Almanac Rugby League: Henson Park




‘Newtown v St George at Henson Park With Me And My Brother Lonno
Throwing Lilies From The Top Of The George V Memorial Grandstand’
By John Campbell



It was the first game of footy that our Dad took us to. Me and my little brother Lonno. Newtown v St George at Henson Park.

The Dragons, led by Norm Provan, were more or less unbeatable at the time, while Newtown were the battlers who, when the Saints turned up, did well to not be beaten by a dozen. Before the four-tackle rule was introduced, possession was paramount and a try was only worth three points – when you got the ball you hung on to it and scores soaring into the thirties and forties were as rare as hens’ teeth.

It was also in the days when players’ jerseys and shorts got dirty. What magic material are they made from now that makes them virtually free of stains after eighty minutes? Or is it just that back then the playing field was more bare earth than grass? Saints would run on in their blinding white outfits and by half-time look like the ‘before’ in a before and after ad for Omo. In this latter state of grubbiness, I developed a particular fear of Brian ‘Poppa’ Clay, St George’s bald, rotund five-eighth who might otherwise have belonged in a nightmarish painting by Heironymous Bosch.

We always sat on the hill, opposite the George V Memorial Grandstand. Dad shelled the peanuts that he bought at the gate with his first scorers double, while Lonno and I hoed into hot dogs with tomato sauce – a rare treat.

Not that the Bluebags were without fine players, although it must be mentioned that the great Johnny Raper and Clay himself were poached by the wealthier outfit from Kogarah. Tony Brown, the raw-boned second rower Graham Wilson, Paul Quinn and Bruce Olive, the indigenous prop who threw the grooviest flick pass, all earned representative honours. The crowd favourite, however, was the much loved Brian ‘Chicka’ Moore.

Moore had lost all his hair by his mid-twenties, so with his fat arse and wobbling but destructive running style – he was strong and fast – Chicka was unmissable. His centre partner, Bobby Keyes, was pretty good too.

I jumped ship in 1964 when the Beatles came to Sydney Stadium and Johnny Sattler’s Rabbitohs arrived on the scene. It was a new world and I wanted to be part of it. Lonno stuck fast to the Blues until they were thrown out of the comp in 1983.

In 1988 I moved from Sydney to the north coast of NSW, so I rarely got to a game in the Big Smoke. When I did it was usually to see Souths. The Newtown Bluebags and those sunny afternoons at Henson Park were just a distant, fond memory.

Until … I think it was 2003 … I got a call from Lonno. There was a ‘back to Newtown’ day coming up. The Blues were scheduled to play Canterbury at Henson Park in the State Cup, the NRL’s reserve grade competition. I booked a flight immediately and, on the day, sat with my brother in front of the iconic grandstand. I couldn’t tell you who won the game, but I do remember that the ill-fated Craig Field came off the bench for Newtown and that opposite him was a young Johnathan Thurston for the Dogs.

The moment of greatest nostalgic beauty came at half-time. A whisper swept through the grey-haired footy tragics. Heads were turned … I heard some blokes behind us say, “Chicka Moore’s here.” Lonno and I rubber necked him, as did everybody else. It was like in that song by Eric Burdon, ‘Monterey’, when he sings, “his majesty, Prince Jones, smiled as he moved among the crowd.”

That was the last time I saw my little brother Lonno alive.

I think of him a lot, especially during the footy season. And my father, too. Watching the game from the hill at Henson Park, Lonno and I learnt everything we needed to know about rugby league, the greatest game of all.


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  1. Ian Hauser says

    Good memories, John, albeit tempered with more than a touch of sadness. As always, I just love the artwork!

  2. Dr Rocket says

    Great memories about the Bluebags.
    Apparently games against Souths were billed as the Cops v the Crims

    Still a magnificent football ground.

    When I go to see UNSW – Eastern Suburbs play in AFL Sydney I sit in the magnificent George V Memorial Grandstand and always go to the Henson Park hotel after games for schooners of Reschs.

    All te photos of Bluebag legends are still hanging up on the pub walls.
    It would be complemented by your evocative artwork!

  3. Matt O'Hanlon says

    Great yarn John- great memory for you as well. I was a Bluebag supporter as a kid and have Glen Shepherds great books on the Jets. Bumper Farrells bio is also a great read!

  4. John Harms says

    Superb John. An Almanac Classic. The writing and the image are both brilliant. The writing is much more than an account and a description, it’s very moving and leaves no doubt that sport is deeply meaningful for so many reasons.


    PS The Chicka Moore reference and likening it to Prince Jones is so evocative.

  5. Russel Hansen says

    wonderfully written, John.

    your references to the footy with your Dad and brother add so much to the Bluebags-Henson Park narrative.

    the art work is OUTSTANDING too!

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