Almanac Rugby League – Sister Act: A schoolboy’s tale


In the early 1970s I decided to leave the 2830 postcode of Dubbo and move most of the major earthly possessions I owned (and could fit into a suitcase) to the warmer climes of the seaside Sydney suburb of Cronulla, or urban Woolooware to be more specific. Not an ocean view villa but a boarding school room at De La Salle College where I would complete Fifth and Sixth form with long blonde haired mortals known as ‘day boys’.


I did not know that nature allowed males to grow hair so long and thought that I would have to repeat my HSC many times before I would be as hirsute as my city-based surfing classmates.


Obviously weekdays were filled with school lessons and evening study and even more of the latter on Saturday mornings and some sport on Saturday afternoons. As a bush boy I was a passionate rugby league supporter whose main connection with Sydney rugby league was the ABC Radio tones of John O’Reilly and the forensic reading of the burgeoning esteemed journal Rugby League Week.


I was a bundle of constant excitement and awe to be now living in a suburb that housed a team in the Sydney premiership and even more so when I encountered Cliff Watson whilst visiting a local shop. And, of course, the weekend encounter (courtesy of my Sony transistor) with Frank Hyde and his Man of the Match Seiko watch award. 2SM did not reach Dubbo.


I had driven past Endeavour Oval on the way to my new abode, my first vision of a suburban football ground, and even though it was devoid of any activity at all, it was still akin to my later feeling of first seeing Madison Square Garden, when it contained no musicians or sports people.


Unfortunately all my plans to visit Endeavour Oval and watch a game were thwarted by the Sharks playing two home games during the school holidays where my rugby league fare involved watching the red hot Dubbo CYMS team at Number 1 oval. I would have to wait a while before seeing my new best friend Cliff Watson strut his stuff alongside comrades Wellman, Pierce, Hansard and Kevin Hogan, the non-hirsute uncle of a Dubbo classmate. But the Sharks were not to be the first Sydney side I would view in the flesh. The story follows.


On Sunday morning June 25th 1972 (to be totally precise) my father rang me to tell me that he had a cousin who was a religious nun who, as it turned out, lived not far from me at Burraneer Bay Convent and that she was keen to visit me that afternoon. Not only was she keen to visit me but was insisting that she pick me up and take me out for the day.


My enthusiasm was not great, realising that ‘take me out for the day’ probably meant visiting other nuns and engaging in small talk. As an obedient son I was resigned to this happening and, it being a pleasant afternoon, I was a little concerned that my Sunday afternoon soiree with Frank Hyde would not be happening. My father’s cousin (Sister Amelian for the record) picked me up mid-morning and delivered a salutation I will not forget for the rest of my life: “Your father tells me you like rugby league and have never seen a game in Sydney. Peter Moore is a friend of mine (she taught his children) so we are going to Belmore to watch Canterbury play Wests. I have tickets.”


Sister Amelian, I declare you Australia’s first saint!


As we arrived in busy Belmore, it became apparent that we were certainly not given a ticket to the executive or ‘close friends of Peter Moore’ car park in the ground. It seemed we were literally parking in the next suburb. However, despite the distance, I still have memories of the roar of the crowd in the dying moments of the Third Grade game as we walked to the main entrance. My boyhood memories were becoming a reality.


As we got closer to the ground I got a glimpse of game action through the wire-netted backyards of the nearby homes. Like a peek through a side door at a Beatles concert. We walked, we got tickets, we sat.


This may not be St. Peters in the Vatican but certainly a side chapel (even though I was a St. George supporter in my youth but…..when in Rome ….or Belmore). First Grade commenced. Everything I had read about and listened to and seen on television was now right before my eyes – the black flowing locks of former Forbes schoolboy Chris Anderson, the amazing goal kicking of Johnny Greaves, and the earlier appearance of former Dubbo student Steve Calder in Second Grade, who I had last seen at the afore mentioned Number 1 oval.


And the two Cowra boys playing for Wests – Tommy Raudonikis and Barry Bryant. My other vivid memory was the ground announcer barking “no children must be near the playing surface at any stage of the game”. The Yabba of Belmore called out “that means you (referee Keith) Holman”. And, of course, the suburban train slowing down at the end of the ground to allow passengers a glimpse of the proceedings.


And I thought about all these city people watching the game who had the chance to watch their team every winter of their lives. It was the only rugby league they knew.


Whilst I can barely remember where I was last Christmas this wonderful day remains cemented in my memory.


I’m sure a cup of tea with the nuns that afternoon would have been delightful, even if lacking a little in crowd noise and passing trains.


Or maybe they were listening to Frank Hyde?



Read more from Michael Croke on The Footy Almanac here.



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  1. Peter Fuller says

    Great story Michael. I think many of those committed to the religious life had a passionate interest in sport and especially the football codes, obviously Aussie Rules in Victoria. My aunt (a nun) taught Paul Salmon’s mother, and listened to the ABC broadcasts each week with intense interest. Her detailed knowledge was remarkable.

    The other story your tale brought to mind was from the first cricket book which I ever read, Ray Lindwall’s autobiography, “Flying Stumps” . In it he produced an anecdote about a nun at his primary school who would face the schoolboy bowlers at practice with a coin on the stumps. This was to be the reward for the one who eventually dismissed her. In spite of the handicap of the voluminous habits of 1930s nuns, Lindwall said it was only at the end of the practice session that she would give some deserving student an easy wicket.

  2. Michael Croke says

    Thanks Peter,

    And it remains (as you say) a fascination that so many Irish priests and brothers started so many rugby league and Australian rules clubs in Australia, with not much knowledge of the game(s) but a great interest in giving the young lads weekend activity.Tommy Raudonikis rugby league great passed away this year.For most of his life he kept brewery and tobacco workers in a job! Not to mention his colourful language ! Who does he acknowledge as the coach who ignited his love for rugby league? His very first coach,Sister Scholastica the Mother Superior of the Cowra Convent!


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