By STEVE MASCORD
IT’S just as well the venue for last month’s game between the Hawaiian All Stars and a Queensland Indigenous side was a school that was ‘high’ in more ways than one.
For three hours after their 70-8 victory, the Queenslanders remained at the venue – half an hour to the east of Waikiki – waiting for the forecast calamitous tsunami to hit Oahu. Tsunami sirens sounded during their 13-try romp.
Ten members of the visiting squad, funded by a Foundation in honour of the late Arthur Beetson and made up of players from different levels of the game in the Sunshine State, had never even been on a plane before.
Having panicked at every bump on the nine-hour flight to Honolulu, they were now facing a major natural disaster in a foreign country.
“The sirens kept going – from my vantage point up in the grandstand, I could see all the action – all the cars coming and going from lower ground,” said a member of the management team, former Leeds centre Tony Currie.
“The carparks were chockers, the roads were full. Even if we wanted to leave, we couldn’t get back to Waikiki. My wife (was) at Waikiki.”
Not only were the tourists in the best possible place should the giant waves predicted crash against the Oahu shoreline but they had the best possible warning. The mayor of Honolulu, Peter Carlisle, and the Australian high commissioner to Hawaii, Scott Dewar, launched the match along with two of Beetson’s sons, Chris and Brad.
They then whispered in the ear of the Beetsons that a potentially catastrophic tidal wave was bearing down on the island, jumped their government issued cars and dashed off to attend to the emergency.
Dewar’s advice to his countrymen was simple: “don’t go anywhere”.
Early in the first half, it was announced “Kaiser Stadium is in a safe zone” but still, members of the 800-strong crowd started heading for the exits and, presumeably, their loved ones.
The atmosphere in and around the gym area of Kaiser Stadium afterwards was good humoured.
Members of the Jaran aboriginal dance troup, who had performed before kick-off, got out the public address system and country music – followed by hiphop – was soon echoing down halls adorNed with American football memorabilia.
In the group were players, management, coaches (including former Warrington star Sid Domic, who doubled as water boy), a local resident in an England jersey, some Aussie expats, an Australian tourist whose wife was back in Waikiki recovering from a recent kidney transplant and a Sydney Roosters fans who claimed to be close friends with Adrian Morley and a former beneficiary of Beetson snr’s kindness.
A whip around of those present (including Forty-20) raised 100 dollars for some food from the canteen and a drink each – made by school moms. Included in the feast was a local specialty – curried hamburger over rice.
The players took turns at dancing to the blaring music, a couple of stranded local school girls cooed over the footballers and the anticipation of a big night out after a demanding week soon gave way to heads on kit bags and quiet snores.
The Arthur Beetson Foundation raised the money for the trip from a sportsman’s night and knock-out competition. The organisation has tied rugby league to social issues, insisting on education and health checks as a condition of taking part in its indigenous-focused events.
The Jaran Dance Troupe performed at major Hawaiian landmarks during their stay, including the Ionian Palace. The aim was to highlight the shared history of indigenous Australians and Hawaiians – including similar health problems.
But Currie said they soon discovered there was little in the way of organisation on the ground in a new area for the game. They were unhappy with their hotel and changed. The tannoy at Kaiser Stadium was primitive and they bought their own.
Game night was a double-header with a local amateur, open age American Football game on first. Entry was 10 dollars and there was one rugby league item on sale at themerchandise tent – a US Tomahawks t-shirt.
But everyone involved in the ‘home’ team seemed to be playing, with the exception of guest coach, Hull KR bound Cory Paterson. Currie was the ground announcer, the tourists has to produce one touch judge, they downloaded the Australian national anthem from an iphone and provided the pre-match entertainment.
“We were promised certain cost savings as far as accommodation and support with meals and transportation but they didn’t eventuate,”said Currie.
“Luckily with the Arthur Beetson foundation, we did have the money there – although (now) we can’t used it in Australia for some of the things we wanted to do. We’ve had to outlay a little bit extra.
“We wanted to make sure that when the players came and the dance troupe came, they were treated to the best possible organisation we could. Believe it or not, we pretty much organised the whole thing from Australia.”
AMNRL boss David Niu didn’t make the trip from Philadelphia – a decision he was probably happy with in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
The Beetsons want to bring a tour to the UK before the 2013 World Cup, playing the Community Lions and other amateur teams. They have many other big plans for indigenous footballers in Australia, and to use their programmes to promote the expansion of rugby league overseas.
They say they work “around” governing bodies, with Big Artie’s name opening many doors.
Despite the crowd understandably thinning as the tsunami sirens sounded, everyone seemed happy with their experience – even the badly outgunned local side, which included Queensland Cup players (and Tomahawks) Jayson Rego and Josh Rice.
“Everything I’ve tried to teach them, they’ve embraced,” said Paterson, who interrupted his Hawaiian honeymoon to coach the side.
“I can’t thank them enough, they’ve been tremendous.
“It’s been an unreal experience.
“Obviously, you can tell the Australians, they play rugby league from four, five years old. It showed tonight. But the effort that the Hawaiian boys put in and the guts and determination, I can’t fault.
“They definitely didn’t give up, which I was so proud of.”
When the ‘all clear’ finally came at 12.15am, the Queenslanders had just taken delivery of a few cartons of beer.
Waikiki was almost deserted when their small fleet of vans got back to the Ohana East HotelI hope they found a bar that was open. They’d earnt it.
Filed for: FORTY-20 MAGAZINE