Greens Senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon paid tribute in parliament to the extraordinary life of Rugby League legend Artie Beetson AO, from his time as a skinny 16 year old called ‘Bones’ to Eastern Suburbs captain, the first Indigenous player to captain Australia in any sport and generous mentor for the Indigenous community.
Senator Rhiannon gave an adjournment speech in the Senate this week and will today move a motion, enjoying cross-party support from Senators Mark Arbib and Barnaby Joyce, for Mr Beetson’s outstanding contributions to the nation’s sporting and cultural ledger. Motion below.
Senator Rhiannon, a keen Easts supporter, noted in her speech to parliament: “In 1971 he joined Eastern Suburbs. The charismatic and fair-minded captain led the Roosters to back-to back premierships in 1974, where he won the Clive Churchill medal, and in 1975 a famous 38-0 victory over St George—a victory that my family enjoyed immensely.
Of Mr Beetson’s work with the Indigenous community: “As with his trademark offloads on the footy field, Arthur had mastered the beautiful act of giving. The modest Beetson was still mentoring Redfern camps only months before his death, and he was the Indigenous ambassador for Centrelink.
“He recently visited Darwin. In a single day, he spoke at the Child Protection Week launch, visited the juvenile detention centre, spoke to Catholic Care workers about men taking a stand against family violence and child abuse and then was guest speaker at the Northern Territory Rugby League awards night.
Of his early childhood: “Arthur came from a hard-working family on the banks of the river at Roma. His dad, Bill, used to supply trees for the local power station before they took the next step to coal. His mum, Marie, was taken away as an 11-year-old and used as a domestic: she was part of the stolen generation. Arthur's brother told him that, every time a stranger's car came to their house, their mum would hide the kids for fear of their being stolen too. Marie always thought that their way out of disadvantage was getting a good education. She also told young Arthur, 'It doesn't matter what they call you, unless they call you late for breakfast.'
And of Mr Beetson as a role model: “Among Indigenous Australians, Beetson was a beacon: a hero in a time when there were few. He used to say, 'I'm a very proud Australian and a very proud Queenslander around State of Origin time; but most of all, I'm a very proud blackfella.'”
Motion: Hansard 8 February
Senators Rhiannon, Senator Arbib and Senator Joyce To move—
That the Senate—
(i) the sad passing of Arthur Beetson who died on 1 December 2011 at age 66, and
(ii) the extraordinary contribution that Arthur Beetson made to rugby league and to Australian sporting life as a player and coach, including:
(a) having represented Australia on 47 occasions,
(b) in 1973 becoming the first Indigenous player to captain Australia in any sport,
(c) being awarded an Order of Australia in 1987 in recognition of service to the sport of rugby league,
(d) being inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2003,
(e) being named in the front-row in the rugby league 'Team of the Century', and
(f) becoming the seventh post-war 'Immortal' of the game; and
(iii) the powerful and tireless leadership that he showed to his sport, as a mentor to young people and to the Indigenous community;
(b) extends the deepest sympathy of all members of the Senate to the family and friends of Arthur Beetson; and
(c) calls on all members of the Senate to support initiatives to pay tribute to the contribution and achievements of Arthur Beetson to his sport and to Australian public life, such as the establishment of the Arthur Beetson scholarship for young Indigenous Australians.