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Obituary: Henry Hegarty

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FLASHBACK: Henry Hegarty with a picture of the Brisbane rugby league side he was selected for in the 1960s (Photo: Marcus Priaulx)

November 14, 2019

A funeral service will be held at the Cherbourg Community Hall from 11:00am on Monday (November 18) for well-known local community elder Henry Hegarty.

Henry, who worked for many years at Cherbourg Council, died at the Ny-Ku Byun Elders Village on November 6.

Outside Cherbourg, Henry was probably best known for his rugby league career.

In 2008, during the year of the Centenary of Rugby League, Henry was named as one of the members of Norths Devils’ greatest team ever.

He played in five of Norths’ premiership-winning teams in the early 1960s.

His family life also had a Norths’ connection.

Henry met Lynette Webb through one of her sisters, Daphne, and brother-in-law Les Geeves who also happened to be one of his Devils team mates at the time.

Henry and Lynette married in December 1962 and lived at Bald Hills and Redcliffe during his football career.

Off the field, Henry was a proud parent.

The couple celebrated the arrival of their first daughter, Kim Anne, in June 1963, followed by Renae Lee in September 1966.

Henry and Lynette had four grandchildren – Jason, Joel, Joshua and Isaac – and seven great-grandchildren, Angus, Kaleb, William, GiGi, Jacob, India Rose and Jai.

In 2015, southburnett.com.au published an interview with Henry by local journalist Marcus Priaulx, who was then working with the Barambah PaCE educational program.

In it, Henry reflects on his life and his accomplishments.

We have reproduced it here as a tribute to a sporting legend:

* * *

Henry, surrounded by teammates, after another Norths’ premiership victory (Photo: supplied)

by Marcus Priaulx

Henry Hegarty never felt nervous when meeting royalty, the Prime Minister, industry heads or tackling the likes of Artie Beetson on the footy field.

The champion rugby league player from Cherbourg was taught he was as good as anybody by coach Bob Bax.

“He always said ‘When you meet somebody, no matter who they are, look ’em in the eye and shake their hand tight’,” Henry said.

Henry adopted the belief and his kind, gentle nature meant he received support from people throughout is life.

He was born in the house he now lives in but left Cherbourg for Brisbane in 1960 when encouraged to do so by Mission superintendent Harry Mickel.

Henry had received eight As and one B on his junior Murgon High School exams and was a good a footballer.

He was given a letter of introduction to the Valleys football club by a teacher and put on an overnight train to Mayne Junction, Brisbane.

Henry was 17 years old and excited about his future.

But when he made a phone call to the Valleys’ coach on arriving he was told “get a train to Wilston, then catch one to Albion and walk from the Albion Fiveways to Newman Oval and we’ll see you at training”.

Henry had never been outside of Cherbourg or Murgon and thought: “This bloke’s not interested” as they could have easily picked him up.

It was a moment that changed his life for the better.

* * *

Henry’s cousin Alan Bell worked at the Northgate cannery that stood in the heartland of Norths Rugby League Club.

He picked Henry up and took him to a Norths’ training session.

“I proved my worth and that was it.”

Henry was quickly dubbed Huckleberry Hound by teammates due to his HH initials.

He scored numerous tries as a centre and winger and was chosen for A Grade three years later.

There he fell under the eye of Bob Bax, who Henry credits with teaching legendary coach Wayne Bennett everything he knew.

At the time Henry was working in Brisbane as a government clerk.

Bob knew Henry had to move as players could only play for the district they lived in during the 1960s.

“I was living in Wilston, in the western suburbs district, and catching a train to work with players from Brothers and Wests,” Henry said.

“I had to move or they’d dob me in.”

So Bob organised for Henry to live with his mother “Mrs Bax”.

“I never called her by her Christian name but she was like a mother to me,” Henry said. “I ended up calling her mum and she treated me like her family.”

* * *

Henry stayed with Mrs Bax for three years and became a regular A Grader for the Norths Devils – the team that became Brisbane Rugby League’s most successful side ever.

It won six straight premierships from 1959–64 and Henry played in the last five.

The Devils repeated the feat again in 1966. Henry was a 60kg (nine stone) winger and centre who scored plenty of tries, kicked a few goals and loved to tackle the big men.

These included Australian representatives Mick Veivers, Peter Gallagher and the first Aborigine to captain any Australian team, Arthur Beetson.

“The big blokes were a lot slower and I’d pick them up and throw them on their back,” Henry said.

“It never hurt them, no spear tackles, but these days you can’t do it. You’d get penalised.”

Towards the end of Henry’s career he was made Norths captain.

Beetson had arrived at Redcliffe as “a big, slow raw boned centre from Roma”.

“They reckoned he had six pies before training,” Henry said. “He was easy to tackle then. You’d hit him around the ankles. You didn’t go high on the big fellas.”

* * *

During the 1960s, Henry married Lyn, had daughters Kym and Renae, kept working in the public service, bought a house, introduced Australia’s 19th prime minister, John Gorton, to his teammates as the Devils’ captain, and was introduced to the Queen of Thailand.

“She was a good sort,” Henry said with a smile.

He was also invited to State Parliament House to drink with teammates after grand final wins. Bill Knox – who later became Deputy Premier – was the Member for Nundah at the time.

Cherbourg beckoned in 1990 after Henry’s marriage broke up and he returned to a town that had changed.

“Most of the restrictions were taken off and people were driving around in cars,” Henry said.

However, most of his school mates still lived there, as did his brothers Colin and James.

Henry coached the nearby Wondai A Grade side and a South Burnett team that stunned everybody when it won the Caltex Shield against teams from Maryborough, Sunshine Coast and Gympie.

He worked as a truck driver for Cherbourg Aboriginal Shire Council and remained employed by the local authority until his 70th birthday.

* * *

Looking back, Henry doesn’t believe he would have had such a fulfilling life if he hadn’t received the education he did from Cherbourg primary and Murgon High schools.

“When you get outside the town it’s a different sort of life,” Henry said.

“You’ve got to know how to talk to people; none of this looking at the ground. You have to look them in the eye and feel confident in your ability to be as good or better than them.

“That’s what education gives you. The first thing I did when I came home was my homework, then I’d go train for football.

“That was my motto.

“My education came first and I had good support from my mum and dad.”

Henry Hegarty in full flight while playing for Norths Devils against Redcliffe at Lang Park (Photo: supplied)

Henry Hegarty was interviewed by Fox Sports presenter Ben Ikin in 2016 about his rugby league career at the State Library in Brisbane as a part of Black History Month (Photo: supplied)

[UPDATED]


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One Response to Obituary: Henry Hegarty

  1. Trevor Manly

    So sorry to hear of Henry’s passing. He was a very generous man and was able to encourage many younger folks to excel. I used to run on Sunday mornings around Deagon oval with Henry for many hours and exchanged a lot of stories about life growing up. I have been trying to contact him for many years as I was living overseas but had no luck. Both my mum and dad, Ern and Vera Manly, were godparents to Lyn and Henry’s two girls and felt very honoured to have been asked to accept this responsibility. I am hoping some of Henry’s family can contact me as his passing has been rather difficult for me to deal with.

    I live in Melbourne, Victoria and hope to be moving back to Queensland next autumn. There are some things I have collected over time I would like to pass on to the family as an appreciation of their friendship and Henry’s life.

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