Almanac Rugby League: Like father, like son, like grandson

 

Dan Keary is a life-long Roosters fan and grew up attending their games at the old Sydney Sports Ground and Henson Park. The passion only seems to get stronger with time and, despite all the usual work and family commitments that come with middle age, his winters are still well and truly planned in advance around the Roosters’ draw. (And, no, he’s not related to the Roosters’ Luke Keary.)

 

It is August 2000 and Sydney is on the cusp of hosting the Olympic Games. The city, which had been a large-scale construction site for much of the last five years or so, has on its best face, ready to impress the world. There is a sense of anticipation, excitement and pride amongst all Sydneysiders.

 

At the time, I was almost idiotic in my anticipation, excitement and pride. But it had nothing to do with the Olympics. The Sydney Roosters, at long last, had reached the Grand Final – their first in twenty years – and, in the rather narrow confines of my sporting mind, this was a much, much bigger event than the Olympic Games.

 

At the time, a once in a lifetime working holiday opportunity in the south of France awaited me. But as wonderful as that opportunity was, it was always going to have to wait until the end of the footy season. I had no qualms about missing the Olympics – they’re on the TV every four years after all – but I would never have forgiven myself if I’d been swanning around the south of France while the Roosters were crowing around the Olympic Stadium on a Grand Final victory lap.

 

I’d therefore timed my overseas departure so that it sat precisely between the Grand Final and the start of the Games. If all went to plan, I’d be there to witness the Roosters’ first premiership since 1975 and then, sodden in jubilation, I’d head to France and escape the Olympics-induced madness that was about to descend on the city.

 

With an exhilarating 26-16 victory over Newcastle in the Preliminary Final, the Roosters had delivered a critical piece of this puzzle I’d concocted in my mind months earlier. I had every reason to be excited.

 

And I wasn’t alone in this excitement. Nearly two and half thousand kilometres away in Port Douglas, Far North Queensland, was my equally excited Dad, the one who had bestowed this whole, arguably unhealthy, irrational Roosters obsession on me in the first place.

 

***

 

Dad’s love of the Eastern Suburbs Roosters stretched back to his childhood growing up and attending school in Bondi in the forties and fifties. It seems he was a pretty handy young footballer himself, too.

 

Dad met my mother around the haunts of Bondi when they were both in their late teens. He was a fresh-faced, short and muscular local lad and Mum was the striking but shy daughter of immigrant French-Vietnamese parents who had settled in Bondi in the 1950s.

 

After marrying in 1961, Mum and Dad moved over the hill from Bondi to Rushcutters Bay and started a family. There they stayed until the early seventies when they shifted their young family – my sisters Joanna and Eloise, brother Anthony and an infant me – from the Eastern Suburbs to the Northern Beaches of Sydney, where the lure of the (then) cheaper real estate obviously outweighed any trepidation Dad might have had about living in enemy Sea Eagles territory.

 

Geography notwithstanding, Dad remained fiercely loyal to the Roosters. And there would be no question that his two sons, my older brother and me, would be raised as a couple of equally fanatical junior Roosters (who, to this day, remain a couple of fanatical middle-aged Roosters).

 

Being a father myself now, I get this, too. Sure, you want your son to grow up a decent and respectful person, without conceit or prejudice, with good health and a sound mind. But – and let’s be honest here – you also desperately want him to follow the same footy team as you. No ifs or buts, no dalliances with a “second favourite team” or a sympathetic soft spot for some perpetually struggling club: just unequivocal, unwavering support for your team only. Any other way and, surely, life just becomes too complicated.

 

And so it was with us as kids. Of course, the fact that it was a golden era for the Roosters didn’t go astray. There were consecutive premierships in 1974 and 1975, and a team consisting of some of the most famous names ever to play for the club: Beetson, Coote, Brass, Fairfax, Mullins, Peard, Reilly, Schubert et al. Names which are still uttered by Easts fans in reverential tones today.

 

I’m not entirely sure, but I think my earliest recollections of following the Roosters are some fuzzy images of watching the 1975 Grand Final on TV with Dad and the rest of the family: there’s Johnny Mayes feeding a scrum, Artie Beetson busting the line, and Ian Schubert spectacularly hitting the deck after a brutal mid-air collision with Ted Goodwin.

 

Then again, perhaps I’m just getting confused with memories of the last time I watched my treasured DVD of the game. Which actually wasn’t that long ago.

 

Either way, I still have some old photos of Dad and all us kids decked out in our Easts gear on the day of the ’75 Grand Final. It was a big day then and, given the Roosters’ historic and emphatic victory over St George, it was to remain a big day for many years to come.

 

I certainly have much clearer memories of our winter weekends over the rest of the seventies – weekends spent dressed in our Roosters jerseys, playing epic, hours-long games of backyard footy, complete with our own running commentary and roaring crowd cheers and jeers which accompanied every break, tackle and try. We had enviable collections of bubble gum-scented Scanlen’s footy cards and my brother’s large stash of Big League and Rugby League Week was our principal source of literature. Frank Hyde’s match calls sound-tracked our days and there was no better entertainment on TV than Controversy Corner and the “pass the ball” competition on Sunday mornings.

 

Thinking back now, life seemed fairly simple: it was the beach and cricket in summer and rugby league and the Roosters in winter.

 

There was a lot of laughter, too, and Dad was often at the centre of it with his proudly low-brow brand of toilet humour – like the fake dog turds he’d slyly place on the back lawn to torment our garden-proud Mum, or the ten cents he’d reward us kids with if we let rip a fart of sufficient volume. Fart like a champion for an hour or so and we’d have enough money for a packet of footy cards or a bag of mixed lollies from the shop down the road.

 

***

 

Salad days, of sorts.

 

Of sorts, because while we were happy children, Mum and Dad had a far from happy marriage. The seventies was also the era of the ubiquitous KB tinnie and, it’s fair to say, it was Dad’s fondness for those tinnies that played a big part in their troubled marriage.

 

Why he hit the KB so hard I don’t really know. Surely it wasn’t because of the taste. Maybe it was his loathing of his job with the tax office which, from what Mum told me in later years, was the safe but menial public service career that his parents had pushed him into at a young age rather than attending university as he had hoped. Either way, the KB eventually got the better of him and, around 1979, he and Mum separated. Mum took us kids and Dad went it alone.

 

Despite the circumstances, I still spent a fair bit of time with Dad. And just as when we lived under the same roof, most of that time spent together involved footy in some way. He would come and watch me play league on the weekends, always shouting encouragement from the sideline. Sure, his encouragement often got a touch over-enthusiastic, perhaps fuelled by a couple of pre-game KBs, but he was there to watch me all the same.

 

I remember him taking me shopping for new football boots when I made the switch from playing soccer to league, insisting on buying me a pair of anachronistic looking, ankle high “Torch” brand boots. They were similar to what he’d worn back in his playing days and, he confidently assured me, they’d also protect me from a broken ankle. There was no argument with that from a ten-year-old. Of course, I ended up being the only kid in the team, probably the whole competition for that matter, with boots like that, but I dutifully wore them because that’s what my Dad had bought me.

 

With those boots, the right coaching and enough encouragement, I’m sure he had high hopes of me becoming a good enough footballer to play First Grade….with the Roosters, of course. Those hopes probably took a bit of a dive when my fourth grade school side failed to win a game all year, scoring a solitary try for the entire season. (Has there ever been a worse record from any side of any age or any grade in the history of rugby league?)

 

But Dad wasn’t deterred and, the following year, he gave me a highly educational tome, “Murray’s Guide to Rugby League,” with a great colour cover photo of Roosters Ron Coote, Greg Bandiera and John Peard in action in front of a packed SCG hill. On the inside of the cover of the book, which I still have today, is written in his beautiful copperplate handwriting:

“4/6/80
To Daniel,
Hope you become a good player. Study this book well.
Love Dad.”

 

Now there’s some direct, taciturn fatherly words.

 

Its cover and pages are now yellowed by time, its spine broken and its pages unglued, but the book survives, held together with a rubber band in a snap lock plastic bag on my book shelf, still one of my most prized possessions.

 

Of course, I was never big enough, determined enough, confident enough or good enough to become the footballer he had hoped, but I more than compensated for this in his eyes with my increasingly fervent support for the Roosters.

 

The year Dad gave me that book, 1980, was a Grand Final year for Easts. They were firm favourites over opponents Canterbury prior to the match, but that would count for little. It was an awful game, mainly because the Roosters never looked to be in it. That now famous Steve Gearin up-and-under try towards full-time crushed our hopes in the most spectacular – and cruel – fashion imaginable.

 

Little did we know at the time, but it was going to be a long, long time, with some outright miserable seasons in between, before the Roosters would see any Grand Final action again.

 

***

 

Life in the eighties went on. Mum and Dad divorced and I now had a stepfather who, despite being a Manly fan, was a great bloke and like a second Dad to me.

 

I continued to spend a fair bit of time with Dad and he’d sometimes take my brother and me to the old Sydney Sports Ground to watch the Roosters. I have a couple of standout memories from this era, such as sitting on that enormous, grassed hill of the Sports Ground when Easts thumped Manly 40-2 in 1982. That day, the Roosters scored a remarkable, length of the field try which featured a string of miraculous passes and a total of eleven players handling the ball. Still worth an occasional sneaky peak on YouTube.

 

I also remember Dad somehow getting us into the referees’ dressing room after one of those games at the Sports Ground, spinning some yarn to the official at the door that he should be allowed in because of someone he knew through work. Despite it sounding dubious even to my young mind, the yarn somehow worked and in we went to meet the referee and touch judges.

 

Another favourite memory is congregating with a thousand other kids down near the try line as full-time approached. There we all waited, our eyes focussed on that same prize. Once the siren sounded, we collectively pounced, over the fence and straight to the solitary black and white striped cardboard corner post. Somehow, despite the fierce competition, there’d sometimes be the lucky occasion when you could come away with a torn shred of the corner post – still a mighty trophy to a ten- or eleven-year-old, footy-obsessed mind.

 

Other weekends, when not at the games, we’d head over to Dad’s place where he’d down some KBs, cook us dinner (often a very tasty curry) and regale us with heroic tales from his youth. While his feats as a Bondi Beach lifesaver and stories of courting our mother were always entertaining, it was his playing days for Easts that we really wanted to hear about.

 

Like the time he smashed a knee-cap while playing hooker for Easts against Parramatta on the SCG. Despite the buggered knee, he played on and, for that effort, was awarded man-of-the-match and presented with a trophy by Easts legends Dally Messenger and Ray Stehr.

 

Or when, as a teenager, he came home from school one day to see a mysterious looking black car parked outside his house. When he went inside, a couple of blokes in suits were sitting down talking to his parents. The blokes were Easts officials and they were there on business: Easts’ regular hooker was out injured and a replacement was needed for the upcoming match against St George.

 

So here they were to ask Dad’s parents whether they’d be agreeable to their schoolboy son making his First Grade debut. Permission was granted and Dad was only too willing to accept the offer. So that weekend, on the hallowed turf of the SCG, he ran out for this beloved Easts to be marking legendary St George hard man and hooker, Ken Kearney.

 

“First scrum of the match,” Dad would explain, “I pack down and bloody Kearney lands a sneaky uppercut on me…tells me to cop that one, son.”

 

“But I wasn’t going to take a backward step,” he’d continue, “so I threw one right back. Landed it, too.”

 

“Next thing, the scrum’s erupted and it’s an all-in, with Kearney and I going for it.”

 

“After the game,” Dad would conclude, “Kearney comes into the Easts dressing room.  I thought oh shit, he wants to blue me out behind the grandstand. But, I’ll be buggered, instead he came in, shook my hand and congratulated me on a fine debut.”

 

It was a gripping tale and one which I desperately wanted to believe. But I knew the story was only told after he’d cracked open the KBs.

 

Some years later, a book was published listing, in alphabetical order, every player to have played First Grade in the Sydney Rugby League competition. With the epic tale of Dad’s First Grade debut in mind, I eagerly went down to the local book store, found the book and went straight to the “Ks.” Sure enough, there was Ken Kearney, but no Noel Keary.

 

Disappointed as I was, I’d still like to think that there was a kernel of truth in that story. Perhaps Dad had played some form of junior representative or lower grade football for Easts on one of the local suburban ovals and, over time, this reality had morphed in his own mind into a courageous First Grade debut against one of the all-time great hookers on one of the most famous old rugby league grounds in the world.

 

***

 

One day – it must have been 1982 or 1983 – without telling anyone, Dad just quit his job and took off. One minute he was living in a unit not far from us, the next he was living thousands of kilometres away up at Port Douglas.

 

While I didn’t see Dad for many years after that, we regularly wrote to each other and occasionally spoke by phone. Of course, he wanted to know about matters such as how I was doing at school or my other interests at the time, such as body boarding and drumming. Likewise, I was curious about how he was getting along and spending his days, always eager to hear his tales of occasional misadventure living in the tropics. However, without exception, we always ended up on that one topic that had been and which remained such a solid constant in our relationship: how the Roosters were faring.

 

Back in those days, when the Roosters had several consecutive lean seasons, we typically rued the season just gone whilst assuring one another that we had every reason to expect better things for the coming season. Without fail, we’d find enough reasons to assure each other that there was always next year.

 

Eventually, after finishing high school, I went up to visit Dad in Port Douglas a couple of times. The first of those trips was towards the end of 1988 with my brother Anthony and my best mate Jase. And a funny trip it was.

 

Arriving at our pre-arranged meeting place with Dad, the Court House Hotel, and with him nowhere to be seen, we asked the barman if he knew where Noel Keary might be. “No bloody idea”, or some words to that effect, was his curt response. After deciding to wait a bit longer and ordering a round of beers, we took some seats to ponder what had happened to our agreed rendezvous. Soon enough, however, a large colour mural on one of the walls, depicting an assortment of local characters drinking at the pub, caught our attention. There in the middle of it, was the unmistakable portrait of Dad, a sly grin and a schooner in hand, staring straight at us.

 

 

 

 

“Hey, that’s Dad!” we said excitedly, pointing at the mural. Overhearing this, the barman came straight over. “You’re his sons, are you? Why didn’t you say so?” he asked – this time in a far more friendly tone – before revealing that at this time of the day Dad would be found in the club over the road. Mystified as to why the barman felt it necessary to protect Dad’s identity (and to this day, I’m still not quite sure why – locals looking out for locals, I suppose), we trekked over the road where we found Dad and several of his mates enjoying their cold schooners on a deck over the Port Douglas harbour with a million dollar view all the way up to Cape Tribulation.

 

Dad had arranged for us to stay with one of his mates, Kev, who had a small house near the centre of town. It was hardly salubrious accommodation with the geckos which crawled over us as at night making sleep even more difficult than it already was on the old, worn couches in the humid, tropical heat. But we were just thankful for the free digs within walking distance to the town’s pubs where we would spend many an hour over many a schooner catching up on old times with Dad.

 

As for the Roosters, 1988 had been a forgettable season.  After nearly making the Grand Final in 1987, going down narrowly to Manly in an epic Preliminary Final, the Roosters started 1988 among the premiership favourites. However, they finished the season a lowly twelfth. I can’t recall exactly, but I have no doubt much of our conversation with Dad on that trip centred around the many reasons – a new coach in Russell Fairfax, the return of Brett Papworth from injury, and the signing of star Great Britain winger Martin “Chariots” Offiah – we could look forward to a much better 1989.

 

But 1989 was to be another disastrous season and 1990 equally lean. It was an era of multiple coaches (three different coaches – Russell Fairfax, Hugh McGahan and Barry Reilly – in 1990 alone), a return to Henson Park – the scene of multiple floggings in front of tiny crowds – and the fully functioning “transit lounge” turnover of players. Dark days indeed.

 

1991 wasn’t much better and the statistics tell the story: 11th place on the ladder; top point scorer Kurt Sherlock – who is remembered by Easts fans more for his fine handlebar moustache rather than his footballing ability – and top try scorer, Terry Hill, who never even wanted to be at Easts in the first place.

 

There were glimmers of hope, however, in 1992 and 1993, with a Craig Salvatori-led Roosters nudging, but not quite making, the finals in both years.

 

In 1992, on an extended road trip with my mate Dave in an old Holden Premier station wagon, I again visited Dad in Port Douglas. At the time, Easts were travelling pretty well, still in the mix for the finals, and I spent one afternoon with Dad in his local pub watching a Roosters game on TV, cheering them on amongst a pub full of otherwise disinterested tourists, Broncos fans and AFL supporters.

 

It was another hilarious trip, and not only was the Ken Kearney story retold more than once, I soon found out that some of Dad’s mates could match him in the footy fables department. Kev had apparently invented the mouthguard whilst playing for Balmain back in the day (and, for good measure, dating Dawn Fraser at the time).

 

In 1993, Dad made his one and only trip back to Sydney for my sister Joanna’s wedding. Being footy season, we of course took him to the Sydney Football Stadium to watch the Roosters. I can’t actually remember who Easts were playing, or even if they won, but I do remember Dad’s delight when big Craig Salvatori, of all players, scored a freak try off his own grubber kick. The crowd erupted and a bloke near us leapt up from his seat but missed his landing, desperately clutching his beer and still jubilantly shouting “Salvooooo….” as he plummeted towards the cement. Dad almost cried with laughter watching the whole scene unfold, and he often spoke about that day in the years to come.

 

Come the mid-nineties, and coinciding with the arrival of Phil Gould and Brad Fittler, the Roosters’ fortunes began to turn. Finals berths became a given rather than a forlorn hope, and that elusive premiership – the first since that day with Dad in front of the TV way back in 1975 – looked increasingly possible. Suddenly, our “there’s always next year” line wasn’t ringing so hollow.

 

Dad and I continued to exchange letters and, needless to say, we continued to share our disappointments and our hopes for the Roosters.

 

 “I thought the Roosters ended up doing pretty well this year after the slump in the middle of the season. Bloody unlucky, in fact, not to get to the Grand Final which they could have won. Anyhow, we came third didn’t we! I bet you gave the Manly supporters a nice rev when Newcastle beat them.”
(Letter to me from Dad, 21 October, 1997)

 

However, hope as we might for the coming season, and no matter how likely it seemed at times, that premiership just wouldn’t come.

 

***

 

In 2000, I decided, on a whim, to fly up and visit Dad. The Roosters were in the finals, the Olympics were about to start, and I was preparing for my trip to Europe.  I hadn’t seen Dad for seven years, but something within told me I should visit him before I left for overseas. So I did.

 

Excited by the Roosters’ great form leading into the finals, and knowing Dad would be equally excited, I’d bought him a Roosters cap which I gave to him when I arrived in Port Douglas. He wore it the whole time I was there, proudly telling anyone who’d listen that I’d given it to him and confidently predicting great things for the Roosters.

 

After a couple of great days, catching up on lost father-son time, talking life, family and, of course, footy, I flew back to Sydney just in time for the finals. After a surprise first week loss to Parramatta, the Roosters managed a scrappy win over Canberra the following week. This saw them through to the Preliminary Final against Newcastle.

 

What ensued was, in my opinion, one of the greatest ever Roosters wins. Coming back from a 16-2 half-time deficit, the Roosters – and Brad Fittler, in particular – blew Newcastle away in an audacious second half display that featured a slew of breathtaking tries.

 

Easts were into their first Grand Final since that miserable day against the Bulldogs twenty years earlier and my mate Dave and I deliriously hugged, screamed and fell over ourselves for a good ten minutes after full-time.

 

 

 

 

I can’t say whether Dad’s reaction was quite so over the top but I’m sure that, nearly three thousand kilometres apart – me at the game and him watching up at Port Douglas – we were united in our joy. After all those years of persevering, waiting for this moment, we couldn’t help but hope for great things.

 

 “Now that we are in the Grand Final I reckon we’ve got a good chance, but the Roosters will be underdogs. If we get the breaks and the refs give us a fair go, there’s no reason why we can’t beat the Broncos…Wouldn’t it be great?”
(Letter to me from Dad, 21 August 2000)

 

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. The Roosters just couldn’t match the Broncos in the Grand Final and our hopes, as high as they were, came crashing down in a heap. The Roosters had gone tantalisingly close but our long wait for a premiership was destined to continue.

 

However, the Grand Final appearance gave us what we thought was genuine reason to be optimistic for the 2001 season. The Roosters still had a great side with a core of class players like Fittler, Fletcher, Fitzgibbon, Wing, Minichiello and Ricketson, and the recruitment of fearsome Englishman Adrian Morley to strengthen an already strong forward pack. Surely they’d go one better this time.

 

But not long after the 2001 season started, our pre-season hopes became increasingly fragile. The Roosters’ form was patchy all season and they staggered into the finals, only to be eliminated in the first week after being belted by Newcastle. It was a dreadful, but perhaps inevitable, end to a very average season.

 

But 2001 was a bastard of a year for other, far more shattering reasons. In June, my beloved mother died after courageously battling the cancer that had been diagnosed less than a year earlier. Then, only a matter of weeks later, Dad had a heart attack and passed away, alone in his small caravan home up at Port Douglas.

 

My siblings and I travelled up to Port Douglas to arrange his funeral. Amongst his few possessions we found the Roosters cap I’d given him a year earlier, now faded from the sun and the sweat of the tropics. We also found every letter, card, postcard and photo that each of us kids had sent him over the years, obviously highly cherished reminders of his children living in other parts of the country and other parts of the world.

 

There was also an unfinished, poignant letter to me outlining his grief over Mum’s death and his sorrow and regret that their marriage had fallen apart all those years earlier. There is no mention of the Roosters in that letter but then again the letter was unfinished: I have no doubt that if he’d had the chance to complete it, there would have been a couple of paragraphs towards the end rueing the average form of the Roosters that season and reassuring me that things could only get better in 2002.

 

While it was a terribly sad time, we still found much humour in our reminiscences of Dad – little things like the way he more shuffled than walked, or his warped sense of humour and distinctive cackle of a laugh. And, of course, his long and unbridled love of the Roosters that we’d all inherited.

 

Of course, despite several recent years of great promise from the Roosters, he was still waiting for that first premiership since 1975 at the time of his passing. And then, the very year after he passed away, it finally came. The Roosters defeated the Warriors 30-8 to win the 2002 Grand Final and claim their first premiership in twenty-seven years.

 

As much as I enjoyed that belated premiership, its timing was out. While I know that somewhere up above, Dad would have been looking down, crowing from the heavens, I couldn’t ignore the cruel irony that he had witnessed the Roosters go so close in 2000, only to miss them going all the way by a solitary year. After all those years of shared hope, countless letters and conversations about why the Roosters just weren’t good enough the year prior and why they were surely good enough for the following season, Dad and I were supposed to have experienced this together… and we hadn’t.

 

Rugby league can be a cruel game, they say. When it throws up a quirk of time and reason like that, I can only agree.

 

***

 

In the years since, the Roosters have thrown up enough quirks of reason of their own to test the patience of their most ardent supporters.

 

That 2002 premiership was, of course, followed by a highly erratic and frustrating form line: consecutive Grand Final losses in 2003 and 2004; several dismal seasons without any whiff of making the finals; the dreaded wooden spoon in 2009; a surprise, but ultimately disappointing, Grand Final appearance in 2010; a string of sacked coaches; and, then, seemingly out of nowhere, the fantastic win over Manly in an epic 2013 Grand Final – the finest hour in my lifelong journey supporting Easts and surely another occasion that had Dad crowing from the heavens.

 

And in that time, I’ve proudly continued the Roosters rite of passage in my family. My wife, Amy (also a Roosters supporter, of course) gave birth to our first child Elliot in 2003: a joyous event that well and truly erased the disappointment of the Roosters’ Grand Final loss to Penrith earlier that year.

 

To my great relief, I’ve successfully steered Elliot along the path of one-eyed Roosters fanaticism followed by his Dad and Granddad before him. My daughters Maddie and Lucy aren’t far behind either. So, come footy season, there is no misalignment of our hopes, victories and disappointments – quite simply, we either sulk together or we celebrate together as the match results dictate.

 

And the symmetry of this arrangement is a good thing. Any other way, my son supporting some other team, and life would be just way too complicated.

 

***

 

In October 2015, we went on a family holiday to Port Douglas, my first trip up there in about twelve years. It was a chance for a week-long escape from the stresses of work, to let the kids experience what a beautiful place it is, as well as to visit their Granddad’s grave for the first time.

 

At the time we booked the trip, the Roosters were well and truly on track for another premiership, having finished minor premiers after twelve consecutive victories. I began to think that there might be a nice coincidence brewing: that the year I’d finally decided to go back up and visit Dad’s grave was to be another premiership year for his beloved Chooks. Surely they wouldn’t blow it like they had in 2014 when they’d also finished minor premiers but hadn’t progressed to the Grand Final.

 

But, sure enough, they did. A debacle of a performance against the Broncos saw them ignominiously knocked out in the Preliminary Final, with the Cowboys going on to win the Grand Final.

 

My bitter disappointment over the way the Roosters’ season had ended was still very much weighing on me when we arrived in Port Douglas on a glorious, sunny Saturday afternoon. After checking in at the hotel, we took a trip into town to pick up some supplies for the week ahead.

 

The place had changed a bit since my last visit. For every boutique shop or hotel that was there in the early 2000s there were another dozen or so, and the town now seemed to be inhabited by wealthy looking European and American tourists rather than the eccentric oddballs, including exiles from Sydney running from their pasts – like Dad – who once called the place home. Even Kev’s old place where we had stayed on our first visit back in 1988 had been razed to make way for a shiny new retail development.

 

Finding ourselves near the Court House Hotel, I curiously snuck into the front bar, wondering whether that mural of Dad and all the other old time locals still existed. I had doubted it, thinking it was surely a now forgotten relic of the wild old days of Port Douglas that had no utility in the extensively renovated pub and the gentrified town.

 

But to my surprise, there it was, still occupying prime wall space in the front bar. And there in the middle of it was Dad, just as I remembered him when that mural first greeted me to Port Douglas way back in 1988: nursing a cold beer, with a glint in his eye and a knowing grin that was surely saying to me – just as he always had, footy season after footy season – “don’t worry son, there’s always next year.”

 

Post-script:

I wrote this story back in 2015 and, other than a disastrous 2106 following the Mitchell Pearce poodle incident, it’s been a golden era for the Roosters since. Their back to back premierships of 2018-19 emulated the glorious double in the mid-seventies, something most Easts fans probably never thought they’d see again.

 

I took my family to the 2019 Grand Final –my wife, my son and two daughters – and it was truly special to share the occasion with them.

 

Our joy is captured in a framed photo that sits prominently on our living room bookshelf. The five of us at full-time, decked out in red, white and blue, celebrating a Roosters premiership.

 

I reckon Dad would be proud.

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

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Comments

  1. A great yarn, Daniel. I assume the name Keary must be Irish given your Dad’s capacity for the blarney in recounting his playing days. He sure gave it the whole whack. What a character! Love the mural – is it still there? Hopefully, it will be one of those images of its era that will be preserved for posterity.

  2. Tim Burke says

    Daniel – congratulations on a fine, poignant family story intertwined with your involvement in rugby league and the Roosters: the best kind of reminiscence, beautifully written.

  3. Dan Keary says

    Thanks Ian and Tim. Dad sure was a character and indeed was of Irish heritage. It’s been a few years since my last visit to Port Douglas so not sure if the mural is still there. Hopefully it is, it’s a rare window into the town and it’s inhabitants from a past era.

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