Patrick McMahon was born in Brisbane on 21st June, 1927. For his parents, Patrick and Dorothy, Brisbane in the late 1920s was not a particularly attractive option for raising a family. Queensland was in the midst of a recession, and this situation was further exacerbated by the collapse of stock markets all over the world in 1929. The impact on Brisbane was particularly severe. It was almost impossible to find work. Itinerant workers were streaming up from the south and the men that were employed were having their hours decreased, wages cut and they never knew when they might have to join the dole queues. Patrick senior, like thousands of other men, decided to pack up and leave Brisbane in search of work. His journey to find a better life for himself and his family took him inland, 1800 km north-west of Brisbane to a small mining town in its infancy… Mt Isa.
When he and his wife first arrived, Patrick senior and Dorothy must have wondered if they had made the right decision. Mt Isa in the 1930s had very few of the modern conveniences of the big cities that they were used to. Water was not yet laid on in the town and some families lived in tent houses. They were also extremely isolated. The family, like most others, did not own a radio so they did not have access to the news of the day. The nearest city was Townsville, but was it was almost 1000 km away, well beyond the reach of the average person. On the plus side, Patrick managed to find a job in the mines and they did have a small house in the township. But the life of a miner was a tough, rough and dirty existence, with long hours of backbreaking work and Patrick had precious little time to spend with his wife and two sons, Patrick junior and his younger brother, John.
While his parents struggled with life’s challenges, for a young boy like Pat who loved the outdoors, living in Mt Isa was an idyllic existence. From the age of two, from the time he woke up to the time that his mother had to force him to come inside at the end of the day, he basically ‘lived’ in his enormous back yard. The back of the yard was where the family chickens were kept and his favourite pastime became the care and maintenance of his feathered friends. He spent hours watching them, studying their habits and feeding them. He spent so much time with them that his father started to call him ‘Chook’, which after a while changed to ‘Cocky’. The nickname stuck and soon all his family and friends called him by this name, an added bonus being that no-one would ever confuse the father and son with the same Christian name. As he grew older, and thought about this nickname and the history behind it, he decided that he didn’t really like it or dislike it – he just got used to it.
In 1933, Pat’s parents decided to send their eldest son to the newly opened Sisters of St Joseph Convent Primary School. Founded in 1932, and situated in Railway Avenue, it was staffed by the Sisters of St Joseph and had around 100 students. The site for the convent and the school was made available by Mount Isa Mines. The parish purchased a weatherboard cottage from Kuridala to use as the school building. The school was committed to continuing the spiritual legacy of Sister Mary MacKillop, the first sister of St Joseph and Australia’s first canonised saint. Pat spent nine years at the school – two years of prep, which was normal in those days – and seven years of primary school. He finished Grade 7 in 1941, aged 14.
Right from the beginning of the school’s existence there was a big focus on sports. Both boys and girls were always encouraged to be involved in physical activity. The biggest sport in Mt Isa was undoubtedly rugby league, so it was natural that the school would make sure that rugby league was given prominence. The school engaged a first-class football coach named Frank Hogg and one of the Sisters volunteered to be the team’s ‘cheerleader’, and even coach when Frank was not available. Pat first started playing at school at about 10 or 11 years of age, and it was not long before he played for the school team under the guidance of Frank. St Joseph’s was in a district competition with two other schools and during the time that Pat was at the school, Sisters of St Joseph remained undefeated premiers. In one game the score-line was Sisters of St Joseph 31 vs Mines School 3 and Pat scored nine tries. He showed his try-scoring prowess from an early age when he once scored 150 points for his team in one season.
The Bax family also decided to send their son Robert to Sisters of St Joseph – and Pat became great mates with Bobby Bax, the future Brisbane halfback and Norths coach, even though Bob was a year older. Bax was a natural-born leader –a precursor to his phenomenal coaching career many years later. As the leader of the group of boys that Pat was mates with, he decided the activities that the boys would do, especially on weekends. There were plenty of other activities that he would arrange apart from rugby league, including tennis and cricket. He would even provide the gear. Pat was happy to try any sport with his group of mates. He found he didn’t like cricket, but he was enthusiastic about tennis and was an average rider.
Pat didn’t have a horse, but learning how to ride was like a rite of passage. Mt Isa was the end of the droving line from the Northern Territory before and during the war. Pat and his mates used to ‘borrow’ the drovers’ horses. All the boys did it – they were always looking to go for a bit of a gallop, and if there was a horse they could catch, they would. The drovers were well aware of what was going on. If a drover found that one of his horses had been ridden he would check with the ‘usual suspects’ and ask if any of them were responsible. ‘No sir,’ was the invariable reply. The boys were careful not to give away any clues as to which of them had been riding, and of course, ‘dobbing in’ your mate was unthinkable. The drovers, for the most part, could not find out who the culprit or culprits were on any given occasion, and so because the horses were not mistreated, they generally took it no further.
After Pat left school, there were two things he focused on – finding a job and his football. There were not many options for 14-year-olds when it came to finding jobs. Basically, if you were too young to join the army, you went off to the mines. ‘What’s that – a screwdriver? You’re an electrician.’ ‘What’s that – a hammer? You’re a carpenter.’ Pat’s first job was working in a drawing office connected to Mt Isa Mines (MIM) for a couple of years. Then he worked down in a machine shop after that. Pat’s first rugby league club team was Mt Isa Brothers, which he played for between 1943 and 1945 with Bobby Bax and his brother, Jack. Early on, Pat’s coaches found he had some flexibility as a player, and could play in more than one position. Throughout his career he played winger, centre and five-eighth. But, to Pat, wing seemed to be the most natural fit. He had a lot of natural speed – and on top of that, he had a great swerve. He focused on that, rather than trying to ‘step’, and began using this ability to great effect. His pet play was to get outside the three-quarter opposing him, creating an overlap and getting the ball passed to him and then get around the cover defence with a swerve. His ability to evade opponents was instrumental in Pat avoiding major injuries throughout his career. Sure he had broken bones and pulled his hamstring twice – but nothing that kept him out of games for very long.
1944 was big for Pat, as this was the first year that he achieved representative honours. Ray Stehr, a tough front-rower who was a member of two Kangaroo tours, was stationed in Darwin during the war. He was made captain of the army side in Darwin and his team played several war-time matches to build up troop morale. This team twice came down to Cloncurry to play a North West Queensland team. Thousands of soldiers turned up to watch the game at the local aerodrome. Both Pat and Bob Bax were in the North West Queensland team, Bob as the half-back and Pat as a three-quarter. It is clear that Pat more than held his own against the opposition, a team that included blokes that had played in the Sydney competition before the war. Pat impressed to the point where one of the opposing players sought Pat out to have a chat with him about his future, a chat that ended up being a life-defining moment. The bloke said to Pat, ‘Why don’t you go and try yourself down in Toowoomba or Brisbane?’
Pat liked the idea of going to Toowoomba. He thought Toowoomba was the hub of rugby league and knew that many great legends of the game had played there, men like Herb Steinohrt, who was the Queensland coach at the time, Mick Madsen, Kev Boshammer and Duncan Thompson. Any childhood friend of Pat’s could recite the members of the 1924 Toowoomba side that beat the Poms and went undefeated. When Pat thought of playing in Toowoomba, he thought about the challenges he would face – of moving to a new place that he didn’t know with a club competition that was at a much higher level than what he was used to – but he believed that he could handle it. So, after the war was over, he went down to Toowoomba in 1946 and played in the trials. He was fortunate enough to play outside a bloke called Jack Gayler, who just happened to be the current Queensland captain. Jack turned out to be one of the best passers of a football Pat would ever play with. Jack always knew exactly when to pass a ball – which, as a winger, Pat felt that a lot of good players didn’t consistently do. He thought that most would pass it too soon or too late.
In those days there were no signing bonuses or match payments for players. You might get free board if you were lucky. For most players, the main contributing factor on where you ended up playing was to do with who else was on the team. Your mates might be on a certain team and you just went and played where your mates were. Negotiations between players and clubs did not involve managers or lawyers. A player just walked up to the coach or club president and agreed to play with the team. The unwritten code among the players when it came to joining a team was two-fold. First, your word was your bond, so all deals were sealed with a handshake. The other important thing was once you made a deal, you didn’t renege on it. After some consideration, Pat decided to join Toowoomba Souths.
Pat quickly found out that the stories he had heard about Toowoomba’s cold weather were not an exaggeration. For a young man not used to the cold, he nearly froze to death in his first year. On top of that, everything was in short supply. Even though the war had ended, many food items were still being rationed – tea, butter, sugar. It was a hard job to make everything go around. You had coupons for clothing and he used all his coupons to buy an overcoat. To him, the corner of Margaret and Ruthven streets on a windy winter’s day was colder than Switzerland when he went to play there on the 1948-49 Kangaroo Tour.
In 1946, the Queensland and Australian selectors adopted a policy of concentrating on the upcoming youth. The Queensland selectors initially chose a squad of 21 players to play against NSW, and 12 of those players had not yet played interstate football. Pat was one of those 12 players and was picked for the first interstate game. His form for club and State was so spectacular, so compelling, that he went from a relatively unknown young 19-year-old winger with a lot of promise at the beginning of the season to being picked for Australia for the third Test in Sydney, only a few months later.
In his first game for Queensland, there were 47,177 fans at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Pat, at 19 years of age, was the youngest player on the team. The captain, ‘Bull’ Thornton, was 10 years his senior, and many of the other veterans were considerably older as well. Being relatively inexperienced, the occasion certainly got to Pat, at least initially. When he walked on, he wasn’t exactly sure which way to run. He had never seen a crowd like the one there that day and felt a bit lost. But early in the game he had an opportunity to forget about any nerves he might still have had. NSW kicked the ball in his direction! As the ball came towards him, bouncing erratically, several thoughts went through his mind. ‘Now, if I run through fast and pick this up, I’ll be going. But if I make a mess of it in my first game, that’ll be a big problem. So I’d better play it safe.’ With that last thought, he dived on ‘the brick’. When he looked up, who was charging at him but Bumper Farrell. Bumper had a reputation that he was not to be messed with. Pat thought he was going to jump on him and he was dead right. But as Farrell was in the air, Pat had the presence of mind to roll out of the way – and he missed. His captain came over, and with a wry look on his face, said to his young winger, ‘Young Pat, you just met Mr Farrell’.
Unfortunately, a serious injury kept him out of the third Test. He displaced his shoulder in the game between Toowoomba and England late in the second half and played out the game in considerable pain. After the match, his shoulder was forced back into position, which caused a lot of bruising and trauma to the muscles around the shoulder. The League’s medical officer, Dr H C Finn, ordered that Pat receive daily treatment – the shoulder needed to be massaged every afternoon and second-rower Reg Kay was enlisted to treat it with hot packs at night. He desperately wanted to play in the Test, so he attended the next practice session after this game, despite the fact that he couldn’t raise his arm more than a few inches. When it came to practising backlines movements, he could only attempt flick passes, but was still somehow pronounced ‘fit’. With the pain getting worse over the next couple of days he tried to tough it out, but to no avail, so he was forced to miss the Test. Pat was bitterly disappointed, but was to get another opportunity to play for Australia.
In 1948, New Zealand came to Australia for a two Test series. Four Queenslanders were picked for the first Test in Sydney and Pat was one of them. This was to be his first Test match. He flew down to Sydney on the Wednesday, a bit of a nerve-racking experience as he had never flown on a plane before. Thursday was a day of enormous excitement, as he was presented with his Test jersey and he was also photographed with his teammates. The game was on Saturday, May 29th, and although Australia lost 21-19, Pat acquitted himself well. In between this match and the second Test, which Pat was also selected for, he had an outstanding game playing for Queensland against the tourists. His attacking play was exceptional, often streaking past the New Zealanders because of a step or a swerve. Commentators and observers of the game all agreed that here was a remarkable talent, and his selection for the 1948-49 Kangaroo Tour was a foregone conclusion.
The Kangaroos left for England on August 4th, 1948. They went over on the ship Maloja, which was a British steam-powered ocean liner. Launched in 1923, it was converted to an armed merchant cruiser during World War II. Pat thought of it as a rickety old boat. No first and second class – just one class. All the cabins were below deck – no cabins on top. Four or five players were assigned to a cabin and they each had their own bunk, but little extra space for their luggage. Pat’s included all of the official tour clothing allocated to him. The Australian Rugby Football League Board of Control gave each player three jumpers and three pairs of socks. Stamina gave them four or five pairs of pants and Aeroshirts gave them some shirts. They were also given a tie and blazer. Duncan Thompson gave them a pair of boots each. Numbers on the jerseys were allocated for whole tour – numbers that were not based on the player’s position. Pat’s tour number was ‘3’.
Naturally, there were some high jinks on the boat, as some of the team were noted larrikins. Eddie Brosnan was not one of them. He was famous for being devoid of a sense of humour. If you fooled with ‘Brosie’, you could have a lot of trouble. There were trestles for meal times– there was nothing flash on the ship, and they ate meat curries a lot because they couldn’t keep the meat fresh. At one dinnertime, some of the boys had a bottle of tomato sauce, but they couldn’t get it open. The manager, Buckley, had the players all dressed up in blazers because they were about to go ashore. Pat was watching, wondering why they didn’t get another bottle. Jack Horrigan said, ‘Give it to me!’ He hit it with his hand and a spray of sauce flew out and splashed all over the guy sitting opposite him – Eddie Brosnan. There was a big row and Horrigan vacated the mess area extremely quickly!
Their trainer on the trip was Chloe Furness, who used to rub for Brisbane Wests. All he carried with him was a Gladstone bag. With that, he fixed everything from a cold to a broken nose, which was a very common occurrence. In his doctoring kit, he had some Vaseline, Encapsuline, a sponge, and some smelling salts in case someone got knocked out. ‘Chloe’ was one of those ‘hard cases’, but all the players knew about his big phobia – he was terrified of drowning. He used to say to Pat, ‘Mac, I don’t know what’s gonna happen to Mum and the kids if this boat goes down’.
Chloe was not the most popular guy in the touring party because he checked on the players every morning. He would come around at 6 am with an orange for everyone, but the players believed that he wanted to see if there was anything untoward going on – that he wanted to find out if anyone had been drinking or hadn’t slept in their bunk or had a girl in their room.
One day, some of the players decided to play a joke on the trainer. They knew he was feeling seasick and was lying on his bunk. They went to see the bloke in charge of the dining room, who was one of the ship’s officers, and asked him for a bucket of water. The players took this bucket of water and got the officer to come down with them to Chloe’s cabin. One of the players threw water under the cabin door. At the same time, the officer called out, ‘Women and children are to go first’. The players yelled, ‘Chloe get out. The ship is going down’. Chloe nearly had a nervous breakdown. The players involved got into a lot of trouble over that. The mastermind behind the prank was ‘The Count’ – Noel Mulligan, Pat’s long-time friend.
All of the players were expected to take part in regular exercise routines on the ship’s deck, but Pat managed to find other ways to keep up his fitness and at the same time demonstrate his prowess as an all-round athlete. He entered the deck tennis doubles competition with Fred De Belin and they won. But a more novel opportunity presented itself in the form of a boxing match. Pat’s pugilistic capabilities gave him the reputation of someone that was not to be trifled with. He had learnt the sweet science from his father, Patrick senior, who had been a boxer of some renown. In 1931, his father had defeated Wally Tullipan in a match in Jimmy Sharman’s athletic tent in Townsville. He knocked down Tullipan three times with huge right-hand punches to his opponent’s chin to win the fight – a no mean feat as Tullipan was to go on to win the Queensland State Heavyweight title the following year.
A professional lightweight boxer from Trinidad called Joe Hilton was on board. Hilton had had about 40 fights in total, including 10 in England, so he was no novice. He issued an unusual request – as he wanted to keep up his training and he didn’t have a sparring partner, he asked if anyone on board would like to take him up on going a few rounds. When this news reached the Australian players, Pat was talked into giving it a go. The Kangaroo captain, commissioned to be the timekeeper for the ‘fight’, had a quiet word to Pat before the boxers faced each other. He counselled Pat to go quietly, so as not to potentially create an incident, because Pat was heavier than the professional. Pat, on his captain’s advice, pulled his punches and gave a good account of himself.
Ironically, Pat never went looking for a fight on or off the field, and in fact avoided confrontations in general – but when he was pushed, he was not afraid to stand up for himself or for someone he felt protective of. One famous story is about when his brother was playing for All Whites in Toowoomba. An opposition supporter had made his opinions known to all and sundry about John ‘Sparrow’ MacMahon, opinions that called into question his playing ability, among other things. After a particularly loud and disparaging remark, the supporter saw a stocky, athletic man in front of him who asked him to retract what he was saying. When he declined, he found himself picking himself off the ground. He found out that he had been standing beside ‘Sparrow’s’ brother, ‘Cocky’, who had not been impressed with his behaviour.
After the Kangaroos were on the boat seven or eight weeks, they got off the ship in Marseille in France. As they were a week late for their first game with Huddersfield, the Poms sent over six Lancashire bombers to transport them back to England. The players had to actually sit in on boxes in the bomb-bays. It was a little nerve-racking for the Australians. Pat was thinking that he hoped the pilot didn’t hit the wrong button in the cockpit. They got to Huddersfield on the Wednesday and played them on the Saturday, which left them very little time to prepare. Some of the players had not had any match practice for nearly three months.
The Australians played their third match of the tour at Hull on September 23rd. Hull had been a target of the Nazis during World War II and had been bombed incessantly. Fred De Belin, one of the second-rowers for the game from the Balmain club, had been a member of the RAAF from 1943 to 1945. He did two or three tours as a bomber navigator, attacking German targets. Hull had a good team –and the local hero was Miller, their full-back. Halfway through the second half, someone hit him when he was not looking and he was knocked out. When the crowd saw their star lying on the ground and not moving, they immediately started shouting aggressively at the Australians and gave them hell. Among the comments that are possible to print are ‘Convicts’ and ‘Get back to Australia’. The verbal attack carried on for some time. Fred was most unimpressed with the outbursts. He trotted over to Pat and gave vent to his feelings by saying, ‘I spent three years bombing the wrong mob!’
The next game was against Wakefield Trinity two days later. Australia won the game by 26 to 19 and the best player in this game from either side was Pat. He scored three tries and was a constant threat to the Wakefield defensive line. Critics watching the match thought that the most impressive feature of the win was a wonderful try scored by Pat after running about 60 yards. Wakefield was on the attack and looked like they were about to score. The Queenslander Jack Horrigan anticipated a pass from a Wakefield player and intercepted the ball. He ran quickly to the halfway line. Pat was flying alongside in support. Horrigan passed the ball to Pat and he went like a bullet for the corner. No player from Wakefield had any chance of overhauling him.
Another try eventuated from another Wakefield error. One of their players dropped the ball and ‘Dutchy’ Holland, a forward from St George, went up and dived on it down near their 25. Pat got the ball and looked like he would give it to ‘Chicka’ Cowie, after he called for the ball. The Pommie forwards fanned out to stop Cowie. As this was happening, Pat spied an opening in the middle of the ruck. Rather than passing to Cowie, he dummied and kept the ball, went through middle, beat the full-back and scored under the posts. When he was walking back, there was a fellow named Whitcombe, the biggest player in England, who was about 18 stone and played front row. He said, ‘That was a good try, lad – but don’t try it again today’. Pat just smiled to himself – and made sure that he did ‘try it again’ that day.
Other matches against club teams where Pat really stood out were against Bradford Northern, the first game after the second Test, and against Swinton, which was the third game after the same Test. Australia won both games – 21 to 7 against Bradford and, in their biggest win of the tour, 21 to nil against Swinton. In the first of these Pat scored two tries. One was a great individual effort when he swerved through the middle of the ruck without anyone laying a hand on him and beat several of the opposition players before scoring. Against Swinton, Pat again showed extraordinary athleticism. Colin Hopkins, the half-back, drew one of the opposition players and then threw an extremely awkward pass in Pat’s general direction. It was wide and going over his head and, although Pat was going at full speed, he was able to get his fingertips to the ball, pull it in and run on to score a spectacular try.
The Australian team was always going to struggle in the Tests against Great Britain, as age and experience were against them. In the first Test, Mulligan was the only Australian that had previously played a Test against the ‘old enemy’. Although Australia lost all three Tests, Pat managed to acquit himself well. In the first Test at Headingly and the third Test at Bradford, Pat scored two tries in each game. The Tests established Pat with the critics as Australia’s best winger. He was strong and resourceful when Australia was on attack, using positioning, backing up the player with the ball and his swerve to create headaches for the Poms. In defence, his stocky build and good tackling technique made him a very sound, robust defender. He handled the ball well and played at a consistently high level. He was one of the Australians whose reputations was enhanced during the tour.
Life on tour away from the games had its upside and downside for Pat. Sightseeing was compulsory – the players had to go on organised excursions whether they liked it or not. A lot of the players really relished the chance to tour around, but Pat was not such an enthusiastic sightseer. While they were in England, they would load the players up on a bus and take them to places like Buckingham Palace. The tourists met a lot of dignitaries and members of the upper-class. They were given the opportunity to stay overnight in some castles, but Pat viewed them as musty old things. He would have much rather stayed in a tent. Pat thought that the English players off the field were not so friendly and a bit stand-offish. One English player that Pat did get along with was the second-rower Harry Murphy. Harry came to Australia for the 1950 Great Britain tour. Pat, after spending some time chatting with the him, reckoned he was a pretty good bloke and they became good mates; Pat even went along with him to a couple of dances.
Sightseeing during the French section of the tour was of more interest. The Kangaroos were staying in a place called Perpignan, which is on the Spanish-French border. When they had a few days off, they went over to Spain in the bus. They had an interpreter with them who would give talks about various historical sites. When they were going over one group of mountains the interpreter said, ‘You see those pillboxes there? Germans had round concrete buildings with holes in them for machine guns’. He told them the story of Louis Mazon, the vice-captain of the French side. The Germans had captured him and they were going to shoot him the following morning. But his mates found where the Germans were keeping him, broke in and got him out. A lot of the players on the French team were members of the French Resistance. They were battle-hardened men, in a very literal sense. Pat was very impressed with what he heard. He developed a healthy respect for the French players and felt that they were not to be taken lightly. He was surprised with the welcoming, full-of-life nature of many of the Frenchmen, which was in stark contrast to what he had experienced in England. One Frenchman came up to him after a game and said, ‘I think I’ll sit with you tonight’. They started drinking wine. ‘You know, McMahon,’ his new friend said, ‘Today we fight, tonight we drink, next week we fight again’.
The Australian Tour of New Zealand in 1949 started off on a low for Pat. He injured a knee ligament in the first match of the tour, playing against Huntly, and for a while there was some doubt about when he would be available to play again. But he recovered sufficiently to be the standout player in Australia’s win over the South Island on September 25th. The final score was 38-8 and Pat scored two tries. He almost scored a third when he ran from deep inside his own territory, evaded several opposition players and was pulled up just short of the tryline. Overall, Pat had a very successful tour. He played in both Tests and observers felt that Pat was easily the best winger in the Australian contingent. His positional play was excellent, instinctively being able to put himself in the best possible position for a pass, whether it be backing up on the inside or outside. One notable highpoint was that Pat, along with Wal O’Connell and Kevin Schubert, played their ninth consecutive Test on October 8th when they turned out for the Kangaroos for the second Test of the tour.
1950 was a year when Pat made a life-changing decision with regard to his career. At this time, players were basically amateurs and job stability was always a major concern. They needed to work 9-5 jobs during the week, and hope that their bosses would be generous enough to give them time off if they were picked for representative matches. In Queensland, there was a growing trend for ‘name’ players to be offered captain-coach positions with a country team. By the end of 1950, no fewer than 11 southern Queensland players, including Duncan Hall and Lenny Kenny, had captain-coach positions in rural Queensland. When Pat was offered the position of player-coach at Babinda, near Cairns, he decided to accept. The position paid £19 a week for a minimum of 20 weeks. Terms of the contract also included accommodation, a job as a fitter, and provisos regarding fares and injuries.
Unfortunately, the move to Babinda did not turn out as well as Pat had hoped. Although he played some excellent football, including scoring four tries in a game against Tully, a serious injury incapacitated Pat for several weeks. On April 23rd, Pat was carried from the field in a game against Innisfail with his ribs badly damaged. As a result, he was not considered for the North Queensland team for the State trial games held in Brisbane on May 6th and 13th. He was still unavailable for selection when the Queensland team was chosen for games against NSW on May 20th and 24th.
On May 31st, players were selected for an Australian Probables vs Possibles match to be played on June 3rd. The game was a curtain-raiser to the NSW vs England game, but Pat was not picked as he had not yet played a representative game that season. This meant that there were now four wingers ahead of him in the ‘pecking order’ in the Australian selectors’ minds. Although he was selected for the Queensland team to play Great Britain on June 17, and also played for North Queensland against the tourists and for one game for Queensland against NSW, he had not completely regained full fitness after the injury and played those games around 10 kg above his normal playing weight. Within the space of less than two months, circumstances contrived to take him from the first back to be picked for his country to never being called upon to represent Australia again.
Although Babinda did not win the Foley Shield in 1950, Pat still proved himself to be a fine leader and played several exceptional games for his team. On July 31st, in a game against Tully, he demonstrated that he had recaptured his old form, scoring four tries. Although pleased with his on- field success, Pat decided to spend just the one year in Babinda and look to return to Toowoomba in 1951. Apart from family considerations of going back to live in his wife Maureen’s home town, he knew that he had played his best football in Toowoomba and felt that he could best attract the selectors’ eyes in an environment that he knew well and where there was stiffer competition.
At the beginning of the 1951 season, things looked promising for Pat. He rejoined his old club Souths and he said in interviews that he had never felt more like playing football, and that through handling bags of produce in his job he had never felt fitter. He was now a trim 12 stone (76 kg) and believed that this should be his best season. However, like the 1950 season, injury cruelled his chances of long-term representative honours. In mid- April he injured a knee ligament, which ruled him out of playing for Toowoomba in their Bulimba Cup matches. He then injured his other knee in a club fixture and withdrew from the South Queensland team that was to play Combined Queensland Country in May. For the second year in a row he had had to miss the State selection trials, but was still chosen in the Queensland team for the first interstate game that year after passing a medical examination. In a training run before the game on May 19th his knee was encased in an elastic bandage and, as he could not extend himself, he could not reach top speed. He played in that game, and one more that season, but 1951 was to be Pat’s last representative year.
Although he couldn’t play for Toowoomba in the Bulimba Cup that year, Pat was able to finally win a Toowoomba premiership with Souths. He also played in two of the most momentous games in Toowoomba’s rugby league history – within the space of less than a week. Toowoomba president ‘Nigger’ Brown was instrumental in organising a ‘rugby league championship’ game on July 1st between the undefeated Toowoomba and South Sydney teams. Toowoomba had two internationals at the time – Pat and Duncan Hall, although Hall had to withdraw from the game. Souths had six internationals – Clive Churchill, Johnny Graves, Denis Donoghue, Bernle Purcell, Jack Raymer and Les Cowie. Using the tactics of fast passing and backing up that had worked so well for them in the Bulimba Cup games that year, Toowoomba caused somewhat of an upset and won the game 34-27 after leading 16-12 at the break. This was a huge feather in Toowoomba’s cap and made them, unofficially at least, the best club/district side in Australia.
The other game can lay claim to being one of the most controversial in the history of Australian rugby league. The French team were on their first tour of Australia and played in a very dynamic and unorthodox way. They were not expected to cause Australia much trouble in the Tests, so the fact that they won the First Test 26-15 was a huge surprise. On July 7, they were to play the still un-defeated Toowoomba team, led by their full-back and captain, Puig-Aubert. He was jovial and yet at times volatile. His goal-kicking was unusual to say the least. He would place the ball on the ground, turn around and stroll away without looking the least concerned, and then come in quickly and kick. Despite his unusual style, he was amazingly accurate. The other interesting thing about the star of the French team was that he didn’t believe in tackling. He thought that it wasn’t his job and that his war wounds were sufficient grounds for taking this stance.
Also in the team was Elie Brousse, the second-row brawler that had already been sent off in the first Test that year for fighting. Pat knew that he and Duncan Hall had a ‘history’ that dated back to the 1948-49 Kangaroo Tour. Certainly there was no love lost between the men, so when Toowoomba centre Sam Hunter was knocked out about 10 minutes before the half-time break and carried off injured, Hall and Brousse were prominent in the resulting melee. Both men were sent off by the referee, Harry Reithmuller. Pat, watching on, was not at all surprised that these two picked each other out when the confrontation started, but looked on in amazement when Hall complied with the referee’s instructions, but Brousse did not. He just shook his head and stayed on the field.
The crowd started yelling out, calling for Hall to come back, but he declined. Finally, Brousse walked off – and everyone in the crowd was stunned when Puig-Aubert ordered the team to follow the big forward and himself off the field in protest at Brousse’s dismissal. The French manager, Blain, and the Toowoomba president, ‘Nigger’ Brown, quickly met to discuss the issue. After eight long minutes, with everyone waiting in suspense, Blain ordered Puig-Aubert to take the French team back on to the field. There was a further disruption when Brousse came out with his teammates, still unwilling to accept the situation. Some of the French players motioned to each other to walk off as a team again. The Toowoomba players stood watching, waiting to see if the game would continue. Finally, one of Brousse’s teammates persuaded him to leave and the game was able to resume.
Although Pat did not play again for Queensland or Australia after 1951, he continued to have a successful career, particularly for his new club, All Whites. Pat joined All Whites in 1953 and played with the club for four years, winning a premiership in each of those years. He was a major contributor to the club’s success, particularly in 1953-54. He played 32 games in those first two years, scoring 30 tries, at an average of almost a try a game. His last two years were less productive, playing 11 games and scoring eight tries. Still, he was voted as a member of the All Whites Team of the Century, an incredible accomplishment considering all the internationals that have played for the club over the years. This is just one of the reasons why Pat McMahon can truly be considered as an ornament to the greatest game of all.