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Beetson, Arthur Henry (Artie) (1945–2012)

by Malcolm Brown

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

Arthur Beetson, by Ern McQuillan, 1974

Arthur Beetson, by Ern McQuillan, 1974

National Library of Australia, 43459318

Arthur Beetson could ''do it all'' on the football field and also ''sell tickets'', the great rugby league coach Jack Gibson once said.

The tough forward, who battled constant weight problems and disciplinary actions (he was sent off 12 times), got a stack of injuries, made news wherever he went, even for being dropped from the Australian team. But the ''fat, lazy slob'' or ''Billy Bunter'' always bounced back, smiling broadly and ultimately drawing the adoring accolades of ''Big Artie''.

The first indigenous Australian to captain Australia in any major sport, he played in 14 Tests, four victorious World Club campaigns, 17 times for NSW in interstate matches, three times for Queensland, and 222 NSW rugby league first-grade games. He captained Queensland to an inaugural State of Origin victory against NSW, and twice captained Easts to premiership victory. He coached Queensland to repeated State of Origin victories and also coached the Australian team.

Arthur Henry ''Artie'' Beetson was born in Roma, Queensland, on January 22, 1945, son of a bush worker and a mother who was one of the stolen generations. He started playing football in bare feet as a six-year-old and went on became a centre and winger.

He started working as a postman, then a post office clerk. His footballing talent was spotted and he was engaged as a 16-year-old by Redcliffe in the Brisbane competition. He was relatively slim and fast, but the coach said he was destined for the forwards.

When Redcliffe won the Brisbane premiership in 1965, he was named club player of the year.

In 1966, Beetson started with Balmain and quickly established himself. Balmain got into the grand final and Beetson was so impressive he was selected to play for Australia against Great Britain. Plagued by a shoulder injury, he took part in only the third Test but he set up two tries in a match-winning performance.

Battling increasing weight, Beetson continued with Balmain in 1967. Omitted from the Kangaroo squad after being sent off in the City v Country match, he won a place in the successful Australian World Cup squad.

Later that year he played for Hull Kingston Rovers in the English Rugby League but was troubled by disciplinary action and injury. He resumed with Balmain, but in the 1969 semi-final against South Sydney was sent off and Balmain lost, 14-13.

In 1970, Beetson played all internationals against England. He left Balmain in acrimonious circumstances after a row about ceiling payments, and joined Eastern Suburbs.

He won a place in the Australian World Club squad in 1972. The following year, he toured Britain with the Kangaroos. His performance in the third Test at Wigan won him praise from Jim Challinor, the British coach. ''He is the world's greatest forward and no matter how you try to counter him, he keeps getting the ball away,'' Challinor said.

Beetson captained Australia against France in the final match of the Kangaroo tour in 1973.

In 1974, employed as a purchasing officer for Eastern Suburbs Leagues Club, he was married, living in Denistone in Sydney's north west and had a four-year-old son, Scott. He was appointed captain of the Australian team against Great Britain in the second Test.

Beetson captained Easts to victory in the 1974 Sydney premiership, repeating the feat in 1975. He captained Australia in the victorious 1975 World Series.

By then, his training discipline and on-field behaviour had improved, bringing praise from referee Laurie Bruyers who previously had a poor view of him.

He was constantly being interviewed and writing newspaper articles. In 1979, Beetson joined Parramatta. In 1980, he captained Queensland to State of Origin victory over NSW.

In 1981, he joined his old club, Redcliffe Dolphins, as captain-coach and went into the hotel business. He was also appointed coach of the Queensland side, helping them to victories over NSW in 1982 and 1983. After a stint in 1983 as the Australian coach, which was less than successful, he returned to Eastern Suburbs as coach and stayed with them for three years.

He continued in the hotel business in the Big House Hotel in Sussex Street, Sydney.

In 1984, he scored another Origin victory for Queensland. He was named coach of the year and he received an OAM for his services to the game in 1987.

In 1990, darker clouds loomed. Beetson was embroiled in a dispute with the owner of the Big House Hotel, the Maritime Services Board, and he lost his licence after police claimed he was not a fit and proper person. His Queens Arms Hotel in Brisbane was put into the hands of receivers in 1991.

The following year, he began the first of two seasons as coach of Cronulla-Sutherland, but the venture was not successful and he lost the job.

In 1994, friends were rallying around to help him from financial ruin. But he was a Queensland panel selector for Australia and he had many accolades, including a place in the Australian Sporting Hall of Fame. He was NSW sports star of the year in 1975 and named among the Australian Rugby League's 100 greatest players and in the ARL's rugby league team of the century.

Arthur Beetson, who enjoyed his life as an elder statesman of the game, died of a heart attack on Thursday while riding his bike on Queensland's Gold Coast. The Premier, Anna Bligh, interrupted Parliament to announce the passing of a ''favourite son'' of the state. There will be a public memorial service in Queensland on Sunday, December 18.

Original Publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 5 December 2011

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Beetson, Arthur Henry (Artie) (1945–2012)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/beetson-arthur-henry-artie-16716/text28612, accessed 24 September 2017.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2012