Bigger than the Game?

A threatened strike in 1960 was averted when the referees’ again objected to the Appointment Board by passing a notice of No Confidence in the three members of the board from the BRL but excepting the two Referees’ Association Members Les Sharp and Ian Marr. The League acted quickly by meeting the Management Committee and the matter was settled and the Board reduced to three members – two from the League and one from the Referees’ Association.

1963_Col Wright
The decisions of the BRLRA were constantly reported.
Canberra Times 7th August 1963.

During 1964 the association was in dispute with the league judiciary and directed its members not to attend any judiciary hearings as a sign of protect. Even to the point of suspending Don Lancashire when he attended a hearing just days before his appointment to the Queensland v New South Wales interstate series. Don appealed to the Brisbane Rugby League who upheld the suspension 1

The next dispute occurred in 1968 when Dale Coogan dismissed player Barry Muir (a former Australian International) from the field at Lang Park. Muir was charged on three counts:

  • Obscene language;
  • Refusing to leave the field; and
  • Obscene language again and spitting in the face of the referee.

The Judiciary suspended the player for twelve months. The Association’s reaction was to refuse to referee any game in which this player took part, once his suspension had been served. The decision was never carried out in Brisbane fixtures, but was applied to QRL trial games. On his return to Brisbane the ban was lifted.

1965 Handbook
The cover of the 1965 BRLRA Handbook – containing the specific BRL procedures and a rule quiz.
State Library of Queensland

A certain amount of time has always been set aside during meetings for lectures on the laws of the game to members. This lecture was delivered by the appointed lecturer. This position was removed in 1970 when the new examinations set up was inaugurated to the Chairman of the Examination Board or one the board members. The Examination Board has been in existence since the formation of the association. A person first joining the association would be handed a rule book, sent away to learn the rules and then would be examined by the Board. Likewise in 1970 this Board was formed and now the member at least six to eight weeks instruction before being examined. On passing this the person then sat for the practical examination which is the actual handling of a rugby league match.

In the years between 1968 and 1978 the uniform of the BRLRA was the white cotton wool jersey, starched white shorts that could stand up on their own accord and black football boots with white tape laces that wrapped around the ankles and under the boot2. The referee’s badge was a metal base which a white background and a poinsettia symbol held by a lace through the back three studs. The other most important part of the kit was the whistle, with some referees who treasured them so much that that they had little gold or silver boxes for storage2. The Acme Thunderer was the whistle of choice.

Henry Albert LM
BRL Grand Final Referee
1960-62, 65-66 and 72
Representative Referee

One of Brisbane’s best-known referees who officiated in over 500 games. Henry was flamboyant, and always immaculately dressed in a turned-up collar tailor-made shorts with impeccable creases and specially made kangaroo hide boots. He started refereeing in 1954, in a trial match at the Gabba. He refereed Brisbane club grounds and representative matches.
Henry was never given a test, although he ran the line numerous times. He retired from the top-level rugby league in the mid-1970s, but continued to referee lower level games for some years. Henry passed away on 12th July 20033.

The Program Cover for the 50th Anniversary Dinner.

The Brisbane Rugby League formed a new competition, Brisbane Rugby League Second Division in 1971, which aimed to create a pathway for players into the Brisbane Rugby League then comprised of A and B grades. During this time several clubs involved in the social and amateur competitions were in existence within the Brisbane area, including the Shiftworkers League (commenced in 1949; its successor the Commercial League, the Metropolitan League (comprising more than 40 teams at one stage) and the Public Service League4. The Shiftworkers League – a competition played at Hamilton and run by bookmakers and had many pub teams as well as the wharfies 5.
The new completion featured the Under 23’s in three grades involving the Brisbane Rugby League clubs, University, Teachers and eight other clubs. This competition continued until 1976. In 1977 the organisation of the competition for the satellite clubs was taken over by a committee from the clubs and the BRL Sub District Clubs was formed. The competition was played as Under 23 competitions and there were 15 teams from 14 clubs playing in a seven team North Zone and an eight team South Zone.

The years from 1971 to 1977 were dominated by one of best referees of the era. Don Lancashire a referee in the New South Wales first grade premiership (1959) moved to Brisbane in 1960 and made his mark by controlling Queensland v New South Wales games from 1964 to 1969. He was in continuous competition with Henry Albert in the Brisbane first grade competition. Don later relocated back to Sydney and continued to officiate at the top level of the game accumulating with the 1970 Australia v Great Britain test match.

Later that year, Keith Page was appointed to the New South Wales Premiership Grand Final and Don Lancashire publicly criticized the referees’ appointment board in the press. However, Keith sustained a training injury in the week lead up to the grand final and Don was appointed to the game. Subsequently, the New South Wales Rugby League Referees’ Association suspended Don in late 1970 due to the public criticism .

Don’s return to game made front page news.
Courier Mail 10th May 1973

Don returned to Brisbane in 1971 but did not apply for membership to the BRLRA. He became a commentator on rugby league for Channel 0 (now 10) and wrote for the Australian. In 1972, after selling his printing business, he applied for readmission to the BRLRA but was refused claiming it after the prescribed date. The following year he reapplied but again it was refused. In early 1973 the QRL talked Don out of retirement and was appointed by the QRL to representative games, ignoring the suspensions that were still in place. On the 10th May 1973, a boycott of all games by the BRLRA was made in reaction to the QRL appointment.

Interstate media also reported the boycott.
Canberra Times 10th May 1973

Presumably to avoid the suspension, Don registered to the Toowoomba Rugby League Referees’ Association and thereafter continued to referee representative appointments.

Don’s move to Toowoomba.
Canberra Times 12th May 1973

In 1974, the Australian Rugby League appointed Don to the interstate series, causing further actions by the referees. Don continued to referee international tests until 1977. Later Don served with the Queensland Rugby League Referees’ Association and was awarded life membership to the to the organisation.

A summary of events surrounding Don Lancashire.
Sydney Morning Herald 13th June 1974

Rugby League News 1977 p23
An account on referee appointments.
Rugby League News 1977

Recollections from Ron Daley LM (1964-1977)

I remain as passionate about the game now as I was when I first joined the Association back in 1964. Many things have changed over the fifty years that I have been a member. When I first got involved the game was very different.

Not so much about the rules but more in the role that the game played in bringing the community together as the local team played at the local ground. With no pay TV and only the Sunday match of the day covered on the radio and ABC TV, the only way to stay in touch with your team was to go to the game. We regularly officiated games in front of sell-out crowds that were not backwards in coming forward to let you know if you made a mistake. Rest assured that a crowd of 8,000 parochial fans can be far more critical than 10 different camera angles!

The game developed a loyal following and referees, dressed in all white and starched uniforms, were treated by players with deference. There was none of that familiarity to you see today. Players were referred to by the number on their back and the referee by a simple “sir”. The game had real characters that followed their teams wherever they went and whether they won or lost. Nothing could dampen their loyalty to their team. Characters such as Valley’s “Happy Jack” or the famous “Geoffrey” who would be at every Panther’s games complete with cardboard placards adorned with newspaper clippings recording their long past victories.

It was into this context that I first decided to “blow the whistle”. In my early years of service, the Association met weekly during the season on Monday nights in a meeting space under the old Frank Burke Stand that was at the Western side of Lang Park. Senior referees would present lectures and a failure to attend would be quickly followed by a “please explain” phone call from a member of the executive. In those days full commitment was expected from all members of the Association.

The highest level I achieved was ‘A Grade’. My promotion to first grade was not the traditional path. I was carrying the flag as touch judge in an ‘A Grade’ match, something that was a responsibility of referees from earlier games. It was usual for you to be appointed to lower grades earlier in the day and then must back up carrying either the blue or red flag in ‘A Grade’ from 3 PM. On the day of my opportunity the appointed ‘A Grade’ referee and was unable to continue his duties for the second half. The representative to the Appointment Board at the ground approached me to replace him for the second half. While it wasn’t a traditional path to the top, it was one that I grabbed with both hands. I was subsequently appointed to more ‘A Grade’ matches.

I was an active referee for ten years, 1964 – 74, with the highlight point being appointed as the referee for the reserve grade grand final in 1973. I will never forget that feeling of running onto the field with Lang Park filled with a capacity crowd. In those days, Lang Park had a manual scoreboard and was largely a sandy surface due to the heavy use throughout the year. Back then beer was served in cans and a bad review from the crowd was on occasion reflected by patrons offering to share their beverages with you as you left the field. Feeling that I had achieved all I could have achieved as a referee, I decided to retire from “active duty” at the end of the ’74 season.

This wasn’t the end of my involvement with the Association. I continued with selection to the referee’s appointment Board. I retired from the Board following a successful stint as Chairman. My family was very patient during this time as it meant spending both Saturday and Sunday watching fixtures in all three grades. This was followed by the Board’s meeting to discuss appointments for the following week. Because of this service to the Association I was honoured with Life Membership in 1977. While my participation has declined in recent years this recognition of my service to the Association is still very special to me.


  1. Steve Ricketts, 2015. Men of League. Issue 61, p19.
  2. Ray Pitty, 2008. Rugby League: Through the eyes of the whistle, pp9-10. Bookpal
  3. Greg Mallory, 2010. Voices from Brisbane Rugby League, p67 Boolarang Press.
  4. Bernie Pramberg, 2014. For the Love of the Game, Courier Mail, December 22 2014, accessed December 2018: https://www.news.com.au/sport/breaking-news/love-of-the-game-normanby-hounds-back-in-brisbane-rugby-league-competition/news-story/d1a1fa76c1515aa01642472d6771ed5f.
  5. Greg Mallory, 2002. On Tape – Newsletter of the Oral History Association of Australia Queensland Branch, December 2002, p12. Accessed December 2018 http://www.ohq.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/2002-newsletter-december-brisbane-state-conference.pdf

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