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Happy Queensland(er) day

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Happy Queensland(er) day

League legend and Sunshine Coast businessman Billy Moore remains a proud champion of all things Queensland. WORDS: Shirley Sinclair.

He grew up only 100m on the Queensland side of the border, but NSW never stood a chance of claiming Billy Moore as its own.

A giant of Australian rugby league, Moore comes from a staunchly proud Queensland family from Wallangarra – the southernmost town on the Southern Downs and Granite Belt, where an enormous ‘Queenslander’ sign he inspired was erected in 2019.

The historic Wallangarra Railway Station is split down the centre, with half in each state, overlooking the neighbouring town of Jennings, NSW.

That unusual position, Moore acknowledges, created a special mindset for residents.

“My house, that my cousins now own, is about 100m – if that – from that station,” he says on the eve of Queensland Day: June 6.

“Because you are so close to the border, it’s a unique thing. You had this real palpable ‘us and them’.

“They’re different. They had Jennings Primary School. We had Wallangarra Primary School. They had Jennings Hotel that served Tooheys New. We had Wallangarra Hotel that served XXXX.

“And you never mixed, except New Year’s Eve – because you got two New Year’s Eves. With daylight saving, I’d walk 100m and I’d change time zones.

“That’s where the ‘Queenslander’ percolated away”.

So, despite being born in Tenterfield’s hospital (it’s closer to Wallangarra than the one in Stanthorpe), switching his junior football to the Tenterfield Tigers (after the Wallangarra Bulls club folded) and being selected to represent New South Wales in Under-17s, Moore was a passionate Queenslander through and through. Importantly, he played his first senior game as a 15-year-old for Inglewood-Milmerran (when older brother Robert’s Under-18s team was short on numbers against Warwick), serendipitously qualifying him for Maroon State of Origin selection.

But the motivational speaker and media commentator admits his trademark war cry will live on long after memories of his playing days fade.

Anyone who ‘bleeds Maroon’ remembers watching vision of Moore heading down the players’ tunnel, screaming “Queenslander!”, before the second half of the 1995 State of Origin Game 1 in Sydney.

Queensland was never meant to win that game 2-0, let alone complete the Series with a 3-zip whitewash.

“Pre-game, we had nine rookies. It was ‘Fatty’ (Paul) Vautin’s first game coaching senior rugby league,” Moore recalls easily.

“He took over the job because Wayne Bennett pulled out. Super League players couldn’t play.

“We had only one Australian player, Dale Shearer, but he hadn’t played for five years for Australia. They had 12 current internationals. So, we were the longest odds ever to win a game (that Series).

“Just before the game, like always, everyone leaves the room and there’s only the players left. You have that moment when you’re looking around the room at each other and you’re just about to go out and do battle.

“Then the great Gary Larson says to me, ‘Billy, Billy. Tell them what Peter Jackson told you’.”

What happened next has become part of Maroon folklore.

“What ‘Queenslander’ means is what the late great Peter Jackson taught me,” Moore says.

“I went to Origin to play my first game just after my 21st birthday. He was my first roomie.

“What you saw coming down the tunnel is Peter Jackson personified. He was one of the most passionate Queenslanders that you’d ever see.

“He said, ‘Queenslander!’, when you scream it, means three things: help your mates, find a solution and no excuses.

“There is no such thing as a glorious loss for a Queenslander. You’re putting lipstick on a pig.

“So, I was in the sheds and Gary says, ‘Tell the story’. I told them and pumped everyone up and we all were screaming ‘Queenslander!’.

“Then we’ve turned and walked down the ramp and the other 16 shut up.”

Moore appeared on the live camera feed, roaring the chant like a man possessed.

“That was the first time they’d ever put a camera in the tunnel in any sport in Australia,” he remembers.

“No one knew the camera was there. It was almost like it was meant to be.”

Players had used “Queenslander!” as a rallying cry on the field for over half a decade, Moore says.

The Maroons would always lift.

NSW players hated the battle cry, but never really understood the Queenslanders’ reaction.

“That came out in the ’89 Series. That’s where it started,” Moore adds.

“In NSW at Sydney Football Stadium, Queensland had a horrendous number of injuries in the first half.

“We came in leading at half-time, but 13 (on the field) can’t beat 17 (with a full bench), especially in Origin.

“But we did. And the way we did it is that at half-time, the ‘Queenslander’ call was conjured up.”

Moore, the youngest of four boys, likens Queenslanders’ mission to win State of Origin each year, against all odds, as a little brother trying to outdo the seemingly bigger, stronger, older sibling.

“What little brother wants to do is beat big brother. Nothing else,” he says matter-of-factly.

“Big brothers have got other things on their plates. They still want to beat little brother, but they’ve got other things to do and other things to worry about.

“Origin was our rite of passage (as a state). That was our chance to say to everybody and especially to ourselves and to our adversaries: ‘Hey, we’ve got you. We’re on the same dancefloor and we’re out-dancing you’.

“Origin unified everybody from Coolangatta to Cape York. It’s the day that every Queenslander stops and pays attention – no matter who they are or where they’re from and what they represent.”

After retiring from professional rugby league at the age of 28, when the North Sydney Bears dissolved, the married father of two turned to hospitality, and continues to have a half-share in Augello’s, Mooloolaba. He still relishes watching the game and has attended every Origin match for about 25 years.

“I remember the first State of Origin with Arthur Beetson taking the field. I would have been eight years old,” Moore enthuses.

“I’ve never seen my dad more emotional or prouder.

“Arthur Beetson – that was the first and only game he played for Queensland.

“He was the first Indigenous captain for Australia in any sport. And he’s an Immortal, from Roma.

“I remember saying to my mum and dad that night that I was going to play Origin.  They said, ‘Oh yeah, of course you will, son. No worries’.

“From that moment on, I was obviously a mad Queenslander.”

Moore intended being in the thick of ‘enemy territory’ for the June 5 clash, decked out in maroon and yelling his heart out for Queensland, before flying home to the Sunshine Coast today.

“You never count your chickens before they hatch,” he says.

“But I’m hoping to have a sore head (from celebrating) and what better way to welcome Queensland Day than Queensland one up in an Origin Series, having beat NSW on their home turf.”

MAROON RULES ON JUNE 6

June 6 is commemorated each year as Queensland Day.

The date is significant as a celebration of Queensland’s ‘birthday’ – the day that our state officially separated from New South Wales as an independent colony in 1859. If ever we needed to show our allegiance, it’s today (though, surprisingly, the Governor in Council only named maroon as the official Queensland colour on November 13, 2003).

The 2024 Ampol State of Origin Series continues with Game 2 on June 26 at the MCG in Melbourne and Game 3 on July 17 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

Visit premier.ticketek.com.au for any ticket inquiries.

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After 40 years of working with words, Shirley Sinclair remains a passionate storyteller, championing community causes and bringing a world of travel to readers’ doorsteps. Reporting, subediting, designing and editing newspapers and magazines led to roles online and as a university journalism tutor. Shirley joined Sunshine Coast News as an online journalist, travel editor and digital producer in April 2021 and is a My Weekly Preview features writer/subeditor.

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