Almanac Rugby League: Oakey – premiers of 1975





In this extract from Loose Men Everywhere, John Harms remembers great days following the Oakey Bears:



I followed the local Toowoomba games often broadcast by the excitable callers like Ian Knight. As I lay on my bed and listened I could see the players and the backline moves:


‘McKeiver at dummy half, to Millett, to Rose; Rose looks to Arnold, Rose throws the dummy and cuts back inside. He’s through. Rose is in the clear. He comes to Platz. Rose looks outside, and finds Muirhead, back to Rose and Rose’ll score. He’s over! Under the posts. Dicky Rose, you are a genius. Dicky Rose has put it down, right underneath the black dot and the Bears are right back in this. Wattles 18, Oakey 13 with the kick to come.’


I had seen the boys play at Oakey and it was easy to picture this happening because I hardly missed a Sunday game. This was typical country football, just like in Shepparton, with tooting cars and nervous mums with thermoses and sandwiches, and dads sitting on the fold-up chair in front of the dusty Ford having a quiet beer. They squinted into the western sun. A couple of blokes in aprons walked along selling ‘Doubles on the main game.’


The real drinkers stood on the other side of the ground, between the canteen, the bar and the dunnies. The licensed area was fenced off by a series of star pickets joined by rope. Inside the drinking pen, blokes had immunity from prosecution for bad language, despite the proximity of women, children and touch judges. It was the sort of place where meatworkers and farmhands could fart freely (and get a laugh for it) and give advice to players, coaches and especially referees. They chanted, ‘Get ’em on-side’ when the opposition encroached within the five metres and ‘Don’t ask the linesman, ask y’guide dog you deadshit, Barrett.’


Oakey had an outstanding senior team which meant that somewhere after the Under-12s and before the A-grade there was quantum improvement. Or possibly another explanation: Oakey were first-class recruiters. The Oakey scouts looked west and they found plenty of big blokes.


During the ’73 season I was sometimes a sand boy. This was a great honour but to make the start of the Under-16s I had to leave church as soon as the Benediction finished, which meant I’d miss the last hymn. I didn’t have time to change. The footy field was two hundred metres away from the church so I’d sprint out the church door, over the road, across the railway line, and make it just in time. I was probably the only sand boy to carry out his duties wearing deep purple flares, a matching purple jumper with a white panel on the front and my Sunday shoes.


The next year I preferred to sit in the little wooden grandstand. I made a conscious decision to take up this vantage point because it was where Leanne and Margi Evans sat when they came to the football. There were few things better than watching the Oakey reserve grade knowing that the Evans sisters were around. Leanne was every bit as lovable as Chrissy from Man about the House. I fantasised about her spotting me in the grandstand; I imagined that her eyes would light up, she’d waltz straight up to me, sit down and put her head on my shoulder, all while Oakey marched triumphantly to victory in the A-grade.


She never did. I don’t remember having a proper conversation with her at the football. When I noticed she was buying something at the canteen I would race down and stand next to her as if the chance collision of the orbits f our appetites actually meant something. ‘G’day Evans,’ was all I would say but I wanted her to know that there was so much more in my heart.


The smell of the pies would bring me back to reality. They were locally made and had gravy and flaky pastry. Large women in aprons would cut the top off so they could add a huge spoonful of mushy peas which gurgled away in the saucepan like hot mud in Rotorua. Sometimes I’d have a hot dog. A thick saveloy with half the skin off would be plucked from the cauldron of bubbling red liquid, to be placed sloppily on an unevenly buttered bread roll with tomato sauce. Butter was always unspreadable during Oakey winters.


When the westerlies blew the grandstand offered little protection from the chill. The wind forced its way through the gaps between the wooden boards and it was hard to keep warm. Old ladies in tartan skirts with safety pins and cameo brooches clapped happily as they struggled to keep the blanket over their legs. Their coat-and-tie husbands showed the restraint of their station but when Oakey scored one of their scintillating tries there was just enough smirk on their faces to indicate they were as excited as young boys again. When you were battling to keep your pie from toppling they looked at you and your happy, messy face and winked. They knew.


It was warmer when we cheered; when we were drawn into the drama of the game. I really did want Oakey to win. They were our boys. This was our town. We had great forwards like Peter Connell, who was as tough a footballer as you’d find and loved a blue. He wore a guard on his forearm and legend had it around Oakey Primary that it concealed an iron rod. Connell was a tackling machine and could bust through the middle of the ruck. Sel Murphy came from Tara. He was a giant with carrot-orange hair, and his rosy cheeks made him look too harmless to play prop. Occasionally something would light his fuse, as if someone had insulted his mother or his sister, or stolen his rosary beads, and his gentleness would give way to the sort of fire written about in ancient myths. For a few minutes the game would be his. And then he would be left exhausted and standing doubled over with the hooker, Lex McKeiver, as they waited for the next scrum. ‘Push, Oakey. Push.’


It was the backs I most remember. It was impossible to conceive of a better backline in the rugby league playing world. I still have a strong image of them in my mind. They are lined out on the Oakey ground. The light has lost its whiteness and has turned the gold of a late winter’s afternoon. A scrum is packed on the twenty-five, near the far touchline, and the Oakey backline is set so that the open winger is standing at the twenty-five at the other end of the field. What a sight! When they win the ball they run it at full pace and with faultless precision. Spike Weimers is at half back. Dicky Rose is at five eighth. He is an Aboriginal player with long skinny legs which look like they’d snap if he were tackled, and a skinny waist and then on top of this dodgy foundation, a big chest. He is a handsome sort of bloke with a cheeky smile. It is also a reassuring smile; a smile that lets you know that he is in concert with the football gods. More often than not it is Dicky Rose’s sheer brilliance which gets us out of trouble. I love him. We all love him.


The inside centre is Terry Arnold, another bloke from way out west. His ancient jockstrap hangs outside the back of his shorts. He has good hands. His partner is Nev Tate who doesn’t say much. He’s just quick. On the wing is one of the crowd’s favourites, Willy Weatherall, who has the sort of talent that leaves you shaking your head, saying, ‘Can you believe that?’ He turns slim chances into tries and makes you punch the arm of the person next to you in delight. You have little control over these responses. At full back is Mal Muirhead, a specialist at chiming into the backline. He is so good at chiming in that at little lunches under the pepper tree we argue whether passes have been intended for him or whether he has run onto passes directed at Arnold and Tate.


Oakey wins the scrum and the ball comes through the hands and when Weatherall gets it he’s going like Hasely Crawford only quicker, and he dives at the corner and there are bodies and a corner post and a chubby touch judge and the flag stays down and it’s a try. In one match Oakey beat Valleys 61–0. For a joke they let McKeiver take a shot at goal. We like Lex McKeiver because he’s a veteran. He’s Cassie’s dad and she’s in our class.


At about the same time the A-grade was thrashing Valleys, we were getting hammered by their Under-12s.



John Harms would love to hear from some of these past Oakey players. He can be contacted at [email protected]  or on 0417 635030. (He also had the occasional game of golf with Doug Searle and Lenny Lockett and also the late Cec Docherty.)


John Harms also wrote The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story




Play On front cover final


Play On is the omnibus edition of John Harms’s three books:


Loose Men Everywhere – about footy and why it means so much, and how it family and footy are so connected

Memoirs of a Mug Punter – about horse-racing, mug punting, a syndicate called SAMRA and their horse Courting Pleasure.

Confessions of a Thirteenth Man – a road trip story of driving around Australia to attend each Test match in the summer of 1998-99.




Buy a copy of Play On HERE. ($30.00 which includes postage)




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About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears (appeared?) on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three school-age kids - Theo, Anna, Evie. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition was to lunch for Australia but it clashed with his other ambition - to shoot his age.


  1. Hayden Kelly says

    The mention of a fair dinkum thick sav swimming in tomato sauce on a cold day at the footy brings tears to my eyes . One of the world’s culinary delights confined to history .
    I played footy with a kid up the scrub Charlie Bowyer . We were in awe of Charlie he could knock over 10 savs in a session .
    good read

  2. This is superb. It could be any footy, played at any suburban ground, during winter, in Australia. The rituals are set.

    The drinking pen – magnificent. The funny thing about the drinking pen at the local football grounds I played at was that the kids (sometimes as young as 12) had to traverse the drinking pen from the change rooms to the ground. I copped a lot of advice in that little patch of dirt from opposition drinkers. It usually started with:
    “You little …………….”

  3. Peter McKinnon says

    Hi John

    Gary Zadkovich rang me this morning for a a catch up. We played together in 1979 at Oakey. He told me about your website and it was great to read about the 1975 team. Gary wants to have a reunion of sorts so we may catch up down the track. Cheers, Peter McKinnon

  4. Hi Peter

    Great to hear from you.

    What a terrific idea. I would be nervous if I had the chance to be there! You blokes were giants.

    It’s been brilliant to meet Gary via phone and email and I look forward to the opportunity to meet him (and others) in person sooner rather than later.


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