When calling league was a safety risk
22 August 2021
RICHARD E JONES
BENDIGO - When we (my wife and I) lived in Port Moresby during the 1960s and 70s there were five member clubs of the Papuan Rugby League (PRL).
These were Kone Tigers (gold and black), Paga (light blue), Magani-Badili (maroon), DCA or Department of Civil Aviation (white with a blue V) and Hanuabada Hawks (green and white — mainly green).
Friday night rugby league was very popular in Moresby and pre-dated Australian rugby league and Aussie Rules Friday night fixtures by quite a bit.
Why Friday night fixtures were packed was because it was so much cooler in the evenings as the sweltering daytime temperatures were cut down to size.
I broadcast PRL matches for ABC station 9PA (sometimes on relay to 9RB Rabaul) from the grandstand in the PRL headquarters grandstand in the Moresby suburb of Boroko. Occasionally I also called the Sunday afternoon matches.
Moresby’s five clubs busily recruited players from Queensland, particularly from North Queensland but also from northern NSW.
There were some pretty good players. I recall that Kone Tigers’ Mark Harris ‘ went on to play for NSW and the Aussie national side, the Kangaroos.
The Aussie imports were usually given jobs in the Department of Public Works, at Burns Philp or Steamships supermarkets or some other basic employment where they could get a bit of exercise and time off for training and tour games.
In the days of cheque books it wasn’t unknown for a few of them to hand over worthless bits of paper to PRL headquarters manager, Lennie Katterns, in exchange for real money. Problems would be sorted out later.
In their glory days before we arrived in Moresby, the Kone Tigers had been dominant. But not so in the 60s and 70s when they were cellar dwellers.
They were also the least active in the Aussie recruiting drives whilst we were there.
The big things in rugby league were the annual Inter-Territory encounters between Papua and New Guinea.
The Papuan home match was always played at PRL headquarters while on the New Guinea side games alternated between Lae, Rabaul, Madang and Goroka.
I recall broadcasting one Inter-Territory game at the Rabaul ground, perched top of a 10-foot high bamboo and kunai grass shelter.
My co-commentator got so excited by one passage of play he drummed his feet on the bamboo slats causing the stand to tilt awkwardly to one side.
For the rest of the afternoon we called the action sitting motionless.
John Kaputin (now Sir John) was the first Papua New Guinean I recall seeing play at the PRL ground. He was a member of the afore-mentioned Kone club and was a very pacey and agile winger.
On one occasion I recall him flying down the sideline score in front of an ultra-excited Papua New Guinean crowd in the outer who invaded the pitch after a no-try was called.
Quick as a flash, John sprinted for the grandstand, grabbed the ground announcer's mike and called for calm. It worked.
But usually proceedings were much less agitated back then than I’m told they are these days.
I remember the much-awarded journalist Sean Dorney from those old glory days in Moresby.
He arrived in the country in 1973 I think and was soon played first grade for a Moresby club side as a very sprightly half-back. Clever too, a great reader of the game.
So it was no surprise when he went on to play in PNG rep sides, as captain no less.
Sean became a star in PNG footie and doyen of Pacific journalism and I guess you can’t do much better than that in the only country on earth where rugby league is the national sport and the kundus, garamuts and conch shells used to convey the information.
I’ve been gone from PNG these past 45 years so my contacts in writing and broadcasting have either croaked or like Keith Jackson are in sedentary old age.
I still keep active in my local central Victorian media despite my advancing years. I still write up the Bendigo Football League Aussie Rules home and away matches for my former newspaper every Saturday.
And I broadcast a weekly sports round-up on a central Victorian community radio station every Wednesday. Gotta keep active.
Old sports journos never die, you know, they just get subbed out.
Richard Jones and I trained together at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in 1962-63 and both taught in Papua New Guinea and freelanced as journalists and broadcasters before making them their career. They both covered the South Pacific Games in Port Moresby in 1968. Now in their retirement, the ink has not left their veins - KJ
Thanks, KJ. Yep, I'd read the sad news of Martin Beni's death. Think he was late 60s/early 70s at best.
A heart problem claimed him I've read.
The big fight which we covered in PNG Attitude quite a bit before was staged at the Sir Hubert Murray Stadium in September 1974.
Martin KO'd Aussie Colin Cassidy in the sixth round.
Maybe you can direct interested readers to the March 2008 article where I referenced PM Sir Michael Somare closing the House of Assembly for the night so pollies could trek down to Sir Hubert Murray.
He was a Kairuku sub-district lad was Martin, and knowing the beautiful headdresses and garments people from that region wear maybe they'll come out (or have come out) for the great man's funeral.
This is Richard's original piece from March 2008 - KJ
Posted by: Richard E. Jones | 01 November 2021 at 03:12 PM
Thanks for the best wishes, Ed.
Apart from reporting on a couple of sports at the 1969 Moresby South Pacific Games - Keith was the main track and field reporter that year - I also was at the 1966 and 1975 Games.
The Noumea Games in 1966 were notable for we journos because of the vibrant French cuisine available.
The 1975 Games in Agana, Guam, nine years down the track, were highly organised. Even down to the Guam Governor (it was a US territory) welcoming us in the drizzling rain at the opening ceremony, saying it was merely a tropical shower sent to cool us down.
Two things off the sports fields remain imprinted in the memory. It was the first time Judyth and I had ever been in a Macca's establishment. Also we had our very first credit card .... a RCA one ... to cover costs of ringing back scores/results/opinion pieces to the Post Courier in Moresby.
PNG reporter Tarcissius Bobola and I used to ring Moresby nightly - sometimes twice. In Moresby, the late Gus Smales, with his headphones on, would laboriously type our read-out stories sentence by sentence for inclusion in the next day's paper.
I think there was a slight legal problem there about the process but, to the best of my knowledge, the Post-Courier never had to answer legal charges.
Of the 14 sports contested in Guam, Tarcissius and I shared the load - seven each.
Nice memories, Richard. I don't know if you caught up with the death of Martin Benny recently. If my recall isn't totally shot, I think you covered the birth of his boxing career. He was a good find and sure could thread the needle - KJ
Posted by: Richard Jones | 31 October 2021 at 03:40 PM
Glad to hear you're still at it, Richard
Posted by: Ed Brumby | 22 August 2021 at 09:17 AM