This is belated advice, but I’m very sad to inform you that, John Thomas, another of Wanneroo Rugby Club’s ‘Originals’ passed away on 25th June 2019.
Before he died, John left instructions that he wanted his passing and his funeral to be kept private. His wife Sandy and children John and Sharron respected his wishes, so there were no public notifications.
He was cremated on 9th July 2019, in a family ceremony that included his six grand children and seven great grand children.
His friends heard that he’d gone, but it was word of mouth only and we all understood why. Now that the family ceremony and farewell is over, we can pay tribute to our mate.
John and Sandy arrived in Australia from UK in 1965 and originally settled in Sydney. But it wasn’t too long before they decided that the city on the other side of the Nullarbor had more to offer them, and they moved to Perth in 1966.
John joined the Roo Dogs in 1973. In those days the club played at the Wanneroo Showgrounds and their after match recuperation and rehydration sessions were held at the Wanneroo Tavern. John played hooker and his team mates included Dave Warren, Graham (Biggsy) Barnett, Derek Jessop, Murray Ellis, Pat Duggan, Noel Mathis, Steve Potts, Bob Henley, Dirk Hessells Arthur Murphy, John Hosgood, Gary Gebbetis, Fred McKean and Billy (Roo Dog) Anderson ‘et al’.
Just a quick note - Billy Anderson was the original Roo Dog, and the inspiration for the club song that we all sing after a win. It was composed by some of the above players, in the Castle Hotel after a City to Surf fun run forty odd years ago.
The club moved to Kingsway in 1982. In those days, the area was still a bush location, populated by chook farms, market gardens and stables that stretched from Wanneroo Road to Alexander Drive. There were only a few individual houses dotted here and there. The club house was a small hut that was erected on the hill, a little to the left and behind the current club house. Dave Warren told me the hut was the original Wanneroo Police hut and the club bought it from them.
John stayed loyal to the Roo Dogs, moved to Kingsway and saw out his playing career with them. After he finished playing grade rugby, he was a founder member of Derecks Devils Golden Oldies team. The team was unique in those days because they played in pink and white jumpers, pink shorts and wore pink fluoro caps. Those outfits may seem pretty mundane today, but in the 1980’s they were regarded as outrageous because ‘Real Men’ didn’t dress in “girly” colours. Well let me tell you that the “girlies” were still a tough bunch of old school, rugby tragics who could prance and pirouette with the best of them. But, if necessary, they could also match any naughty bits or resolve any unwarranted shenanigans.
John was one of the mainstay’s of the Devils happy brood for the next fifteen or sixteen years. Over that time he helped organise and run many functions, fishing trips and camping escapades for the team. Most of us can vividly recall the time he introduced his Aussie team mates to Black Pudding on a trip to the Blackwood River. Most had never eaten blood sausage before, and some swore blind they’d never eat it again.
The Devils made annual fishing trips to Jurien Bay that were extremely popular. On one of the trips someone (name protected) couldn’t get the camp fire going, so he chucked petrol on it. Needless to say the fire got going, but it also ignited everything else in the camp site. The Devils piled in to fight it and eventually managed to control it after several hours of mayhem. John, who was at the forefront of the fire fighters, got badly scorched and lost quite a bit of skin. He picked a new nickname of ‘Major Burns’ after that one.
When the men in pink finally called it a day, John and Biggsy formed their own Danny de Vito and Arnold Schwarzenegger ‘Twins’ combo. They started fishing for crayfish and went out in a tinny, very early every morning setting their pots. Wind, hail, rain or shine they sailed the ocean blue as partners for years. There is a tale (it may be an urban myth) concerning John’s early, inexperienced maritime ventures when Biggsy told him to cast the anchor overboard. John followed Captain Scuttle’s order and chucked it into the ocean. Just one tiny detail - it didn’t have a rope or chain attached to it.
As time passed, John had a few health issues. He developed a heart problem and had a pacemaker fitted to rectify it. He lived with that, very comfortably, for many years. Then a little over a year ago his kidneys “packed in” (John’s own words) and he had to have dialysis three times a week. Including his journey to and from the hospital, it took around six hours a day. When I asked him about it, he just shrugged it off and said “you get used to it”. But it took its toll and he lost a lot of weight and tired easily.
I met up with John a couple of months ago. He said he hadn’t been to the club for some years and would like to come and see a few games, so I sent him the fixture list for the remaining games of the round. He came to the home game against Wests on 6th July. Maybe it was Karma, but on the same day many of his old team mates that he hadn’t seen in a long, long time also came to the game. People like Dave Warren, Pottsy, Bob Henley, Johnny Hosgood, Ron (Joof ) Hart etc.
In true rugby spirit, the new and old players all welcomed him with friendly banter and mock abuse. Barry Winter took him on a guided tour of the new upgraded club and John was blown away by it all. He was immensely proud of the welcome he received, had a wonderful day and regaled Sandy with tales of his fantastic homecoming.
Unfortunately, John had a fall a couple of weeks later and broke his hip. He had remedial surgery and initially got through it ok. But because of his pre-existing medical problems, his constitution was weak and his blood pressure dropped afterwards. The medical staff worked hard, but weren’t able to restore it. John slipped away peacefully surrounded by his family, with Sandy holding his hand.
Thank you and bon voyage from all your friends and team mates at Wanneroo Rugby Club.
Our deepest condolences to Sandy and family
John’s other family at Wanneroo Rugby Club.
Wanneroo Rugby Club has very kindly offered use of the clubhouse, so we can get together, drink a toast to John’s life and say farewell to our mate. Some of John’s old cronies are away at present and others, including me, going away within the next week or two. So I’ve organised the get together for Sunday 18th August at 12 noon.
Any of John’s non-rugby friends are also very welcome to join us. So please pass the word around.