Changing of the Guard

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 League1. The Shiftworkers League – a competition played at Hamilton and run by bookmakers and had many pub teams as well as the wharfies 2.

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 Program Cover for the 50th Anniversary Dinner.

Don Lancashire

Grand Final Referee
BRL,1963-64,67 and 69
NSWRL, 1970
Toowoomba, 1973-75
Gold Coast, 1976-77
Representative Referee

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. However, Keith sustained a training injury to the lead up to the grand final and Don was appointed to the game. Don returned to the game in 1972 but was unable to be readmitted back to the BRLRA. The Australian Rugby League QRL continued to appoint Don to representative games, whilst Don officiated in Toowoomba and later the Gold Coast. In 1978 Don was appointed as the QRL Director of Referees and oversaw the representative referee appointments until 1992. During this time, Don a lifelong advocate of the free-flowing game and maximum use of advantage, regional referees such as Tim Bliss (Toowoomba) and more notably Barry Gomersall (Mackay) became exposed to the representative scene. Don was Don was awarded life membership to the to QRL Referees Association in 1992.

The early part of the decade was occupied with the fallout of Don Lancashire and the referees’ administration, commencing with the NSWRL Referees’ Appointment Board, NSWRL Referees Association and then later with the BRLRA.
In 1970 Don publicly criticised the criticised the NSWRL referees’ appointment board in the press over the appointment of Keith Page to the grand final. Don argued how can a referee who has officiated the three international tests of the year (Australia v Great Britain) not be considered the best referee? His quote “Apparently I have no friends on the Referees’ Appointment Board” was circulated (D Lancashire Pers. comm).
Don recalled that there was a time when an appointment board member would enter the referee’s room at half time and tell him he what he was doing wrong. At the time, Don believed the board was at odds of his handling of scrum, where Don applied advantage. The Sydney press also quickly seized on alleged statements from rugby league officials, that “referees who cop the most blasts from the paying public and the press keep getting the big games” (D Lancashire Pers. comm). The conflict focussed on the differing referee styles being seen at the time, however, it is important to note that Don had no conflict with Keith Page, a point mentioned in the media and consistent with his previous contests with Henry Albert in the BRL competition the previous decade.

Telegram from Henry Albert to Don Lancashire prior to the 1970 Test.
Don Lancashire Collection

However, Subsequently, the New South Wales Rugby League Referees’ Association suspended Don in late 1970. According to Don, he moved back to Sydney to spend time with his father who passed away during the year, with his home and family remaining in Brisbane. At the end of the season, Don returned to Brisbane and started a sandwich bar. During 1971, Don did not officiate, and became a commentator on the Brisbane rugby league for Channel 0 (now Network 10). In 1972, after selling his business interests, he applied for readmission to the BRLRA and the following events occurred:

  • 24 July, the association rejected the application, stating it was past the deadline for applications;
  • 1 August, the BRL upheld Lancashire’s appeal against the decision
  • 7 August, the association appealed the BRL decision to the QRL
  • The QRL dismissed the association appeal
  • Another application to the BRLRA is made and was rejected
  • An application was made to the BRL to submit his name to the referees’ appointment board for the following season
  • BRL advised that they will take no further action in the matter
  • A further application was made, resulting in an interview with the management committee
  • The application was subsequently rejected for a third time.

The newsprint at the time was universally against the rejection, particularly with Don informing “that no reason was given for the rejection”.

Source: Don Lancashire Collection

Pat McGrory (President) provided the following statement after the meeting.
It is true that that the applicant was not given a reason for the association ‘s rejection of his application but in doing so the association was exercising the right given it by its constitution. While I am not at liberty to disclose the reasons, I can mention possibly the major points considered by the members of the management committee of the association in arriving at their decision. Members of this committee considered that Don Lancashire’s actions subsequent to the rejection of his first application to join the association late last season to be some indication of his present attitude towards the association. A decision then had to be made whether his present attitude would enable him to conform to the discipline the association insists upon from each of its members.

Subsequently, the Pat McGrory provided the following information to an ABC interview at the time.

ABC… Pat McGrory President of the BRL Referees Assocation today he again refused to give a reason for the ban, but left in no doubt as to his views of Lancashire’s ability as a Referee.
McGrory…Yes he would have been one of our top Referees when h refereed here last, that refereed in Brisbane Referees Association last.
ABC… And presumably when he refereed all three tests in 1970 he wasn’t far below that standard?
McGrory… I would think so.
ABC…So would it be. Can you afford or can Brsibane RL afford to be without Referees of his calibre?
McGrory…Well I don’t think it (is) a decision whether we can afford to be without such a Referee, the point is as far as Donnie is concerned and any other applicant he is one member and there are 150 that we have to consider. Now it (is) our job to supply Referees and we do to the best of our ability but is also our job to make sure those referees we provide are of our standards and of our capabilities., by that I mean they comply with the Brisbane Public at least are used to seeing of our Referees.
ABC…Is there anything Don can do which would make the Association change its opinion and reverse its decision?
McGrory … No I don’t think that its upto Don to do anything. I think if there is anything to be done it’ll have to be done by the Association, how that is going to come unless of course the meeting between Don, Referees Association and representative of BRL produce some fruit, I wouldn’t know what else could be done.
ABC…So its not a question of Don apologising or showing that he would in fact be prepared and willing to go the way once he has been admitted to membership again?
McGrory… Well this maybe true, I could only --- well I couldn’t even speak for the Management Committee because if this situation or if an apology or whatever it might be were presented to them it might change their mind altogether I couldn’t answer that truthfully. I couldn’t say one way or the other.
ABC… Well how can he apologise when he doesn’t know why he has been refused admittance?
McGrory… Well as I said before I don’t think an apology is the thing I don’t think the action is with Don I think the action will be more with the Association than with Don.
Source: Don Lancashire Collection

The meeting referred to in the ABC interview occurred later in the year, where it was announced he has retired as a referee. The mediation requested by the BRL was unable to resolve the differences. The source of the membership dispute is complex and shrouded in confidentiality. Some of the media pointed out the causes being based on the public comments made by Don: when his application was first rejected; with his commentary in 1971 which was critical to some referee(s); to statements made in 1970 when in Sydney; and public defense maintained by Don in all these matters. Pat McGrory as President maintained the argument of Don’s attitude was the problem, but the association was unable to provide a solution. Don in later articles refers to the jealously of others as the root cause. Basically, to maintain the number one referee at the time was too much for the association and where the referee was happy to speak to the media on his terms.

Later, Senator Ron McAuliffe talked Don out of retirement and was subsequently appointed by the QRL to representative games, ignoring the NSWRL Referee Association suspension that was in place.

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

The first game was the Southern Queensland v New South Wales being played on the 10th May 1973. When the appointment was made in early May, the association declared a boycott of all QRL games and then proceeded to ask for support to other referee associations. The boycott was only supported by the Ipswich Rugby League Association, with Toowoomba and New South Wales making media statements against the move. Don was then accepted by the Toowoomba Rugby League Referees Association on the 11th May.

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

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

In 1974, the Australian Rugby League appointed Don to the interstate series. Don continued to referee international tests until 1977. In 1978 after retiring, Senator Ron McAuliffe approached Don and appointed him as the QRL Referees’ Director and reformed the Queensland Rugby League Referees’ Association (QRLRA), removing the previous QRL referee appointment boards, placing Don as responsible for QRL referee appointments, a role that continued until February 1992. During the QRLRA days, Don worked closely with Les Salisbury and implemented the QRL referee qualification system into two examinations, 1. The oral examination, where the new referee would be questioned on law by a local association senior referee and 2. The QRL International Examination, which comprised of over 100 written questions divided into key area of law. The examination had a high pass rate and was considered the ultimate test of law.
The examination was held annually usually at a referee’s weekend seminar open to all Queensland Referee’s. The annual seminar was a regular feature and was replaced by regional seminars in 1990. The examination system was replaced by the National Officiation Accreditation Scheme in 1995.

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


  1. 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.
  2. 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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