Canberra Rugby 1963-66

Northern Suburbs (Norths)

In the autumn of 1963 we were living in the inner suburb of Braddon - Currong Street. One early evening, I rode my push bike just down to the end of the street to the entrance of Northborne Oval.

There were some men whom I thought were playing rugby so I went in to have a look. They were only training but being bored I propped my bike against the oval rails and watched.
One of the men, a sweaty smiley toothless fellow approached me.

"Hello I'm Geoff Kaye are you interested in playing with us".

I was startled - they were men. I was seventeen.

"What position do you play?"

"I used to play hooker at school".

"Well I'm a prop. Leave your bike n do some training".

Being young and a Christian Brothers graduate, I did not know how to say no.

Next week saw me playing with Northern Suburbs third grade XV.

I do not remember the game.

The essence of a hooker in the men's game was how quick your feet could strike for and win either the tight or loose head (the tight head is when the opposition half back puts the ball into the scrum - hence an advantage as the team with the ball - wins. If you were a good hooker, you won the ball and therefore gave "possession" the team could "carry you" in other parts of the game.

The teams in the competition were:

  • Norths

  • Royal Military College I and II

  • Royals

  • Queanbeyan

  • Easts

  • Teachers

  • Cooma

  • Goulburn

  • Ainslie

  • HMAS Harman

  • University

There were three grades - First; Seconds and Thirds.

Slug O'Donnell was the first grade hooker. To the club's chagrin he wasn't waiting to get married at the end of the season and have his honeymoon.

Common sense would suggest that the second grade hooker would substitute. Not so ... I played my maiden first grade game at sweet seventeen. Never been kissed.

It was against Queanbeyan.

Canberrans called Queanbeyan "Struggletown".

Its gentry were notorious for hard living, hard playing and the biff.

Again I did not know how to say No!

For several days I was in panic mode.

The thought of getting belted was not an issue. It was the suddenness of it all and being put into the limelight. I was 11 stone 7 pounds.

My "honeymoon" for the next three weeks was being shunted jostled thumped and bumped there in the front row.

My clear memory is how protective the team was about me. If there was even a hint of antagonism, out of the second row (on my side) would come a punch from Johnny Dunn.

To this day Johnny Dunn was the best enforcer on or off the field I have ever experienced.

I won Best and Fairest - Second Grade in 1963. A pewter mug with this inscription was my prized possession.

Playing for Norths was indeed a thrill. I enjoyed being in their company. On the field, in the sheds after a game and in the pub at night. I looked up to each and every one, I understood the meaning of bonding and mate ship. It was my first exposure to singing dirty ditties.

I had transformed from a self-conscious youth with an inferiority complex to a supremely confident person who could mix it with the men and stand up for myself.

Somehow, my schoolboy nickname carried over. I was always called "Tiger".

That year, Northern Suburbs faced the Royal Military College RMC Duntroon in the grand final. Norths won 6-3 courtesy of the boot of Bushy Brownbill.

Bushy was slow talking and a second rower. During a game he king-hit a player.
What did you do that for Bushy?"
Ah! because he looked as though he might cause trouble latter on".

Norths, as a club considered that the RMC teams were just boys.

Just years later many of these boys were on the outskirts of Saigon leading teams of soldiers engaged in fierce fighting. We were on the same team - but I had a new position called "Way Back"

The Australian Capital Territory ACT

I was the Department of Foreign Affairs' only interdepartmental Safe Hand Courier. It was a godsend for my fitness.
I worked in tandem with a driver – Jim ?.

He drove a Holden panel van with z plates; I tumbled in and out of the van and ran upstairs and downstairs to deliver and collect the classified wads of cables destined for all the government departments.

I was also a 19 year old socialite. I partnered a girl (Elizabeth White) at a debutante ball. Her father was the Secretary of the Department of the Army. Her grandfather was a general at Gallipoli. Bill and John Barton (Carmel's cousins) were partnering girls who were their future wives. Bill's partner, Marion, was the daughter of the Official Secretary to the Governor General.

I remember the ballroom floor afresh with young girls all splendid in white gowns with their male partners in dinner suits performing a ceremonial dance in unison for the assembled mums and dads. Then we sat down at the table and started to have a good time. It was a Saturday night. The ACT team to play in Country Week 1965 had been announced.

Back Page of Canberra Times

Front Page Canberra Times
I was oblivious as to what was happening in the outside world - particularly Saigon

I was a shook selection.

Canberra was to be the host city. But no one could find me.

(These days no one had mobile cell phones.)

Norm Le Rou was a South African who played for Royals and was at the Ball. Somehow he was tasked to contact me for instructions as to an induction and team "get together" the next day - Sunday.

He approached our table leaned over and told me the news.

I was thunderstruck ... I had no idea.

It felt great - but again the air of suddenness was daunting.

I was living at home - Watson. I don't remember telling anyone as I thought they would not be interested. We had the Canberra Times delivered daily.

On the Monday (14 April), I collected it on the lawn. I came back inside – gob smacked.

On the back page - the Sports Section was the headline:

Malone in Team to Defend Cup.

It was the head line and the first paragraphs were about me.

On the Monday night I had to go the Rugby club at Barton for a measure up with the tailor for the team uniform. We were to be presented with green blazers with the ACT badge. I did not own a car. But dad was very happy to take me there and wait around introducing himself to the patrons. He was beaming.

As part of the bonding the ACT team was to bivouac at the Yarralumla Woolshed.

The mess hall was under the same roof as shearing area and sleeping quarters were several standalone tin sheds. It was extremely rough. It was extremely cold. It was an extreme memory I have for the rest of my life.

I was amongst players I had looked up to as feared skillful opponents who would thump you with no beg pardons. But now we were mates sharing a meal and having a few laughs - Mick Hickey (Norths) being the funny man. I remember being presented with the blazer at the wool shed.

It was a proud moment wearing this blazer - to walk with the team in to and out of functions, dressing sheds etc. But I do remember the blazer hanging up in the cupboard as fodder for moths. I thought it too ostentatious to wear it.

Our first game was against some team where the opposing hooker went on a Wallaby Tour the previous year.

My brother Sam and his mate Johnny McDermot wagged school to attend the scoreboard.

It was at Northborne Oval - my home ground. Bill Brown our hooker got injured in the first five minutes.

I was on!

I don’t remember anything of the game. Sometime later I recall a Norths stalwart (Jerry McGrory) commenting that I did not lose a tight head. In other words the opposing hooker got a bath...I was selected again for the 1966 Country Week - held in Sydney. When I was selected I had what I thought to be a bruised hand.

It turned out to be broken and very painful when jarred. I did not play. These were not the days when doctors did medical checks.

The Canberra Times, Monday
17 May 1965

Caption:Norths vs Royals.

Norths hooker Paul Malone leaps for the ball at the front of a lineout in the rugby union match against Royals on Saturday. Lending support are John Durrell and Mick Hickey

"Still little interest in Front Page news about Vietnam Eh Paul?"


I played a few games in Saigon.

There was a group of French colonialists still in and around Saigon who could get the numbers together. I remember them being very unfit and smelling of garlic.

Getting a playing field in Saigon was impossible. Everything was either barricaded off or commandeered for military purposes.

Therefore, we used to travel to the countryside just outside Bien Hoa.

I had misgivings about going this far outside the city.

But I rationalised that the French were now neutral hence the Viet Cong would not be interested in a group of mad frogs screaming and yelling in some paddock.

I went on the play rugby throughout the NATO countries of Belgium, France, Holland Germany where British garrisons were located as well as Southern England; Spain; Denmark; Indonesia; Singapore; Malaysia; Hong Kong and Thailand - and Cocos Islands.