Tash Tales with Alf Ridyard

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Cherbourg is a name one would associate with a vibrant French seaport.

Well, Cherbourg, Queensland Australia, was anything but vibrant when founded as an aboriginal settlement in 1904.

It was little better than a prison camp, where people of different tribes and languages, which are now mostly consigned to history, were thrown together by the mainly European settlers.

The population was forced to eat rations supplied by the state and forgo traditional foods.

Cherbourg has a present day population of 1,200 or so and is now a somewhat better place to live, although unemployment is extremely high and alcoholism and domestic violence was over the years quite prevalent.

But this for the last number of years is being addressed. Behind all the problems which have beset the community, one thing always seems to shine through and that is sport.

We need to go back to the 1930s for our tale today and look at two sportsmen of great talent, firstly cricketer Eddie Gilbert, a fast bowler who came to fame for bowling out the great Don Bradman fifth ball for a duck.

This in itself reverberated around the country like a bush fire, an Aboriginal bowling the great Bradman!

Gilbert went from the Cherbourg team to play for Queensland (not the first aboriginal in cricket but arguably the best).

He took 87 wickets for the state, including wickets against the MCC, South Africa and the West Indies but was never considered for Australia because of his race.

Gilbert was reputed by Bradman and others later to be the fastest they had ever seen, a view still held today.

I must include, some critics say he had a suspect action but this was never proven, he attributes his wrist action to years of boomerang throwing.

We leave cricket now and focus on rugby league and take a look at Frank Fisher, stand-off at Barmbah RL (later to become Cherbourg Hornets).

A giant of a man who had pace and a great side step, Frank was chosen in 1932 for the Wide Bay district team to play the GB tourists and was a revelation scoring a try and outplaying his English counterpart.

Moving on to 1936 again he was chosen and this time Jim Brough ( Leeds) the English captain along with Gus Risman (Salford) approached Frank, with a view to signing for Salford.

This is where the story descends into a horrendous tale of ill treatment and what we would now describe as human rights abuse.

The Queensland government would not grant Fisher a passport and quoted the “Aboriginal protection and restriction of the sale of opium act 1897” as the reason.

In fact, all the indigenous population were actually wards of the state, treated as children, whether educated or not, Frank Fisher remained in Cherbourg and played for the Hornets until 1947.

Both Gilbert and Fisher needed written permission from the courts to leave the Cherbourg Community every time they played away.

They both made headlines in the national newspapers for their starring rolls but this was overlooked by the respective sporting bodies. Aboriginals, unbelievably, were not even counted in the population census until 1967.

Cherbourg is still not the greatest place to live but community elders within the district are working tirelessly to improve its profile.

It produces great sportsmen particularly rugby league players, Leigh’s own Willi Tonga being one, his younger brother Esi and Chris Sandow(Warrington) all playing for Cherbourg Hornets before going into Parramatta in the NRL.

Many more play in the tough Queensland league.

We cannot leave this tale without adding another celebrity to the piece. Cathy Freeman the Sydney 2000 Olympic Gold medallist in the 400 meters is the granddaughter of Frank Fisher and would you believe she, now, after retirement, plays a big part in the aboriginal rights cause.

A further plus for the guys is that Frank Fisher was named in the 2008 RL aboriginal team of the century along with likes of Jonathon Thurston, Gregg Inglis, Laurie Daly, Artie Beetson, just to name a few.

He also in 1966 had a bridge named in his honour that crosses the river into the community and Eddie Gilbert got himself a statue outside the Queensland cricket ground, recognition in the end but does not account fully, if at all, for the humiliation and suffering they had as a race.

Just as a footnote many people will be surprised to hear Dayne Weston and Cory Patterson, two more of Leigh Centurions’ players, have distinctive aboriginal backgrounds they are proud of.

And finally Cherbourg Hornets have just won the Artie Beetson Koori knockout Rugby League competition, a carnival that draws all the towns in the area out to witness these games.