Hard men of Papuan rugby league (cont)
24 April 2022
WARREN ‘WAZZA’ TURNER
PORT MACQUARIE – I came across ‘The hard men of the Papuan rugby league’, a brief memoir PNG Attitude ran in 2007 and it locked me into 20 minutes of going down memory lane reflecting on rugby league in Port Moresby in the 1960s.
I played for Kone Tigers in 1963, '64 and early '65 before the Education Department posted me to Kerema.
A bloke couldn’t get much of a game down there but, in any event, I was intending to go pinis towards the end of that final year.
I’d always been a fan of Kone Tigers, mainly due to my Dad, Fred (‘Fearless Fred’) Turner, who at various times probably held every position on the committee from the late 1950's to his death in 1977.
During my first year of competition in the Papuan League, I thoroughly enjoyed my Reserve Grade exploits with players like Geoff Drake, Dada Toka, Mick Duffy, Cliff Southwell, Bernard, John Wood, Wara Wele, Bruce Fields, Graham Corling and Dick Gilbert (before he went up to glory in First Grade).
Theirs are the names I recall among many others who’ve slipped my memory.
I do remember – and with trepidation – the day in 1963 when I was called up to First Grade to fill in for the injured No 7, the famous Eddie Bampton.
I think the game was against DCA and I was marking David ‘Darby’ Hibbard, who passed away here in Port Macquarie some years back.
It was the first of three occasions for me in First Grade that year. The second was against Hawks, where I filled in for Mick Eaton against John Oberdorf and the third time I was playing five-eighth against Paga, I think filling in for an injured Dale Gooding.
In that encounter I recall coming up against a school mate of mine, Willie Luk (son of the famous Koki tailors, the Luk Poy Wai family.
I was lucky enough to play most of the 1964 season in First Grade alongside Geoff Drake, Eddie Bampton, Dale Gooding, John Kaputin, Brian King, Wara Wele, Alua Mana and Ron Julien.
As a youngster, I’d been fortunate to have a number of mentors in the hurly-burly of Moresby rugby league, primarily Mum & Dad, Zena and Fred, as well as Bev & Eric Baumgartner (he’d been a former Queensland junior representative and premiership winning player with Kone in 1959 and 1960).
Joan and Eddie Bampton, Ron Hawthorne, Mick Duffy, 'Speed' McLeod, Merv McGregor, Dick Gilbert, Ron Southwood and Ian Skinner also assisted me along the way.
I remember well the infamous Friday night riot when we played an undefeated Paga.
A scuffle broke out under the goal posts and suddenly hundreds of spectators ran onto the field, believing my second row team-mate, Alua Mana, had been on the brunt of unfair treatment from Paga fullback, Cliff Hopper.
Linesman Ron McDowell was trying to use his little wooden flag to dispense justice and disperse the now milling hordes.
It was all in the dark, as the PRL in their wisdom felt it best to switch off the ground lights.
Anyway, the game was called off, which was disappointing as we were leading 10-nil at the time (and likely to go to 12-0 if Eddie converted Alua's try under the posts).
It looked highly likely that we would inflict Paga's first defeat for 1964. Not to be.
In 1963 I travelled to Lae and in 1964 to Rabaul for the two-yearly Papua v New Guinea clashes.
They were definite highlights for a youngster – travelling for representative matches with plane loads of players, support staff and supporters.
Another highlight was the end-of-season trip with DCA to Mareeba in North Queensland.
And I remember distinctly, although I probably shouldn’t, a pub crawl in Cairns with the two DCA props, one of whom I think was Billy Baker, a brewer at Moresby's famous SP Brewery.
Anyway we survived and I don't know how many of the possible 32 pubs that Cairns boasted at the time we managed to have a beer in, but I vaguely remember falling in love the daughter of the owner of the Criterion Hotel.
Upon my return to Moresby, Dad was not very happy with rumours circulating that I was going to accept an offer to join DCA the following year.
A highlight for many people, and especially the Kone Tigers fraternity, was the presentation to Eddie Bampton on 31 July 1964 to mark his 100th appearance for Kone, the first time it had happened in the history of the Papuan Rugby League.
During those years, a number of younger players from all the clubs formed a team of Papuan Colts and played a similar New Guinea team in Popondetta.
The following year we played a team of secondary and high school league players, the Southern Mustangs, students who were back home on holidays from down south.
Three tests had to be played. The Colts won the first and the Mustangs the second.
I was contacted in Kereme to fly in and give the Colts a helping hand and this was reported in the Post-Courier, although I think it was still the South Pacific Post then, that I was flying from Kerema to join the Colts line-up.
As luck would have it, the article was read by one Bernie Westmore, a senior administrator in the Education Department.
Evidently he’d seen my leave application and I was instructed to attend his office as soon as I landed in Moresby.
Dad saved my skin by explaining to Westmore that I had gone through the correct channels and my leave approved by the District Education Officer in Kerema, Nev Dachs.
Nevertheless it was an unnerving experience to be carpeted by this articulate, fearsome, balding bow-tie wearing post-war administrator.
As I mentioned in a comment yesterday, my wife and I were honoured to have dinner with Leila and John Kaputin here in Port Macquarie in 2017. He was a top athlete and became a prominent diplomat for Papua New Guinea on the world stage.
If you can add to my store of memories drop a line in the Comments section below. I’m really looking forward to reading some of your rugby league stories from those grand old days.
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