<big>Beetson hailed as a warrior who can inspire others</big>
by: Andrew Webster From: The Daily Telegraph February 04, 2012 12:00AM
A MONTH ago, in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, it hit Brad Beetson like a bolt of lightning.
Like the rest of his family, he had known of the trail their famous father had blazed. It was there for all to see after Arthur’s sudden death at the age of 66 from a heart attack.
The outpouring of admiration, not so much grief, had been overwhelming.
Then Brad Beetson walked into the elders’ tent at the Dreaming Festival, the yearly indigenous celebration held at Woodford, and the legend only grew.
“We’re not in touch with the indigenous culture as much as Dad was,” Brad says. “But a lot of the elders were there, talking about Dad, and their perspective surprised me. They said he was one of the last great warriors of the Aboriginal race.”
Doubtless, the warrior that was Arthur Henry Beetson will be everywhere tonight for the third chapter of the All Stars match at Skilled Park.
His handprint resides on the trophy that now bears his name, but he is also foremost in the minds of the Indigenous players.
“I always wanted to hug when I saw him,” says halfback Chris Sandow, who comes from the Queensland mission town of Cherbourg, where Beetson’s mother Marie had been relocated as a child. “He always told me just to do my best and prove to the doubters I can do it.”
Manly forward George Rose says: “The first time I met Artie he knew my name and I was in shock. What a great bloke.”
Sam Thaiday was a 17-year-old playing in a sports carnival in Gympie when he met him.
“He was sitting in the stands eating a meat pie and he came up and introduced himself to me,” he says. “I remember he was such a big man; his hand took up my whole hand when he shook it and I learnt how to shake hands from that day on. He told me to play a little bit better in the next game because he had his eye on me.”
Beetson was a supporter of the All Stars concept, but there is every chance he would’ve preferred to be at a game of footy in the bush, running an eye over young talent, such was his way.
Tonight, his four sons - Brad (45), Scott (42), Mark (35) and Kristian Heffernan (34) - and their families will be representing their late father and grandfather.“It’s going to be an emotional night,” says Scott. “Since his death, we couldn’t have been prouder. We didn’t realise how loved he was.”
Growing up in Roma in south-west Queensland, Beetson had grown up facing racism on a daily basis.
“The question of Aboriginality - our Aboriginality in the Beetson family - was rarely spoken about,” he wrote in his biography Big Artie. “However we knew from the start that we were different.”
Despite this, Beetson was never one to preach about his Aboriginality. He preferred to set the example by the way he lived his life - and played the game. After retirement, he often batted off racism controversies in sport as “too much political correctness and sensitivity”.
Yet he was never indifferent or apathetic about his heritage. Instead, he led by example.
When he was named as the game’s seventh Immortal, he finished his speech by saying: “I’m a very proud Australian, a very proud Queenslander but I am also a very proud Aboriginal.”
Not much was made of the fact that Beetson was the first indigenous Australian to captain any sporting side when selected to lead the 1973 Kangaroo tour. The legend and significance of that has grown with the years, and only more so since his death.
Yet it has been too easily forgotten that feat came just six years after it had taken a referendum to change the constitution that recognised Aboriginal people as Australian citizens, and given the right to vote.
“He did blaze the trail, and we did talk to him about that,” says Kristian. “He paved the way but back then there were still places that he couldn’t go into.”
Being an icon - to his game, state and country and of course his people - came at a price on the homefront.
Scott says: “We missed out on a lot as kids, because the time he spent with us was often taken up with rugby league and who he was.” Brad offers this: “Like all great men and all fathers, they have their weaknesses.”
Arthur knew it, too. “If I have one regret in life, which has had many good things in it, it is this feeling that I have not done as well as I should have as a father,” he wrote in his biography.In the last decade, though, he made up for lost time.
“I think he more than made up for it in his latter years,” Mark says. “I really do. In the last 10 years, he became so family orientated. He was bringing all of us together. All the grandkids, he loved them.”
Realising the rich currency of their father’s name since his death, the Beetson boys intend to form the Arthur Beetson Foundation in his honour.
“We need to work out what we can do for them to enrich their lives,” says Kristian. “Hopefully that name can bring people together and help people’s lives. If we can help in any way possible, running camps, clinics, helping kids to see their full potential.”
To ensure their father isn’t the last great Aboriginal warrior.
The quality of the man and his legacy grows. You have to ask yourself how many times, in an age where it was normal practice on most footy fields to racially abuse anyone who looked different, Arthur may have been demeaned and marginalised? Not once did Arthur Beetson complain, not once in fifteen years of senior footy.
To describe Aboriginal Australians as an ‘underclass’ is the 60’s is somewhat understating their cirumstances at the time and for Arthur to rise above that and achieve the things he did, is quite remarkable. The greatest forward of all time
The man is a legend
First Indigeneous sports captain of Australia
He will never be fogotten
I know I have said this a few times before but the noise when his name was called out for the first SOO game was unbelieveable
When they showed the footage of him running up and down on the spot on the sideline for the first SOO on the spot in last nights footage it sent a chill down my spine