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By HARRY CLARKE
THERE couldn’t have been a better suited special guest for Frank Fisher Cup formalities than the relaxed, jovial and unguarded Wayne Bennett who spoke at the Bulldog Park rugby league ground in Chinchilla on Friday night.
By Bennett’s own admission, it helped that his Dolphins had notched up yet another impressive victory at Redcliffe the night before.
“It means that I’ll talk a little bit more,” the notoriously blunt speaking supercoach quipped as he got onstage.
And Bennett’s words in Chinchilla – up the road from where two police officers and a civilian were murdered in a terrorist attack last December – had special meaning.
The Frank Fisher Cup, named after one of Australia’s great Aboriginal rugby league players, is an annual men’s and women’s exhibition match between the Frank Fisher Invitational XIII and the Queensland Police Service XIII.
The Cup marks the start of National Reconciliation Week and aims to connect police with the Indigenous community, while raising awareness of domestic violence and promoting domestic violence prevention.
Last year matches were held in the Aboriginal Shire of Cherbourg but this year Chinchilla was chosen as the location, as a way of commemorating Wieambilla shooting victims Constable Rachel McCrow, Constable Matthew Arnold and civilian Alan Dare.
It’s well known that Bennett served in the Queensland police force before embarking on the remarkable rugby league coaching career which has made him, at the age of 73, one of the highest profile Australians.
But very few of the hundreds gathered at Bulldog Park on Friday night realised, or could remember, that for a brief period at the age of 20 Bennett was an officer of the Chinchilla Police Station.
He served as a Toowoomba-based constable for a three-year period in the early 1970s, during which time he also had stints in Oakey and Meandarra.
Bennett entertained the audience of Frank Fisher Cup squads, dignitaries and Chinchilla locals with frank, insightful and often amusing stories of the players, premierships and periods from throughout his famous coaching career.
But Bennett also shared his passion for policing and some fond memories from his time in uniform.
There was an alarming but humorous story of the time he and another young officer locked a local ratbag inside the Chinchilla watch house one evening, only to find out from a service station attendant hours later that the building had caught fire.
“I don’t think you’ve ever seen two police officers move any quicker than we moved then,” Bennett said. We were assured the prisoner survived unscathed.
“It was a great time, in Chinchilla,” he said.
“I did enjoy myself here. There was a great squash court. I played a lot of squash and made some friends. It was a nice place to be.”
Bennett said it was “one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life” when, after 20 years of policing, he left the force to become a full time football coach.
“If I had my time over again I’d be a police officer again. I loved what I did. I loved the job. It was a bit of a game changer for me,” he said.
“I enjoyed how you could help people. I joined the police force because I wanted to help people and I felt I did that, whether it was with domestic violence or a road accident.
“I wasn’t too big on the other side of it – trying to put someone in jail or whatever. That was part of the job and they deserved to go there, that was fine. But I just wanted to help people.”
Asked by the Caller how he felt, as a former officer, when he heard about the terrible murders unfolding in Wieambilla last December, Bennett said the tragic incident was an extreme example of the inherent dangers of policing.
“It impacts on you as a ex-policeman because you know that could have been you,” he said.
“You feel for the people who it was, and you realise that every time you put the uniform on to go to work you could find yourself in some tough situations.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a policeman that hasn’t found himself in tough situations, and if you don’t want that in your life then don’t be a policeman or a policewoman, because it’s going to come your way.
“Obviously not as tragic as that (Wieambilla) lots of times, but there’ll be situations and circumstances where you’re going to be challenged.”
WATCH: Smoking ceremony before the 2023 Frank Fisher Cup
The Frank Fisher Cup opened with a Welcome to Country and traditional smoking ceremony that was described by Roma & District Rugby League president Peter Flynn as “one of the better ones I’ve seen”.
For five straight minutes Yindinji elder Michael Ambyrum, from Far North Queensland, produced constant didgeridoo hum as dozens of players and officials filed through the smoke of a Eucalypt fire.
Dances were then performed by the “Warriors Descendants” group from Rockhampton before kick off in the Frank Fisher Cup women’s game between the Central Queensland Crows and the Queensland Police Service.
The Crows’ ability to shift the ball and structure their attack would be the envy of many men’s teams, as they piled on points to record a comfortable victory over the QPS.
Five-eighth Rosie Parsons from Toowoomba was the clear choice for Player of the Match, while Crows captain Ella-Jay Harris, from Caloundra, said she was immensely proud of the team considering it was assembled only three weeks prior to kick off.
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“It was a tough game. We always thought it was going to be tough but we gelled really well together, especially for our first ever game together,” Harris said.
“We’re really proud. Everyone had the same mindset. We just wanted to get out and play some tough footy. It’s really good for everyone to come together and be on board with what this event is all about.”
Led by Q-Cup player turned police officer Jake Carl, the QPS men’s team put on a disciplined and strategic display in their win over the Frank Fisher Invitational XIII, comprising Indigenous players from across central Queensland.
The QPS’s robust rugby league organisation comprises teams in several police districts and a First XIII was selected from a recent carnival in Mount Isa.
Carl, who was named player of the match, said it was a very tough game.
“They definitely come with intent to win and put a big effort in. Unfortunately they were a couple short in numbers but they definitely put spirited effort in and made us play,” he said.
“We had the fallen officers’ names on our jerseys with a black arm band. The game meant something special and we had them in our thoughts. And not just them and their families but this community, Chinchilla, I know it hit hard as a community and as a police service out here.
“It was awesome to do this for those officers, and Alan Dare as well.”
Frank Fisher Invitational XIII captain Damon Anderson (pictured) said he was proud of his team for their efforts and grateful to take part in the reconciliation-focused event.
“It was really good, mate. It creates a good bond between the QPS and Indigenous mob, not just in our regions but all across Queensland and all across Australia,” Anderson said.
“There’s been a lot of feud over the years between the police service and our mob, so it’s good to have reconciliation and closing the gap between non-Indigenous people and ourselves.
“Our boys dug deep. We’re not just working hard for this man on our chest, Uncle Frank Fisher, but we’re working hard for our mobs, all our people that have passed, but also the emerging mob, the next generation.
“It was good energy out there and I look forward to next year.”