAY, JANUARY 6
Another cruise ship beats us into Tauranga Harbour this morning. Mark drives all fives couples in mini bus to Rotorua. Visit a Maori village where a funeral is taking place. We follow the dictate not to take photos, but one tourist keeps clicking away after being told to stop. A Yank, I think. No class at all. Meet English league fan, John Boughman, who now lives in Perth, but grew up at Whitehaven in Cumbria, a real league stronghold. Next we drive around nearby lakes, all so beautiful and inviting on this hot day. We get back to Tauranga in time to have a few ales at Mount Wanganui Brewery, where Mark has gone from licensee of one pub, to the owner of five!!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 7
Auckland today, and the best coffee so far, from a Queen Street vendor. Walk through Albert Park where a menacing group of young Maori block a path while drinking grog. Go to tennis at The Domain where we see Coco Vandeweghe from the USA beats Kirsten Flipkens (Belgium) and then the first set of Radwanska v Hantuchova. The first time I saw women’s tennis was back in late 1960s when a classmate at Murwillumbah High, Phil Snedden, invited me to a family outing to Milton in Brisbane to see one of their relatives, Kerry Melville play. Back to ship via Tyler’s Garage Bar on the water front, where our Canadian barman is super friendly.

Back on board our group enters a darts competition, and Greg Grainger finishes a credible third.

I get a lovely message from former North Queensland Cowboys winger, Obadiah Geia, who was taught by our son, Damien at Townsville’s Kirwan High. “He (Damien) is a great bloke who brings out the best in people. You should be proud of him.” We are.

Famous Australian actor, Rod Taylor dies today aged 84. He was so smooth.

THURSDAY, JANUARY 8
Bay of Islands today, We had intended to stay on board, but the weather is so beautiful we get a tender to Paihia. Our shuttle bus driver, Kev, goes on and on about the Bledisloe Cup and bags rugby league. Why do Kiwis think we think we all care about rugby union? It is the fourth football code in Australia. To Splash Bar for whitebait fritters, a favourite of Marie’s since she lived in NZ back in the early 70s. So disappointing. Marie tells our waitress (from Moggill in Brisbane) they are the worst she has ever eaten. A couple of drinks in the Yacht Club before getting our tender back to the ship. Club staff (volunteers) so friendly. One couple had moved to Bay of Islands from Christchurch after the quake.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 9
The trip back across the Tasman starts today. I chat to Sydney comedian, Sam McCool, a former Waverly College student who counts prominent journalist, Phil Heads among his former classmates. Sam said he met Pauline Hanson on a previous visit to Akaroa. No comment. Tonight Marie and I attend ‘British Invasion’ musical in Princess Theatre. There is no life in the audience, which is not the fault of the singers.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 10
Last full day on board. Mark pretends to see whales out to sea and has other passengers searching madly for a sighting. Bloke goes by wearing ‘Beware I know Karate’ t-shirt. No comment.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 11
Raining as we enter Sydney Harbour. As we disembark at White Bay Terminal a customs lady insists we place one hand on the rail as go down the escalator. Welcome back to the nanny state. Free shuttle bus to airport, then plenty of time to kill so we walk Mascot’s main street, including drinks at Tennyson Pub where the barmaid is friendly and the patrons rough. The Mascot (rugby league) Team of the Century photo adorns one wall.

Back at the airport a dad is hit with a terrific question from his little son. “If our plane flies above the clouds, will the lightning be above or below us?” I didn’t hear the answer.

cruise

Our cruise group, from left: Karl and Lesley Dixon; Mark and Jenny Conway; Greg and Maree Grainger; Steve and Marie Ricketts; Richard and Robyn Hall.

 

2015 – WEEK 1

THURSDAY, JANUARY 1
Beautiful ‘crisp’ weather as we cruise Milford Sound in New Zealand’s Fiordland. Memories of our 2005 Milford Track walk flood back. Ship heads south and we pass another cruise liner in the spectacular Acheron Passage.

FRIDAY, JANUARY 2
Our first on-shore excursion – Dunedin – and things are so quiet in the CBD. It is a public holiday. Explore the excellent Otago Settlers’ Museum. Bloke from our cruise, who has an artificial leg and a moon boot on the other, struggles by as I enjoy a Stokes IPA while Marie shops. Bus back to Carey’s Bay and walk the high road to historic pub, which is so busy. Excellent fish and chips. Back on board we have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for dinner.

Learn that former Sydney Telegraph league writer, Les Muir, has retired. He has been working for Wagga Advertiser, and the last time I saw him was back in the early 1990s when the Broncos played a pre-season match in Wagga.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 3
Tenders take us from ship to shore at Akaroa. There are day trips into earthquake damaged Christchurch, but we prefer to remember the city as it was on our last visit in 2005.  In tiny St Pat’s Catholic Church in Akaroa we say a prayer for Marie’s Dad, Kevin on the fifth anniversary of his death. Then follows a bush walk in the hills before a cleansing ale at Bully Hayes. A couple near us talk about smokers not being a drain on the health system. They’re joking.

SUNDAY, JANUARY 4
Wellington and a bit of Test cricket. While Marie and the other couples head off into the hills in a hired mini-bus, I wander the Wellington docks (Maori fried bread for breakfast. Can’t recommend it).  Visit the National Museum and explore the farming/landscape section. Then walk to Basin Reserve, via National War Memorial. The Black Caps are playing Sri Lanka and I find a seat on the hill and enjoy the action. At lunch I check out the New Zealand Cricket Museum. Basin Reserve had hosted rugby league Test matches, which are now played at ‘the cake tin’, down by the harbour, where our ship is moored. Wellington Phoenix are home to Brisbane Roar in A League soccer.

Tonight Marie and I eat on board in Sterling Steakhouse. I send back my rib eye, which is too well done, after I asked for it to be ‘blue’. Red wine is too warm. Not a great experience. Adjourn to Atrium bar where Mark is bull shitting to a bloke about being a publican.

 

WEEK 52

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24
Realise I am not as young as I think I am when I fail to make it beyond the ‘gutter’ at Main Beach to the sandbank and swallow a lot of water. Dread to think what it must be like for tourists not used to surf. To Main Beach Surf Club with our son, Damien and wife, Emma, as well as Damien’s boss, Matt O’Hanlon (Beenleigh High) and deputy, George Bartlett, talking league.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 25
Emma has a busy morning on patrol at Main Beach, with a rescue, a person with a heart condition and a spinal injury. It was never that busy when I was a life saver at Cabarita Beach on the Tweed Coast. Marie and I go to Mass at St Vincent’s, Surfers Paradise. It is first Mass for Nigerian priest, who does a great job. I didn’t like fact Samoan bloke wore a baseball cap to receive communion. My brother, Andrew attends Mass in Notre Dame Cathedral, Hanoi. Damien and I play with frisbee on beach and I suffer major bruising when I dive and land on my big, fat wallet in shorts pocket. Play Trivia and monopoly at Damien and Emma’s place to finish Christmas Day. My sister, Gay Lynch and husband, David celebrate the day in Georgetown, Tasmania.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28
To Sydney. Lunch at The Rocks at excellent ‘Fine Food Store’. Marie goes shopping while I have beer at Mercantile Pub. Barman from Dublin. I chat to couple from Netherlands who have been sailing around the world for nine years. As I am leaving I bump into former Tweed rugby league foe, Peter ‘Pedro’ Ryan, who is having an ale with a few blokes, including former NSW Country and Wide Bay (Qld) rep, Steve MacDonald and Wagga Wagga policeman, Peter Smith. ‘Pedro’ played first grade for Newtown, Illawarra and Cronulla. Back at The Mantra hotel our luggage still has not arrived in our room, fridge does not work properly, lifts so slow, no compendium in room (staff member does not know what a compendium is!), free wine and chocolate offer that was part of our accommodation package is a mystery to barman, and the staff are so rude. All round, you could say the place is a bit inadequate. Adjourn to Hart pub in The Rocks where we have a drink with a young couple from Wicklow in Ireland. They are mad South Sydney Rabbitohs fans. Three Irish ladies (from Cork, Arklow and Dublin) are having a great time at the bar. To Glenmore Pub for dinner, and watch the T20 from the Gabba.
IMG_5944

Peter Ryan (left) in action for Cronulla against St George with the great Billy Smith running the ball.

DECEMBER 29
I get coffee from place at Australia Square. Say ‘G’day mate’ and bloke behind counter looks at me as if I come from a foreign country. Perhaps Queensland is to Sydney siders.Embark on our first cruise tonight – an 11 day round New Zealand adventure on the Sun Princess, with our friends, Greg and Maree Grainger and three other couples (Richard and Robyn Hall, Mark and Jenny Conway, Karl and Lesley Dixon), all from the Hunter Valley region.Mark passed himself off as Qld politician, Bob Katter on the train trip from Newcastle.A former rugby league player with Valleys in Brisbane, Mark made front page of The Courier-Mail after he had part of his ear bitten off in a match at Langlands Park. The players did an emu bob of the field, and after they found the missing piece, it was sewn back on by Valleys’ medico, Dr Tom Dooley.

No-one was ever charged over the incident. Mark, a former policeman, is an Elvis Presley impersonator.

A real buzz as Sea Princess ‘squeezes’ under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and then later heading out into the Tasman Sea through the Sydney Heads.

Romanian duo, Alphard entertain us in the Wheelhouse Bar tonight.

DECEMBER 30
Watch movie, ‘Begin Again’ in Princess Theatre. Very good. Tonight we are entertained by Welsh singer/comedienne, Diane Cousins, a real pro. Our cruise director, Englishman, Stuart McGunigall tells a few corny jokes at the end of the performance. Sorry, Stu. To the Sports Bar to watch Big Bash cricket from Australia. All the memorabilia in the bar is cricket and Australian rules, a bit disappointing for the Queenslanders and New South Welshmen on board.

UK Sky Sports on televisions in room, so we are bombarded with soccer and darts.

The Piano Man Show is cancelled because of the rough seas.

DECEMBER 31

See in the New Year poolside on the top deck, with Passion and Friends providing the music.

WEEK 51

MONDAY, DECEMBER 15
Lindt Café siege in Sydney’s Martin Place horrifies the nation. The longer it goes the more you sense it will end badly. The Channel 7 cameraman keeping an eye on things with police is Greg ‘Buffet Boy’ Parker, who I know well from rugby league assignments, where he was usually in partnership with reporter, Pat Molihan. Greg loved having a buffet on tour with the Kangaroos, and was always great company with a fine sense of humour. Certainly felt for him as the drama unfolded in Sydney.
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 16.
Wake to news the siege finished in tragedy, with two hostages killed as well as the gunman. My wife was a customer at Lindt during a recent trip to Sydney.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 17
Interview Kevin Walters at Men of League Kick-off Club lunch at the Broncos today, then to the Gabba for the last session of the cricket Test against India. $39 to get in! To Chalk Hotel afterwards with our eldest son, Damien and daughter, Melanie, but service so bad, we leave. Bus to City, but traffic is chaotic because of the Myer Christmas Parade, so Melanie and I walk. I do Christmas shopping at Myer and then enjoy a couple of pale ales at Gresham Bar. My cabbie back to Grange is Palestinian, and goes on and one about ‘heart, liver, lungs. There must be a god and life ever after’. I ask him to ‘drive don’t talk’.
Sales of Father Mac’s Christmas Puddings have reached the one million mark. He started making the puddings in 1981 from his Mum’s recipe, and sales support the Catholic parish at Alstonville in northern NSW. Father Mac (McCarthy) was our parish priest at Murwillumbah for a time, and was a family friend. He married Marie and I, and his passing in 1991 was marked by one of the biggest funerals ever seen at St Carthages Cathedral, Lismore.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18
I attend Mick Crocker’s funeral, and it is sad to see that no-one from the QRL or ARL has bothered to attend. Mick’s various jerseys – including the sky blue of New South Wales – are on display. As well as being a fine footballer, Mick was a lifesaver at the Surfers Paradise club.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19
Head south to Ballina so Marie can catch up with best friend, Janelle Bryant (nee Vidler) who is visiting from the USA with her husband, Russell, a US naval officer. Janelle’s mum, has donated a silk night dress, made from a World War II parachute, to the local museum. I didn’t realise that Mrs Vidler’s first fiancée, a fellow called Thompson, was killed a month before the wedding, playing rugby league for Lismore Marist Brothers.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20.
Surf at Tugun on our back to Brisbane and one (obviously novice) surfer has the board back to front, and is struggling.

WEEK 49

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9
EMOTIONAL build-up to the Australia v India cricket Test in Adelaide. I clap for 63 seconds with the crowd, in honour of Phil Hughes who was killed by a bouncer after making 63 for New South Wales. Great to see Dave Warner, Michael Clarke and Steve Smith make centuries.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10
Coffee with Albatross Travel principal, Euan Landsborough re possible Euro trips in 2015. He takes a mystery tour each year, with attendees unaware of where they are going until they get there. Never suffers from a lack of customers. Lunch with our daughter, Melanie at Lennons Restaurant, where my late sister, Kerri-Ann loved to dine. Not bad, not great. Mel has been busy with Treasury, including rectifying a mix-up with accommodation in London for a Qld Govt delegation, which includes property tycoon, Kevin Seymour. Tonight I attend The Courier-Mail Sports Department Christmas Party at Woolly Mammoth in Fortitude Valley. Ben Dorries gets the ‘Goose’ award for his Melbourne Cup tips.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 11
To King’s Beach, Caloundra for a swim. Back in Brisbane a huge storm hits. I go to Brothers’ club where St Columba’s School (Wilston) Christmas break-up is in full swing.
Former Australian lock forward, Harold (Mick) Crocker dies, aged 86. A real character, Mick played 17 Tests between 1950 and 1954 from Brisbane Souths and Parramatta. He was the Johnny Raper of his generation. The first time I interviewed Mick he appeared at the top of the steps of his West End (Brisbane) house wearing an outrageous blonde wig. I didn’t know what to think, but he removed the wig as I got to the front door, and burst out laughing.
Also learn of the death of 1982 Kangaroo tour co-manager, Frank Farrington, a Sydney Newtown stalwart. I covered that tour and Frank and co-manager, Tom Drysdale from Brisbane worked hard, but neither was an accomplished after-dinner speaker, an oversight by the hierarchy in Australia, given the number of official functions.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 12
At the club, Valleys stalwart, Frank Clancy recounts tales of the 1978 Kangaroo tour of Britain, and a brawl at Knowsley Road, St Helens between Australian and English fans. A ‘bushie’ who won a free trip with Frank’s supporters’ group, brought a tooth brush, a change of underwear and not much else for a month in the UK! A lot of the Aussies constantly played cards, something which did not impress one tour member, former Qld forward, Des Morris, who threw the card table out the bus door. I’m not sure whether the bus was moving at the time. I know that on several Kangaroo tours the players themselves have been so immersed in cards, they have not bothered to look out the window as they have passed Buckingham Palace, Arc de Triomphe, York Minster – you name it – for the first time. You can take the boys out of the bush, but – you know the rest.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 14
Christmas Party at Hermitage Gardens. Meet some new, fellow residents of the town house estate, including a Kiwi who played rugby union for Waikato (does that make him an All Blacks trialist?). HM Gardens manager, Harry Moore revealed he almost bought a chicken farm at Bexhill some years ago.
The late, great Harold 'Mick' Crocker.

The late, great Harold ‘Mick’ Crocker.

WEEK 48

MONDAY, DECEMBER 1
See exercise physiologist, Ty Halpin re my back dramas. He is so young. Michael Dalgleish, former QRL physio, works out of the same Kelvin Grove building. Learn of the death of Jack McNamara, one of England’s finest rugby league writers. Originally from New Zealand, Jack worked for many years for the Manchester Evening News and covered several tours ‘down under’.  Peter and Margaret Carr, former teachers at Richmond River High in Lismore, leave $900,000 to the school from their estate. My wife, a former student at the school, remembers ‘Mr Carr’ as ‘munchy, because he chewed tobacco.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 3
Enjoyable surf at Kings Beach, Caloundra. A father gives his two little girls a lovely time riding their boogie boards. It was great to see. Walk to Bulcock Beach where a Jet ski is going way too fast. What a shock! Home in time to watch much of Phil Hughes’ funeral from Macksville. Couldn’t help but shed a tear. Everyone spoke so well. Obituary of former Test hooker, Greg Conescu’s father, Marcel appears in The Courier-Mail today. He had an amazing life, including a swim for freedom across the Danube from Romania to Yugoslavia.
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4
I place a cricket bat at our front door in memory of Phil Hughes. Didn’t realise I still had one. Shed a few tears reading journalist, Richard Hinds’ tribute to Hughes. Photo of Phil Hughes’ dad carrying the coffin is front page of The Courier-Mail. The pall bearers had to walk way too far from the church.
Marie’s nephew, Scott Donnelly and his wife, Jacqueline are parents – a girl, Olivia.
League elder statesman, Paul Broughton sends me a nice message on Linked-in to mark the second anniversary of my website. ‘You have always played with a straight bat, Did good, played strong’.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 5
Bump into John Davis at Keperra today. He and wife, Robyn travelled to Europe on my 1998 rugby league supporters’ tour. They have been on eight cruises since then. At Brothers’ club I chat to premises owner, Barry Condon who played rugby league for Guyra, at the same time as Englishman, Joe Grainey. It was a strong League with formidable centre, Doug McFarlane playing for Warialda along with former Test star, Jim Payne, a Toowoomba All Whites product.
Darius Boyd snaps his Achilles at Broncos training.
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 6
25th anniversary dinner for Marie’s Playgroup ladies, at Margaret and Derek Barea’s place at Bridgeman Downs. Amazing that this group of Mums have kept in touch for so long, and remained such staunch friends. The men get along OK as well.
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 7
Daughter, Melanie; eldest boy, Damien and his wife, Emma, pass surf proficiency tests at Southport, in trying conditions. I have beers at Stafford Tavern with a few blokes, including ‘Macca’, a Kiwi league nut from the Taranaki who is good mates with former New Zealand Test forward, Bruce Gall, another Taranaki boy. I covered a match between the Kiwis and Gold Coast Vikings at Pizzey Park, Miami in 1982 and Gall was man of the match. Four ‘tragic’ soccer fans watch Roar beaten 1-0 by Melbourne Victory on Tavern’s TV. Irish music ‘tragics’ do their thing in the beer garden. On way home I sit on a log and listen to live music coming from a backyard in Cheviot Street. Excellent band – all young blokes. Someone’s 60th I believe.
Greg Conescu in a pensive mood

Greg Conescu in a pensive mood

WEEK 47

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24
Early swim at Horseshoe Bay, then drive to Trial Bay Jail, which has a fascinating history. Lunch at Trial Bay Kiosk is very good. Next stop, Smokey Bay for a lovely walk from the lighthouse down to the beach. Drive to Hat Head (great name), via Fish Co-op, then to Jersey Vale. Back at ‘Nambour by the Sea’ we have drinks at local sports club, where bloke at bar talks like my late father-in-law, Kevin Donnelly. “I’m dehydrated. Better have another drink,” says this character. Local snapper for dinner.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 25
Big storm overnight. Lots of lightning. Quick swim at Horseshoe Bay then check out of our ‘digs’ a day early. First stop on way north ‘The Big Banana’ at Coffs Harbour. The place looks shabby – needs an overhaul. Next stop ‘New Italy’ in the bush between Harwood and Woodburn. Driven by it so many times before, without stopping. It is a real gem. Italian museum well worth a look. Paintings by Florio Volpatto from Lismore, a friend of our family, depict the 20 provinces of Italy. There is also a story on the Nardi family. Jack Nardi was my teammate at Brothers, Murwillumbah, and captain-coach in 1972. To this day, the best bloke I have ever met, and one of those inside centres from the old days, who never passed the ball to anyone in a worse position. Check into Lennox Beach Resort for two nights. To pub where ‘old’ singer provides excellent music. Dinner at ‘Lex Thai’. Good food and service. Watch a TV special on the Country Party on our return to our apartment. Doug Anthony features prominently. They called ‘The Daily News’ ‘Doug Anthony’s Bugle’ when I worked there back in the early ’70s.
Test opener, Phil Hughes on life support after he is hit in the head playing cricket for South Australia against New South Wales in Sydney. Brings back memories of the death of Martin Bedkober in 1975. He was hit above the heart by a rising ball playing for Toombul at Oxenham Park, Nundah in Brisbane’s north. I was working police rounds for The Telegraph and was sent to the ground with a photographer and another reporter, Peter Caton, to cover the tragedy. I remember entering the Toombul dressing rooms, and seeing the shock on the faces of Martin’s teammates, who were having a beer and trying to come to terms with the events of the day.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 26
Local paper, The Northern Star’s early deadlines means there is nothing on Phil Hughes drama. The paper also has a page of sports news three weeks old!
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 27
See former Australian rugby league player, Ben Kennedy in the surf today. Still looks fit enough to play. I had a beer with him in Leeds in 2000 when I was covering the rugby league World Cup. Back to Brisbane, with amazing storm hitting the city at 4.30 p.m. I thought our back fence was going to blow over, and a tree comes down in our son, Lliam’s back yard at Paddington, while nephew, Patrick Lynch has windows smashed at his Gabba residence, and is forced to huddle in the middle of the lounge for safety. There is damage to skylights in our estate.
Phil Hughes life support turned off today. So sad.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 28
On my walk to Elixer coffee for beans a young male cyclist had come to grief when his front wheel hit a mud patch on the Kedron Brook path. An ambulance was on the way, a couple of witnesses told me. Lots of broken tree branches are evidence of yesterday’s storm. I am MC at Beer and Beef Club lunch at Tatts Club in the city, with comedian, Fred Lang the star turn. He is frank about his battle with bowel cancer, and irreverent about many topics. To Brothers Club early in the evening and one regular bags the media coverage of Phil Hughes’ death. I think it has been excellent. Painting of former Brothers and Queensland winger, ‘Smokin’ Joe Kilroy is the latest to go up on the clubhouse wall.  The South Queensland Crushers’ jersey has gone and I think that is wrong. The Crushers are part of the history of the place. Home in time to watch great ‘Cream’ concert on TV.
SATURDAY. NOVEMBER 29
Family get-together at my brother, Andrew’s house at Sunnybank. Our sons, Damien and Lliam swim and act the clown. ‘Damo’ mats his hair and looks like Captain Cook.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30
The Seaview Pub at Shorncliffe closes, much to the disappointment of most long term locals, I presume. it will become part of St Patrick’s College. Justin Langer writes beautiful article about his former teammate and mate, Phil Hughes.
'Smokin' Joe Kilroy and Brett Le Man at Brothers' training.

‘Smokin’ Joe Kilroy and Brett Le Man at Brothers’ training.

WEEK 46

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17
Funeral notice is correct today. Marie’s niece, Sonya Pope gets a nice write-up in the Northern Star for her pitching in local softball. I get haircut in Lismore – from ex-Padstow, Sydney, woman. Been in Lismore 12 years.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Lovely service for Marie’s mum, who was a devoted wife to her husband, Kevin Donnelly, and a wonderful mother to Marie, Carolyn, Kevin and John. My brother, Jeffery and sister, Gay Lynch, travel from Tweed Heads and Brisbane respectively for service. Wake at Lismore Workers Club.
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 17
Funeral notice is correct today. Marie’s niece, Sonya Pope gets a nice write-up in the Northern Star for her pitching in local softball. I get haircut in Lismore – from ex-Padstow, Sydney, woman. Been in Lismore 12 years.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Lovely service for Marie’s mum, who was a devoted wife to her husband, Kevin Donnelly, and a wonderful mother to Marie, Carolyn, Kevin and John. My brother, Jeffery and sister, Gay Lynch, travel from Tweed Heads and Brisbane respectively for service. Wake at Lismore Workers Club.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 19
We head south to resume holiday – at Yamba. Have breakfast at a Lismore café. Bridge on road to Coraki is down, so we detour to Wyrallah. Swim at main beach, Yamba, and although there is plenty of weed, it is pleasant. Watch trawlers head out sea from Clarence River as we enjoy drinks at Pacific pub. Dinner at Tom’s Chinese.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 20
Marie and I do laps of ocean pool at Yamba’s main beach. These ocean pools are a great feature of coastal living in NSW. Buy fresh prawns down town, and shop proprietor says the fleet was pounded out to sea last night – 12 inches of rain at Wooli. A second surf this afternoon, and then to the pub, where we run into Courier-Mail sub editor, Phil Meek, a Tasmanian who has property at Yamba. A surf boat goes out near the river wall. Australia. You have to love it.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 21
Waves crash into ocean pool this morning, creating a natural spa. Heaven. A few jelly fish, but who cares. Walk to Pippi Beach, then to pub in the afternoon, where we catch up with Phil Meek again. To nearby Tapas bar for dinner. Big mistake. Food rubbish. Finish up at trendy little bar next door, run by brother and sister – both locals. Chat to former Surfers Paradise metre maid (now 66), who lives at Lightning Ridge.
Learn of death of former Qld forward and selector, Hugh Kelly. I had a lot to do with him as a journo and he was always a gentleman.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 22
Ocean pool is ‘boiling’ this morning, and enjoyed by us, as well as local nippers. Head south to South West Rocks, via beautiful Scott’s Head, where young people jump from the rocks into the ocean. Our accommodation at South West Rocks (Boomerang Apartments) is basic, to say the least. And Marie doesn’t like SW Rocks. Calls it Nambour by the Sea! Her first visit, my second. I like it.
Back in Brisbane a reunion is held for the now defunct South Queensland Crushers Rugby League Club. Their former media man, Matthew Arthur included me on the invitation list, but, unfortunately, I had to decline. I’m told the day went well.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 23
Walk to main beach, where there are scores of nippers. Surf terrible, so head to Horseshoe Bay where things are a little better. To the pub in the afternoon for live music, followed by a walk to Spencer Creek where kids are jumping off a high, pedestrian bridge. Beautiful lamb cutlets (yours truly) and Dory (Marie) for dinner at the surf club.
Kevin and Mary Donnelly in 1975

Kevin and Mary Donnelly in 1975

WEEK 45

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10
A UK Consul’s car picks up a bloke from East Hotel, next to where we are staying. Vagrant asleep at the door of St Paul’s church. To Parliament House where school groups from Wagga and Grafton are also having a gander. Next stop – Australian Museum where Phar Lap’s heart is the highlight for Marie. Then to Black Mountain for great views, next a few beers at Kingston Pub, followed by pizza at Katana.
Learn that former  Qld premier, Wayne Goss has died. A good bloke and a devoted Brisbane Souths’ league man.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11
Leave Canberra for the South Coast, stopping at historic Braidwood, before a steep descent to Batemans Bay, where I demolish a dozen local oysters. Next stop, Moruya, home town of former Test league prop, Michael Weyman, who has his own statue. Why doesn’t Toowoomba have a statue to Duncan Thompson? Local market has excellent produce and Marie buys asparagus. Book into our apartment at Mollymook and then to the golf club for dinner. Flathead – very good. Marie’s sister, Carolyn phones at mid-night to say their mum had passed away at Caroona Nursing Home, Lismore. We are now orphans, with both sets of parents having passed on.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12
The morning is spent making necessary phone calls re. the funeral etc. Decide to return home tomorrow. Marie had said goodbye to her mum, as if it was the last farewell, before we headed south for our holiday. We cancel our planned stay at Newport in Sydney, and forfeit our deposit. Fair enough. Walk along Mollymook Beach to Bannister’s Headland, where we make on-the-spot decision to eat at Rick Stein’s Restaurant. Meals are very big. Kids running amok do nothing for atmosphere. What about the ‘seen not heard’ adage! Watch Everybody Loves Raymond tonight and the episode is about parents moving into aged care!!
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 13

I have my first surf of the spring. Very cold. Head north and stop at Heathcote for toasted sangers. Lane Cove Tunnel closed, so we have slow trip out of Sydney. Break up journey by staying with friends, Greg and Maree Grainger at Beresfield in the Hunter Valley.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 14
To Lismore via lunch at very good hippie style café at Kempsey. Emotional reunion for the sisters. We have dinner at very busy Goonellabah Workers Club. Learn of the death of Reg Parker, manager of the 1974 and ’77 Great Britain touring sides in Australia. The ’74 side lost the Ashes series 2-1 and the ’77 outfit went down 13-12 to Australia in the World Cup final at the SCG. I saw the First Test in ’74 (at Lang Park) and the tourists match against North Coast at Grafton, with my father and grandfather. I remember the most entertaining game of the day was a curtain raiser between two local indigenous sides. In ’77 I saw the Poms play Australia at Lang Park, with my former Brothers’ reserve grade teammate from 1976, Mark Thomas, in the centres for the Kangaroos.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 15
Our 39th wedding anniversary starts badly with Marie very upset when she sees the funeral directors have stuffed up her mum’s notice, on several fronts. How hard can it be? I help with eulogy, which will be delivered by Marie’s niece, Kellie Kelly, who will travel from Tipperary in Ireland for the service.
I take a phone call from my former Brothers’ Murwillumbah (1974) captain-coach, Milton Whybrow, who I had left a message for while in Canberra. Milton hails from Harden, and was much travelled as football coach.
New Zealand win the Four Nations rugby league final 22-18 in Wellington, destroying the theory Australia can still win major games with ‘second string’ sides. We fielded an inexperienced outfit, with 10 players missing from the May Test victory over the Kiwis.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 16
Kellie arrives from Ireland, less than impressed with Emirates as an airline. Air Force 1 flies over Lismore on way to G20 Conference in Brisbane. At Workers Club people from Gunnedah talk about wheat heads
Murwillumbah Brothers' captain-coach, Milton Whybrow (second from left), watches the progress of teammate, Jack Nardi in the play-off for fifth spot in the 1974 Group 18-Gold Coast finals series at Murwillumbah Oval. Prop, Paul 'Porky' Weaver is on Whybrow's left. Surfers Paradise captain-coach, John Chisholm (left knee strapped) sizes up Nardi. The Pirates won, but Tweed Heads Seagulls would go on to beat Mullumbimby in the grand final.

Murwillumbah Brothers’ captain-coach, Milton Whybrow (second from left), watches the progress of teammate, Jack Nardi in the play-off for fifth spot in the 1974 Group 18-Gold Coast finals series at Murwillumbah Oval. Prop, Kevin ‘Porky’ Weaver is on Whybrow’s left. Surfers Paradise captain-coach, John Chisholm (left knee strapped) sizes up Nardi. The Pirates won, but Tweed Heads Seagulls would go on to beat Mullumbimby in the grand final.

WEEK 44

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 3.
Make a heritage walk of Orange and eat lunch at a lovely café on Byng Street. Buy local prunes at ‘Taste of Orange’. Back to the town centre for drinks at Union Bank Company – Heslop Rose’ from Mudgee and Borendarep Pale Ale. Barman reminds me of Freddy Mercury. Receive text from Sydney journo, Josh Massoud who wants to contact a Qld coaching identity for a book he is writing.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 4
Take free bus to Towac Park Melbourne Cup Day races. We are the only passengers. A different story on the return trip, with lots of drunks, including a young bloke who wanted to high five everyone, including the elderly driver. Our driver on the way to the track supported local representative side, Western Division on their glorious march to Amco Cup rugby league glory in 1974. Marie and I are among the first to arrive at the track. Only mid-strength beer, but plenty of bubbly for the girls. Please explain. Every jockey at this meeting is female. Only small fields and we have no luck on the punt. I couldn’t even pick the winner of the Fashion in the Fields stakes, and I thought my choice was a certainty. As far as the Melbourne Cup was concerned – Marie backed Red Cadeaux, and had a collect after it finished second. I blew my money on Fawkner. Back to Union Bar after the races. Lots of ‘happy’ ladies dance to live music. Dinner at excellent Rocking Horse Restaurant.
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 5
Drive to Borendore Store, but it doesn’t do lunch on Wednesday. Back to Agrestic Grocer where service is terribly slow. To Printhey Cellar Door for tasting, and buy Pinot Gris and Shiraz. Then to the historic little town of Molong for dinner with our friends, the Parkers. Chris and Des’s house dates back to 1861. Dog down the road never stops barking. How do people allow that? Memorial Service for Gough Whitlam at Sydney Town Hall, and Johnny Howard is booed. No doubt by the same people who make up the Q & A audience.
John Miers, a member of my 1994 Kangaroo Supporters’ Tour, phones after his son, Grant represented Australian Police v New Zealand Police in rugby league. The Aussies won 70-34!
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 6
Leave Orange for Canberra. Drive through lovely Milthorpe to Cowra where we tour the Japanese Gardens. Girl at Gardens reception is rude. The gardens are good, but not worth $15. Picnic lunch at Holman Park on banks of Lachlan River. ‘Go Magpies’ banner (local rugby league side) outside one pub. Drive through Booroowa, then Yass. Next stop the Helm Winery, which specialises in Riesling. Book into Medina Complex at Kingston, Canberra. Photo of Lismore Croquet Club on wall of Commonwealth Bank at Manuka. The Dutch PM, Mark Rutte is visiting our national capital.
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7
Walk to Lake Burley Griffin and listen to the bells at the National Carillon before visiting the War Memorial. Lunch at Museum café, then into museum proper, where Asian visitor is told by security to be quite and show respect. We are in time for guided tour. Guide mentions atrocities on both sides. Sorry, but you can’t equate the atrocities and overall philosophy of the Japanese Armed Forces with our own. I think even our national war museum has gone P.C. My Uncle Tom Dunne from Stokers Siding in the Tweed Shire, served at the Somme. Buy a poppy to remember Marie’s uncle, Ray Geraghty, who was executed by the Japanese in World War II. We lay wreath on behalf of Ray, Tom Dunne and my uncle, Les Kelly (WWII) at ceremony, which specifically remembers Private Harry Broughton Moriarty from the 19th Battalion World War 1. Very moving.
Dinner at Pomegranate. Very good. Includes lamb cutlets from Cowra.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 8
Attend St Paul’s Fete. Buy chutney, jam, the usual stuff. Plus a shovel! For Marie’s gardening. Band, ‘McQuade’s Question’, plays at the fete. To Old Parliament House for a guided tour. I especially like the media area, where there is a mail box marked Max Hawkins, who I worked with at The Telegraph in Brisbane in the 1970s, although I hardly saw him because he was always in Canberra. Next stop, the National Library, where we especially enjoy the Heritage Display and tributes to old Aussie comic strips, ‘Felix the Cat’ and ‘Wally and the Major’. Walk along the lake, past the Eastlake Bar Precinct, which is too hectic for us oldies, with so many people filing in from ‘The Big Day Out’. Watch amazing England v New Zealand Four Nations rugby league match from Dunedin. So skilful, and the Poms are so unlucky in a narrow loss. Dine at Urban Pantry, and drink Shiraz from Collector, part of the Lake George wine district.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 9
To market at old bus station. River Clyde oysters are beautiful. Vendors are real league fans. She is from Ipswich. Marie buys lovely balsamic vinegar from Yass. To capital wines at Gunderoo for lunch and wine tasting, then to Clonakilla, a name from County Clare in Ireland, where we do more wine tasting.
Our friends from Derbyshire, Cliff and Jane Rodgers, email to say they will visit Australia in 2015.
Western Division coach, Johnny King holds the Amco Cup aloft after the country boys' 6-2 win over Penrith in the final of the knock-out competition's inaugural season in 1974. To King's right is cult hero, 'TV Ted' Ellery.

Western Division coach, Johnny King holds the Amco Cup aloft after the country boys’ 6-2 win over Penrith in the final of the knock-out competition’s inaugural season in 1974. To King’s right is cult hero, ‘TV Ted’ Ellery.

WEEK 43

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 28
Our eldest boy, Damien turns 34 today. We go to Southport Surf Club to celebrate with him. I have missed so many of his birthdays because I have been away on rugby league tours.
Our daughter-in-law, Channelle (wife of Lliam) sends photo of ‘baby Ricketts’ in the womb. Exciting stuff.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 29.
Susanne from our local newsagency has bought a copy of my book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’ for her husband, Shane. They are Broncos and league tragics, bless ’em. Empty video shop at Grange to be taken up by Baskin and Robbins.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 30
After a double visit to the dentist, Marie and I head south for a New South Wales/ACT holiday. Stop at Aratula (Qld) for a pie. Our first stop over the border is Tenterfield where I have a New England Pale Ale at the tarted up Commercial Hotel, which does B & B. Looks very good. Get to Armidale at 6.10 p.m. and dine at White Bull Pub. Not bad. Drinks on the upstairs balcony to crown the night.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 31
Russian (I think) lady asks if I want my coffee ‘sharp or smooth’ at Fresh@110. First time that has happened. Watch movie ‘Solitary Man’ at our motel, before driving around New England University. A lot of my schoolmates from Murwillumbah High went to uni here and I often wonder how life would have turned out if I had followed them, instead of staying in Mur-bah to do my journalism cadetship. Tony Burley, who played fullback in our 1970 under-18 Murwillumbah Brothers rugby league premiership side, discovered rugby union at Uni and went on to forge a distinguished career with Warringah in Sydney. Tony was the basketball star of Mur-Bah High. Drive to the historic town of Uralla. To Armidale RSL for dinner and it is quite moving to hear the ode read out at 6 p.m. Two old rockers provide decent music after that. Indigenous family at one table near us, while Muslim lady gets a lovely reception from fellow locals when she arrives.
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 1
Coffee from ‘Altitude’. Not bad. Bikers prepare to leave from back of St Kilda pub. Marie buys biscuits and cake at St Peter’s Church stall, and then we hit the road, stopping first at Tamworth where my great Aunty Dorrie has her own Country and Western Music star in the pavement. The sister of my grandfather, William Ricketts, ‘Sister Dorrie’ sang and toured with the great Tex Morton, a Kiwi who found fame in Australia. I met her only once. At my grandfather’s funeral back in the 1970s, and although she was in her sixties then, she was as fit as a fiddle. She was born Dorothy May Ricketts at Warragul, Victoria in 1910 and died in 1992. Quite a few people in Tamworth’s streets wearing ‘cowboy’ hats, but the place is more multi-cultural than I imagined.
Lunch at Gunnedah while watching a local cricket match. The Warrumbungle Mountains look spectacular as we head south to Gilgandra where ‘Gus’ Gould and Royce Simmons are listed to speak at a local charity dinner. Drive to Orange on a lovely country road through Stuart Town where I almost run over a turtle crossing the road. Book into our apartment at Orange at 6 p.m.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 2
Coffee from ‘Bill’s Beans’ is excellent. Lunch with friends, Des and Christine Parker at ‘The Agrestic Grocer’ is excellent. Then to the Canobolis School’s 150th anniversary fete. The school band does well. Back to town in time for the England v Australia Four Nations match from Melbourne and we watch it from the league friendly Victoria Hotel, with knockabout locals, one of them a Pom. Australia wins 16-12 but England give a good account of themselves. Ben Hunt turned things for Australia in the second half. Pizza that night at Canobolis Pub. Badlands Brewery Pale Ale is good.
'Sister Dorrie' and Tex Morton. Born Dorothy May Ricketts, 'Sister' Dorrie was my great Aunty.

‘Sister Dorrie’ and Tex Morton. Born Dorothy May Ricketts, ‘Sister’ Dorrie was my great Aunty.

WEEK 42

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20
Buy tickets to Four Nations double header, then walk home via Ballymore where recent Reds recruit, Karmichael Hunt is doing a TV interview.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 21
Wake to the news Gough Whitlam has died. I was living at Bowen Hills when news broke of his dismissal as Prime Minister in November, 1975, and headlines in the final edition (for that day) of The Telegraph ‘screamed’ the news as I walked past a Newstead newsagency. I loved Gough’s eloquence and social conscience, but not what he was doing to the economy. Have coffee with top league coach, Don Gailer, who has expressed interest in the Gloucester All Golds job in England, where he previously coached Whitehaven. Marie and I both zapped by the skin specialist today – paying for the sins of our youth.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23
Interview former Test wicketkeeper, Ian Healy at Beer and Beef Club at Victoria Park Golf Club. He is a dream to work with. A Qld Primary Schools rugby league rep., Ian was also Origin media man for a short time during my stint as a league writer. He says he has never met a group of men so reluctant to be interviewed, as the Queensland players. It’s called a lack of professionalism.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23
I am interview subject today at Goodna Eagles Sportsmen’s Lunch, along with another journo, Neil Cadigan and former Test fullback, Gary Belcher. I get a lift there with John and Scott from Kallangur who had been on a World Cup tour to the UK with Trevor Gillmeister and thoroughly enjoyed it. The hospitality at Goodna is so down to earth and generous.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 24
To Novotel for breakfast with former England Rugby League CEO, David Howes who is out here for the Four Nations. David visited close friend, former Australian coach, Frank Stanton on the Gold Coast yesterday. These days David is a player manager (league and union) and lives at posh Windsor in Berkshire, not the league heartland of the north of England where he was raised. It’s all to do with wanting to be close to family. Former England fullback, Paul Wellens, now a member of the Poms’ staff, comes over to say hello. Lots of ‘dusty’ looking former Australian players emerge from the Novotel. They had been to a reunion for the 1994 Kangaroos.
To the double header at Suncorp Stadium and England struggle to beat Samoa, who have Bronco, Josh McGuire as one of their spearheads.
Samoan supporter in front of us stands and proudly sings the Australian anthem ahead of the second game – against the Kiwis. Great to see. Obviously he is of Samoan heritage and now calls Australia home, in every sense of the word. Australia’s forwards terrible in the loss to the Kiwis. Little kid in Australian gear looks very sad on our bus trip home.
Meanwhile, at Albi in France the home side beats Wales 42-22 with Remy Marginet from Palau man of the match. It is a good turnaround for the French after they were beaten by Ireland last weekend.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 25
Death of Newtown Bluebags (Jets) legend, Brian ‘Chicka’ Moore, aged 70. ‘Chicka’ toured Britain and France with the 1967-68 Kangaroos. In 1974 at Currumbin Gift at Salk Oval, I raced against ‘Chicka’ in a media, potato sack 400 metre sprint. He was a ring-in and handed over first prize (a 6-pack of Bulimba beer) after relegating me to second spot.
Marie and I travel to Lismore to see her Mum. Stop at Chinderah for fish (squire), and Clunes for coffee. So many tail gaters. Wouldn’t be quite as bad if they sped off once they passed, but invariably they cruise at a speed no greater than mine. Please explain!
Brian 'Chicka' Moore in his Newtown gear.

Brian ‘Chicka’ Moore in his Newtown gear.

WEEK 41

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 14
Iceland beat Netherlands 1-0 in soccer.
Ten rookies selected in Australia’s team for the Four Nations Rugby League tournament. We always rave about our depth, so let’s see. But you would think the Netherlands would have beaten Iceland, even if they had 10 men unavailable.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 15
On Radio TAB John McCoy talks about some of rugby league’s best on-field knucklemen, with Mony Betham and Ian Roberts featuring prominently. Gordie Tallis says the only man he would not go toe-to-toe with was Les (Bundy) Davidson. To Men of League lunch and Darling Downs committee chief, Andrew O’Brien is at my table. Andrew’s dad, Johnny, from Gatton, and my Dad knew each other well and I remember a big session with them at a pub in Gatton back in the 1980s. Also on our table is ex Ipswich Jet, Neil Cumner and Brisbane Wests legends, Bobby Green and Artie Connell. MC, Peter Psaltis interviews former top coach, Darryl Van de Velde.
After the lunch I take possession (on behalf of the History Committee) of scrapbooks from the archives of former Daily Sun sports writer, Errol Harris. Errol was a neighbour of ours when I was a high school student at Murwillumbah, and I would often see him typing away on his verandah – for Best Bets, I think. He had a column in the Tweed Daily News called ‘Talking Sport’ and loved a beer at the Imperial Hotel with members of the Murwillumbah High School Old Boys Rugby League club, especially another neighbour of ours, Percy Delaney. Broncos chairman, Dennis Watt; chief executive, Paul White and coach, Anthony Griffin are in heavy discussion with NRL officials re. the salary cap. My lips are sealed.
Peter Psaltis reminds me that his relatives had a café at Murwillumbah.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16
Depressing news everywhere. Terrorists, Ebola, Wall Street crashing! Just take one day at a time, Steve.
Brogan Melit, son of late Brothers’ rugby league indentity, Frank Melit, arrives with two crates of programmes, photos etc from his dad’s collection. Marie not happy that more valuable garage space is being occupied. To QRL for History Committee work.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 17
Browse through old Sporting Life magazines gifted to me by Max Ford, a former footballer and boxer from Mt Gravatt. Interesting article on former indigenous boxer, Elley Bennett, one of my father-in-law’s favourites.
Wilston-Grange AFL awards dinner held at Brothers’ Club tonight. Learn that Brothers’ licensed club is up for sale, and lots of regulars are worried about the future.
I receive a touching letter today from one of Dad’s old mates, Keith Fletcher from Ballina.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 18
Lovely day at Good Food and Wine Show at Convention Centre with our youngest son, Lliam and his wife, Channelle. We finish day at Seppelt Wine Stand and have a good chat to Andrew Seppelt. Get home in time to watch Junior Kangaroos v Junior Kiwis League international, and then the Bledisloe Cup rugby union. Amazing scenes before the league, with the Australian players advancing on the Kiwi Haka. I thought the Aussies were out of order, and it’s fortunate there wasn’t a pre-match brawl. Wallabies lose in heart breaking circumstances and coach, Ewan McKenzie quits.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 19
100th anniversary of the ANZAC Fleet leaving Melbourne’s Princess Wharf. Banjo Paterson is on board one of the vessels, Alf from Yeovil tells ‘Macca’ on the ABC, and ‘Macca’ is a bit short with him, as ‘Macca’ can be sometimes. Still love his show.
Watch replay of NRL One Community function. Female volunteer from Woodville, South Australia wins an award. Great to see.
ABC’s Landline has inspirational story on an 84-year-old sawmiller from Killarney in Queensland. I fear that in the future, if it hasn’t happened already, sawmillers will somehow be painted as villains in the recounting of history by our schools. My grand-dad, on Mum’s side, was a sawmiller. There. I said it.
Scene from a Brisbane v Toowoomba Bulimba Cup match at the Gabba in the 1950s, with Brisbane on the attack. Photo from the Melit family collection.

Scene from a Brisbane v Toowoomba Bulimba Cup match at the Gabba in the 1950s, with Brisbane on the attack. Photo from the Melit family collection.

WEEK 40

MONDAY, OCTOBER 6
Watch Indigenous League carnival on NITV. ‘Gorgeous’ George Rose says Noel Underwood is good enough to play NRL. Women’s game between Minda River and Redfern All Blacks has plenty of highlights. A mother and daughter combination featured for Minda.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7
Former Great Britain Test forward, Bill Ashurst launches his book ‘Tries and Prayers’. I played against Bill – for Brothers v Penrith in the 1976 Amco Cup. Bill and fellow Englishman, Mick Stephenson were the Panthers’ star recruits. Bill was back in England the following year playing for Wigan, and I saw him play for the ‘Riversiders’, away to Widnes at Naughton Park. Bill was carried from the field on a stretcher after being stiff armed by Widnes’ Welsh prop, Jim Mills. Jim was sent off. Bill had made the mistake of declaring before the match he wanted to regain his spot in Great Britain side, possibly at Mills’ expense, for the 1978 home series against Australia. ‘I want Aussie Blood’ screamed the newspaper headline. As Bill was being carted off at Naughton Park, one quick witted fan yelled: “You’ll need Aussie blood after tonight”.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 8
To Border Field (formerly Neumann Oval) for Tasmania v Victoria cricket. Tassie all out for 287. Victorian wickets fall as I arrive and they are 6/60. But Clint Mackay and David Hussey dig in and I get value for my $5. Jon Wells (Tasmania) is man of the match. Catch up with Qld Cricket Media Man, Steve Gray, a former colleague at The Courier-Mail and an ex-teammate of the Walters’ boys at Booval Swifts Rugby League Club in Ipswich. Have a Vale IPA at the Albion Pub on the way home, watching Sonny Bill Williams’ return to union with Counties against Auckland. Sad to see wheat silos at Albion rail being demolished after recent fire. Another historic Brisbane landmark bites the dust.
Andrew Battese, son of former Wynnum-Manly and Canterbury forward, Brian Battese, is named player of the year for the Northern Rivers (NSW) competition.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10
Former Channel 9 sports presenter, Steve Haddan makes his debut as a member of the Queensland Rugby League History Committee, replacing the late Professor Max Howell. I add two books to my sports library – ‘Stand Up and Cheer’ (the story of Norths Devils Rugby League) and ‘The Last Showman’, the life and times of outback tent boxing legend, Fred Brophy, the latter a gift from a chap at the club who simply goes by the name ‘Grumps’. It was even autographed by Fred at the Birdsville Races.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 11
My father’s obituary appears in The Courier-Mail today and I am touched by the response from several areas. I receives nice text messages from Broncos chairman, Dennis Watt and Titans’ coach, Neil Henry.
Marie and I attend Retirement Expo at RNA where Australian rock legend, Normie Rowe gives a free concert. We saw Normie at The Playroom, Tallebudgera (on the Gold Coast) the night we met in 1975. Lots of young people in traditional dress making their way to Octoberfest at the RNA. We have dinner at Bitter Suite at Teneriffe. Two hens parties there, so we steer well clear of them. Watch Super League grand final between St Helens and Wigan, and like everyone else I am shocked at Saints’ former Welsh rugby union prop, Ben Flower’s vicious punch of a defenceless Lance Hohaia.
Widnes and Welsh league legend, Jim Mills.

Widnes and Welsh league legend, Jim Mills.

WEEK 39

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 29
During appointment with Dr Choong at New Farm, he reveals that legendary official, Frank Facer signed him up as member of St George Leagues Club back in the 1970s. It was called the Taj Mahal then. Learn that famous old Lismore Picture Theatre, Star Court has closed for ‘rejuvenation’. I saw Pinocchio there back in the 50s.
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 30
To Centro, New Farm for Woody Allen movie, ‘Magic in the Moon’. Pretty ordinary. Old bloke has nasty fall outside cinema. We help him and get ice from café for his wounded bits. To Newstead Brewery for lunch. Excellent place. I have two pale ales and Marie a ‘Pickled Pig’ ginger beer.
Learn that Leeds veteran, Jamie Peacock has won Ray Fletcher Memorial Award, named after my good mate, the former chief league writer for the Yorkshire Post.
Some people in Tweed, Byron, Richmond area concerned about disused Far North Coast branch line being converted into rail trail. I think it would be the best rail trail in the world.
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1
Drinks with former Courier-Mail colleague, Paul Malone at Citroen, Wilston. Former Wests/Wide Bay coach, Don Oxenham emails that he loves my website. Thanks Don.
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 2
To Paul’s barber shop at Zillmere. Very busy. Chat to long term Zillmere resident, Mal Handley, a plumber who now lives at Joyner. Played rugby league for Nambour Souths. A fireman talks about four blazes at Boondall. Next door, Garth’s coffee shop is doing well. He has opened a second place near Australian Tax Office, Chermside.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3.
Walk to Elixer Coffee for beans. So many drivers on their mobiles. It’s an epidemic. Police could clean up at any corner. To Grange P.O. Buy stamp for UK. $2.70. Seems dear. Marie has to deal with Amnesty International door knocker. We were once Amnesty members, but a sign at entrance to Hermitage Gardens clearly says ‘no hawkers’. Besides, I get impression Amnesty has been hi-jacked by left wingers. Is it just me getting old? Speak to former Wynnum-Manly halfback, Des Lee, who reckons Newcastle rugby league was tougher than Brisbane. Des, from my ‘home town’, Murwillumbah, played for Central-Charlestown in Newcastle before moving to Brisbane. Valleys reunion tonight and my fellow QRL History Committee member, Paul Hayes gives ‘old’ Diehard, Bobby Arnold a lift home.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4
Former Rooster, Peter Farrugia sends a lovely email message re. my Ron Saddler website article. Learn that Tweed River Jockey Club stalwart, Bernie Quinn is to receive an award from Racing NSW. I travel to Murwillumbah for reunion of 1964-65 Brothers under-18 sides. I am the MC. Quite emotional for me, because I don’t get back there very often and have so many memories. Run into former Daily News workmates, ‘Herbie’ Lack and Neville ‘knocker’ O’Connor in the main street. ‘Knocker’ was a fine rugby league player and ‘Herbie’ is one of the world’s funniest men. I have ‘brunch’ at famous Austral Café, then drive around town and look at our old family residences at Bray Park and Tumbulgum Road.
Reunion goes well, and is filmed for posterity. Coach, Peter Smith and wife, Colleen still look so young. Brothers won the under-18 title in ’64, and it is widely accepted that the only reason they didn’t win again in ’65 was the fact star lock, Dave Stuart broke his neck in a freak accident – nothing to do with foul play.
Meanwhile, in England, Sir Doug Laughton is guest speaker as Widnes celebrate 25 years since their World Club Challenge win over Canberra.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 5
Listen to Macca on ABC and Ray Stehr Jnr phones. His godfather was Jack Rayner, a league legend like Ray Stehr Snr. Macca loves his league, but like many of us, became disillusioned during the Super League War. Watch NRL grand final day. Yvonne Sampson says Wally Lewis never played in a grand final. Hello. Try five grand finals – 1978, 79, 84, 85 and ’86 – for three titles. Hang on. They were only Brisbane grand finals, played in front of paltry 30,000 plus crowds. Now, I know Yvonne didn’t mean any mischief. She meant Wal had not played in a national – no Sydney – grand final. Ray Price never played in a national final, only a Sydney GF. So glad Souths beat Canterbury in the 2014 NRL grand final. My late mum, a devoted Souths lady, would be so happy, and my wife, Marie, another Rabbitohs’ tragic, IS happy. I must admit, I shed a tear at the end of the game when courageous Sam Burgess and Greg inglis broke down.
Wally Lewis, pictured here during his stint with English club, Wakefield, played in five Brisbane grand finals, winning three.

Wally Lewis, pictured here during his stint with English club, Wakefield, played in five Brisbane grand finals, winning three.

WEEK 38
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 24
I am contacted by Papua New Guinea league man, Chris Thompson, who knows several members of the 1968 PNG under-9 stone (weight) team which toured Australia. I was selected for New South Wales North Coast to play the PNG boys at Casino, but had to withdraw because of exams. The PNG backs played in bare feet, and the tourists ended up winning 19-3.
The Courier-Mail run a nice story on Canterbury forward, Pat O’Hanlon’s terrible ankle injury, although nothing about his Queensland background. I have coffee at Redcliffe with a former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Mick Nunan. Home via Tedman Street, Zillmere where I see our old place will be auctioned on October 4. Drive over Geebung rail ‘fly-over’ for the first time.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 25
Attend Men of League 10th anniversary lunch at the RNA. First bloke I run into is Matt O’Hanlon, our son, Damien’s boss at Beenleigh High, and father of Pat. Racecaller, Steve Hawkins is at my table along with singer, Megan Longhurst. I catch up with former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, Athol ‘the doctor’ Gear. The nicest bloke in the world, Athol was a different man on the field. He broke the jaw of Broncos’ foundation director, Steve Williams’ in one Brisbane club match. Cairns based former Test winger, Lionel Williamson is named a Men of League Honouree, and his daughter, Kerry is there to accept it on his behalf. I shed a tear during tributes to former players who have died. I think of Dad.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 26
To sports breakfast at Brothers Community Club, wearing a Roosters’ scarf. Dangerous thing to do in Brisbane. MC Mark Forbes, interviews Brisbane Bandits’ baseball indentities, Dave Nilsson and Paul Gonzales, then former Courier-Mail editor, Michael Crutcher and Cameron Carr. I get a bit emotional talking about Cameron and the road accident which put him in a wheel chair, just before he was to take up a contract with the Roosters back in the ’90s. He is now a wheelchair rugby star. The breakfast is a chance for me to promote my book, ‘Bennett’s Broncos’. Afterwards I have coffee with Brothers NRL Bid team members, Justin Barlow and Trevor Bailey. The Courier-Mail website features the top 10 Brisbane Rugby League grand finals, and I get some of the credit for the article. Souths beat the Roosters 32-22 in the grand final qualifier, and life is not worth living at home. Great career, Anthony Minichiello.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 27

Watch build-up to AFL grand final. Like the anthems before a rugby union Test, that is the best part. Love ‘Up There Cazaly’. Could have done without Tom Jones, although better than MeatLoaf. Watch Catalans 18-16 win over Huddersfield. Aussie coaching guru, David Waite assists the French side. Hail storm hits Grange at 8 p.m. On radio Bob Fulton says the four tackle rule days of the late ’60s were like rugby union. Queensland coaching guru, Duncan Thompson liked the rule at the time. Sports guru, Ray Ebert phones ahead of the Dayboro Rugby League Club’s awards night, where he is to be MC. Says his favourite Brisbane grand final was 1975. It was a beauty. Wests beat Redcliffe.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 28

Attend Men of League function at Suncorp Stadium ahead of the Intrust Super Cup grand final. Former ABC caller, Peter Meares is MC. I first saw Peter on the sidelines at the Wide Bay v Great Britain match at Maryborough in 1979. I went there hoping to catch up with good mate, Eric Hughes, the British winger, but he spent the night in hospital after he hit the ground head first in a sling tackle. I pay $100 for Mal Meninga memorabilia (Centenary of Club Greats) at the function. First thing I have ever bought at a sportsmen’s function. I did it mainly because I was embarrassed at the restrained bidding. Catch up with so many league characters, among them Ray Kelly, Les Geeves, Shane McNally, Gavin Payne, Craig Green, Paul Tanks, Mark McGuire, Tony Currie, James Sandy, Steve and David Mills, Sam Smith, Gerard Kerr, Randall Coolwell, Marty Scanlan, Ross Strudwick, Jeff Gill, Hugh O’Doherty, Lots of Wests names there. We really lost a lot of Brisbane’s league soul when Wests exited the big time. Former Test centre, Brent Tate, forced into retirement by yet another knee reconstruction, is part of Channel 9 commentary team for grand final. Northern Pride beat Easts 36-4 in a disappointing game. Atmosphere flat. Brawls give code a bad look. Intrust Super principal, Brendan O’Farrell not happy.

David Waite (right) when he was Great Britain coach. His assistant at that time, Brian Noble, is the other man in the photo.

David Waite (right) when he was Great Britain coach. His assistant at that time, Brian Noble, is the other man in the photo.

WEEK 37.

RADIO TAB host, John McCoy talks about one rugby code this morning. I think it will happen one day, but not in my lifetime. But it will amount to a takeover of league by union and the play-the-ball will not survive. There will be pockets that play traditional rugby league. The true believers will not bow to the lure of globalisation, and there will always be rugby league, even if it is only in places like Dewsbury, Limoux, Greymouth and Townsville.
Marie home via Bexhill (bananas), Clunes (meat) and Byron Bay (bread). Good to support local producers.
On FoxSports, Matt Johns says James Graham looks like a serial killer!!
Makes more sense than ‘Crash’ Craddock saying Port Adelaide are celebrated around the nation. For a start, from Gympie north in Queensland, very few would know anything about their position on the AFL ladder.

They love their league in the pretty French town of Limoux.

They love their league in the pretty French town of Limoux.

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16
Lliam says the baby is a boy.
Sign on Gilbert Road telegraph pole seeks missing hen: ‘ Mrs Wallace’.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 17
To Men of League office today to sign 100 copies of my book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’.
Brisbane Bandits put up posters in ‘their’ bar at Brothers. The ‘Bandits’ people drink Coke. Shock.
To Universities rugby league grand final at Davies Park tonight with patron, Kevin Brasch. Griffith beat UQ, even though the latter looked the better side for much of the match. Our eldest boy, Damien, a former Unis player, joins Kevin and I at the Leagues Club.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18
In agony from back trouble. Greg Veivers suggest some exercises when I talk to him on Men of League business.
Body Corporate meeting tonight and new managers, Harry and Robyn Moore are keen to impress, so meeting goes for three hours, surely a record. There are interjections from a couple of residents who asked to observe.
Watch Super League semi-final (Wigan v Huddersfield) from England. Finals crowds over there always disappoint. I don’t know why. Regular home and away games draw two or three times as many people. It must be a season ticket thing.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 20

One of my former editors at The Telegraph, Neil Wiseman, dies today aged 68. Originally from England, Neil was an intelligent, generous man who, at the same time, did not suffer fools.
He was a staunch advocate of ‘proper English’. He would hate me writing that.
Listen to 4BC and former Manly skipper, Fred Jones phones Ray Hadley. I saw Fred play for Australia in their 20-2 win over France in the 1968 World Cup final at the SCG.
There are some ‘pretty’ hookers these days, but when Fred was playing if you wanted to maintain your looks, you didn’t play hooker. I don’t think Fred would mind me saying that he was never, ever going to be a poster boy.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 21
Learn that Nikki Walker is the new coach of Hawick Rugby in Scotland. I met the former Scotland Test winger during the Common Riding celebrations in June. He has a great respect for rugby league.

Manly skipper, Fred Jones celebrates the Sea Eagles' 1972 grand final win over the Roosters. Allan Thompson is behind him and Terry Randall on the right.
Manly skipper, Fred Jones celebrates the Sea Eagles’ 1972 grand final win over the Roosters. Allan Thompson is behind him and Terry Randall on the right.

WEEK 36

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 10
I ATTEND The Courier-Mail Best and Fairest Awards at Brisbane City Hall. Good to catch up with former workmates and league identities, among them Barry Dick, Mike Westlake, Karl de Kroo, Greg Davis, Peter Badel, Ricki-Lee Arnold (all Courier), Trad McLean (Broncos), Peter Psaltis (4BC), John Grant (ARL), Terry McEnroth, Rob Moore, Brad Tallon, Michael Pease (QRL); Ben and Shane Walker (Ipswich Jets).
Tweed coach, Aaron Zimmerle is impressive accepting his award. The Papua New Guinea Hunters table is so enthusiastic. Great to see.
Finish up at Pig and Whistle with Trad McLean and Norths coach, Mark Gliddon.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 11
News at Brothers Club at Grange is that Brisbane Bandits Baseball will set up their headquarters there. A few worried Brothers’ blokes.
English actor, Donald Sinden dies aged 91. Marie and I saw him in a West End play – ‘Shut Your Eyes and Think of England’ – in 1978 at the Apollo Theatre. It was billed as ‘a new comedy by John Chapman and Anthony Marriott’.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12
Have had back trouble since France, and chiropractor, Sandy Clarke confirms I have a twisted sacrum. He refers me to acupuncturist, Dr Thomas Choong at New Farm. Never been to an acupuncturist! Mail a Wayne Bennett autographed Broncos jersey to Carcassonne coach, Laurent Garnier for display in club rooms in the French city. Laurent wants his players to always strive for excellence and he sees the jersey as a source of motivation.
Hermitage Gardens pool party tonight. One of the older gents from our estate, Danny, went to Clovelly Primary in Sydney in the heart of Roosters’ territory, but played Aussie rules for Windsor when he moved to Brisbane.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 13
Marie to Lismore to see family. I stay home because of my back dramas. A fly fishing school is being held on Lanham Park as I walk to newsagency. That is a first. Don’t they know Kedron Brook is just down the way?
Eldest son, Damien phones to check on my condition. He had been to local bottlo’ and Kiwi bloke in front of him said he was stocking up for All Blacks – ‘Boks Test on TV that night. Damo said: ‘You’re in Australia mate. No-one cares’. Chip off the old block. Why do Kiwis assume everyone is interested in the All Blacks? For a start many South Australians wouldn’t even know who they are and/or whether they play league or union. Damo was keen to watch Roosters v Penrith. Jamie Soward kicks winning field goal for Penrith. “The Chooks were arrogant in the first half”, says Damo. Marie texts from Lismore. ‘Mountain Men Too Strong’. Poor crowd at Wallabies – Argentina union Test at Robina. Who said Coast sports people are not discerning?

WEEK 35

MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 1
Attend Ron Perkins’ funeral. Lovely service. Family members sing ‘The Rose’, and Ron’s son, Kevin speaks so well. Former rugby league Test prop, Rod Morris is among the mourners. Priest manages to get AFL into his sermon, somehow, even though Ron was a devoted league man. AFL people are more zealous than the most devoted missionaries.
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 3
A trip to Sydney is my surprise birthday present from Marie, with the Roosters – Rabbitohs match to be the highlight. I am a mad Roosters’ fan (is there any other type?) and Marie loves the Rabbits, so I think the trip is as much for her pleasure as mine. Anyway, it is much appreciated. Winds of 90km plus blowing from the south west in Sydney. We sit beside a local, originally from Vienna, at a café at Potts Point. A number of naval vessels in port including the Darwin, Parramatta and Success, and there are lots of female sailors. Stay at Kirketon Hotel in Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross. My dad was born at ‘The Cross’ in 1929. In 1971 I stayed in a hotel, near the current Kirketon, with Murwillumbah Brothers on our end of season trip. Ray McCarron was our captain-coach. Eat at Tavola Restaurant, recommended by our daughter, Melanie, who lived not far from here during a stint in Sydney. Food good and the Sardinian red wine goes down a treat.
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
As I get coffee I chat to a dark chap whose mum is Australian and dad an American who fought in Vietnam. He has lived in Australia for 20 years after some time in Seattle, and is a Roosters’ man. Lunch at Yacht Club at Rushcutters Bay and lady at table near us looks like former TV personality, Hazel Phillips.
To Sydney Football Stadium for Roosters – Rabbitohs game, but first a look through the Rugby League Museum at NRL headquarters. Museum curator, Frank Puletua is showing a group the various displays. One day, hopefully not in the too distant future, I will be able to do the same at our very own museum in Queensland. The Roosters win a fabulous game in wet conditions, and the 32,000 plus crowd is a good result for the NRL, considering Sydney’s miserable weather.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 5
Walk around Bradley Head on Sydney Harbour’s North Shore, with lunch at café at Chowder Bay. Very good. Bus from Chowder Bay back to Wynyard in the city. Marie looks through Lindt Café, while I adjourn to the nearby New South Wales Leagues Club, where several blokes from Young and Gundagai chat about the state of league in the bush, and the good old days. Buy a copy of ‘The Big Issue’ and have a nice chat to the female seller.
Up in Townsville, my good mate, Mick Nunan is attending a reunion for the local Souths’ club. He was an official in their glory days back in the late 70s early ’80s, when they had the likes of Gene Miles, Colin Scott and Tony Kambouris on the books. Mick played league for Murwillumbah Brothers, and later cricket with South Lismore, when he worked in the Richmond Valley city as a barber. One of his cricket teammates was ‘Nobby’ Battese, whose son, Brian (also Nobby) would go on to play first grade league for Canterbury-Bankstown and Wynnum-Manly.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 6
Turn 62 today. Buy croissant from former Indooroopilly lass at Infinity Baker. Lunch at Tilbury Hotel, Woolloomooloo, as recommended by our daughter, Melanie. Light meals are expensive, but very good. Walk to Farm Cove where a $500,000 Croatian/Italian wedding is about to take place. Drinks and dinner at NSW Leagues. Very good. I have Moroccan lamb cutlets while Marie has a steak sandwich. ‘Home’ in time to see Wallabies snatch last minute win over the Boks in Perth, with Israel Folau’s pass so crucial in the lead-up to the try. How did rugby league let him go?
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 7

Marie tells Kirketon Hotel reception, we wont be back, given dramas with hot water, and some of the noisy late night comings and goings. Our cabbie has a grubby vehicle and wanders dangerously out of lane on way to airport. ‘Lovely’ chap at check-in kiosk near us, tells someone over the phone that he will kill him and punch his teeth in. Maybe not in that order. Back in Brisbane we have lunch at Albion Hotel with our daughter, Melanie. My former work colleague, Barry Dick and his wife, Sharon, are also dining there. They are locals. Our son, Lliam and daughter-in-law, Channelle gives us the green light to tell people we will be grandparents for the first time. Baby due in March. Amazing.

Gene Miles in action for the Broncos. He started his senior career with Souths in Townsville.

Gene Miles in action for the Broncos. He started his senior career with Souths in Townsville.

WEEK 34

MONDAY, AUGUST 25
Lunch today with my former Courier-Mail league writing mate, Dave Potter, who is now media manager at Gregory Terrace College in Brisbane. Dave, whose dad, Ron represented NSW in league in 1956, played the 13 man game in Townsville. A good judge of football. Former Wallaby, Chris Carberry works at Beenleigh High where our son, Damien is teaching.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 26
Drive to Zillmere for a haircut at Paul’s, but the place is packed, so retreat to Stafford. Finish eulogy and then to Brothers’ club for a few ales with the lads, who wish me well for Dad’s funeral tomorrow. Learn that former Crushers’ Leagues Club director, Ron Perkins passed away today aged 92. A great man, he was a decorated bomber crew member for the RAAF in World War II. He loved a beer, a punt and a game of bridge, not necessarily in that order. But family came first, and every year in the Dairy Bar at ‘Brothers’, there would be a Perkins’ family Mass. Also learn that my father’s next door ‘neighbour’ at Marycrest, Harry Parker died today. Harry, a former tiler, came from Preston in England and barracked for famous soccer club, Preston North End. At different times he worked with former Brisbane Souths Rugby League boss, Graham Kerr, who described Harry as a man of great wit.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 27
Dad’s funeral goes well, or as well as these things can go. I am proud of my eulogy delivery, although I struggle at first. The service is held in the Giovanni Chapel at Marycrest, and it is touching to see a number of staff members there. My nephew, Kieran Ricketts plays ‘Beautiful World’ on the organ. A couple of my former Murwillumbah schoolmates at service – Mick Nunan and Kevin Cupitt. I played league with Mick, and stayed at Kevin’s family dairy farm at Reserve Creek as a teenager. John and Doug Kaden from Lismore are there, representing their parents, ‘Doc’ and Clarice, who could not make it because of Doc’s declining health. Dad and ‘Doc’ were great mates. The wake is held at Story Bridge Hotel.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 28
Worse for wear today, but manage to fulfil duties as MC at Beer and Beef lunch at Pineapple Hotel at Kangaroo Point, where I interview prominent Courier-Mail journalist, Barry Dick. Host for the afternoon is Garry Clarke, who played league for Wests in Sydney. Great Redcliffe league stories are tossed around in the bar afterwards when Barry and I catch up with Carlton Brewing indentity, Mark Cherry, a former Dolphins’ player. Watch Dogs v Rabbitohs game tonight. Great battle between Pom forwards, James Graham (Dogs) and Sam Burgess (Rabbitohs). Dogs’ hooker, Michael Ennis is out of control. Refs Sutton and Shortall are not strict enough. Newcastle Knights staff member, Troy Pezet predicts a big future for Bilambil Jets junior, Braden Robson, a former student at Mt St Patrick High School, Murwillumbah.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 29
Leave for Stanthorpe for a winery weekend with friends. Walk at Palm Grove Circuit at Cunningham’s Gap on the way. At Stanthorpe I have first drinks at Central Pub, where trivia is just coming to an end in the sparsely populated public bar. Different story at O’Mara’s where cheerios are available, and there is a lucky draw. That night we eat at Ann’s Italian Buffet. Very good, and I am not normally a buffet fan. Finally to Country Club Hotel to watch Broncos v Dragons game. The Country Club is home to local league side, the Gremlins, who play in the Border League.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 30
Big frosts overnight. Gets down to minus one, and the fact we are having problems with the hot water at Vines Motel makes life a little uncomfortable. Good coffee from Zest in the main street. We embark on mini-bus tour of the area with Filippos Tours and our coach driver, Tony knows everything about the area. And I mean everything. To Symphony Hill Winery first. Good quality. Then Heavenly Chocolates, followed by lunch at very busy Ballandean Estate, where owner, Angelo Puglise says hello. Dinner at family operation, Patty’s on McGregor.
Learn that former Brothers forward (1950s) and official (1970s and ’80s), Tom Hickey has died. Tom worked with me at Queensland Newspapers and was present when I signed a contract with Brothers in 1976 after moving to Brisbane from Group 3 in New South Wales, where I had played with Wingham Tigers. Brothers A grade lose to Pine Rivers today and miss out on the Second Division finals.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 31
No hot water again. The motel is run by the Slack (by name, not nature) family, and they are embarrassed. Give us a bottle of red wine for our trouble. Father was a former selector and manager with Wide Bay Bulls representative rugby league side. This time we travel on a smaller coach, first to Mount Stirling Olives, then lunch at Robert Channon Wines, where the great man, Robert Channon conducts the wine tasting. His winery has provided product for the British Royals. Next stop is Granite Belt Cheese, followed by Suttons, for their famous apple pie.
A beautiful sunset as we cross the river back in Brisbane.

Jon and Lola Ricketts on their wedding day, May 12, 1951, outside St Carthages Cathedral, Lismore.

Jon and Lola Ricketts on their wedding day, May 12, 1951, outside St Carthages Cathedral, Lismore.

WEEK 33

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20.
I am guest speaker at the Brisbane Men of League ‘Kick-off Club’ lunch at Broncos Leagues Club, and it seems to go over well. A few blokes buy copies of my book, ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, and afterwards I have a good chat to the likes of former Test winger, Lionel Morgan; old journo, Ron Roys; boxing identity, Fred Casey and the Cory brothers, Doug and Bob, both Brisbane Souths’ stalwarts. Former Test lock, Harold ‘Mick’ Crocker is in hospital, and everyone at the lunch signs a card for the great man. The Broncos are training as I leave and I bump into Broncos’ official, Scott Czislowski, who was playing fullback for Valleys when I started writing league full time in 1981.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 21.
My dad passes away today at the age of 85. I had visited him at lunchtime, but he couldn’t eat anything because he was so heavily sedated. He was barely aware of my presence, but reacted when I mentioned I had seen Lionel Morgan the previous day. Played the Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole versions of ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’. The nurses told me Dad had been singing ‘South of the Border’ the previous day. I had decided to return the next day and stay in his room, but a couple of hours after I get home I got the news Dad had died.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 22
My brother, Jeffery rings from Tweed Heads and says he will remember Dad as ‘a man of nature’, because he loved the bush, especially Mount Warning. As sad as Dad’s death is, he had had a good life. When someone goes young, it is a different story, and our son, Lliam attends a funeral today for 30-year-old Alexander Brusasco. The family requested no flowers, and instead asked for donations to be forwarded to ‘The Revive Foundation’ or ‘Hope4Health’.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 23
Lots of phone calls – in and out – re Dad, as you can imagine. I phone friends, Erica and Bill O’Neill, and I do love their message on the answering maching: ‘Do say hello to our robot secretary. We will return the calls when we finish gadding about’. Watch of a lot of football tonight, switching over to the Bledisloe Cup, every now and then. The Wallabies are soft. Watch English Challenge Cup (rugby league) and see two of my favourite people, former British Test halfback, Alex Murphy and former British League boss, Harry Jepson sitting side by side at Wembley. Leeds, coached by Brian McDermott, beat Castleford (coached by Daryl Powell) 23-10. Terry Campese played New South Wales Cup today, essentially signalling the end of his NRL career.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 24
To Bishop Park with our daughter, Melanie for Norths v Redcliffe match, and Redcliffe put up the white flag as they are thrashed by the Devils. Redcliffe coach, Troy ‘Cowboy’ Lindsay would not have been happy with the effort. Norths under-19s from 1994 are holding a reunion, and the can bar is full of familiar faces.

Alex Murphy holds the Challenge Cup aloft after leading Leigh to victory over Leeds at Wembley
Alex Murphy holds the Challenge Cup aloft after leading Leigh to victory over Leeds at Wembley

WEEK 32

TUESDAY, AUGUST 12
Chris Higgins from FoxSports emails re a notorious spear tackle made by then Balmain centre, Allan McMahon on Newtown Jets’ rival, Mick Ryan in 1979. The tackle made the front page of Rugby League News, and, as the story stated, it was a miracle Ryan wasn’t killed. FoxSports are doing a special on dangerous tackles in the wake of the Alex McKinnon tragedy. At Brothers’ Club I meet Mick Hanslow from the Court House Hotel at Winton, who conducts tours to the annual Birdsville Races. Mick and teacher, Mick Taylor were prime moves in setting up the rugby league programme at Wavell High in Brisbane’s north. Death of former ARL medical officer, Dr Bill Monaghan at the age of 87. I remember him as a real gentleman, and had the pleasure of dining with him at a restaurant at Knightsbridge in London when I was covering the 1982 Kangaroo tour – ahead of the match against Fulham.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13
Noted Tweed resident, Pat McDonald, now 80, is included in The Courier-Mail’s coverage of the Ekka. The McDonalds from the Tweed are arguably Australia’s best jersey cattle farmers. Nine fire trucks rush to Nimbin’s main street to fight a blaze, which destroys a number of buildings. I played rugby league at Nimbin, for Murwillumbah Brothers against Lismore Wests, in a trial match in 1972. The following year I was back at Nimbin reporting on the Aquarius festival, which changed the local landscape forever.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 14.
I am a guest on Peter Psaltis’s 4BC Sports Show tonight with former Test centre, Tony Currie.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 16.
Refereeing identity, Geoff Mines delivers the annual Ross Livermore Address at Suncorp Stadium. The topic is ‘The Man in the Middle’, and famous (and infamous) whistle blowers such as Henry Albert, Don Lancashire, Bernie Pramberg, Stan Scamp and Eddie Ward get a mention, among others. Geoff tells of his recent traumatic experience of suffering a massive heart attack after refereeing a second division game, with resident sports trainers bringing him back to life. The roll-up for the lecture is not as great as previous years, and it is disappointing to see so few current referees there. Those to sign our Queensland Rugby league History Committee visitors’ book included noted author, Adrian McGregor (who will deliver the 2015 address on May 30), former Australian wicket keeper, Ray Phillips; referee turned politician, Tim Mander and South East Division chairman, Brad Tallon.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 17
Visit my dad at Marycrest where they have raised $450 for persecuted Christians in Iraq. Ballina finish minor premiers in the Northern Rivers Rugby League, one point clear of Murwillumbah. In the Central Burnett League, Mundubbera beat Gayndah 29-26 in a thrilling grand final. Good to see Gavin Ford still involved with Mundubbera after all these years. I wrote a story about Gavin when he became a quadriplegic following a freakish accident in a game of league for his home town. I later visited Mundubbera when he became secretary of the club.

Referee, Stan Scamp issues a caution to Easts, Greg Holben, one of many the fiery five eighth received in his career

Referee, Stan Scamp issues a caution to Easts, Greg Holben, one of many the fiery five eighth received in his career

WEEK 31

TUESDAY, AUGUST 5
Funeral of Brian Phillips, former Wynnum-Manly Rugby League chairman and a doyen of schoolboy football in Queensland. Down at my old home town of Murwillumbah, they have the last farewell for Kath Ayres, the widow of my former newspaper workmate, Jack Ayres. Their son, Allan, was a tough, talented league player for South Murwillumbah and could have made it in Sydney, but never wanted to leave town. His mum was the sister of Stan Sercombe, one of the best country rugby league administrators of them all. Buy two league books today – ‘The Voice’ (Ray Warren), and ‘The Night the Music Died’ by Ian Heads, which tells the story of the eventful 1974 season. That year Western Division won the Amco Cup, beating Penrith in the final and giving hope to all bush footballers they could mix it with the stars. It was compulsory viewing every Wednesday night when us young blokes (at Murwillumbah) would gather over a steak and a can or two of KB. What a shame Channel 10 have destroyed all the tapes from that era!
THURSDAY, AUGUST 7
Coffee with prominent coach, Don Gailer, a chief organiser of Carlton and United’s Beer and Beef Club. Now retired, one of Don’s most recent coaching appointments was Whitehaven in England, and he is wearing a Cumbrian representative polo shirt when we catch up. He guided Whitehaven to a higher division, but got the sack. Go figure. He now coaches Caboolture Snakes and lives at Redcliffe where a neighbour and friend is former Parramatta hard man, Graham Olling. Don wants me to MC the next Beer and Beef club lunch. At Brothers Community Club I meet fellow History Committee member, Paul Hayes who has had Broncos jersey signed by Wayne Bennett, as per a request from Carcassonne coach, Laurent Garnier. Laurent will hang the jersey in the club rooms of the French club as motivation for the players to strive for excellence. There is a gentleman wearing a Welsh league (yes league) Test jersey in the club bar.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 8
My dad has major skin cancer op. on scalp. Not good when you are 85. Said afterwards he felt like a strong drink. Doctor says his dad is also a 1929 ‘model’, and they don’t make them like that any more. How true.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 9
Get a text from Broncos’ Media man, Trad McLean to say he is having a beer with ‘The Hornet’, Nev Hornery at Wests’ reunion in Sydney. ‘The Hornet’ certainly was a wild man, but boy, could he play. Doug Walters is a guest on 4BC today. I saw him bat at the Gabba in his debut Test against England in 1965, when he made 155, and (from memory) hit a six into The Cricketers Club. In more recent times I have seen Doug having a beer and a punt at the ‘Rose and Crown’, Parramatta. Watch under-20s clash between Cronulla and the Warriors, and it is refreshing to hear referee, Dan Olford talk to the players as all whistle blowers should – ‘Come here 7’. ‘I’m not talking to you 9’ – that sort of thing. None of this ‘matey’, first name stuff, because there is no way referees can know the names of every player. To our youngest son, Lliam’s 30th birthday party tonight at Statler and Waldorf in Caxton Street. Some lovely speeches, and our daughter, Melanie does a great job with the slide show and photographic display. There is mention of Lliam’s early entrepreneurial days (I’m talking about when he was six or seven) selling grapefruit outside our Zillmere house. We had been giving the stuff away for free. Manage to watch some of the Knights’ incredible fightback for an ‘impossible’ 32-30 win over the Storm, but then someone uses their influence to get the bar’s tv changed to AFL for the Swans – Port Adelaide game. Really! Port Adelaide? Who gives a stuff in Queensland! My theory is that most dedicated rugby league people have Pay TV whereas the AFL and union types rely on watching the game at clubs and pubs. Get home in time to watch Jarryd Hayne inspire Parramatta to a win over the Raiders in Darwin.

Allan Ayres (second from left in the back row) could have been anything in rugby league. He is pictured here with the 1971 Tweed/Gold Coast premiership winning South Murwillumbah side. The captain-coach was Claude McDermott (third from right in the front row).
Allan Ayres (second from left in the back row) could have been anything in rugby league. He is pictured here with the 1971 Tweed/Gold Coast premiership winning South Murwillumbah side. The captain-coach was Claude McDermott (third from right in the front row).
The squad is:
Backrow: Robin Smith, Allan Ayres, John Schrienert, Geoff Cahill, Alex Ross, Chris Edwards, Mick O’Neill, Gerald Chadburn.
Middle Row: John Hill, Bob Taylor, Ian Bugden (secretary), Allan Alcorn (treasurer), Eddie Buchanan (president), Neville Smith, Vic Bisaro.
Front row: Ted Hood (strapper), Ken Burger, Dick Dunlop, Les Burger (selector), Claude McDermott (captain-coach), Brian Burger, Ron Hanger (manager).
Ball boys: Barry Fredericks and Lloyd Fox.

WEEK 30

MONDAY, JULY 28
Meet new on-site manager of Hermitage Gardens, Harry Moore, (a former student at Nudgee College), and his wife Robyn, who grew up at Aspley. Harry is related to former Australian rugby league centre, Danny Moore. Harry played union at Nudgee and league in the bush. Learn that my former colleague at ‘The Courier-Mail’, James McCullough had died while we were overseas. I shared a few ales with James at the Jubilee Hotel the night I finished at ‘The Courier’. He was a real man about town, a journo who liked to get his yarns from the coal face.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 30
Marie has her mobile stolen at work by a dodgy character, who was caught in the act on CCTV. Police arrest him on premises. I take on role as secretary of the Queensland Rugby League History Committee. Check out ACB Ashes cricket tours, with a view to travelling to UK next year, but very expensive, and some of the hotels don’t look that flash.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 2
Watch Brothers play Normanby at Gibson Park, Stafford, with former Qld Residents coach, Wayne Treleavan in charge of Normanby. Former Norths forward, Paul Payne is Brothers’ coach and his dad, John, the former Queensland and Australian player, is there to watch. Catch up with my former Brothers’ teammates, Bob Cox and Noel Russell, as well as an Irishman from Cork, who thinks league is all right. Legendary Brothers’ strapper, Jimmy Johnson’s son is home from Oman, where he is a greenkeeper. On the way home I watch a bit of the Wilston Grange v Lions AFL match at Hickey Park, and the skill level is quite high. The Karmichael Hunt-Israel Folau experiment doesn’t seem to have attracted any Polynesian boys to the game, but I don’t think that was the aim anyway. Family dinner at ‘Survey Company’ in the city. Very good. It is Marie’s birthday tomorrow and Melanie’s next Friday. Mel has been two years now at the Queensland Treasury Corporation.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 3
Barman at Crushers has broken wrist, the result of a trampoline accident. Watch 50 Years of Channel 10, remembering how controversial (for the time) were shows like No. 96 and The Box.

WEEK 29

MONDAY, JULY 21
Strawberries from Wamuran not as good as those we had in France. You elitist, Steve. Broncos hold a press conference to announce the return of the great man, Wayne Bennett. Anthony Griffin hasn’t done a lot wrong, but Bennett was always going to finish his coaching days at the Broncos – or Brothers, if the NRL Bid Team gets up!!!
TUESDAY, JULY 22
I get a mention on ‘Back Page’ on FoxSports, with Kevin Walters referring to the ban Wayne Bennett placed on me some years ago. Kevvie’s yarn was quite funny, but it lacked accuracy. For a start he said I was banned for one year (over my reporting of Justin Hodges’ sacking) when it fact it extended to three years, the three happiest years of my life. Only joking, Wayne. Kevvie also said Wayne refused to answer my questions at press conferences, when in fact I didn’t give him the chance to reject me, because I didn’t ask any questions in those three years. The ban was only lifted after ARL CEO, Geoff Carr intervened ahead of my coverage of Australia’s Tri-Nations tour in Europe, where I was to file stories for The Courier-Mail and Sydney Telegraph. By rights, The Courier-Mail should have intervened three years earlier.
Discover that a former teammate of mine at the Wingham Tigers RLFC, Graeme ‘Dawby’ Berriman is doing it tough in health and financial terms, and a fund raiser has been held at Wingham Bowls Club.
THURSDAY, JULY 24
My father, Jon, turns 85 today, and Marie makes a cake, which we deliver personally at Marycrest. I play Dad one of his favourite songs, ‘Pedro The Fisherman’.
Dinner with friends at local Vietnamese restaurant.
FRIDAY, JULY 25.
Meeting of QRL History Committee and we achieve a fair bit. QRL CEO. Rob Moore asks committee members to consider an appropriate name for a new trophy and medal proposed for the inaugural NRL Championship final between the winners of the respective state competitions. Rugby League historian, David Middleton has contacted our committee member, Greg Shannon in relation to a project to recognise BRL games in the national records. At present only ‘Sydney’ games are included, meaning the likes of Mal Meninga, Gary Belcher and Harold ‘Mick’ Crocker’s time at Brisbane Souths, and John Lang’s time at Brisbane Easts, are not acknowledged.
Run into former Kiwi Test halfback, Gary Freeman at the Story Bridge Hotel before ‘Christmas in July’ at Marycrest. Afterwards attend Broncos v Storm match at Suncorp Stadium as guests of Intrust Super. The Storm are too good and Cooper Cronk is brilliant.
SATURDAY, JULY 26
Another ‘Christmas in July’, this time at Marie’s sister, Caroline’s place in Lismore. Backyard soccer among the kids is a highlight, but Marie’s nephew, Scott Donnelly has to leave early to play real men’s soccer – for Alstonville against Dunoon. Marie’s Irish nieces, Leanah and Emma are out here on holidays with their mum, Kellie Kelly (I kid you not). Kellie has been researching the Donnelly family tree and has found Jamaican/American connections. Leanah loves rugby league, and decibel levels are high when her favourite team, the Bulldogs play. Tonight, Hayne is devastating for Parra against the Titans and Peter Wallace does his ACL playing for Penrith against Cronulla.
SUNDAY, JULY 27
To Brothers Community Club, back in Brisbane, where jerseys from across the ARL spectrum have been removed from the walls, to be replaced by paintings of famous Brothers’ players. Fair enough. This was Brothers Leagues Club before it went belly up, for financial reasons. One club jersey remains, that of the South Queensland Crushers, who occupied this premises and trained on the adjoining fields before their demise in 1997. It is my view the Crushers’ jersey should remain, even though some Brothers’ people think otherwise.
Captain, Gary Freeman tries to rally Kiwi teammates after Australia score a try in the series deciding Third Test at Lang Park, Brisbane in 1991. Australia won 40-12

Captain, Gary Freeman tries to rally Kiwi teammates after Australia score a try in the series deciding Third Test at Lang Park, Brisbane in 1991. Australia won 40-12

WEEK 28

MONDAY, JULY 14
Margaret from Headwater Tours picks us from our hotel at 10.45 a.m., and we are prepared for lots of questions as part of a de-brief, mentioned before the Loire walk. Instead, she does all the talking about her past week. Our train (Blois to Paris) is on time and we speed through boring countryside. Walk from Austerlitz Station to the lovely little Hotel de Levant, followed by drinks at Beauregard Café where Marie drools over lamb chops being consumed by Poms at table next to us. Then to a working man’s BAR/TABAC on Quay de Tournelle, where we run into Christian, a local construction worker who loves scuba diving. Christian openly ogles the girls as they pass by, and they seem to enjoy it. He recommends we eat in the Sorbonne area, and we do, via drinks at the expensive Café Delmas overlooking Place de Contrescarpe, where buskers do their stuff, not always to the liking of local residents, with one young bloke throwing eggs from his fourth floor flat. Eat outdoors at Le Mouffetard, where we are entertained by musicians. Sit beside 88-year-old Jewish doctor and his wife. He says we look healthy. Good to hear. Marie has veal kidneys, while I devour lamb rump. On our way back, we run into Christian and his scuba diving mates at a café and join them for a red wine. Hilarious.
Learn that Brisbane Easts rugby league stalwart, Athol Neilson has died aged 77. Athol travelled on three of my Kangaroo supporters’ tours, with his wife, Neryl. Their son, Scott was a star player for the Tigers.
TUESDAY, JULY 15
At breakfast an American woman ‘steals’ Marie’s boiled egg, and then complains to management that it is too soft. The idea is to boil it yourself, the way you like it, and my wife was on her way to doing this until the rude intervention. On one of my Kangaroo supporters’ tours, one member smuggled eggs from a Parisian hotel breakfast area, not realising they weren’t hard boiled. The rest, I will leave to your imagination.
On the Rue Bernardin (no doubt named after Norths’ hooker, Shane Bernardin) a local gives money and food to a beggar. It is quite a touching scene. Negotiate the grotesque bridge of locks (also known as Pont L’ Archeveche) and see a television ad being filmed at Pont Louis Phillipe, before exploring Les Marais area. I have beers at Le Relais Bar as Marie shops, and in the process chat to a retired Danish butcher by the name of Jorgenson. He is a Kenny Rogers look-alike, and appears to be in his fifties, but he is 71. His 75-year-old wife is still a beautiful woman. His business card says: ‘Heart and Liver Specialist’.
At Rue Soufflet we see a native Australian – a sulphur crested coackatoo on the shoulder of a lady riding a scooter.
Dine at Jardin d’Artemis, where the waiter is a real character. His son is fruit picking at Ayr in North Queensland, and he misses him terribly.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 16
Large Australian lady has a whole plate of prunes at breakfast. Today we walk Canal St Martin where we see a boat go by flying the Australian flag, and named ‘Moreton Island’. Lunch at busy Café Des Musees. Later visit the free ‘Liberation of Paris’ (World War II) exhibition at City Hall. Marie’s sister, Caroline texts to say my book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’ got a mention on ‘NRL 360’ on FoxSports, in particular the Gorden Tallis chapter where he is less than complimentary about Wayne.
To Tavern Cluny for live music, then to a nearby bar where young Parisian waiter says he is a big fan of rugby league. Arab looking bloke behind the bar is from Normandy, but said he played league in Avignon. Manager of ‘The Great Canadian Pub’ (I didn’t know there was such a thing) overlooking the Seine, is having a beer beside us, and says State of Origin packs out his bar. How about that. I tell them that 60 years earlier Paris had hosted the inaugural Rugby League World Cup final, between France and Great Britain, in front of a 30,000 plus crowd. It’s a little known fact.
THURSDAY, JULY 17
Our last day on the Continent, and it is a scorcher. We do far too much walking for the conditions. Share a goats cheese salad at La Favorite Café/Bar on the Rue de Passy, with lady near us puffing away on Camel cigarettes as a car is clamped and towed away in double quick time. Then we get wrong Metro line to Orly Airport and have to catch a tram as well. Great views of southern England as we head to London, where out connecting flight leaves on time.
FRIDAY, JULY 18
Fly over Russia unaware of the drama of the downed Malaysian Airlines flight. When we land in Hong Kong we have texts from concerned family members. At first, when we see the unfolding drama on the airport lounge TV screens, assume they are referring to the Malaysian Airlines flight that had disappeared ages ago, not realising a new drama is unfolding in Ukraine. AFL is on the big screen in our airport lounge, and NRL on a smaller screen next door. ‘Angriest Man in Brooklyn’ is one of the movies I watch in-flight. Bump into former Wallaby, Paul McLean in the airport lounge. A wonderful, gentle man, who is so modest.
SATURDAY, JULY 19
Flight from Hong Kong is 20 minutes late leaving because of typhoon in China. I watch entire (boring) Noah movie before any service from Qantas stewards. Disgraceful – the service and the movie. Back in Brisbane, breakfast with our children; visit my dad at Marycrest Aged Care, and then laze about watching the NRL. It is two years now since Dad left his home at Algester for his new ‘motel’, as he calls it, at Kangaroo Point. One of his mates at Marycrest, Peter Heymer, a retired train driver, had died while we were overseas. He was a lovely, gentle chap.
SUNDAY, JULY 20
Walk suburbia this morning. Large dog at a house in Uxbridge Street, Grange tries to jump fence to get at me. Mongrel. Marie salvages eggplant, chillis and lettuce from our ‘community garden’, which has been neglected in her absence. At Brothers Community Club meet new manager, a 27-year-old from Bundaberg, who has high hopes for the premises, and believes the Brothers NRL Bid team will succeed. Learn that one of my favourite actors, James Garner has died, aged 86.

With Christian, the witty construction worker/scuba diver from Paris.

With Christian, the witty construction worker/scuba diver from Paris.

WEEK 27

MONDAY, JULY 7
Lovely country drive. First stop a café at Meilhards, where the manager sings as he serves food to locals, tourists and cyclists. English couple, now living locally, interpret for us. Through Chamberet to Lacelle’, where we have picnic lunch near the rail station as a ‘Telecom’ man works diligently nearby, by himself. No, I mean it. Walk off the baguette and pate’ with a stroll along 189 hectare Lake Viam, followed by a walk along the wooded gorge at beautiful, medieval Treignac. A kayak slalom course is marked out on the Vezerre River. At Uzerche we walk along the disused rail line for a great view of the town and the Vezerre. Eat again at the hotel restaurant.
TUESDAY, JULY 8
Head north to the Loire Valley where we have booked a six day walking tour with Headwater, a travel company based in Chester, England. Stop at lovely Valencay for lunch, in time to explore an extensive market. Also see our first Loire Chateau, a grand 16thC building once owned by Scottish banker, John Law. Drop hire car at Blois, the pick-up point for the walk. Find a petrol station near the hire car firm, but they will not take any of our credit cards. Find an ATM and pay cash. Drinks at Café Terrasse at Blois Rail Station before being picked up by Margaret, the rep for the walking company. She is ex-Wolverhampton (UK) and Canada. She is accompanied by two young Manchester girls on work experience. Drive us to our hotel at Chaumont-sur-Loire, where we have a debrief in the front study. Weather is warm enough for Marie to have a swim in the pool. Dinner at Hotel Restaurant.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 9
First leg of walk is longest – 22km. There are more cyclists than walkers ‘touring’ the Loire, but we are happy to do it the leisurely way. Walk across the Loire to Onzaine, then through corn fields to the little River Cisse, and on to the Royal Forest of Blois. Directions provided are a little confusing at times. Mosquitoes bad as we walk mainly forest roads. Wish there were more little walking paths. See two young deer and an eagle. A long, last stretch through the suburbs of Blois. Stay at small hotel, which looks beautiful from the outside, but is fairly basic. Service from lady on duty a little brusque. Head down town for a drink at Tabac/Bar le France, opposite the chateau. Then to Pub Le Velvet and a very impressive Guillotine Beer from Belgium. Staff recommend a restaurant and it proves exceptional. Very trendy. Marie tries local brandy, and is not disappointed.
THURSDAY, JULY 10
Not impressed by breakfast at our hotel. No fruit, and ham is inedible. Walk to Blois’ river precinct, and then to the chateau itself. Amazing. I try an organic beer in the Chateau café – looks like muddy water, but tastes OK. Drinks at a bar down by the river, and the licensee has the worst dyed hair I have ever seen. He’s joking! One patron chats to me. Has Swedish blood, he says. Dinner at La Petite Hanfleur and I gamble big time, eating tripe stew. The last time I had tripe in France – at Clermont Ferrand in 2009 – I finished with food poisoning. All good this time around. Marie has rabbit terrine.
FRIDAY, JULY 11
Resume our Loire walk, into Forest of Russy where a bloke with an uncontrollable dog makes us nervous. Lunch at 16th Chateau Beauregard, which is still occupied by the Pavillon family. Grounds feature a quirky display of portraits of royalty. Help ourselves to plums from the trees which line the path into the village of Cellettes. Walk through vineyards and farms before reaching another forest (Bois des Rosaies), and then the village of Chetenay where we book into the Hotel Aubergade de Centre. Boules are being played in the village square and drinkers at a nearby bar/tabac wave to passers by. Order organic wine at out hotel, but the waitress recommends against it, and suggest a local drop. Dinner (40E menu) excellent, but too much. So many cheeses. A jazz duo provide excellent musical back drop.
SATURDAY, JULY 12
Nice breakfast, including excellent honey from Alsace. In persistent rain we undertake a circuit walk through the nearby countryside, past Chateau Chetenay and through the Bois de Coudraies (forest) and the village of La Closerie des Papin, where they are readying for a wedding reception. Mosquitoes bad in the bush and there is a dead snake on the road. Wedding starts as we arrive back in Chetenay. Group of Norwegian cyclists arrive at our hotel and settle in to watch the Tour de France on the bar TV.
SUNDAY, JULY 13
Last day of our walk and the weather is miserable. Trek through lovely forest areas, but also boring farming areas. The first farm is a throw back to ‘Steptoe and Son’. Stop at busy bar at the village of Les Montils for refreshments. Lots of punters, mainly betting on the races, but also a few on Keno. Cross a bridge over the River Beauvron, then follow river to its junction with the Loire. See a father and son collecting snails from the forest. Back at Hotel Chaumont we freshen up before exploring the local Chateau Gardens. Big crowds to see ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ floral display, but we find it underwhelming. Set menu dinner (part of walk package) is nice, but limited choice.
Chateau at Blois

Chateau at Blois

WEEK 26

MONDAY, JUNE 30
Lovely morning at Port Vendres. Expresso at Kristal Café where three blokes are already sinking a few Bitburgers. Two blokes in a flash, open car hold up traffic. No-one seems to mind. They must be ‘heavies’. Spend the afternoon at Gilbert Brutus Stadium back in Perpignan, meeting many of the players and staff, among them former Cronulla centre, Ben Pomeroy who was the villain at Headingley, Leeds the previous night. Catalans looked set for their first ever away win at Leeds when Pomeroy made a mistake which gifted the Rhinos the match. There were messages for each player on the blackboard in the dressing room. “Smile, be happy,” was the message beside Ben’s name. I am interviewed by local journo, Herve Girette who tells me about Todd Carney’s most recent late night episode in Australia. ‘The bubbler’. In the Catalans offices there are a number of those famous panoramic team photographs of French touring sides at the SCG. Great stuff. I buy an 80th anniversary Catalans polo shirt. Evidently Catalans’ merchandise is the most sought after in Super League. After driving through peak hour madness, enjoy a few beers at a bar in Port Vendres, while watching France play Nigeria in the soccer World Cup, before catching up with my wife for dinner at Le France Café. I have local sardines, while Marie tucks into the mussels. Local ‘Banyuls’ red wine goes down a treat.
TUESDAY, JULY 1
Give Laurent Garnier a lift to Carcassonne where he is to take up job as coach of the city’s elite premiership rugby league side. I badly twist my back at the first peage (toll plaza), trying to retrieve ticket. Can you believe it! Then at the exit, the machine declines all our credit cards and Laurent has to use one of his. I hate the French Motorways. At Stade Domec in Carcassonne I pay homage to the statue of France’s greatest rugby league player, Puig Aubert, who was the sports star of all France (in every sport) in 1949. An amazing character who I had the privilege of meeting at Bar Le Rugby in Carcassonne back in 1978. Laurent and several directors of the Carcassonne club take me on a tour of the stadium’s facilities. The league boys change in dressing rooms at one end of the stadium, the union boys at the other end. The union’s facilities are slightly bigger. Fair enough, given they have two extra players. But seriously. League has put Carcassonne on the map, in sporting terms, (including a Test win over Frank Stanton’s Kangaroos in 1978) but union, from what I can gather, has the ear of the people in high places and gets preferential treatment. Carcassonne (union) play at the level below Top 14, but big clubs like Perpignan (for the first time) and Biarritz are also in this division, and are major draw cards. From Stade Domec we progress to Bar Felix, for a Kronenbourg or two with fellow league tragics, one of them an archivist for the league club. Waiter looks like Renee’ from ‘Alo Alo’. Former Australian forward, Bryan Niebling was a recent visitor, and left his business card at the bar. Bryan played at Carcassonne with the 1986 Kangaroos. To Carcassonne League’s own function and office area, where volunteers are preparing for the coming season. That night the board of directors of the club shout Marie and I to a sumptuous dinner at Restaurant Comte Roger in the old city, the highlight the local speciality, cassoulet. The president of Carcassonne Rugby League is a doctor, and a John Grant look-a-like, who has met every member of the history making 1951 French side in Australia. I delivered the 2011 Harry Sunderland Address on behalf of the QRL History Committee, and the ’51 tour was the topic.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 2
Learn that noted league author, Mike Rylance will arrive in Carcassonne today from Perpignan, but we have to move on. Mike wrote ‘The Forbidden Game’, the story of league’s fight against the prejudices of the rugby union and Government in France. Our destination today is Villeneuve-sur-lot, to the west, and we take the scenic route, literally and figuratively speaking. Enjoy a picnic lunch in the hills near Saissac, but then get lost in Albi, before stopping at the ancient village of Gaillac on the River Tarn, for refreshments. In Villeneuve we stay with English friends, Terry and Joyce Holmes from Tyldesley in Greater Manchester, who provide a grand dinner of salmon, prawns and vegetables, with copious amounts of red wine. They bought their house about 10 years ago, and share their time between the UK and France.
THURSDAY, JULY 3
Walk to town. Sad to see the traditional butcher shop on the main road, has closed, no doubt due to competition from super markets. Marie especially sad, because the proprietor was a handsome chap. At town centre cafe’ we are joined by local characters (and I mean characters), Anton and Damien, the latter the father-in-law of French Rugby League skipper, Olivier Olima. Anton, who owns half of down town Villeneuve, has been one of rugby league’s great benefactors in the region. We are also joined by a former rugby league referee. He has one arm (not one eye), but managed to referee for many years without too many problems. Sending a man to the bin for 10 minutes called for a little improvisation. Lunch at Bar Glacier, which I first patronised when covering Queensland Residents rugby league team’s tour of France in 1989. The official function was held there after the match against Aquitaine regional selection, and Anton was the host. He still owns the building, but is no longer the licensee. The French cockerel 13 is still proudly displayed on the front of the building, and will remain there, as long as Anton has a say. That night watch ‘The Footy Show’ from Australia (Paul Hogan is a guest) and then the Widnes – Castleford match from England. We also see highlights of the Commonwealth Games Nines (rugby league) from Glasgow.
FRIDAY, JULY 4
Lunch at a La Grange Restaurant at St Silvestres-sur-Lot to the east of Villeneuve, then to 13thc Monflanquin to enjoy the view from the ramparts of the ‘bastide’, or fortified town. Back in ‘Vill’, I walk along the River Lot, with the lock keeper at the hydro electric barrage providing a friendly hello. In town I am forced to take shelter in Mulligans Bar when a storm hits. Everyone is watching the France v Germany World Cup match, including six young blokes with painted faces, who grimace as Germany take a 1-0 lead. That is the final score in a dull affair. Back at Terry and Joyce’s we watch Wakefield beat Leeds in a Super League thriller, then the Bulldogs’ 23-6 demolition of Manly in the NRL.
SATURDAY, JULY 5
To the town centre market, and a band of Spanish Troupadors charm patrons with their singing and good humour. Marie buys steak for dinner. Back at ‘the house’ we watch Tour de France from sunny Yorkshire, and a Gaelic football match between Wexford and Clare. Mark Cavendish has a bad fall in Harrogate, and our son, Damien, who knows a bit about cycling, reckons it was his own fault. Local journalist, Bernard Tranier calls in gives me a copy of his book on the history of sport in Villeneuve, in particular rugby league. Bernard is worried that the Villeneuve Leopards may only be able to compete at the top level for another couple of seasons because of financial constraints. He is a league man through and through, but could be forced to cover union in nearby Agen to keep his employers happy. Many Australians have played for Villeneuve over the years, including Steve Plath, Jason Webber and most notably, Paul Sironen, who won his first senior premiership with the Leopards. Steve Plath, brother of ex-Bronco, John is regarded as a son by Anton. Back in Brisbane, Brothers are holding a reunion for their 1974 grand final side, and Wayne Bennett, the fullback on that occasion, is a special guest along with coach, Paul Broughton. I was meant to be MC.
SUNDAY, JULY 6
Say goobye to Madame Causse’ a remarkable old lady who lives opposite the Holmes. She hates politicians. Says they are all ‘bandits’. Head north to Perigueux where we have coffee/chocolate at Café de la Place, then shop at a nearby market. I have six freshly shucked oysters – beautiful. The young bloke who serves me says many of his friends have gone to Australia for work. Picnic lunch on a small river island after we leave town, then a drink at a nearby café/bar. The beer is brewed locally. It is very ‘different’. Next stop is St-Robert, built around a Franciscan monastery, where there is a great view of the countryside. Return to La Tour Hotel at Masseret for two nights. Dinner excellent. I have veal and Marie salmon.

Carcassonne rugby league coach, Laurent Garnier

Carcassonne rugby league coach, Laurent Garnier

WEEK 25

MONDAY JUNE 23
Bye Bye Scotland. Head for Scholes in West Yorskhire, via the Dales where we stumble across a game of cricket at the Sedbergh School in Cumbria. Stop for a look, and hear Aussie accents out on the field. Turns out it is the boys from Carey College in Kew, Victoria on tour. They are being billeted locally, but in most cases will stay in hotels or hostels, given the dramas involved these days in vetting families as suitable hosts. The standard of play is quite good, and lunch looks extraordinary. Carey college manager, Peter Schuller is a Melbourne Storm fan. In villages and towns across the Dales there are decorations and displays to greet the Tour de France which zooms through here next month. Stop at Leyburn in North Yorkshire, where we took the kids to a market back in 1990, on a freezing November day. A lot warmer this time. Listen to BBC2 and cannot believe it when ‘Steve Wright in the Afternoon’ comes on. Steve was on the BBC when I covered the 1982 Kangaroo tour for The Telegraph. He must be older than John Laws. Actually, he is ‘only’ 60. At Scholes we stay with our friends, Andrew and Sandy Varley, in their 1960s bungalow. They have a lovely garden, and Andrew, one of Britain’s finest sports photographers, proves he has a green thumb. Amazing. He also cooks dinner – a seafood pasta featuring prawns from Indonesia. He must have been to Coles in Australia.
TUESDAY JUNE 24
Walk around the market town of Wetherby today, with lunch at The Black Bull – cauliflower soup. Get lost on the way there, and on the way back, when we go through Thorner, where a French night is advertised at The Beehive Restaurant. To Buffers for dinner, a league pub which used to be a railway station on the Leeds-Wetherby line, which closed in 1964. England v Costa Rica soccer is on the tele. Suraez’s biting incident in the Uruguay v Italy match is the talk of the night. One of Andrew Varley’s work contracts is with Leeds United, and today he met with Italian owner, Massimo Cellino, re. the 2014-15 season. If I had to say I followed a soccer club, it would be Leeds, given I was a fan of Allan Clarke back in the ’70s when we used to get the UK Soccer on the ABC. I went to Leeds’ training complex with the Australian World Cup rugby league side in 2000, and I can recall Andrew Johns commenting on the absence of utes in the car park. Plenty of Porches, Lamborghinis etc, but Leeds United were part of the Premier League then. Now they are broke and part of the Championship. Perhaps there is the odd ute around these days.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 25
Travel to Sandsend on the North Yorkshire Coast for a couple of nights at Andrew and Sandy’s lovely beach house. Fish and chips and a toffee ice cream at sunny Scarborough on the way. Quite a few people wearing rugby league jerseys – England, Huddersfield, Hull KR. Buy Dover sole from Whitby Catch fresh seafood on the Whitby waterfront, and eat the same with Andrew and Sandy on the balcony of their lovely residence, overlooking the main beach and the North Sea. ABC contact me wanting a radio interview re Glenn Lazarus’s ascension to the Senate, but I decline, given I am out of touch with a lot of things happening back home. I was Lazo’s ghost writer when I worked for The Courier Mail/Sunday Mail. I refer the ABC to my book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, which features a chapter on Glenn.
THURSDAY JUNE 26
Andew and Sandy head back home early today, as Leeds United have resumed training. I go to Sandside Cafe on the beach and down a couple of lattes. Very good, even though they came out of a pre-set machine. Two school groups on beach, one small fishing boat in the shallows. Water is extremely cold. Explore North Yorkshire Moors and lunch at The Board Inn (1742) in the village of Lealholm, where we have a platter of local produce. Walk across stepping stones in River Esk, then to National Park Centre at Danby, followed by famous butcher shop in the village of Sleights, where we buy duck for dinner. To The Hart pub for drinks in the beer garden. The ‘famous’ grumpy landlord is in the public bar. Watch Wimbledon and Pat Cash interviews ‘The Fanatics’.
FRIDAY JUNE 27
Head south to Derbyshire, listening to a BBC programme about protected bats taking over a church, and Quakers bagging Remembrance Day. Book into Hardinge Arms in Main Street, Melbourne. The country lanes around here are almost too busy. Walk around the village. The ‘Snow’ family well represented in local graveyard. First owner of Hardinge Arms was William Bucknell, maybe an ancestor of the bloke who broke John Sattler’s jaw! We have Stilton cheese at the bar before dinner, and after dinner have a chat to a local and his Kiwi (Palmerston North) wife.
SATURDAY JUNE 28
Joined at breakfast by a South Australian, who was born locally. He goes a bit overboard with the Aussie accent and sayings. Drop off hire car at East Midlands Airport. I leave my late mum’s Rabbitohs’ cap in the car as we try to unload in abysmal weather at a very confusing airport, where much building work is taking place. A final Pom beer (Tetley cold) in Castle Rock Bar, before flying to Limoges in France. French customs officer takes forever to check out my passport. There is an air show taking place so things are busy. Our hire car is an old Italian job, but runs well. First stop the famous equestrian centre of Pompadour, where they are preparing for something big at the National Stud. Beautiful place. Have one drink at Café Les Remparts opposite the 16thC Chateau, then wander among the horse people. Check into Hotel de La Tour at Masseret, beautifully located on top of a hill, opposite a castle tower. We have a lovely three course set menu dinner (mine 29E Marie’s 22E) including duck pancakes, sirloin steak and fois gras salad – that was Marie, the last one. Share a half bottle of Provence rose’. Waiters so friendly.
SUNDAY JUNE 29

A big day. Too big. Drove all the way to Perpignan, a distance of around 550km, mainly on lesser roads, given our concerns about Motorway Toll points. Not worried about the amount, but the fact something always seems to go wrong, re. payment. Coffee stop at Saint Cere, where we buy pate’ from local butcher. Have lunch on banks of Cele River at Figeac, then drive past amazing Millau Bridge (the world’s tallest) over Valley of the River Tarn. Around Narbonne, female prostitutes are dotted along the road side. In Perpignan we are met by Laurent Garnier, a former Catalans Dragons rugby league player who has taken on job as coach of Carcassonne in France’s Elite One Rugby League premiership. Laurent was part of Wynnum-Manly’s coaching staff in Brisbane and his wife, Erin is Australian, originally from Newcastle, but more recently of Camp Hill in Brisbane. They have two little boys. We make a quick trip to Gilbert Brutus Stadium, the home of Catalans Dragons, and then pick up Laurent’s parents from the bus station after their pilgrimage to the northern World War 1 battlefields. Our accommodation is at Port Vendres, to the south of Perpignan, in an apartment owned by a former French under-16 rugby league player who is now a magistrate in Marseilles. He has a Sydney Roosters’ cap in his collection, a man of great taste. Marie and I dine at Chez Pujol on the waterfront. Franck, our waiter, is a funny guy. I have local fish and Marie scallops.

Marie enjoys fish and chips on the beach front at Scarborough.

Marie enjoys fish and chips on the beach front at Scarborough.

WEEK 24

MONDAY, JUNE 16
No sign of ‘Nessy’ as we travel the southern side of Loch Ness on a narrow road devoid of most of the tourist hordes. Lunch stop at Port Augustus, a lovely place, but no shortage of those same hordes. Wait half an hour for hot chips, as boats go through the locks. that’s LOCKS people. I buy Haggis at the butcher shop. Lock keeper chastises tourists for handling a baby bird. A red bearded ‘sheik’ turns up in a chauffeur driven limo, with two lasses aboard. Good for some. Port Augustus was a favourite get-away for Queenslander, Don Gailer when he was coaching Whitehaven in the English Rugby League a few years ago. We head to Isle of Skye, and stop at Glen Shiel where I drink, and replenish water bottles, from a burn. Our accommodation on Skye is Redwood House on Loch Gleshornish. We have trouble stirring Chris, the manager, but are entertained in the meantime by his two ginger cats. Chris is from Birmingham, but spent 10 years in Huddersfield. Walk to Greshornish House and view the adjoining salmon farms. Rabbits everywhere in the fields. Chooks join us (one jumped on Marie’s lap) as we enjoy our red Leicester cheese at the back of our unit.
Marie cooks chook for dinner – no, not the one that jumped on her lap.
TUESDAY, JUNE 17
First thing I see when I get up are the cats on the prowl, and they catch something. A mouse, I think. To Dunvegan Castle, and any thoughts we harboured about touring the venue dissipated with the arrival of a Trafalgar Tour Group. Nothing against Trafalgar. Marie and I did a Trafalgar under-30 tour of Europe back in 1977. Hello Digby Holmes (our guide). Drive instead to end of road at Claigan and walk to ‘coral beach’, a lovely white stretch of the coast which is really dried, calcified seaweed. Buy goats cheese at Waternish Peninsula before two drinks (Caledonian Best Bitter and Orkney Corncracker) at popular Stein pub. The sun is shining as we enter the pub, but the whole area is enveloped in sea mist when we emerge. Inside we strike up conversation with three retired merchant seaman who love Australia. Back at our hotel, there are a few Aussies, one from Victoria, who goes fishing. The other two are from Queensland (North Ward in Townsville and Graceville in Brisbane) and have read many of my league stories. Must be good chaps. Midgies eat us alive.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18
To Skye’s capital, Portree and then climb part of the 719m Storr (mountain) with couple from Leicester, who have been to the Hebrides. He is a regular at Leicester rugby matches, but says league a faster game. Next stop the ferry port of Uig, where I buy bottled beer at the brewery while Marie checks out the pottery. A drink at the Uig Hotel – Marie has Grouse Ginger Beer, I try Skye Gold.
Guess (correctly) that New South Wales have beaten Queensland in Origin 1, when Marie’s sister, Carolyn sends a text – ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ – she is a mad, and I mean mad, Bulldogs and New South Wales’ supporter.
THURSDAY, JUNE 19
Back to the mainland and the beautiful village of Plockton, and then a long drive to our next accommodation beside Loch Lomond, in Balmaha. A funny set-up. Part of the Oak Tree Pub, but our room is up in the road in an old house. Not as good as we hoped, but ‘front of house’ Pub manager, Kirstie is very friendly. Walk to the Loch where National Park rangers are checking on fishermen.
FRIDAY, JUNE 20
Big walk to top of Conic Hill. Rewarding views and lots of lovely people. Walkers are generally all right, don’t you think? Old chap, just back from Zambia, walking his Labrador, points us in right direction. Has a son working on a farm in Western Australia, and he has steaks for breakfast! No!
Big group of Germans walking West Highland Way, which is what we are doing as well, in part. American lady is amazed by ‘cute sheep’. What? Talk to a lady from Balloch in Scotland and relative from Palm Springs, USA (Rocheford is his surname). Lovely couple. Walk into Drymen (via fields of hay being baled. Marie loved watching the process). Two drinks at The Winnock pub just before a tour group arrives. The weather is hot, so Carlsberg goes down well, particularly as it is served in a glass from the fridge. And the barman isn’t even an Aussie! Chat to two Dutch bikers as we drink. One from Arnham, the other from Amsterdam. They disembarked at Newcastle. School bus back to Balmaha. We behave. Drinks in the Oak Tree Inn Beer Garden, with an Icelandic walking group next to us. One Aussie (from Jamestown in Sth Oz) married to an Icelandic chap. I told story of how I met a Uni student from Iceland at St Andrews in Scotland in 1978 and commented that I had never met anyone from Iceland before. She told me she had never met anyone from Australia before. Touche’. Haddock, chips and tea for dinner.
SATURDAY, JUNE 21
Buffet breakfasts. I’m not a great fan, and Marie particularly hates powdered scrambled eggs, which is what we are offered.
At 11.30 a.m. we do the mail boat run of Loch Lomond, which is exactly what it is. Well worthwhile. On the run home we pick up a French female journo – a Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike – who had been doing a special on a nudist camp on one of the Loch’s many islands, this one named Inchmurrin (I’m not making it up). ‘Sacre bleu’. She was dropped off at the wharf by two (clothed) males, and a good thing too (that they were clothed). That afternoon drive to Loch Katrine where the Sir Walter Scott steam ship has been commandeered by a wedding group, the groom wearing a kilt.
SUNDAY, JUNE 22

Big walk along eastern bank of Loch Lomond. A lot of bush bashing to start with, not realising National Parks had closed the area. Reward ourselves with drinks at the Clansman Bar (part of the Rowardennan Hotel) on our return, the barman (Wilkinson his surname) revealing he has a brother at Stafford Heights in Brisbane, not far from us. Talk to Aussie, Graham, who works for Commonwealth Games Committee ahead of the Glasgow ‘event’. Back at Oak Tree we relax in beer garden as emergency vehicles – ambulance, police, fire and mountain rescue – charge by towards the national park. Never did find out what happened.

Marie with Scots local from Balloch with her American 'rellie', a 'Rocheford' from Palm Springs. They were lost, and we were no help.

Marie with Scots local from Balloch with her American ‘rellie’, a ‘Rocheford’ from Palm Springs. They were lost, and we were no help.

WEEK 23

MONDAY, JUNE 9
Head north from Hawick and our first stop is Peebles. Think of Harry Peebles, former prominent trade union official in Queensland. Coffee from Cocoa Chocolate’ is very good. One beer at a pub in Dunkeld. Later we book into Old Mill Hotel in Pitlochry where chaos reigns as car park is dug up. Window comes off hinges in our room. Great start. Tall waitress comes from Rotorua. Marie does scotch and gin tasting while I have one ale at McKay’s Pub. Traditional Scots night at Athol Palace Hotel is next on the agenda. Quite moving, and the host is hilarious. A celtic conference is being held in Pitlochry and we bump into a delegate from Brittany in France. Also an Esperanto Conference. It’s all happening.
TUESDAY, JUNE 10
First stop Queens View looking down Loch Tummel. I took my 1990 Kangaroo Supporters Tour to the same spot. Go past a village called Dull, which is twinned with Boring in Oregan USA. Drinks at Black Watch pub at Aberfeldy where Kiwi, Gavin tells us about his Aussie connection – used to have a house at Noosa. He is wearing a Scots Rugby jersey and loves Sir Richard Hadlee. Don’t we all? Fiona Bruce of Antiques Roadshow fame, reads BBC News, with ‘extremism in schools’ a big topic. Learn of the death of one of my favourite cricketers, Gary ‘Gus’ Gilmour (62) and also comedian, Rick Mayall (56), one of my brother, Andrew’s favourites.
Sea bass popular on British menus. A lot of it comes from fish farms in places like Turkey, Greece and Italy, evidently.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11
HUGE walk today – the 19km Killiecrankie Path, with a lot of bush bashing in the early stages along Loch Faskally. Picnic lunch at Garry Bridge where father and daughter are bungee jumping. That was her birthday present to dear old Dad. I’m glad Melanie just gave me a 6 pack of Coopers. Climb into forestry country then to the lovely village of Moulin where I sample ales from the brewery/hotel, including Braveheart and Ale of Athol. Barman a large Brazilian chap who has lived in New Zealand for some time. One of the patrons used to work for Theakston’s Brewery in Yorkshire, but is now off the grog. Back in Pitlochry chat to a Notts couple on their way to the Isle of Lewes.
THURSDAY, JUNE 12
Drive to Inverness, via Aviemore, the Strathspey steam train setting off from the latter. The ‘fat controller’ (and his dog) wave the train off. Next place of note is Nairn, where there is traffic chaos as mums pick up their kids from school. It’s the same the (western) world over. Lots of speeding drivers on country roads. Stay at self catering apartment in Inverness with views across to the castle (court house) and River Ness. Back in Brisbane our daughter, Melanie attends ‘Melanie’ concert at Power House. I just love that singer, and our Mel, of course. Evidently Mel ( the singer) had a few (drinks) aboard, but she was very good.
FRIDAY, JUNE 13
Walk along River Ness to Caledonia Canal, and then to No 27 Bar for a couple of ales. After dinner in our room, head to Blackfriars Pub/ Not a great experience. Eight males watching Holland v Spain soccer, including grumpy barman. They didn’t want us there. Opt instead for a trendy bar up the road, where a band plays a mixture of old and new.
SATURDAY, JUNE 14
Watch ‘Trooping of the Colour’ from London. Inspirational stuff. Love the tunes. Drive to Cromarty Firth where we see oil drilling platforms being constructed across the water. Walk around Cromarty, a pretty seaside town, and get a free guided tour of favourite son, geologist, Hugh Miller’s house and (tiny) garden. Marie shops at Marks and Spencer on our return and the food is from all over – potatoes from Jersey, asparagus from Hereford; apples (South Africa), strawberries (Perthshire, Scotland), pears (Kent), corn (Spain). Interesting, eh. Next door at The Gellions bar, the place is pulsating with Celtic music. I chat to the organ player during a break, and it turns out he is obsessed with corruption in sport.
Marie at Queens View overlooking Loch Tummel.

Marie at Queens View overlooking Loch Tummel.

SUNDAY, JUNE 15
INVERNESS War Memorial names include ‘Johnstone’, killed in Canada in 1990. Drive around Loch Ness and up into the hills to Dog Falls for a lovely walk. Midgies bad. Back via Clachnaharry Inn, overlooking Beauty Firth, Caledonian Canal and railway. Only action a small train going to Haymarket. Back to The Gellions that night. Watch special on bushfires in Oz before retiring.

WEEK 22

MONDAY, JUNE 2
WELL DRESSING. Well, what have I got to say about that? It’s a quaint little custom, (in praise of the Lord for the waters of life), highlighted in the Derbyshire village of Tissington, and our hosts, Cliff and Jane Rogers take us on a walking tour of this delightful part of the countryside. World War 1 themes are in vogue in the well decorations. Outside one house there is a certificate telling the story of the return of Mark Allcock to Tissington in 1915. Lunch at ‘The George’ pub, Alstonfield, and the beef and salad sandwich proves a winner. At the Ilam Park National Trust property we inspect the little church, just after a school group, with the kids having left written messages. One really caught my eye – ‘Thankyou God, for making me a footballer’. Walk across the fields from Morley to Smalley, in time to see former world motor bike champion, Ron Haslam take off in his ultra-light from his private airstrip. Don’t know how it got off the ground. Jane’s mum, Joyce lives at Smalley and at 90 plus is in fine fettle. To Horsley Golf Club for dinner, and joined by Cliff and Jane’s son, Rich, an IT guru who is off to Rugby tomorrow to deliver a lecture. Men in blazers are meeting at the golf club as we enjoy pre-dinner drinks. Very English scene. My back strap steak is tough, but Marie’s lamb hotpot is fine.
TUESDAY, JUNE 3
To Chatsworth House – you know – Pride and Prejudice and all that. Marie and I drove past here back in ’78, and my Kangaroo Supporters’ tour was supposed to visit in ’94 on the way to the match against Sheffield, but we got stuck behind a wide load going over the hills, and that was that. This time we strike gold, and enjoy scones at the House café, next to the Farm Shop. Then walk around part of the estate. Lunch at the Devonshire Arms at Pilsey, where I have a fish pie (OK) and Marie has potato and leek soup (Excellent. The Poms always get that one right). Next stop, the plague village of Eyam, where there are so many sad, and courageous stories. Return via Sainsburys at Matlock where a couple of louts park in disabled area. To Rose and Crown at Morley to complete our Derbyshire stay.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 4
See a (rare) red squirrel at Hawes Water in Cumbria during our journey from Derbyshire to Scotland. Marie thrilled. Our planned Cumbrian pub stop at Bampton is aborted as pub is being renovated. Get into Hawick in the Scottish Borders at 5.20 p.m., with a ham salad on the table as we get warm welcome from our hosts, Linda and Elliot Gibson. This is Scotland’s ‘Year of Home Coming’, and with Hawick celebrating the 500th anniversary of a successful raid by the young men of the town on an English camp, the town is abuzz with expectation. An Exiles Night is held in the Town Hall and I ‘get a guernsey’, even though I don’t have an ounce of Scots blood! One beer with Elliot at Wetherspoons Pub (formerly the Conservative Club) on the way. Sit at same table as our Brisbane friends, Jim (Hawick born) and Lesley Gibson and their family. It was Jim who got me interested in Hawick, and my 1998 tour group stayed there for three nights. I first met Jim’s relatives, Linda and Elliott, at Old Trafford in Manchester in 1994 when they travelled down from Hawick to watch the Kangaroos play Great Britain. It was a lovely night at the Town Hall, and the ‘Maids of Honour’ were particularly fetching. The singing was inspirational, with Scocha band member, Ian Scott one of the solo artists. I have a couple of Scocha’s CDs, and have loved the band ever since they performed for my ’98 tour group. There were people from all over the world at the Town Hall, including Australians from South Tweed Heads, Bowen Hills in Brisbane and Kirwan in Townsville. In fact the Aussies dominated (one Ocker’s dress was ‘scruffy, at best), but there were plenty of Americans and Canadians as well.
THURSDAY, JUNE 5
What a day. A 3.50 a.m. start to get up into the hills behind Hawick to line up for ‘The Hut’, a male bonding tradition which is a key element of the Common Riding event. Singing, drinking, singing, drinking and more drinking – beer (Bellhaven Bitter) and rum and milk. The two hour wait in the rain was worth it as we all locked arms and sang ‘Up Wi Auld Hawick’. You would almost think I was raised there. Hundreds of men crowded into a small hut (work place, health and safety!!!!), one has to walk through the mud to the toilets, with women and children outside the hut, listening to the singing and waiting for someone to fall arse over head. A Canadian chap with genuine Hawick roots sits opposite me, and gets quite emotional, as do I. Then make our way down the hill to the golf club for breakfast, where I sit beside local rugby union player, Nick Walker, who is full of admiration for the toughness of rugby league players, and is a great fan of Wendell Sailor. After brekky there is a pub crawl down town, and at one stop we bump into ‘Pete the plumber’, an Aussie from La Perouse in Sydney – a mad Rabbitohs fan. I sleep from 3 p.m. till 8 p.m. and then to the Trinity Bar with Elliot for a bit of live music.
FRIDAY, JUNE 6
Pubs full at 9 a.m. as thousands line the streets for the parade of mounted horsemen (and women), including Russell Gibson, son of Jim and Lesley. Battle heavy traffic to the Hawick Race Track, in a beautiful setting in the hills. We set up a tent with an Aussie flag, and wait for the horsemen to arrive. Unfortunately Russell had fallen from his horse at the final stream before the race track. Apparently Russell and his stead had failed to bond. ‘Pete the Plumber’ is at the track – in his Souths’ jumper, while I am wearing my Roosters’ polo. If we can get along, what is to stop the Scots getting along with the English? Thousands at the races in heatwave conditions – I mean it, 30 degrees plus – and people are generally well behaved. But late in the day a ‘cat fight’ breaks out. They were a classy set of females. ‘Big Mac’ wins the main race. That night, dinner at Buccleigh Bar, where the manager is a real ‘Basil Fawlty’ type. Lot of sunburnt people around town. Finish day drinking red wine with Marie, Linda and Elliot in 11.30 p.m. mid-summer ‘gloaming’ in their back garden.
SATURDAY, JUNE 7
ATTEND wreath laying ceremony at Wilton Park. A moving ceremony featuring the cornet (principal man), Ross Gibson and his assistants. Wilton Park has a statue of the late BBC rugby commentator, Bill McLaren, a native of Hawick. I saw his widow in the town the previous day. Aussie, Gordon Bray models his commentary on McLaren. McLaren would say something like, ‘Duggie Beattie, the sheep farmer from Peebles, is lining up this kick for goal’, while Bray would say something like: ‘Joe White, the Taranaki pig farmer, has this shot for glory’. You know the stuff. They made even the most boring games (and there were plenty), seem brilliant. Meanwhile, in England, rugby league’s Eddie Waring would be raving about Keith Hepworth’s mum being a ferret wangler from Wakefield, instead of calling the action of a chain passing movement.

Later that Saturday in Hawick, in pouring rain, we witness Ross Gibson’s final symbolic flag handover at City Hall. Ross, 24, is an electrician, and no relation to our hosts.

The Common Riding at Hawick in the Scottish Borders

The Common Riding at Hawick in the Scottish Borders

SUNDAY, JUNE 8
To Queensferry for lunch in the shadow of the Firth of Forth bridge, then to the Falkirk Wheel, an icon of modern inland waterways technology, a rotating boat lift. Back to Hawick via impressive Linlithgow Palace, where a group of Muslims are praying in the grounds. I go to Wetherspoons in Hawick for drinks with young local businessman, Mike Finnan, who has ‘rellies’ in Brisbane, one of them Angie O’Brien from Brisbane, who lived in Hawick for a time with her husband, Gary, the former Redcliffe, Brothers and Norths Rugby League coach.. Collared by an old bloke as I arrive, and when he finds out I am league man, calls it a stupid game. He was involved with professional sprinting and told me a Hawick lad – Hilditch, I think his name was – won the Wangaratta Gift in Australia some years back. I told him league was a simple game played by simple men, while union was a complex game played by wankers. An oldie, but a goodie. Hawick boy, Dave Valentine (a union product) was captain of the Great Britain side which won the inaugural rugby league World Cup in France in 1954. They should have a statue to him alongside McLaren, but I can’t see it happening.

WEEK 21

MONDAY MAY 26
Thames River walk today while my wife dodges miserable weather by attending a performance by a choir from Worcester, USA (founded in 1874) at St Martin-in-the-fields. Lunch at Prince Albert Pub where barman from Galway provides friendly service. Dog biscuits behind the bar for canine patrons. My black pudding, with apple fritters is excellent. Down boy. Next pub, the Anchor is adorned with Chelsea FC and greyhound pics. The bloke beside me is from the Battersea Rockers. A bikie ‘gang’? The next pub, in Wandsworth, sees me conversing with a young Welsh chap (Gareth) and a much older Scot, (John). Gareth has a lot of time for rugby league, John is as very conservative union type. Sweden v Russia soccer on the big screen. Back along the other side of the river, and one last pub, where a middle aged lady is extolling the virtues of UK pubs to a foreign couple. Adnams Broadside one of my favourite ales today.
TUESDAY MAY 27
Shop at Wholefoods in Kensington High Street. Expensive, but good quality. Memories of the 1982 Kangaroo tour flood back as I pass Royal Garden Hotel, where I stayed in 1982 when covering the Kangaroo tour. Australia played Fulham at Craven Cottage. Students flood into the Imperial College as I return to our digs. To escape the crap weather we join the hordes at Natural History Museum where we see the stuffed version of Guy the Gorilla. We saw Guy when he was alive and kicking (well, sitting) at Regents Park Zoo in 1978. Next we do a guided tour of Royal Albert Hall with Americans, Canadians, Germans and Italians. One woman can’t do steps, another has vertigo. Vegetable soup at the Hall’s café is very good. A very nice Tribute Ale at The Goat before tube to Leicester Square. Line up for 40 minutes in the rain for tickets to ‘Jeeves and Wooster’ at Duke of York’s Theatre. Bloke in front of us in the queue is a lecturer at a uni. in LA and boy, can he talk. He bags Fresno big time. No idea what that means. To Garrick Arms pub for an ale before dining at Gote French Restaurant, which does a roaring pre-theatre trade. Our theatre seats (Royal Circle) are great. Marie enjoys the play more than me, which is a relief, because the play was my choice.
WEDNESDAY MAY 28
EuropeCar Hire Car has not been washed. Never mind. Let’s get out of London. Weather still crap as we stop at Leather Bottle pub at Lewknor in Oxfordshire for lunch – excellent soup. Pea and ham (Marie), leek and potato (yours truly). Lady behind bar has such a great personality. Book into George Hotel in Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire, a very funky joint where you walk through office to get to rooms. Stour River in flood, but nothing too drastic. Aussie cricketer from Echuca is a barman at George. Originally frm Coffs Harbour, where he played rugby league. Has only got in one days play in two weeks since his arrival, because of the weather. Learn that New South Wales have beaten Queensland 12-8 in Origin I. Marie delighted. Our son, Damien texts and says it was a great game, despite the result.
THURSDAY MAY 29
Hidcote Manor Gardens. Beautiful. So much colour and variety. Buy beautiful strawberries at Willersely, where an Australian flag is flying from one house. Explore the touristy village of Broadway in Worcestershire, and have one drink at very friendly Crown and Trumpet Pub. Drive to Broadway Tower for a view of seven counties, I am told. Almost get cleaned up by two cars that cut across the road as we enter the parking area. A rare bit of bad driving in the UK. Return to Shipston, via Chipping Camden, where we once stayed in a 16th Century coaching inn run by a friend, Frank Kennedy, a former brick layer and rugby league player from Widnes. To Falcon Pub in Shipston for curry night. What an experience. Publican turns up SKY Sports TV to the max; there is one wine glass in the joint (and only cheap plonk), plus the curry is ordinary. No wonder the place is virtually empty.
Learn that former Brisbane Norths’ centre, Ralph Michaels has died after a long battle with cancer. Ralph, the father of Gold Coast Titans winger, Steve Michaels, also played with Penrith and in the Burdekin, and had one stint with Hull in England alongside good mate, Steve Calder.
FRIDAY MAY 30
To Stratford-Upon-Avon where we visit William Shakespeare’s grave. We have been to the town a few times, but this is the first visit to the great man’s resting place. There is a wedding at the town hall, and a market, where we buy apricots. To the Thatched Tavern for carrot and coriander soup. Buy a shirt at Marks and Spencers and then return ‘home’ via Ilmington, where there is a social game of cricket on the village green. There is a keg on the boundary and the lads are having a great time. The first time I have seen any form of cricket played in England, given I have been a winter visitor. At the Horseshoe pub back in Shipston an elderly local has just discovered the magic of the Iphone and insists on playing his favourite songs to mates and the bar staff. A former publican of the Horseshoe, Arthur Rouse was killed in World War 1 and his body never found.
SATURDAY MAY 31
Nice circular drive through the Cotswolds, including a tour of the cricket museum at Stow on the Wold. A coffee was included in the 4 pounds 50 p admission price. Tape of Sir Donald Bradman speaking at a sportsman’s dinner, was particularly interesting. Lunch on the wide expanses of the village green at Bledington and then two drinks in the Kings Head pub. Saddleback Bitter is excellent and Marie enjoys her lemon/ginger non-alcoholic ‘presse’. Drive past unusual Hook Norton Brewery. The nearby Pear Inn looked inviting, but one pub stop was enough. Back at Shipston I walk to the sports grounds to watch the locals play a Cotswolds team. Our Aussie mate from Echuca was out for five. Watch the match with club chairman, Mark Ireland, whose 20-year-old son is a spin bowler for the locals. Mark’s great, great grandfather played county cricket for Hampshire. Marie and I have fish (cod) and chips in the local church yard tonight. Not bad.
SUNDAY JUNE 1
First day of summer and we are greated by bright sunshine and blue skies. Tour Battle of Bosworth Field after I get lost in Rugby trying to find the famous school. It was fitting to tour Bosworth Field, the scene of the last great battle of the War of the Roses, given the recent find of King Richard III’s remains in Leicester. Richard met a gruesome end at Bosworth. Walk tow path of nearby Ashby Canal to Sutton Wharf café/bar, but leave in disgust at the inept service. Drive to the Derbyshire village of Morley where we are guests of friends, Cliff and Jane Rogers. One of their neighbours has a mushy peas factory. You read correctly. His dog runs by with a bra in its mouth. The mind boggles.
WEEK 20
MONDAY MAY 19
Radio station 4KQ (Wayne Bennett’s favourite) interview me this morning in relation to my book, ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, as well Sarah and Paddy from a station on the NSW Central Coast. My old mates from Radio TAB also have arranged to talk to me.
Run into former New Zealand rugby league international, Eddie Heatley during my afternoon walk. Eddie was a member of the formidable 1971 Kiwi outfit which thrashed Australia 24-3 at Auckland’s Carlaw Park. I played against him in 1975 in the Group 3 competition in NSW when he was contracted to Wauchope and I was a battling second rower for Wingham. Wauchope went on to win the premiership that year, with the help of former Australian Test prop, John Wittenberg, who had been playing local second division with Comboyne, but stepped up to the ‘big time’ for the finals. When Marie and I bought our first home at Zillmere in Brisbane in 1980 our local ‘milko’ was Eddie Heatley. It’s a small world.
WEDNESDAY MAY 21
Farewell my 84-year-old father, Jon at Marycrest today, thinking maybe it will be the last time I see him, given his frail state. Tomorrow Marie and I head to Europe for eight weeks, and naturally there is plenty of last minute panic. A family get together tonight with our children, Melanie, Damien and Lliam and Lliam’s wife, Channelle. I submit my application for the job as secretary of Hermitage Gardens Body Corporate.
THURSDAY MAY 22
My book is on sale at Brisbane International Airport. I’ve really made it now. Our Qantas flight is delayed on the tarmac for an hour – something to do with the fuel. Lovely.
See plenty of islands in the Indonesian Archipelago, in-between watching movies like ‘All Hope is Lost’, ‘Her’ and ‘Walter Mitty’.
Customs slow at Singapore Airport, something which surprised us, given Singapore’s reputation for efficiency. Our taxi driver is a 66-year-old retired policeman who says Singapore’s standard of living is not what it used to be, and he blames immigrants. Streets not as clean as I remember from only previous stay – in 1982. Dine at Menya Musashi Japanese restaurant, and I struggle with the chop sticks.
Learn that back in Brisbane Janice Gutugutuwai has lost her courageous battle with cancer. Such a lovely lady and a tireless worker for rugby league.
FRIDAY MAY 23
An emotional day for my wife, Marie as we visit the grave of her uncle, Ray Geraghty, who was beheaded by the Japanese following the Fall of Singapore in 1942. He was just 17, and had lied about his age to enlist from Casino in northern New South Wales. Seven other Australians were executed on the same day and their graves are next to Ray’s in Kranji Cemetery. Marie’s mother, Mary Donnelly, Ray’s sister, never got the chance to visit the cemetery, and, as far as we know, Marie is the first member of the family to make the pilgrimage. The cemetery is next to Woodlands Race Track, and is kept in immaculate order. My uncle (on mum’s side), Les Kelly was captured by the Japanese at the Fall of Singapore and was a POW for the rest of the conflict.
In the afternoon we headed to Raffles Bar for a Singapore Sling. The barman was amazing, the peanuts disappointing. Obviously not from Kingaroy. Dinner at good, cheap, eatery in Hill St, recommended by Hobart couple, Bill (a Glasgow born truckie) and Anne (teacher) Whenn, who are on their way home after a British holiday.
SATURDAY MAY 24
Explore Fort Canning Gardens, and return via the river, in stifling heat. Dramas in Ukraine are big news on CNN back at our hotel. In the afternoon we explore Bay Gardens, paying for entry to two of the impressive nature domes. Cloudland the most interesting. Walk to the Marina Barrage for a view of hundreds of ships off-shore. Final drinks at Clark Quay where Broncos v Wests Tigers NRL match is being shown live in the Brewery Bar. Cab to the airport, and our driver has a son at a Muslim boarding school in Indonesia. Workers are setting up for the F1 Grand prix. Our flight for Heathrow leaves on time, and steward gives me a bonus beer, mentioning something about David Boon’s Australia to England drinking record. Great to meet a flight attendant with a sense of humour.
SUNDAY MAY 25
Arrive London 4.45 a.m. and breeze through Customs. Get first Tube of the day – to South Kensington. Streets so quiet, and dirty. My 16th visit to the UK, but the first in their summer, given my career as a rugby league writer. Walk to Kensington Palace, via a café in Gloucester Road. The first of many disappointing coffees in the UK. Aussies have become such coffee snobs. To Portobello Road Markets – mainly junk. Tube from Ladbroke Grove to Mansion House, where helpful attendant reveals he had been to the most recent Ashes Cricket Test at the Gabba. Marie and I emerge from the station into bright sunshine and are met by the sight of thousands of runners in a BUPA CHARITY event. There were several bands on street corners, encouraging the runners to keep going. Quite inspirational, the whole thing.
Walk Millennium Bridge and sign-on for a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, given it is 450 years since the bard’s birth. Our female guide was full of beans. It couldn’t have been the coffee. To the nearby Anchor Pub for lunch. Fish and chips just OK. London Pride Ale, lovely. Monaco GP on big screen, preceded by tribute to Australia’s own, Sir Jack Brabham, who died last week.
Revisit Zetland Pub at South Kensington, the unofficial ‘home’ of my 1990 Kangaroo Supporters Tour. It looked a lot better back then, through beer goggles. Do not have a beer there, but try one at Gloucester Arms. Worst lager I have ever had. Flat and warm. Not the brand’s fault, but the publican’s. No wonder the old bloke in the corner, with his Ipad, is drinking red wine while composing a sonnet. or something. Stay at Fraser Suites at South Kensington.
WEEK 18
MONDAY, MAY 5
Chairman, Kevin Brasch and I, on behalf of the QRL History Committee, assess merits of an autographed 1980 Queensland State of Origin team photo in possession of a Kiwi chap, Brian Fothergill. It seems genuine, according to the esteemed experts we consult, and the QRL makes a financial offer. But for the time being Brian is keeping the photo.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 7
My former employers, News Corp, shout lunch at the excellent Alliance Hotel at Spring Hill as a group of ‘old farts’ – yours truly, Barry Dick, Bernie Pramberg and Paul Malone (sorry Scobie) discuss memorable moments in Origin for a lift-out in ‘The Courier-Mail’. We have a great time reminiscing. Have a beer at a bar on way home (I will keep the name of the bar to myself) where woman tells me she bought lease for her 21-year-old son, a cook, with (limited) experience on the Darling Downs. Seems an almighty gamble, if you ask me, and the place always looks quiet. Watch movie ‘Two Days in Paris”. Not bad.
THURSDAY, MAY 8
After my wife and daughter lunch at Jo Jo’s in the City, they see my book, ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, on sale at Dymocks. No-one from publishing company, New Holland told me it was out. I thought it was being released ahead of Father’s Day in September. Never mind. At least it is out there. Attend meeting of Brothers NRL Bid team at Brothers Community Club, Grange. Also in attendance are bid team founder, Justin Barlow; Trevor Bailey, Paul Hayes and Anthony O’Brien. Watch Luke Nguyen’s France special which features tarte’ flambee’ in the Alsace-Lorraine region. Marie and I and the three kids enjoyed the local delicacy, courtesy of the Huck family, while staying in their ‘gite in the village of Rossenwiller in 1990.
FRIDAY, MAY 9
Have been asked to take on job as secretary of Hermitage Gardens Body Corporate. Will have to give it some thought, but keen to contribute to our community. Watch Cowboys 27-14 win over the Broncos. Matt Scott was amazing for the victors, Martin Kennedy terrible for the vanquished, although the Broncos did not have much ball in the first 20 minutes when props were trying to assert their superiority.
Watch Super League match between St Helens and Leeds, and think I am hearing things when Saints’ fans sing rugby union anthem, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’. But it turns out they are ‘taking the piss’ as Leeds choose to kick for goal from a penalty instead of running the ball. Got to love the Pom crowds.
SATURDAY, MAY 10
House warming party at nephew, Kieran Ricketts’ abode at Ormeau. Kieran is a journalist with the ABC in Brisbane.
SUNDAY, MAY 11
Mother’s Day brunch at Eve’s on the River, and staff cope admirably with big turnover of patrons. Watch under-20s match between the Knights and Storm in Newcastle and a brawl flows off the field into the fence. Ugly stuff. Minutes silence before NRL game for former Penrith centre, Ross Gigg who died earlier in the week aged 58. He had been working for the harness racing industry in Newcastle. I played in the centres against Ross, and Glenn West in the Brothers’ side which beat Penrith in a Amco Cup game at Lang Park in 1976. Glory days. They pass you by.

WEEK 19

MONDAY, MAY 12
Wake to the news the great Reg Gasnier passed away overnight, aged 74. The only time I saw Gasnier play live was in 1967 in the Second Test against New Zealand at Lang Park. Australia’s star that day was fellow centre, John McDonald from Valleys in Toowoomba. Gasnier, the St George Dragons’ star known as ‘puff the magic dragon’, was never quite the same after missing the 1966 season following knee surgery, and he retired at the end of the ’67-68 Kangaroo tour of England and France. He was captain-coach on that tour with Australia retaining the Ashes in England, but losing the Test series 2-0 in France (one Test was drawn). I interviewed him prior to the third and deciding Test between Australia and Great Britain at Lang Park in 1992, when he was a special guest of the ARL. He was a down to earth bloke, which is illustrated by the fact he kept in touch with people who travelled on a supporters’ tour in 1990 when he was the celebrity ‘guide’.
TUESDAY, MAY 13
We dump BUPA after a lifetime with the health providers – the reason? Their inability to suspend our premiums while we are away for eight weeks in England, Scotland and France. Switch to CUA Health instead, and they have no problems granting our request. Some places don’t deserve your business.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 14
Brisbane City Council workers savage trees which provide privacy over our back fence. We hadn’t requested the work, but evidently because some whinger up the way was worried about trees impacting on their fence, the council hacked into every bit of shrubbery along the boundary line of our town house estate.
To Lismore, via a surf at Tugun, and that night enjoy excellent food and service at alfresco restaurant, LaVida in Lismore, on the site of a former BBQ restaurant which hosted bands like Col Joye and The Joy Boys back in the late ’50s. I remember the place as a kid, because they always had bright coloured lights hanging up outside, and the people inside appeared to be having great fun.
On ‘Linked-In’ I am now linked with the Canal Spiders Amateur Rugby League Club in England. Does it get any better? Oh, I am also linked with a few less prominent league blokes – Steve Menzies, Paul Bowman and Michael Crocker among them.
FRIDAY, MAY 16
Autograph a copy of my book for the first time – for Jim House, one of my drinking mates at Brothers Community Club. To Broncos v Titans match at Suncorp Stadium via the excellent Statler and Waldorf Bar where a couple of Cornish IPAs go down really well. Broncos deserving winners in a tough match.
SATURDAY, MAY 17
Coffee with Laurent Garnier at Morningside. Laurent has accepted a job as coach of Carcassonne ASC Rugby League Club in France, and is heading back home with his Australian wife, Erin and two little boys. Erin is originally from Valentine in Newcastle, but her family moved to Camp Hill. Laurent, who coached at Wynnum-Manly, gives me two jerseys – an old Catalans jumper from Perpignan and a Broncos ‘golden era’ special which he wants signed by Wayne Bennett, with the intention of hanging it in the Carcassonne clubhouse, to encourage players and staff to strive for greatness. Laurent, who played for Catalans in France, has also bought my book, which I sign.
SUNDAY, MAY 18
To Bishop Park for Norths v PNG Hunters match, and a huge crowd turns out. Shayne Hayne is standing on the hill, relaxing after the rigours of refereeing the Cowboys – Roosters game the previous night. His tan is looking good. Shane ‘Cocky’ McMahon, former winger with Norths and a teammate of mine in ’79, lines up with the punters for drinks from the can bar.

ABC’s Landline features many names familiar to me from my Tweed Valley days – dairy farmer, Pat McDonald; the Paddons and Guineas.

Norths' winger, Shane 'Cocky' McMahon has trouble containing Souths' giant, Mal Meninga in a 1980 club match

Norths’ winger, Shane ‘Cocky’ McMahon has trouble containing Souths’ giant, Mal Meninga in a 1980 club match

WEEK 17
APRIL 29
Former Brothers’ winger, Peter Skerman tells me he was a bouncer at the old Homestead Hotel at Zillmere the night Helen Shapiro played there. She had some voice. I remember seeing The Little River Band (headed by John Farnham) at the Homestead. Learn of the death of Al Feldstein, creator of Alfred Neumann of MAD magazine fame. I loved that publication when I was at high school. Spy v Spy and all that stuff.
APRIL 30
Kevin Brasch, the chairman of our QRL History Committee, turns 80 today, and receives messages of congratulations from ‘The King’ himself, Wally Lewis, as well as former QRL executive officer, Bill Hunter. Learn of the death of television news reader, Ian Ross who started in the media at Radio 2MW, Murwillumbah. I had to write late night local radio news for 2MW in the early 1970s (Ian had left by then), and I especially remember Bruce Gregor, who often worked that shift. He was virtually blind, but had a great voice. Separate bikeway has been finished along Kedron Brook and council guy is there photographing cyclists and pedestrians. Watch movie ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. Certainly ‘full on’.
MAY 1
Grange resident walking his dog, without a leash, said he got fined for same thing the other day. Hard to feel sorry for him, although his dog is old and harmless.
To Souths Leagues Club at Davies Park at noon where I am interviewed for Channel 9’s ‘Maroon Zone’ show. It is a chance for me to talk about some of my favourite moments of covering Origin for The Telegraph, and then The Courier-Mail, between 1980 and 2012. Then to Arana Hills for state under-15 schools carnival where there are recruitment chiefs and player managers galore. Former Broncos’ centre, Steve Renouf is there to watch his son play. The youngster plays union at Ashgrove, but league is his first love. Ross Strudwick Sports is doing a roaring trade with merchandise. Marie and I stayed with ‘Struddy’ at Ham in London in 1989 when he was coaching the Crusaders (later to become London Broncos). ‘Struddy’ confirms that controversial sports scientist, Steve Dank was a water boy for Valleys back in the 1980s.Steve Renouf
MAY 2
Sadly, I have to miss benefit lunch for former Rothmans chief, Des Hancock at the Colmslie Hotel. Back in the ’80s, rugby league and cigarette companies went hand in hand, and many players smoked, before and after games, and at halftime. Rothmans always courted the media, and it has to be said, we lapped up extravagant occasions such as the Rothmans Medal nights. It was, and still is, a legal product, and former QRL managing director, Ross Livermore even had a sign on his desk, saying “Feel free to smoke here”. Anyway….Des is a good bloke, and the lunch was to confirm the fact many people hold him in high regard, and funds raised were to help him through trying times.
Marie and I had a long standing commitment to catch up with former RadioTAB producer, Graham Rigby and his wife, Chris at Caloundra. Swim at Kings Beach, then lunch at ‘Tides’. Very good. After a BBQ with Graham and Chris, we watch the Trans-Tasman Test, and it is good to see the Kiwis make a game of it. The timing of this Test has never sat comfortably with me, because the preparation time is so short, something which invariably hurts the Kiwis more than us.
MAY 3
Breakfast at Moorings Café, Golden Beach. Very good. Recommend the corn fritters. Drop into Brian and Elaine Smart’s place at Sandstone point. Both Easts’ rugby league stalwarts, Brian and Elaine were wonderful fellow travellers on three of my ‘supporters’ tours’ to Europe. Elaine is recovering from a broken leg.
MAY 4
Back to Arana Hills for naming of two state sides. Jim Wilson, former Papua New Guinea rep., says hello. I wrote about Jim when he played for Kumuls against Australia in Port Moresby in 1996, a match I covered for the Courier-Mail. It was an all ARL side (remember the Super League War). It was Andrew Walker’s only league Test. Jim teaches at Mackay North High these days. Listen to ABC Grandstand and Rod Reddy is a guest. The St George Dragons great is now coach of Nyngan. Watch 60 Minutes report on murderer, Paul Mulvihill, the former Qld rugby union star who also played league for Easts in Brisbane. I interviewed him when he first joined the Tigers. I remember him bagging the skill level of league players.
Learn that former Test centre, Matt King has made a guest appearance for his home town club, Casino in The Northern Rivers League. They bring off an upset win over premiers, Ballina.
WEEK 16
APRIL 22
Send congratulations to former Wynnum-Manly halfback, Denny Lambert on a recent job promotion. He replies that nothing compares with his selection as The Courier-Mail best and fairest, back in his playing days. I had the honour of presenting a number of the awards, including one to Greg Inglis for his efforts for Norths. Watch confronting movie, ‘Oranges and Sunshine’, while recuperating from hernia surgery.Greg Inglis
APRIL 25
Attend ANCAC Day service at Windsor. Naval cadets at the monument. The marshal is Rosalie Raciti, a former teacher who went to Windsor Primary and Kedron High. Also in attendance is Ian Smith (friend of our son, Damien and a former singer with band, Platform 6), wife Angie and their two little kids. Platform 6 performed in England for a number of years. Tea and bikkies at Windsor Museum after the ceremony. Good to see them referred to as biscuits, not cookies.
APRIL 26
Early game at Gibson Park between Brothers and Arana Hills (Second Division rugby league) finishes before time after Brothers’ player suffers compound ankle fracture. Brothers beat Deception Bay 28-26 in the main game. Deception Bay not happy with the refereeing, and make their displeasure known. Post match scenes were not a credit to the code. Watching from the ‘pig pen’ are former Brothers five eighth (yes, that’s right), Billy Johnstone; former Brothers’ prop, Mark Crear and former Bros secretary, Don Munro. Johnston, who found fame as a hooker, started in the backs when he arrived from the bush. Billy coaches Litchfield in the Darwin comp. He says AFL rules in the top end. He has a son who plays union in Townsville, where Billy was based for so long with the Cowboys. Union? Might have something to do with less dramas among the union spectators. Billy reckons there was no tougher league forward than former Redcliffe cult hero, Bevan Bleakley, who like Billy, could go a bit in the boxing ring.
WEEK FIFTEEN
APRIL 14
Walk to Keith Payne Park at Stafford, named after VC winner from the Vietnam War. Amazing story about how he saved so many of his mates under concerted attack from the North Vietnamese. All our VC winners (pre Afghanistan) are remembered in the park, including two from the Northern Russia campaign, which followed World War 1.
APRIL 15
Woman in four wheel drive runs red light on Stafford Road and nearly cleans me up as I drive to Zillmere for a hair cut. Rather than being apologetic, she just laughs, while her kids make rude gestures. What hope have they got! Learn that former Brothers Murwillumbah prop, Brian Leslight had died at the age of 77. Brian was a no nonsense forward who had the respect of teammates and rivals alike. His younger brother, Allan played lower grades for Easts in Sydney, while another brother, John is well known in the speedway circuit around Australia.

Brian Leslight is second from right in the backrow of Brothers 1969 premiership side. The captain-coach is Newcastle product, Bob Pannowitz.

Brian Leslight is second from right in the backrow of Brothers 1969 premiership side. The captain-coach is Newcastle product, Bob Pannowitz.

Media personality, Steve Haddan accepts an invitation to become the newest member of the QRL History Committee, filling the vacancy left by the death of former author, academic and Wallaby, Max Howell. Steve, who has recently completed a book on Brisbane grand finals, says he is honoured to have been asked.
APRIL 16
Attend the Men of League Kick-Off Club lunch at Broncos Leagues Club, seated beside Senator Glenn Lazarus, the function’s guest speaker. I was ghost writer for the former Test prop when I worked at Queensland Newspapers, and he wasn’t afraid to be controversial. Interesting to see whether he carries that over into the political sphere.
APRIL 17
Watch clips of Broncos’ training and there were a few forward passes. If it happens at training, it will happen at match time. In his column in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’, Peter Fitzsimons mentions the absence of on-field villains in the NRL, a point I had raised on 4BC. Try new Vietnamese Restaurant, Viet Lotus at Grange, and Marie and I give it the thumbs up. On the topic of food – why is it that fast food TV ads only show fit people tucking into the stuff? We are repeatedly told advertising should embrace people of different ethnic backgrounds. What about people of different sizes?
APRIL 20
Easter Sunday Mass at St Columba’s, Grange. Church is packed. Very good breakfast at nearby Conti Cafe afterwards, and then to Bishop Park with our daughter, Melanie for Norths v Souths Logan Intrust Super Cup match. Norths’ winger, Rogan ‘Guns’ Dean is crowd favourite as a result of a Sunday Mail story about his bulging biceps. Souths win convincingly.

WEEK FOURTEEN
APRIL 7
Morning tea with wheel chair athlete (and neighbour) Paul Bowes and wife, Carole. Wayne Gamble also turns up. Now in his 70s, he was an inspirational figure at Lane’s Gym at Chermside when I ‘pumped iron’ in the ’70s and ’80s, and still keeps in shape. Used to run the family tobacco/casket stall in Albert Street before the redevelopment of the public service building ‘forced’ him out.
Watch Huddersfield – St Helens game from England with Huddersfield’s Danny Brough denied a match winning field goal, which appears to go through the posts.
Ash Harrison announces he will retire at season’s end. The best forward not to have played for Australia, outside Des Morris, of course.
Mickey Rooney dies at 93. Mum never liked him, and as a result didn’t like Great Britain halfback, Tommy Bishop, who reminded her of Mickey Rooney.
APRIL 8
To Palace Centro to see, a Saudi film, Wadja which hits the mark in many ways. I will leave it at that, except to say young female lead is outstanding.
APRIL 10
To Sandy Clark Chiropractor via Grange Forest walk. Mosquitoes terrible. Former Test forward, Bryan Niebling also has a visit to Sandy. He recently played in a veterans’ game at Coffs Harbour, along with recently retired fellow international, Michael Crocker, who, as a youngster, received the book ‘Mud, Sweat and Beers’ about the 1986 Kangaroo tour. Mick’s favourite photo essay in the book was a shaving cream fight, featuring Bryan, at the team hotel in Leeds.
APRIL 11
QRL History Committee meets at Suncorp Stadium. Greg Shannon unable to attend because of the cyclone in the north. We express our disappointment at the cancellation of the proposed 100 Games Function on May 3. Too many of the invited former players either declined or failed to get back to us. Former Channel 9 personality and fervent league historian, Steve Hadden will be invited to join the committee following the death in February of Professor Max Howell. The meeting hears from Roger Waite, who has produced a book on Brisbane Grand Finals. Our son takes an English friend to Titans v Broncos game and they find it boring – football too predictable.
APRIL 12
On Eurosport, watch exciting Super League match between Castleford and St Helens. Certainly had a lot more going for it than Broncos v Titans.
APRIL 13
To Artisan Bakery at Newmarket. So hard to get good bread in Brisbane, but this is an exception. A collie dog is on a leash outside the bakery, and barks away, but there is no sound. If only every dog was like that.
Channel surf and comed across Wanderers soccer match. I find the fans’ chanting, menacing.
WEEK THIRTEEN

MARCH 31
Buy two tickets for Melanie  Sacha concert at Power House and give them to our daughter, Melanie. No explanation necessary, except I will not be able to go because Marie and I will be overseas. I love both Melanies, with the singer often filling our town house with her unique voice and lyrics. Visit my Dad at Marycrest and speak to a couple of his mates. Vic and Peter. Peter mentions Jack Fallon, a Brisbane rugby league hero of a bygone era, who never shouted (evidently) in the bar.

APRIL 1
80th anniversary of founding of French Rugby League Federation.
Jim House, a drinking mate at Brothers’ Community Club, used to sail 18 footers and his ‘bail boy’ was Brisbane Aussie rules and rugby league star, Barry Spring. Spring was recruited from Mayne AFC by legendary Norths league coach, Bob Bax at a time when field goals were worth two points and they were being attempted by everyone from props to halfbacks. Mick Veivers, a Test forward, kicked a 55 metre effort on the fourth (and last) tackle when he was playing for Manly-Warringah. South Sydney’s Eric Simms was the master, and it was because of him the value of the field goal was cut from two points to one, although Barry Spring’s feats at Norths played a role. I remember Barry working in one of the can bars at Lang Park in the late 70s, early 80s. A nice bloke.

APRIL 2
Marie and I have lunch at Alliance Hotel, Spring Hill. Excellent. Marie has a seafood pasta and I tuck into mushroom ravioli. Our waitress had no voice, the result of a big function at the pub a few days earlier. Watch movie, War Horse. Very good. Thought it was filmed in Yorkshire. It was Devon.

APRIL 3
My sister, Gay and her husband, David, attended Macbeth at QPAC. Play excellent, but experience ruined by chatting schoolkids and people on mobiles. No class. No discipline from teachers.
Am I a lone voice with this? What is it about TV reporters, particularly on SKY, telling us to ‘have a listen’ as they refer to an interview done earlier in the day. We can make up our minds whether we have a listen. It’s like someone saying: ‘right?’ after they have made a point. Extremely irritating.
Former Great Britain centre, Andy Currier is featured in Rugby League Week Legends section. In 1988 when I was covering Central Qld v GB in Rockhampton word came through that Currier was a late addition to the touring squad because of injuries. The GB media man, with his Pom accent, said ‘Currier’ as in ‘Courier’, and I took it literally, spelling it that way. Dave Hadfield (aka George Dunkerley) gave me heaps in RLW the following week for not checking the spelling. Touche’.
1981 Newtown side in RLW centrespread, including one of my favourite players, Graeme O’Grady.

APRIL 4
Men of League coin collection before Broncos v Eels match. Give a bit of gold to former Brisbane Wests skipper, Bob Green, who says 10 metre rule should apply to attacking side as well as defending team, then the gang tackle would not be so prevalent. Makes sense to me. Share stadium lift with former Brisbane Souths five eighth, Bruce Harry who is on his way to his corporate box. Ex-Broncos Ben Walker and Darren Smith ask about my book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’. It’s at the printers, I tell them.
Parramatta are shock winners, and their fans dominated on the BCC bus on the way home.

APRIL 5
Brothers well beaten by Pine Rivers in rugby league at Stafford. Watch the match with former Brisbane representative hooker, Allan Nunan and wheel chair athlete, Paul Bowes. Allan is a twin, and the other ‘half’, Geoff, also played first grade in Brisbane. Both started their senior careers with Brothers at Murwillumbah. Walk home via Wilston Grange Aussie rules ground where colts sides are warming up. They all look fit. All white kids, except for one Sudanese bloke.

APRIL 6
To Davies Park for Souths v Wynnum-Manly. Run into former Broncos and Redcliffe prop, Isaac Ah Mau who is in the sights of Channel 9 as a ‘sideline eye’ commentator. Watch the first half from ‘the hill’ alongside Souths colts players. The bar only serves ‘Gold’. “Would rather drink kero”, says one  colts player. Ex ‘Crusher’ David Krause says hello. His son, Josh is playing for Wynnum and scores the winning try. I saw Josh play for Marist Brothers in Lismore last year, and he was the star. Bronco, David Stagg plays for Wynnum and cops a bit of stick from blokes in the can bar.
Watch second half from corporate tent, courtesy of Souths CEO, Jim McClelland. Mohamed Allouche, Bob Hudson, Mark Clarkson and Peter Nocon avail themselves of the hospitality, and fair enough, given they were all great servants of the club. To the clubhouse as rain falls and catch up with more Magpies – David Bell and Paul Rocheford – the latter forced to retire prematurely in 1988 because of a shocking knee injury.
Learn that former Australian forward, David Wright has suffered a heart attack in Melbourne, but he will be OK. Also former Telegraph turf editor, Larry Pratt has died. I worked with Larry, and his son, who was a copy boy. Larry was a real gentleman.

WEEK TWELVE

MARCH 24
I Remember saying at work years ago what a black day it would be for rugby league if a player became a quadriplegic, live on national television. Those words came back to haunt me as Newcastle’s Alex McKinnon landed head first on the AAMI Stadium turf in a tackle by three Melbourne players. I think Alex panicked, but the onus is on the tacklers to provide a safe landing. The landing can be hard, but not head first. I have been on record many times as saying referees must call ‘held’ early in the tackle if it looks suspect, but referees have to have a feel for the game, and many do not.
The day started pleasantly in the quirky backyard of Red Hill residents, Bill and Erica O’Neill, friends of my Dad, and my late Mum. Bill played rugby union for the ACT and coached future Wallaby Simon Poidevin.

MARCH 26
Walk Sandy Creek Circuit at Mount Tamborine. As usual, or so it seems in our National Parks, part of the track is closed. Not questioning the rangers, just the funding. It doesn’t seem to happen in New Zealand, or even Tasmania. If the dollar is the bottom line, surely maintaining the integrity of our track system would be compulsory. Buy rhubarb from a roadside stall and then home via Bill Norris Oval, Beenleigh where our son, Damien’s Beenleigh High Opens side goes down narrowly to Alexander Hills in a trial. Referee is a 57-year-old Kiwi, Karl (from Hamilton) who now lives at Ipswich. Very fit for his age.

MARCH 27
My book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, arrives on my doorstep with a congratulatory note from publishers. Unfortunately find a couple of literals at first glance. Damn. The book features the 38 players who appeared in the Broncos five grand final wins between 1992 and 2000. APN League writer, Wayne Heming gets naked for website league segment after foolishly backing the Warriors to beat the Cowboys. It was only a matter of time.

MARCH 28
Former Brothers’ skipper, Trevor Bailey asks me to interview Wayne Bennett and Paul Broughton at club reunion on July 5, but I will be overseas. Getting excited about UK visit, particularly our stay at Hawick in Scotland. Look at Hawick News on-line and discover that excellent local band, Scocha have played at Hawick Baths as part of the Reivers Festival.

MARCH 30
Mass at St Columba’s, Wilston, which is celebrating its centenary. About 120 in congregation, including former Courier-Mail rural writer, Gordon Collie. Two altar boys. Good to see. Oz-Kick sign-on at St Columba’s School. The AFL have the evangelical zeal of the Christian missionaries.

WEEK ELEVEN

MARCH 18
Lunch with David Bourke, former Broncos, Brisbane Souths and Valleys fullback who toured France with Queensland Residents in ’89. David has some good ideas about an Ipod ‘library’ to document the old BRL days. Discover that David is nephew of former Penrith and Brothers’ five eighth/centre, Wayne O’Keefe, a teammate of mine at Brothers in 1976.

MARCH 19
With former Broncos CEO, Bruno Cullen, I am a guest on Peter Psaltis’s evening sports show on 4BC. The subject of disappointing NRL crowds comes up, and I suggest the NRL lacks heroes and villains, particularly villains. This elicits calls about old BRL days and the likes of John Payne, Bob Green, Neville Hornery, Tony Obst and Ross Strudwick. One caller mentions Leon ‘Moose’ McGuire and I have to concede that I don’t know a lot about him.

MARCH 20
Meet with QRL History chairman, Kevin Brasch and fellow member John McCoy re proposed May 3 ‘Origin 100 Games’ function. It is something of a shambles, with many of those former players invited, failing to get back to us. Darren Lockyer has replied, but says it will be difficult for him to attend because he has to commentate on the Test in Sydney on May 2, and then the following night present the Darren Lockyer Shield to the winning under-20 Origin side at Penrith. Darren says he will attend our ‘do’ if the QRL insists, and provides transport. I think that’s fair enough.
Kevin and John swap Mount Isa yarns, given Kevin was captain-coach of the Isa in the Foley Shield, and John’s first radio job was in the north western city. Forrester Grayson, who was playing in the Isa in those days, was one of John’s favourite footballers and personalities. Grayson, originally from Dayboro, was also a rodeo star. He represented Brisbane Rugby League against France in 1977 when he played for Redcliffe, and had enough ability to play at State and Test level, but just wasn’t dedicated enough. Off the field? Well, put it this way. He was a colourful character.
Chris Garry phones from The Courier-Mail wanting info on Stan Napa, father of Roosters forward, Dylan. I know Stan from Norths in ’79, and Lanes Gym at Chermside, where we both worked out. Stan never played for New Zealand, but must have gone close after representing Auckland from the Otahuhu club.
Discover that my former Courier-Mail co-league writer, David Potter is now media manager at St Joseph’s Gregory Terrace.

MARCH 21
Marie and I are guests in the Intrust Super box for Broncos v Roosters match at Suncorp, which Chooks win in spectacular fashion with an 80th minute try to Boyd Cordner. Never in doubt. Former Bronco, Isaak Ah Mau and our financial planner, Craig Chalmers are our hosts. Former Olympians, Mark and Tracy Stockwell also in box. Mark went to St Laurence’s with my brother, Andrew. Former Brothers’ teammate, Paul Beauchamp, a guest in another box, says hello. Emotional farewell to injured young star, Jharal Yow Yeh before the game.

MARCH 22 
After 35,000 at Suncorp for Bronx game, just 400 at Gibson Park, Stafford for Brothers v Dayboro in Second Division, but just as enjoyable in its own way, particularly as the result is the right one again – Brothers 18-8. Paul Payne coaches Brothers, and his Dad, John, a former Qld and Australian rep., is there. Three best players each have to scull a can of Gold. A lower grade cricket grand final is being played on the adjoining field, but we were never in danger of being clobbered by a six. Back at Brothers bump into former Brothers’ coach, Gary O’Brien and his wife, Angie, who lived at Hawick in Scotland for a year, giving her a chance to catch up with family from there. Prominent player-manager, Col Davis and former Brothers’ halfback,  Greg Smith (the Rockhampton connection) are trying their luck on the punt, with former Brothers’ skipper, Trevor Bailey.

MARCH 23
Marie attends working bee at our Hermitage Gardens community garden. 3 cane toads meet their maker. Could God have made them? Surely not.
Later it’s off to Davies Park for Souths Logan v Tweed Heads. Bump into Tweed forward, Paul Stephenson as I arrive. Thought he had retired. His son is a Roosters’ fan. Good lad. Paul is sidelined by a rib injury. One beer on the hill where Souths Logan FOGS players make sure empty cans are binned. Admirable. Watch second half from clubhouse where former Olympic swimmer, Justin Lemberg is enjoying an ale while watching his son, Zac in action for the Magpies. Former Wallaby, Nigel Holt also enjoys the action. QRL boss, Robert Moore converses with player manager, Jim Banaghan, while South East Division chairman, Brad Tallon takes soft drinks to a group on the hill.
Run into Tweed official, Peter ‘Cat’ Ryan after the match. A former Tweed, Toowoomba All Whites, Newtown, Illawarra and Cronulla forward, Peter recently had treatment for Parkinsons, and is doing really well. I attended a fund raiser, along with about 600 others at Kirra Beach Hotel last year. Wayne Bennett was there to support Peter, who was his housemate in Toowoomba back in 1970. I played many times against Peter on the Tweed, first in the juniors, and then in first grade. In the 1973 Group 18 Gold Coast grand final at Murwillumbah, I was concussed by one of  Cat’s beautifully disguised jabs. Seagulls, with Tom Searle as captain-coach, beat us (Brothers) easily.

WEEK TEN

MARCH 10:
After the best part of three weeks in New Zealand, one thing stands out after a few days back in Brisbane. The Kiwis have more civic pride. There is so much more litter and dog poo around Brisbane’s streets, and the lawns are generally not as well kept. Also, we appear to have a lot more overweight people.
Now, let me elaborate. Admittedly, Marie and I spent much of our time in relatively sparsely populated areas of New Zealand, like Bay of Islands and Waiheke Island, but we also spent quite a bit of time in Auckland and Whangerei. Also, I know the grass grows much more quickly in Brisbane’s tropical heat. But I’m sorry. The Kiwis have it over us in the aforementioned areas. At least, that is my impression.
They also don’t have as many ‘Stop/Go’ people as us. I dread to think what our unemployment rate would be without traffic controllers and coffee shop workers. There is overkill in both areas.

MARCH 11
Meet with QRL History chairman, Kevin Brasch to discuss planned 100 Games Origin function on May 3. He has had a terrific Huddersfield League Calendar sent to him by a mate in England. Kevin played for Huddersfield in the 1950s. Maryborough based Ted Weber, manager of the 1989 Queensland team in France, has written a book on the history of Wide Bay Rugby league – 1910 to 2010.
That night I have a few ales with top Courier-Mail sports writer and former colleague, Paul Malone at Citron in Wilston Village.

MARCH 12
To Lismore, via Tugun Beach for a surf and fish/chips. Kiwi Land can’t rival the beautiful water temperatures we have here. To Caroona Nursing Home to see Marie’s mum. The residents are enjoying a European slide show when we arrive. There is new framed photo on the wall of the community room – it was taken during the Queen’s visit to Lismore in 1954, and features a host of local faces in close-up as Her Majesty passes by.

MARCH 13
Visit one of Dad’s great mates, ‘DOK’ Kaden and his wife, Clarice, as well as my late mum’s good friend, Terry Duncan, who turns 90 in August. DOK, a former teammate of Dad’s at South Lismore RLFC, is such a character, with a wonderful sense of humour, despite a few health setbacks.
To Lismore Golf Club for dinner. Excellent Chinese food. Drinks with a number of local characters, among them Terry McDermott, a top league player in his day, a NSW Country rep in the 1960s.
Learn that former QRL judiciary chairman, Merv Hoppner has died. Merv was tough, but fair, and certainly looked after me, in terms of comments re illegalities, and the reasons for bans he imposed.

MARCH 14
Nev Soward (brother-in-law) shows me a scrapbook which features interesting articles about the old Kyogle competition which included teams from Nimbin and Wiangaree, as well as two clubs in Kyogle itself – Wallaroos and Kiwis. I played a trial, for Murwillumbah Brothers, against Kyogle in the early ’70s and they were very strong. John Johnson was one of the best players out of Kyogle, and he carved out an impressive career at Tweed Seagulls.
Back to Brisbane for Broncos first home game of year – against North Queensland, and the Broncos finished deserved winners. Former Broncos’ media man, Tony Durkin grabs me in excitement as the fulltime hooter sounds.

MARCH 15
Lunch with former Australian team manager and Brisbane Souths CEO, Graham Kerr (and wife, Jean) at Brothers’ Community Club. Graham told me winger, John Hopoate was the only player he couldn’t cop when he managed Australia’s World Cup side in Britain in 1995. What a shock. Editor of The Australian, Chris Mitchell is also among the diners at Brothers. Graham is worried about the future of the Cooroy Bowls club, which got up and running largely thanks to a ‘land grant’ from the Kerr family many years ago. Bowls clubs everywhere are battling, and in some ways they only have themselves to blame, given they didn’t change with the times years ago. The Grange club, and many others, rely on volunteer bar staff, something I know the Liquor Trades union frowns upon.
Margaret Olley Art Centre opens at Murwillumbah. The Olleys were neighbours of my grandparents, and my dad and his brother, Bill in High Street, Lismore back in the ’30s/40s, with my grandmother sometimes borrowing horses from the Olleys to ride the high paddocks. Should be a great boost for Mur-Bah. Margaret did a lot of painting in the Tweed area. Hear that Riverview Pub in Murwillumbah is being refurbished, no doubt partly to take advantage of the influx of tourists.

MARCH 16
Good to see former Tweed Seagulls executive, Col Hayes honoured at Seagulls v Norths’ intrust Super Cup match at Piggabeen. Col was instrumental in getting Seagulls Leagues Club up and running in 1972. The previous year Seagulls finished last. In ’72 they made the grand final, only to be beaten by a Gold Coast Tigers side which included Steve Rogers and Pat Kelly. I covered many Group 18 meetings on the top floor of The Court House Hotel in Murwillumbah, and Col, a former school teacher, was an intelligent, forward thinking contributor.
Today, I received an email from Angie Dow, the daughter of my former boss at the Tweed Daily, the late Bob Dow, who also covered those Group 18 meetings, and churned out his reports at double my pace, and with great accuracy. She had just read my website piece on former Australian centre, Ron Saddler, a report which I’m told is on display at Brothers Leagues Club in Murwillumbah.
Saw an old ‘I Feel Like a Tooheys’ advertisement today, featuring Ray Price and company. Still looks good.

WEEK NINE: MARCH 2014
MARCH 3
  • Check out and walk to Blackpool Bay, and then along a lovely bush track to Little Oneroa Bay, where there is a mobile pizza van, and the product looks pretty good. Brunch at Wai, which was recommended by our son, and it is every bit as good as we were led to believe. Go to pay with Amex – gone. Left it at Mudbrick. Get our Pommie cab driver (from Chiswick) to take us to Mudbrick on way to ferry. He says I sound like Kel from Kath and Kim and Marie sounds like Julia Gillard. Gadzooks Batman.
  • Ferry crossing smooth despite the choppy water. Flight goes well, although young bloke beside us is unbelievable fidgety.
    He got through Customs.
MARCH 4
  • Back in Oz. A Woolies delivery to re-stock our pantry. I wish we didn’t HAVE to rely on Woolies. Haircut at Zillmere and return via Geebung where work is well underway on long overdue rail fly-over. Visit my Dad at Marycrest then a family dinner at Lliam and Channelle’s Paddington abode.
MARCH 5
  • A big day for me – the unveiling of a plaque in my honour on the Media Wall of Fame at Suncorp Stadium, just outside the press box. Recently retired ABC caller, Gerry Collins also ‘inducted’. It is great that my father, Jon can be there, despite his failing health. It was Dad who got me interested in rugby league, given he played for South Lismore and later was treasurer of Brothers at Murwillumbah during a golden era for the club. He also took me to my first match at Suncorp (then Lang Park) – the 1966 Second Test between Australia and Great Britain, which Aust. won 6-4. My late Mum, Lola, would have been proud. My wife, Marie; children, Melanie, Damien and Lliam also attend, with Damien and Lliam accompanied by their respective spouses, Emma and Channelle. Great to see some of my former work colleagues there, among them Barry Dick, Brian Burke, Jack Craig, Gary Smart and Karl de Kroo, as well as Ross Livermore’s widow, Meralda and Broncos Media boss, Trad McLean. My first sports editor, John Morton, was unable to attend because of ill health.
  • Bump into Redcliffe stalwart, Steve Bleakley (also the Crushers’ last coach) at Hamilton as we stop for seafood on the way home. ‘Chicken Legs’ still looks fit enough to play.

MARCH 6

Dave Hadfield, league writer for The Independent in England

Dave Hadfield, league writer for The Independent in England

  • Lady in four wheel drive fails to stop, as required, as I walk along footbath at Newmarket Shopping Centre. She was exiting the complex, and I dread to think what would have happened if a kid was running along the footpath, instead of an observant senior citizen like me.
  • NRL season kicks off, and Marie is happy that Souths get over the Tigers. Enjoy the juniors section on The Footy Show. The Lane Cove kids are hilarious. Darryl Brohman is quite funny as well.
MARCH 8
  • HARPS Gaelic Sports Club has a promotion at Wilston Grange Aussie rules club, as I walk to Elixer at Stafford for coffee supplies. I don’t mind hurling, but Gaelic football doesn’t do much for me. Brothers lose to the Wayne Treleavan coached Normanby at Purtell Park in Second Division Rugby League. Meet up with some of the Brothers’ players, coach, Paul Payne and his dad, John at Brothers Community Club.
  • Rumours abound that Pete Nolan will return to the Broncos – from Parramatta – as recruitment chief.
  • My January report that top NSW North Coast pitcher, Sonya Pope would be forced into retirement because of a bicep injury proves incorrect. But Sonya can’t pitch, and has to contribute with her batting, something she does in great style for Devils, with a five run spree in their 12-4 win over Condors.
MARCH 9
  • To Bishop Park for Norths v Burleigh match, and what proves Jharal Yow Yeh’s last game of football. The Broncos contracted Norths’ outside back hurts the other ankle early in the match, and makes for a sad sight as he limps around the field, reluctant to leave as he contemplates his football mortality. I covered the match in Perth when he shattered his ankle, and given the extent of the injury, he did well just to get back on the field. I have no doubt if a fully fit Yow Yeh was on the field for the Broncos in 2013, they would have won several more matches and made the finals. He was going to be a superstar, and it’s such a shame. But such is life. Balmain centre, Geoff Starling played for Australia when he was 18, but his career was ended by illness (Addison’s disease) when he was just 22.
  • On the Bishop Park ‘hill’ I bump into the likes of South East Division chairman, Brad Tallon; former Qld Origin forward, Steve Jackson; Warwick identity, Mark Sullivan and former Courier-Mail editor, Michael Crutcher, a Norths’ nut.
WEEK EIGHT
FEBRUARY 24
  • Driveway service at several petrol stations in New Zealand. Nice. Head south along the west coast where a Siberian chap asks us to photograph him at Opononi. He had lectured at Qld Uni many years ago – about Siberian Tigers. He even has a scar on one wrist, the result of a tangle with one such tiger, or so he says. Leg stretch at Dargaville, and one Red Lion (the only one of the trip) at the Empire Hotel. Dargaville is not exactly beautiful, but it is a vital centre for a big rural population, and a substantial field day was being set up on the edge of town. Tail gated all the way into Whangerei by a young woman in a four wheel drive. I thought that only happened in Brisbane. Walk from our highway motel to Whangerie’s town basin for dinner on the waterfront.
FEBRUARY 25.
  • Swim at lovely Matapouri Bay after a walk around the headland where blokes are snorkelling in the deep water. Local store owner had friends at Daisy Hill near Brisbane. Dinner at Dickens Inn in Whangerei town centre.
FEBRUARY 26
  • Return car to Auckland and then catch ferry to Waiheke Island, where our youngest son, Lliam had worked in the vineyards. It is our first visit. I had first heard of Waiheke from Dave Hadfield, rugby league writer for The Independent newspaper in England. Dave is a great walker and led several other league scribes on a coastal walk, only to discover it was much longer and tougher than anticipated. They ventured into what they thought was a restaurant (for a cold ale) only to discover it was a private residence. Dave has never lived it down.
  • Our accommodation on Waiheke is the Winemaker’s Loft, just below the Cable Bay Vineyard, and it proves idyllic, with views across the water to Auckland. The walk to the island’s biggest town, Oneroa, is only 20 minutes. We have drinks (oysters and a cheese platter) at The Oyster Bar and then buy lamb chops and pork sausages from the local female butcher.
FEBRUARY 27
  • We undertake a walk around the peninsular near the ferry terminal. Eat oysters on the beach and then berries on the headland as yachts arrive below us. Run into a lost Scots couple from Arbroath. Swim at northern end of Onarua Beach where three backpackers – two male, one female – bathe nude and then improve their tans on a boat ramp. Nice.
FEBRUARY 28
  • Travel around Waiheke on a local bus. First stop Palm Beach, where there is a clothes optional section. We keep ours on. Then to Rocky Bay where two old blokes are working on a yacht in dry dock. Next stop, Onetangi Bay, the longest beach on the island, where a Russian ‘super yacht’ is moored off shore. Drinks at Charlie Farley’s on the esplanade – Emerson’s Pilsener from Dunedin. Good service, good vibe.
  • Learn of the death of Warren Rann (79), a former prominent rugby league player from Nimbin. Yes, they played rugby league there, once upon a time, fielding a side in the Kyogle competition. Warren played for North Coast against the 1962 Great Britain side at Oakes Oval, Lismore. In 1977 he travelled to England as a member of the Nimbin Tug of War team, which was chosen to represent Australia in a tournament in Hampshire. Warren was a mate of my brother-in-law, Neville Soward, who also played league for Nimbin.
MARCH 1
  • Winery tour, with Nigel our tour guide/driver. Originally from Wellington, Nigel lived for a number of years in Fiji where he met many Australians working with CSR. Others on the tour included a Canadian female doctor in New Zealand for a Navy Divers’ exercise. She said the Australian divers put on a great show at the welcoming night. Also on the bus was a German girl from Lake Constance; a Kiwi couple celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary and a lass from Washington DC.

    Bay of Islands, New Zealand

    Bay of Islands, New Zealand

  • First stop was Peacock Sky, then Kennedy Point where they have a couple of Highland Cattle. Oysters came with the wine. An olive oil mill also was on the agenda and we bought a gift pack. Lunch (not included in the tour price) at Te Motu Winery where I had a lovely cut of beef – ‘back strap’. Back in Oneroa we had drinks at the Solar Bar, which has a lovely outlook over the water.
MARCH 2
  • Back to Onetangi Bay for their annual extravaganza race day – horses and tractors – as well as a tug-of-war. Very well run and everyone in a good mood. The official race starter is a real character – an old bloke in silks. Our last night on the island was crowned by dinner at Mud Brick Winery, where the sunset was nice, but not as spectacular as Cable Bay on our first night.
  • Rugby type on next table with his wife and a Welsh couple. Looked familiar. Our waiter, Diego, is from Argentina.
WEEK SEVEN
FEBRUARY 11:
  • Don Munro turns 80 today, a great league man, former high ranking official with Brothers and the Queensland Rugby League. Don and his wife (Lady) Heather were fun loving members of several of my Kangaroo Supporters’ tours, and I still see them regularly at either the Brothers’ Community Club at Grange or the football at Gibson Park, Stafford.
  • Marie and I arrive in Auckland at the start of a 20 day North Island adventure. The city is abuzz with Nines fever, and on top of that Wigan have arrived to play a trial against the Warriors ahead of their World Club Challenge match against the mighty Roosters.
    Our airport shuttle bus briefly breaks down, but the driver keeps his cool, and eventually we are on our way. Lots of interesting watering holes in Auckland with Tyler’s Garage down near the docks one of the best.

    Toowoomba rugby league legend, Greg Platz, who coached the 1988 Qld Residents side in New Zealand.

    Toowoomba rugby league legend, Greg Platz, who coached the 1988 Qld Residents side in New Zealand.

    FEBRUARY 12:

  • Cruise ships, Sea Princess and Sun Princess are in town, and plenty of the passengers have the same idea as us – a day trip to lovely Devonport on the north side of Auckland Harbour. That night we find a sports bar showing the Warriors – Wigan match from Hamilton, and we have the company of fellow Aussie league nuts, Wayne Cousins (former Wests Tigers Media Man) and a father and son combo from Quilpie in Queensland. You can’t go anywhere.FEBRUARY 13:
  • Pick up our hire car from an establishment just around the corner from the old Carlaw Park, former league HQ. I covered two matches there – the 1985 Test in which John Ribot scored on fulltime to break Kiwi hearts, and the 1988 Auckland v Queensland Residents’ match which the home side won 70-12 after leading only 24-12 at halftime. That was a bad night to be an Aussie as Kevin Iro ran riot against the Greg Platz coached Maroons.
  • We head north via Mangakura, enjoying a picnic lunch on the boat club jetty (not as glamorous as it sounds). Our next leg stretch takes place at beautiful Lang’s Beach on Bream Bay. We arrive at Paihia at 5.30 p.m., just as a market is packing up. Our Aloha Motel is in a lovely hill-top location on the approach to Paihia and Stacey and Jason are fine hosts. Dinner at Alfresco Restaurant/Bar where lovely female singer provides ideal background to a splendid meal.FEBRUARY 14:
  • We have self catering, so when we are told there is a fish cart down the road, off we go hoping to buy local flounder. But all that is left is mullet, caught at Kerikeri that morning. We thought, why not, and while we didn’t regret it, the pack (for $10) was enough for three meals.
  • Caught the ferry across to Russell (New Zealand’s former capital) where, after a solid walk around Kororareka Point, we dine at the famous Duke of Marlborough pub. My seafood chowder is very good and Marie gives the thumbs up to the calamari.
  • If you ask nicely, at certain times of the day, the ferry skipper will drop you at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds on the trip back to Paihia, and then it is possible to walk back to Paihia. My wife first visited Waitangi in 1971 as a back packer and it was free.
  • This time we were asked: ‘Where are you from?’ When we said ‘Australia’, they replied: ‘That will be $50’. Thanks for coming.
    Still, it was worth it.
  • On the way back we drink at a beached vessel called ‘Shippeys’, which also does fish and chips, before a few more bevvies on the veranda of the Marlin Club overlooking the beautiful waters of Veronica Channel.
    Mullet for tea.FEBRUARY 15:
  • I have six local oysters at Alfresco on our first night in Paihia, but needn’t have forked out my hard earned, because oysters are easily obtained from the beach just down from our motel.
  • Saw a mobile sawmill and a mobile abattoir today. Kiwis are certainly innovative.
  • Go to Splash Bar to watch the Nines, and walk in just as Brad Fittler scores his intercept try for the Roosters against the Broncos. The bar manager, Mike Ellis, a local, lived at Redcliffe from 1986-89 (worked for SEQEB) where he fell in love with league and on his return dumped boring old union for the 13 man code. “I could read a book out in the backs playing union,” he says. Some Aussies arrive and ask for Bundy and seem aggrieved when it is not available. Poms ask: What is your best beer? ‘Kronenberg’, Mike replies, much to their disappointment.
    Mullet for dinner.

FEBRUARY 16:

  • Head a bit further north to Kerikeri for their famous Sunday market, and although it is small, it has great fresh produce, as well as lovely bratwurst, blue berry pancakes and fig jam.
  • I looked to the skies as what sounded like an air raid siren went off (I had recently seen ‘The Book Thief’) but it turns out that the siren is a call to arms to local volunteer emergency workers when there has been an accident, fire or whatever. There goes the Sunday sleep-in.
  • On our return to Paihia we walk the coastal path to Opua – lovely coastal views and cooling patches of sub-tropical rainforest.
  • Back in time for the Nines semis at Splash Bar where we are joined by a dozen or so Aussies on a golf tour, among them former Broncos kicking coach, Graham ‘kicker’ McColm, who was a prominent Aussie rules player with Mayne in Brisbane. Also Nudgee Golf Club pro, John Downs and Bob (sorry, I’ve forgotten your last name, Bob) who used to work at the Lang Park Leagues Club back in the days of Dick Breen, Senator Ron McAuliffe and Ross Livermore.

FEBRUARY, WEEK SIX:

  • MONDAY FEBRUARY 3
  • Professor Max Howell died today, aged 86. A former Wallaby, Max was a valued member of our Queensland Rugby League History Committee. He was approached by several league clubs in England back in the late 1940s, but rejected the offers to concentrate on an academic career. Max was a prolific author, continuing to write up until his death. His ‘The Centenary of the Greatest Game Under the Sun’ is one of the great reference works on the 13 man code.
  • TUESDAY FEBRUARY 4
  • Marie and I raised our family at Zillmere where we lived for 28 years, and I still travel there from Grange for a haircut by Paul. Father Jon Kilenko was parish priest when we left six years ago, and I notice he is still there catering to what is very much a multi-cultural congregation. We still get our tax done at Sandgate, by Tim Mead, and previously his dad, Kevin.
  • FRIDAY FEBRUARY 5
  • To Sydney for Hall of Fame Advisory Committee Meeting. Chinese female cabbie from Sydney Airport to NRL HQ is a delight. Her two sons and one daughter attend Sydney High, with the boys playing union and cricket. The family has a house at Coomera. Shaun Wendt, former QRL South East Division executive officer is the first person I bump into at the NRL. He is now NRL football operations manager. Wallaby great, Mark Ella waits in reception (not sure what that is about) as I retire to the back rooms of the League Museum for a coffee with historian, Terry Williams. Museum volunteer, Gary O’Donnell, a Maroubra junior, managed Parramatta’s under-20s. He welcomes the grand-daughter of Sid ‘Sandy’ Pearce, who is visiting from the country.
  • The Hall of Fame meeting goes well and I put the case for higher Queensland representation on the Committee. I was the only rep from north of the border, until Wally Lewis’s recent addition to replace fellow Immortal, Andrew Johns, who had not been able to find time to attend a meeting. The other members are Frank Puletua (chair), Williams, Ian Heads, Martin Lenehan, David Middleton, Geoff Armstrong, Paul Kind and John Brady.
  • SATURDAY FEBRUARY 6
  • Watch Huddersfield beat Wigan on Euro Sport. Some people are critical of Wigan’s veteran Australian fullback, Matt Bowen, but I reckon he is doing just fine. Phone my good mate, Brian Atherton on the occasion of his 65th. A former Widnes (England) ‘first team’ footballer, Brian played for Dapto, Murwillumbah Brothers, Wingham and Taree United in Australia, and was my captain-coach at Murwillumbah in 1973. He was groomsman at our wedding in Lismore in 1975, and through him I got the travel bug. Met his parents, Lil and Bill, at Widnes in 1977 and they were so kind to Marie and I. Brian’s brother, Billy played amateur league for Farnworth.
  • SUNDAY FEBRUARY 7
  • Bump into long serving Broncos medico, Dr Peter Friis at Lutwyche. Lovely fellow, who enjoys a long walk. He ‘did’ Offa’s Dyke in the UK several years back – 117 miles – and got sun burnt during a particularly hot May. There have been some great characters among the league medicos, none more so than Dr Hugh Hazard, the long serving Kangaroos’ doctor who was nicknamed ‘health’. He loved a smoke, a beer and a red wine.
  • Dr Keith Woodhead was doctor on the Queensland Residents tour of France in 1989 (25th anniversary this year – amazing), and has not been in the best of health lately.

JANUARY – FEBRUARY, WEEK FIVE:

  • MONDAY, JANUARY 27
  • I spot former Sydney Wests’ first grade lock (1974), Brian Isbester at Brothers Leagues Club. Watch ‘Town’ on SBS, with Huddersfield in Yorkshire featured. The narrator pays homage to Huddersfield Giants rugby league side and the independent spirit which saw clubs break away from rugby union at a meeting at Huddersfield’s George Hotel in 1895.
  • WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 29
  • Learn that four Kiwis have signed with my old club, Wingham Tigers in Group 3, New South Wales. The Tigers’ didn’t have to look very far outside their own backyard when I played, such was the depth of local talent in the meat works town.
  • THURSDAY, JANUARY 30
  • Lutwyche Resident, Paul Sherman is a deserved winner of an Order of Australia award for his services to the arts. I am reliably informed he is a Shakespearian whiz and, when still in grade 9, produced his own backyard version of Hamlet.
  • Bump into Betty Bootle, former Brothers’ Dairy Bar barmaid who worked at the club from 1974 to ’89 and was always so patient, kind and attentive with ‘her boys’ – the players – and they gave her due respect in return.
  • SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 2
  • My father recalls the Queen’s visit to Lismore in 1954 when Her Majesty and ‘Phil the Greek’, as Dad calls the Duke, stayed at the Gollan Hotel. Last I heard, the Gollan was the watering hole of the Marist Brothers Rugby League Club. Perhaps they should be called Royal Marists.

JANUARY, WEEK FOUR:

  • MONDAY, JANUARY 20: Visit the QRL offices and bump into former Broncos official, James Hinchey who is now the NRL’s Regional Development Officer for South East Queensland. Also former QRL executive assistant, Kathy Sweeney who was back in the office to undertake tasks re the QRL constitution. Discover that a former News Ltd colleague, Tim Prentice, is a big contributor to ‘The Roar’ general sports website. But the big news of the day – fanfare please – My book ‘Bennett’s Broncos’, has gone to print.
  • TUESDAY, JANUARY 21: To the movies to see ‘Saving Mr Banks’, the story of P L Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. I enjoyed it, despite ordinary attempts to recreate Maryborough and Allora. I can understand the Yanks filming in the USA for financial reasons, but they could have got more sound advice re the Aussie building styles of the day. Tonight the ABC showed a genuine Australian movie, ‘The Mango Tree’, which was largely filmed at Gayndah in the Central Burnett in 1977, with the main street replicating Bundaberg as it would have looked in 1917. They didn’t have to do much, really. I was working at ‘The Telegraph’ at the time, and photographer, Geoff McLachlan and I were assigned to cover happenings ‘on set’. I interviewed cast members, among them Sir Robert Helpmann, Michael Pate and Geraldine Fitzgerald, and then phoned Telegraph chief of staff, Frank Watkinson, who said we should stay overnight, but Geoff had to get back to Brisbane – to play table tennis. He drove like a bat out of hell, dodging kangaroos along the way, for the sake of a game of ping pong, when we could have been having a few frosties with some of the big names of the Australian arts scene. I never did find out whether Geoff won.
  • WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 22: My former sports editor, Brian Burke has invested in a couple of horses at a Nathan Tinkler ‘fire sale’. Laurie Parker, a prolific writer of letters to ‘The Courier-Mail’, and a former community radio personality in Logan City, has moved to Charleville to work in family law. He also finds time to coach the Charleville under-12s rugby league side.
  • THURSDAY, JANUARY 23: Fox Sports show Third Test from the 1986 Kangaroo tour of Britain. Some great stuff, although French referee, Julian Rascagneres was a little lenient towards Australia. I covered that match, and the atmosphere at Central Park was electric, with the Poms giving a good account of themselves. A barnstorming try by Australian skipper, Wally Lewis was the highlight for me, although the Poms scored a great team try, with Garry Schofield crossing, much to the delight of the capacity crowd.
  • Coffee with Broncos media chief, Trad McLean at the leagues club where I was surprised to see former Australian Associated Press chief league writer, Wayne Heming working ‘on the door’. ‘Ticker’ as he is nicknamed, took a redundancy from AAP, but the pay-out was not as generous as those handed out by other sections of the industry. ‘Ticker’ loves a punt, so he is at home in the club industry. But he wasn’t giving up on returning to the media.
  • It’s amazing who you bump into at the Broncos. Also there on this particular day were Troy Morton and Frank Barrett from the QRL; former Test forward, Lew Platz and former Gold Coast Titans under-20s coach, Mark Gee.
  • FRIDAY, JANUARY 24: At today’s QRL History Committee meeting we took possession of a 1925 league scrap book, presented to us by the Gibson family of Clayfield. The late Joe Gibson was president of the Queensland Rugby Union. In 1925 rugby union was in recess in Queensland, so to keep on a scrapbook on local ‘rugby’, it was league or nothing. Absent from our meeting was former Wallaby, Professor Max Howell who was not enjoying the best of health.
  • SATURDAY, JANUARY 25: Watch some of the Norths v Ipswich/Logan QCA match at Shaw Park. Great, free entertainment with Ipswich’s bowlers copping a caning. It brought back memories, seeing names given to the various ovals at Shaw Park – Rob Kerr, Ernie Toovey, Geoff Dymock, Alan Pettigrew – men I interviewed when I wrote cricket for The Telegraph in the 1980s. Ernie was escpecially helpful in his role as state chairman of selectors.
  • My old newspaper, The Daily News, reports that Aussie rules is the fastest growing sport on the Tweed. What is happening to the world?
  • SUNDAY, JANUARY 26: My wife, Marie is up early to cook damper for Australia Day; kookaburras ‘sing’ out the back, and the ABC News intro sounds out on the transistor. It doesn’t get more Aussie than that. My dad joins us for a roast lamb lunch. At Brothers club I have a beer with legendary Brothers’ strapper, Jimmy Johnson.
  • Friends start recalling stories of the 1974 January floods. I was working at The Daily News at Murwillumbah and three or four of my mates had to move out of their abodes because of rising water. My place, on top of a hill in Dorothy Street, was the mecca for these natural disaster refugees. They drank my beer, raided my pantry and when I arrived home from work at 11 p.m. were sound asleep with the television on test pattern. Stations shut down before mid-night back then, and didn’t come on again until mid morning. Great days.

JANUARY, WEEK THREE: 

  • MONDAY, JANUARY 13. It’s always a pleasure to visit the QRL and Men of League offices at Suncorp Stadium, in my role as QRL History Committee Development Officer. MOL state CEO, Steve Calder told me about a bursary provided by the organisation to help fund a young lad’s education at Nudgee College.
  • Learn that Sydney Morning Herald league writer, Glen Jackson will join the NRL Media Unit. Thought he would be in newspapers all his life, but it’s not a happy industry.
  • TUESDAY, JANUARY 14. Watch some of EPL game between Aston Villa and Arsenal with Aston Villa player, Nathan Baker carried off after he copped a ball in the face. It looked pretty soft, but pro soccer players can really drill a ball. I played soccer in the bush in the 1970s and the leather balls used back then, certainly stung if they hit you in the face. I was interested to read that Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey is a former Welsh union player who was approached by St Helens’ rugby league after he played a colts league match. Ramsey had already signed professional soccer papers at that stage.
  • Learn that my former Brothers’ Murwillumbah teammate, Gary Harley has been punted by 2KO as caller of Newcastle Knights matches. Big Gary was a skilful five eighth, but wasn’t fit enough to play 80 minutes. He is an institution in the Hunter region and punters in Queensland would know him from race calls from Maitland Dogs etc.
  • WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15: Rumours abound that Wayne Bennett and Kevin Walters will return to the Broncos as a coaching team, following Kevvie’s addition to the Knights’ staff.
  • The QRL History Committee is co-ordinating a comprehensive history of playing fields throughout the state, but the initial response from clubs has been a bit disappointing. We hope to publish a book on the subject, which I think would be well received.
  • ‘Paddock to Plate’ on Lifestyle Channel features the Far North Coast of NSW, including Brunswick heads oysters.  I first tried the delicacy at Brunswick, and it’s great to see the river is still healthy enough to support the industry. Saw a large turtle in Kedron Brook, an increasingly rare sight given the activities of some groups who pillage the stream. I scared off one mob by pretending to ring Fisheries on my mobile.
  • FRIDAY, JANUARY 17: Darryl Van de Velde replaces Rick Green as ‘Statewide Competitions’ director on the QRL. I have had a lot to do with Darryl over the years, when he was a coach in England and Australia, and of course as inaugural chief executive of South Queensland Crushers. A good man with a deep passion for the game.

    Kevin Walters in action for the Broncos at Lang Park

    Kevin Walters in action for the Broncos at Lang Park

  • SATURDAY, JANUARY 18:  Nearly got cleaned up by a cyclist at Southport, after he failed to stop for my wife and I as we walked across a pedestrian crossing. Surf rough and former North Sydney and North Queensland Cowboys forward, George Bartlett goes to the assistance of his two Canadian friends after they panic when a rip takes them south.
  • My wife witnesses bus rage back in Brisbane with a female member of the public slapping a female driver across the face because she would not let her ride for free. The joys of public transport.
  • SUNDAY, JANUARY 19: My wife joins five other ‘Bushcare’ volunteers in planting trees along Kedron Brook, followed by real ‘billy tea’. Better google that, kids. Butterflies everywhere. Ah, nature.
  • Bump into former Channel 9 political reporter, Spencer Jolly while visiting my dad at Marycrest Aged Care facility at Kangaroo Point. Spencer’s dear old mum is 102.
  • Villefranche Aveyron defeat Albi in a Lord Derby Cup match in France, a real ‘local derby’. Broncos’ media manager, Trad McLean would be pleased, given he played for ‘Vill’ ‘back in the day’.

JANUARY, WEEK TWO:

Frank Myler toured Australia as a player in 1966 and '70 and returned as coach in 1984

Frank Myler toured Australia as a player in 1966 and ’70 and returned as coach in 1984

  • The Brisbane Lions have landed another league man as their Media manager, this time Steele Tallon, following in the footsteps of Dave Donaghy, who played Universities Rugby League. Steele’s brother, Brad is Chairman of the Queensland Rugby League’s South East Division.
  • Seen enjoying the delights of Noosa were former Valleys teammates, John Ribot and Peter McWhirter and former Queensland rugby union stars of the 1950s, Des Connor and Kevin Brasch. Connor kept Brasch out of the Wallabies side in the 1950s, and the former Newmarket Primary School pupil switched to league. But they have remained good friends, even though Connor defected from the Wallabies to the All Blacks.
  • Good luck to much travelled coach, Don Gailer who will be in charge of the Caboolture Snakes this year. Gailer recently returned from a coaching stint in Cumbria in England, and the former Carlton and United Brewery executive is working hard to revitalise the Beer and Beef Club, with the Plough Inn at South Bank to be the venue.
  • Sonya Pope, arguably the best softball pitcher on the New South Wales North Coast, looks set to be forced into retirement in her early 30s because of a bicep injury. Her mother, Caroline Soward (previously Galea) was also a stalwart of softball in that part of the world, playing well into her 40s.
  • I learnt a lot about former Brisbane representative rugby league winger, Bob Gray this week, with a number of league identities attending his funeral on North Stradbroke Island. One of his former workmates, Peter Mahoney from Landsborough told me Bob could run like a gazelle, even though he was a robust type. The indigenous star, a crowd favourite at Lang Park, played for Brisbane against New Zealand in 1959, and against France in 1960. He could also sing like Sinatra. “If he had been serious about his football, he would have played for Australia,” Peter reckons. After a Bulimba Cup match in Toowoomba, Gray and fellow winger, Fonda Metassa had a few drinks too many and missed the bus back to Brisbane, something which didn’t go down well with officialdom. It was Peter Mahoney who got Gray to switch from Valleys to Brothers at the same time as Des Mannion, a recruiting coup which went down like a lead balloon in Diehard country.
  • Whenever I get to Lismore in northern New South Wales I try to get to the golf club for a few ales or a bite to eat, and it’s not hard to get into a conversation about rugby league with the likes of regulars, Toby Daley, Dick Ryan and Mick Davis, the latter having played for North Coast against Great Britain at Kempsey in 1966. The North Coast team included future Penrith five eighth, Grahame Moran and Bill McCarron, the older brother of future Queensland prop, Ray McCarron. Bill also played Foley Shield for Townsville. Davis, whose son, Mick Jnr played for Souths, in Brisbane as well as the Crushers and Gold Coast, tangled with a few of the Pommy forwards, and from all reports held his own. The North Coast team was managed by Stan Sercombe from Murwillumbah, one of the best country administrators I have come across in my time in the game. Great Britain featured some of the legends of the code, among them Frank Myler, Allan Hardisty, John Mantle and Brian Edgar.
  • I switched to NITV in time to see Mark Ella promoting an indigenous rugby union game. We are fortunate in league to have so many quality indigenous players, and the 13 man game is definitely their preference. But Shannon Walker, the Kyogle product who is excelling at Sevens, is a poster boy for union in their efforts to get more indigenous players into their game. Olympics or not, I can’t help but feel that ‘fair dinkum’ footballers will want to concentrate on the respective 13 and 15 man games.
  • I learnt this week that Warrington Wolves had arrived in Australia for a three week training camp, including a hit-out with the Sydney Swans. English clubs usually head for warmer climes in the depths of the northern hemisphere winter, and it makes good sense, on many fronts, to come to Australia, rather than the Canary Islands or Miami, despite the cost.
  • Featherstone Rovers are claiming the quickest try ever – after just seven seconds against Hunslet Hawks. Go on-line to see how it happened.

JANUARY, WEEK ONE:weekone

  • First day of the year, woke at 5 a.m. – tells you a lot about my New Year’s Eve – to the sounds of our former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, being interviewed by the ABC about political events in 1983. Thirty years from now it will be Tony Abbott, and it’s anyone’s guess how the ABC will handle that.
  • Breath tested twice on New Year’s morning – predictable, if nothing else.
  • A mate of mine reckons the band, ‘Castlecomer’ were the best newcomers at the Woodford Folk Festival. – Ice hockey leaves me cold – did I write that? – but I was fascinated by the Detroit – Toronto match played outdoors in blizzard like conditions. The American Women’s Olympic team were guests during a break, with each player introduced to the fans. There was one poignant moment, after a particularly pretty team member featured in close-up, and the next team member, a tall, comparatively plain lass, essentially mouthed these words – ‘It’s so unfair. How can I compete with that’.
  • Speaking of Yanks. It’s great to see baseball coach, Mike Young back with the Australian cricket team. You always feel good and positive after spending a few minutes with Mike, and I am one of the first to bag Yanks for being ‘corn balls’, at times.
  • Funny day at Redcliffe on Saturday, Jan 4. Indian lady asked me for a lift to Woody Point as I filled up my car at Clontarf at 6.50 a.m. She needed to open Masala Café at 7 a.m. and there were no buses running. I obliged, even though the garage cashier warned me to be careful. All good. Brought back memories of 1992, I think it was, when I arrived home at Zillmere with two backpackers I had picked up outside a garage at Maryborough, after covering a pre-season rugby league double header at Bundaberg. It was against company policy to give people a lift, but I felt so sorry for this couple, sweltering on a humid February day and having no luck getting a ride. He was English, of Jamaican heritage, and she was a Scot. They stayed at our place for a week and Marie and our three kids loved it, because he was a chef, and we gave him free rein in the kitchen.
  • While having my coffee in the tiny park beside the Woody Point Jetty a bloke decided it was the spot to practice his golf. And boy, his game needed fine tuning. It was time to leave.
  • Ever noticed that Redcliffe is one of the few places where you are likely to see kids wearing the local (Dolphins) jersey instead of NRL gear?
  • Bee Gees song came on 4KQ as I drove past old Palace Hotel. Timing.
  • Drove to Redcliffe via Zillmere, where I saw that one of Brisbane’s weirdest houses – a fortress like construction in Battersby Street – was for sale. Hope the former owner has found peace, wherever he is.
  • Sounds like the tennis was great at Tennyson, but have not heard one good report about the catering. $9 for a (very ordinary) meat pie, around $11 for a sausage on a roll Munich Beer Fest stuff, it was not. And I’m also reliably informed food and drink service at Eagles Farm Races on New Year’s Day was deplorable.
  • In September this year, if all goes to plan, my book on the Broncos’ glory days (when they won five titles between 1992 and 2000) will be available for purchase. The publishers asked me to interview 38 players, and I managed to do 33 face-to-face, three by phone and one by email (Lote Tuqiri from Dublin). Anthony Mundine was the only former player not to get back to me.
  • It was hilarious to hear Broncos 2000 grand final skipper, Kevvie Walters talk about the Ipswich Jets in their early days.
  • “The Jets were battlers back then,” Kevvie said. “They would go the ‘biffo’. They would be in the game for the first half, and then the class of the opposition would come through. But they had a crack every week.”
  • Ah. Brings back memories of Friday night at the Ipswich Reserve in the early days of the State League, with sausage rolls and a XXXX afterwards with local league stalwarts, Guv Clark and Banjo Green.
  • Peter Badel will have a book out at the same time as mine – his on John Sattler. Solution? Just buy both.
  • There has been a lot of debate about why Australians can’t match the ‘Barmy Army’ in terms of chants.
  • Australians are very good – individually – at witty remarks, but will never really get into the organised stuff.
  • The small ‘Fanatics’ group at the Brisbane Open tried their best, and I’ll leave it at that.
  • My theory is that the English ‘chanting’ is a cold climate thing.
  • It is born of thousands of people having to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the terraces at football games on winter days, usually after quite a few pints at the pub.
  • In Australia we have been brought up on two or three games of footy on the one card – not just the one game as in England.
  • And in our mainly warmer climes, in stadiums built for cricket as well as football, our fans have adopted a more casual approach to footy watching, sometimes relaxing on a blanket on the hill. But I acknowledge there has never been anything relaxed about Aussie rules supporters in Melbourne.
Have a rewarding 2014.
STEVE RICKETTS.

2 responses to “Diary of a retired Rugby League writer

  1. Hi Steve enjoyed your travellog.Been a ext Pat Kiwi the name Eddie Heatley brings back memories, absolutely killed it in the local Auckland comp. I was lucky enough to be at the 1971 test match with my late Dad when the Kiwis troweled up the Aussies, and for the record it wasn’t muddy as reported by the Aussie media. It’s a real pity RL doesn’t honour its history in both Aust and NZ as much as it should.
    Just finished reading a book on Maori RL. They were the first touring team to Aust. Good read.

    Cheers
    Paul

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