The legacy and record of Johannes Bjelke-Petersen as Premier of Queensland is currently being dissected, and not too favourably in many quarters. But there’s one little known aspect of his record that deserves to be revealed and acknowledged.
The 1960s was a poor decade for rugby league in Queensland. The Maroons were generally hammered by the Blues, Queensland was lucky to get one or two players in the Kangaroos team, and the exodus of players to Sydney clubs continued unchecked.
But in 1968 Ronald Edward McAuliffe was elected President of the QRL, marking the beginning of a new, and eventually golden, era for rugby league that culminated in the State of Origin series now celebrating its 25th anniversary. Even though McAuliffe was then a Labor Senate candidate, he invited me (then State Secretary of the Young Liberals) to join the QRL Public Relations Committee in 1969.
In 1971, the QRL organised what was really a revolution in rugby league – an eight-week live-in training camp for 20 of the game’s most promising players, but the players had to get leave from their employers to take part because the day’s program ran from 5:30am until the early evening.
McAuliffe rang me a couple of weeks before the camp started and told me he had a “problem”. That was some understatement! The “problem” was that one of the players chosen was a young police constable who had his leave application to attend the camp rejected. I made enquires and was told to “forget it”. There was no way a second or third year constable could get EIGHT weeks leave. But McAuliffe persisted, “you will have to go higher up the tree,” he commanded.
At the time, Queensland had a Country-Liberal Government headed by Joh Bjelke-Petersen. McAuliffe figured I might be able to get a Liberal MP to help get the constable leave. I knew the Premier through my political role, but I hardly knew him well. But after a phone call from the great rugby league icon, Duncan Thompson, who extolled the potential of the young policeman in most glowing terms, I decided to seek a meeting with the Premier himself…
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