Friday, August 12, 2011

In league with Brothers, Wide Bay and the word from Churchill

YOU remember the first blog I wrote back in September, 2009, about my highly unusual start in newspapers?
It was highly unusual because I didn't know what a journalist was and I was a terrible speler and very slow reader (still am) and  only just got a C in English when I finished school in Junior.
 At that stage all I was interested in was rugby league and becoming an electrician but couldn't get an apprenticeship. Anyway have a look at that first blog to get my background in newspapers.
Even after I finished my four-year newspaper cadetship on the Maryborough Chronicle and got a job on The Courier-Mail in 1956, I still didn't like reporting but had to stick with it because I was about to get married and needed a good job to get a bit of money.
What I wanted most in life was to play rugby league for Queensland and Australia and thought I could get there because I had played for Wide Bay against France and New Zealand in my late teens.
As soon as I got the job on The Courier-Mail I  joined Brisbane Brothers Rugby League club and had a couple of games in A grade before the newspaper's chief of staff told me if I wanted to play football seriously I had better find another job. And that was the end of my footy career at the age of 21.
It was a pretty cruel blow for me because I loved rugby league and had been playing it from the age of about  10 or 11, starting in the 5stone 7pound team at my old school, St Brendan's College outside Yeppoon. I left St Brendan's after just scraping through Junior when I was 16 and went back to live with my parents in Maryborough. There I joined Brothers Rugby League club and about a year later, at 17, I won a spot in the A grade team on the wing because I was pretty fast and not a bad defender.
Anyway, I  fluked a reporter's job on the Maryborough Chronicle. I wasn't remotely interested in it but the chief of staff there, Ray Foster, was a mad rugby league fan and also covered the game for the paper and encouraged me in football.
In 1954 I was on the wing for Brothers when we won the Maryborough premiership, but I ended up in hospital that night with a badly broken nose and concussion from a pretty good stiff-arm tackle.
Next year I made the Wide Bay rep side, first playing the Queensland country trials in Rockhampton and then against France at Gympie. I scored a pretty good try in that match.
In 1956, I was again in the Wide Bay side when we played the country trials and then against New Zealand.
Later that year I moved to The Courier-Mail, because my fiancee, Jan Cridland, who had  recently won The Sunday Mail Sun Girl competition - and a Holden Special - had moved to Brisbane and become a top model.
Off I went to The Courier-Mail, not so much to be a reporter but to be a rugby league star. But, as I said, I was told to either give up league or give up my reporting job.
I was pretty dirty about quitting league but had to do it because  there was no money in league back then.
I still wasn't very interested in reporting but then a strange thing happened. The Courier-Mail editor-in-chief, the late, great Sir Theodore Bray, flew to Sydney and Melbourne to sign on a heap of young reporters for the paper. They were all a bit older than me but turned out to be a great mob and taught me a lot of things about newspapers which got me very interested in the job for the first time and taught me one other interesting thing - how to enjoy a beer.
I was getting along so well at reporting after learning from these blokes that I was promoted into the police rounds department which was very, very interesting - covering crime, accidents, fires etc. It was mainly night work and involved a lot of time driving around Brisbane in a two-way radio equipped Holden visiting accidents and checking on police stations.
Then when the first edition of The Courier-Mail came out about 11pm, I would pick up about 20 copies, hop in the police rounds Holden and drive around the city  handing  them out at the CIB headquarters, Roma Street police HQ,  Water Police HQ, the Fire Brigade HQ, and the General Hospital Casualty Department.
When you were in those places you would spend a fair bit of time talking to the staff about what was happening, looking for stories. Mostly the staff were co-operative, particularly at the CIB and Water Police, because that's where I used to pull out a coffee bottle of rum and share it with the staff.
Then  after four years of general reporting and police rounds covering all sorts of crime, accidents and fires, they moved me into the sports department because the great league player and reporter, Jack Reardon, needed an offsider to help cover sport, and league in particular.
I wasn't real happy because  by now I was interested in newspaper writing mainly because I was working with a great mob of older blokes who taught me plenty about reporting.
You would think I would be happy covering rugby league, the game I loved, eh? Well, I wasn't, because after I had to give up playing the game aged 21, I couldn't bear watching it and hadn't been to a match in those four years I was on general reporting and police rounds.
But Reardon was a great bloke to work with and got me interested again.
And it also got me working with some of my sporting  heroes, like rugby league greats Clive Churchill, and later John Sattler, Wally Lewis and tennis champs like Rod Laver.
I wrote columns in The Courier-Mail for Churchill and Sattler. It was great to be able to sit beside a bloke like Churchill at an Ekka Test match when he was coach of Australia, listening to his comments before ghost-writing his column.
Churchill was not only a great player, one of the best, he was also a great bloke.
We spent a fair bit of time together having a beer while we decided what we wanted to write his columns about.
There was only one time I did not enjoy being out with Churchill, but it wasn't his fault. It was after that Exhibition Ground test match sitting next to Churchill I mentioned earlier.
After the match I ghosted Churchill's column of the Test and about 7pm that night I picked up an office sedan and drove Churchill out to a party the late bookmaker, Billy McLeod, was throwing for the Australian team at his Aspley home. 
All the greats were there including Reg Gasnier, Harry Wells, Barry Muir and Johnny Raper.
We all had a few beers but as I had a big day the next day, I took off reasonably early by myself, leaving Churchill with his mates.
But  driving down a street to Gympie Road I made a sharp turn and rolled the sedan - just onto its side. I wasn't hurt, but I radioed the garage at work and they sent out a truck.
We rolled the sedan back onto its wheels and towed it back to the office garage. It was the only accident I have had in more than 50 years of driving.
I reported the accident to Valley Police Station the next day and when I told Churchill about it a few days later he said he might not be taking a lift with me in future. But he did.
Working in the Sports Department was good to me. It led to travelling the world covering Olympic and Commonwealth Games, a Kangaroo tour and many other international destinations.
It even got better when I was asked to leave Sport and start writing general columns, which led to more world travel writing features and some great trips around the Queensland Outback with my great mate and great artist, the late Hugh Sawrey.

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