When you meet your heroes – Mark Ella

Last year I posted about meeting my heroes, Roger Penrose (science), Mark Occhilupo (sport) and James Taylor (music).  I also mentioned rugby, and the legendary Mark Ella (who, unlike the other three, I hadn’t met) in particular, and so …

Hang on, let’s not rush with this, but take it back to how I came to be in the right place at the right time.

With travel restricted in Australia due to the pandemic, I applied for a permit to enter Queensland to help my daughter with the imminent birth of her third child. As there were a few things I wanted to take up to Brisbane, I decided to drive the 1684 km from Melbourne, overnighting in Dubbo. All went well, apart from a hiccup at the closely controlled border at Goondiwindi, and I was able to lend a hand (and enjoy myself immensely) for the two weeks I was there.

Then came the drive home. I wanted to get a bit further than Dubbo on my return journey, and a close examination of the map revealed a town I’d never heard of: Wellington, New South Wales. Checking the accommodation, I was taken with the curiously named Cow and Calf Hotel, which enticingly had recently renovated rooms as well as a bistro for my evening meal. Perfect!

Should I keep going?

On the day of my return sojourn I headed off bright and early before 7 am, stopping for coffee mid-morning and making it to Moree for an excellent lunch at 61 Balo (I mention this just in case you’re passing through). After Coonabarabran Google maps took me off the main highway onto secondary roads, all fine except for a section which deteriorated in 20 km of rough unsealed road, with a few floodways to navigate! This meant my arrival at Wellington was later than planned, well after dark when I checked in with the bar staff on duty.

Found my room, dumped my stuff and headed downstairs for refreshment and food. No fancy beers on tap at the Cow and Calf, so thought it best to go local and ordered a schooner of Tooheys. Once consumed, headed to the bistro, were I found it full so had to go back to the bar to order food. No problem, found a table and watched rugby league while eating the tasty burger and chips (and another Tooheys).

The food was consumed and cleared, and I settled in to finish the beer and enjoy the next game, the Parramatta Eels playing the Canberra Raiders.

“Ok if we sit here?”, said one of two blokes looking for a table.

“Sure.”, I responded, not glancing up as there was an eye-catching passage of play on the big screen.

They sat down, I looked across and there, sitting a metre away (I know, not the mandatory 1.5 metres) was a familiar face. My mind raced, as I knew it was one of the twins (Mark and Glenn Ella, with third brother Gary also a Wallaby).

“Uh, this is embarrassing”, I mumbled, “I know you’re an Ella, but which one?”


So here I was, chatting to the person David Campese has described as “the best rugby player I have ever known or seen”! I’d brought up my son Nick watching our VHS tape of the famous Grand Slam Wallaby tour of the UK, wherein Mark Ella scored a try in every Test – against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Thanks for taking the photo, Steve!

Desperately trying to act cool and calm, I introduced myself to Mark and his friend from Sydney, Steve. They were getting away with their wives doing a little weekend tour of outback NSW towns, and ended up in Wellington when they found all accommodation booked at other towns they tried.

The three of us sat there for about half an hour enjoying the game and pointing out referee errors (e.g. missed forward pass in the passage of play by Canberra leading to a try). When our beers were empty I offered to buy a round, but they insisted on buying me one (I continued with Tooheys, they drank Great Northern).

We chatted about rugby a little, including his visits to Hong Kong – he’d won there twice, and was commentating the year I saw David Campese scored the winning try in the final against New Zealand, the last time Australia won the Hong Kong Sevens. I mentioned a little about Tasmanian rugby, and we each offered our impressions of Italy, where he played after retiring from the international game.

There were of course a multitude of questions I’d have liked to ask, but I refrained, as it just didn’t seem appropriate. He’d gone there for a relaxed evening in a pub, not to be interrogated by an inquisitive ageing fan.

Towards the end of the first half their wives joined us and we all chatted amiably until they left during the break.

My overall impression? Overwhelmingly positive – Mark is relaxed and affable, revelling in the simple pleasures of life. I came away thinking that he is the archetypical Australian, the best example of all that is good in our national character.

And yes, that smile – the slightly cheeky grin – it’s there most of the time.

If you’d like to see those four famous tries, here you go:

And since you’re still here, how about this wonderful team try featuring Mark (number 10), brother Gary (13) and finished off by David Campese (11):

PS Since posting this, I’ve come across a wonderful interview by Stan Grant with Mark, brother Glenn and sister Marcia (also played for Australia – netball). Click on the pic to take you to SBS On Demand, where you may have to register (free) to watch.

Reminiscence – Kevin Sinclair

In 1985, as a young family, we moved to Hong Kong, where I had obtained a job at Hong Kong Polytechnic, now (in)famous for the student occupation and protest of 2019. As an expatriate staff member, I was entitled to subsidised housing, and we were duly allocated to Pak Tak Yuen, out at Shatin in the New Territories. The accommodation was spacious by Hong Kong standards, and we shared the quarters with a motley collection of families from around the globe (UK passport holders were unsurprisingly predominant, and there were also Hong Kong Chinese families, albeit with foreign passports). Continue reading

“Ho perduto due corone!”

Ho perduto due corone! – My two Rosary beads are missing! – these were the first words (not that I understood them) uttered by Linda’s mother as we arrived to help her with the recarpeting of her bedroom. We got there nice and early, as the carpet layer was due at 8:30 am. It was no great surprise that the Rosary beads were missing, as she is nearly 90 years old (not Linda, her mother) and legally blind. She can apparently still see vague shapes, and manages to live alone in her house and beloved garden, with the regular assistance of Linda and her two sisters, one of whom lives next door. Continue reading

Martin Weller does it again!

I’m older than Martin Weller. So his new book, 25 Years of Ed Tech, doesn’t seem to cover a long enough period to me (reminder: print is a technology). Nevertheless, it’s a full and enriching outline of the impact of the internet and associated technologies on education, so you’d better read it. Thanks to Martin and Athabasca University Press, the online version is free. Continue reading

A comment from Rodney Trotter

I don’t get many Comments on my blog, so when I receive one I take notice. When someone does comment, I’m automatically sent an email with the details. What particularly caught my eye with a recent one was the name of the sender: Rodney Trotter. This is of course the name of one of our heroes (Del Boy’s hapless younger brother) from the wonderful UK television series Only Fools and Horses, so my curiosity was aroused. Continue reading

On the joy of (largely) unknown books

An advantage of retirement is the time that becomes available for reading. I relish it, read regularly, and love discovering (largely) unknown titles. Most are discovered serendipitously; wandering among the shelves of bookshops (new and second-hand), visiting op-shops or meandering around markets. Particular examples include Lady Spy, Gentleman Explorer, which caught my eye simply because the biography’s fascinating subject was a Murphy, and Bad Faith, which tickled my fancy when I read on the blurb that an alcoholic Tasmanian, Myrtle Jones, was intimately connected with the worst Nazi collaborator of the French Vichy government in WW2. Other exciting reads include those that offer a fresh, and sometimes personal, perspective on well-known events and historical events. My favourite example is V2, an autobiographical account of the German rocket programme of WW2 by the German General responsible for its oversight, Walter Dornberger.

These books are relatively well-known. There are also many that are published (or self-published) in small numbers that remain unknown to the general reading public. We get to hear about them only by chance or through a friend associated with their publication. I have a few interesting instances. Continue reading

Why you should visit Hong Kong now

Earlier this month I spent five days in Hong Kong. You should go. Why?

  1. Hong Kong is still one of the world’s great cities
  2. There are very few tourists
  3. You can visit Disneyland and Ocean Park and not queue for rides and attractions
  4. There are bargains to be had – the markets are quiet
  5. Hong Kong has sites and attractions you haven’t seen yet
  6. Enjoy a country walk to a beautiful beach
  7. If you’re rugby fan, you MUST attend the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens at least once
  8. It’s safe: Hong Kong people support democratic reform but deplore violence
  9. It’s cheap – packages with major carriers are a bargain, and the public transport system is a dream
  10. It would demonstrate your support for the HK people

Continue reading