SYDNEY - Nicknames are common in sport; particularly so in adult male teams. Many rugby league players who graced the playing fields of Port Moresby in the 1960s and 1970s boasted a wide variety of monikers.
Some came to Moresby from ‘down south’ with them already attached by some other body who hadn’t bother to explain them to us.
So we didn’t know why DCA’s James Annand was always referred to as ‘Digger’ or Barry van Heekeren was ‘Mocha’.
But many others were christened after they arrived and, in our usual lazy way, we simply linked. nicknames to surnames.
One more colourful handle I remember was that of Magani lower grade coach Jim Taylor who was called ‘Squizzy’ after the notorious Melbourne criminal.
Jim, or rather Squizzy, was a good coach but his halftime pep talks could be very confusing. This was because, when excited, he would lapse into Australian vernacular, peppering his speech with jargon like “meat pies, Nazi spies, Julius Marlowes, sink the slipper, all over the shop, come the biff” and a host of other expressions that left most of the players sucking on their oranges and wondering how he wanted the game played in the second half.
Even the Australian players were confused by this outpouring on the Australian idiom while our Papua New Guinean team mates were completely bewildered. Still we won a few games so Squizzy’s messages must have got through occasionally.
Other players earned their nicknames through the way they played. It was easy to see why ‘Knuckles’ Yates of Paga achieved his moniker – and it wasn’t because he had cute fingers.
And there was a tough Papua New Guinean player from Magani who was adept at flattening opponents behind play and otherwise out of the referee’s line of vision without getting penalised. He was accorded the nickname ‘Sniper’. It was well-earned.
Some of our homegrown names were based on the way a person looked. A large overweight player, with very fair skin was referred to as ‘The Pale Whale’. Another, which puzzled me for many years was given to Don Bensted, an ABC employee, Papua Rugby League official and long serving Paga supremo.
Don was referred to as ‘Pieces’. Now this was a hard one; follow me if you can. ‘Pieces’ came from pieces of eight thence to a pirate and then to Long John Silver - who had a wooden leg. Don always wore long trousers and you wouldn’t know one of his legs had been amputated. Not till you saw him walk anyway.
Personally, though, I always felt nicknames based on a person’s appearance or some disability were off limits and should be avoided.
I played a lot of league with Magani and one of the coaches and long serving committee member was a bank johnny who revelled in the nickname of ‘Ferret’. I had countless beers with him and knew him for years yet never learned what his real name was. I still don’t.
The same applied to another long-term friend who ended up managing the Aviat Club. His surname was Vallance. There is no prize for guessing his nickname. It wasn’t until he had left PNG that I found that his first name was Geoff.
But nobody in Port Moresby called him anything but ‘Liberty’.