The Rugby clubhouse that cattle built

James Nason, 14/02/2022

JUST down the road from Australia’s largest cattle saleyard lies a football field which, like so many others across the country, has produced its share of local folklore and memorable moments, from gut wrenching near misses to towering last-minute triumphs.

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, Gallas Fox Park, the home ground of the Roma Echidnas Rugby Union club, was about as modest a sporting field as you’d likely find anywhere in country Australia.

Often more gravel than grass, and boasting an impressive array of bindi-eye and goat head burr colonies, the playing surface was at times even pricklier than the spiny native monotremes in whose name Echidnas players have toiled gallantly, if not always victoriously, for almost four decades.

An often recited club poem written by Kieran Plasto, a former detective and psychologist who once wore the sky blue and white,  summed up how basic things were back in the early days:

“There’s no clubhouse at the oval, no changeroom ‘cept a tree, where the first trial of each visitor is to test his modesty.

Some painted logs like on the hill, the grandstand, what a view! And the bar is half a forty-four which in ’83 was new.”

Compare that to the scene that welcomed some 3000 people who crowded into Gallas Fox Park over the weekend at a Santos-supported Festival of Rugby to enjoy a 34 team rugby sevens competition and the NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds pre-season Super Rugby trial.

Where two sets of goal posts were for a long time the only infrastructure of any note, on the weekend the ground was flanked by a gleaming 2500-seat temporary grandstand, upgraded permanent stadium lighting, and covered in a luxuriant carpet of redeveloped turf.

Barely a goathead or gravel rock in sight, thanks to a new irrigation system, a John Deere fairway mower lent out by Vanderfield and some expert guidance from the curator of Ballymore, the spiritual home of rugby union in Queensland.

It was all part of a reported $1 million investment by Santos into the event, which followed a similar inaugural Festival of Rugby hosted by the oil and gas company at Narrabri in northern NSW last year.

And amidst it all in the south west corner stood the Roma Echidnas clubhouse, a stately bullnose iron-roofed testament to volunteer support and the power of playing to local strengths.

How to raise funds?

Click to enlarge

As the story on the club house wall explains it (right), and perhaps spurred by the reminder of the club’s lack of infrastructure every time the Echidna’s poem was passionately recited, then-president Rob Loughnan led a push in the mid-1990s to build a new club house.

Passion is one thing, but harsh reality is another – how does a small one-team country club raise the kind of money needed to do that?

Ultimately, the answer went something like this: with the Roma Saleyards just down the road, and plenty of club players and supporters owning properties and prepared to help out, why not buy and grow some cattle to help raise the necessary funds?

And thus the plan was put in motion. First, seed funding was raised by offering supporters the chance to buy $250 club foundation memberships. The resulting proceeds were invested in buying weaners which were then duly scattered on the properties of club members who provided free agistment all over the Maranoa.

The club was able to further leverage the profits from the cattle by successfully applying for matching funding from the Queensland Department of Sport and Recreation and the Jupiters Casino Community Benefit Fund.

With the support of local tradesmen and club volunteers, the old Roma Railway Institute Hall was purchased and relocated from the Roma railway station to the western side of Gallas Fox Park, where it is now perched overlooking the “Ants Nest”.

The clubhouse even boasts its own player tunnel, an Echidna burrow that links the changerooms below to the field, replicating the great sporting stadiums of the world – a novel touch devised by then Brandon and Associates engineer and club stalwart Gerard Read, who oversaw the construction project on behalf of the club.

On the newest and greenest of western Queensland pastures on the weekend, surrounded by stands built with cattle and gas, many special moments played out.

“Jack’s Chicks” provided a highlight of the sevens rugby tournament. Playing in honour of young Roma sporting star Jack Cameron whose life was tragically lost in a car accident in May 2020,  the team, captained by Jack’s sister Georgie and coached by his father and uncle Nick Cameron and Dave Gordon, completed a stunning second-half come-from-behind effort to win the women’s bowl final, to the rapturous delight the local crowd.

Earlier an on-field marriage proposal added to the day:

In the main event, the NSW Waratahs withstood the disruption of a pre-game power outage and delay and a late Qld Reds fightback to win their Super Rugby trial by 21 to 14.

The sprawling temporary grandstand will now be dismantled but the new lights and renovated ground will remain as lasting benefits for the club from the festival just completed.

But beyond the updated infrastructure which now provides opportunities for Roma to host more top level sporting spectacles, perhaps the greatest legacy of all will be the impressions left on youngsters who got to meet the stars of the game on their home turf.

In addition to the current Super Rugby players who conducted coaching clinics, Wallabies great Tim Horan and coach Dave Rennie were a constant presence over the two days, as were former Wallaby Morgan Turunui and Wallaroo Olympic Gold Medallist Charlotte Caslick, who could be seen still whooping with laughter while playing touch footy with the locals on Gallas Fox Park deep into the night, long after the final whistle had blown.

One more colourful chapter to add to the history and folklore of a spirited country sporting club.


Editor’s note: Author James Nason is a former Roma Echidna





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  1. Ian Walsh, 19/02/2022

    Excellent work and well put together James.

    Indeed a great Country Rugby Club the Roma Echidnas. A true credit to the dedicated players, members and sponsors who have worked so hard over the years to put it all together.
    “The Mighty Blue and White” thank you.

  2. Braith Hill, 19/02/2022

    My dad and I made those half forty fours . Brings back wonderful memories.

  3. JOE TULLY, 16/02/2022

    bloody well done every roma echidna i dips me lid

  4. Kieran Plasto, 14/02/2022

    Hi James,
    Nice article. Read, Loughnan and others were, and still are, great Clubmen.
    As the final two lines of the poem go (to the best of my recollection)
    ‘For such is the bond of this good club, in good times or in strife,
    The day you pull the jersey on, you’re an Echidna then for life’.
    Once an Echidna, always an Echidna. KP

    * Editor’s note: With Kieran’s permission we have republished the full Roma Echidnas poem below:

    The Roma Rugby Union Club

    Travel toward the western sun, a half day’s drive will do,
    From Brisbane’s heart five hundred Ks the vision draws into view.
    “Champagne Country” explorers called the place, when this untamed land was named,
    It was from these wheat fields and paddocks green Roma Rugby Club became.
    It’s on the road right into town, two sets of goal posts standing true,
    The Roma Rugby Union Club, the Echidnas, white and blue.

    There’s no clubhouse at the oval, no change room ‘cept a tree,
    Where the first trial of each visitor is to test their modesty.
    Some painted logs lie on a hill, it’s the grandstand – what a view!
    And the bar is half a forty-four which in ‘eighty three was new.
    And in summer months, the cricket months, where the junior cricketers stand,
    They look towards the goal posts and dream of being a Roma rugby man.

    A mighty club this Roma is, the Harlequins, the Brothers and the Randwick Club it’s not.
    But for myths and legends and spirit of adventure, this club has got the lot.
    A one thousand kilometre trip if you do not count the stops,
    To play a game of rugby – a nice break from farming crops.
    The players come from all walks of life and some from jobs mundane,
    From the ringers to the lawyers they love this rugby union game.

    Some men have played one hundred games, the centurions they’re called,
    And it is in the Commonwealth Hotel that their picture’s on the wall.
    And once you play your fifty games your photo goes beside your mates,
    For this is how Roma Rugby Club pays tribute to the greats.
    And it was in ‘ninety-one the Wallabies brought home the World Cup to us all,
    So they were honourably presented with an Echidna-signed rugby ball.

    Do keep an eye out when you travel, you may get quite a shock,
    How many mean can claim to be from Roma rugby playing stock.
    In drunken bars and taxi cars they speak in tones quite sober.
    “You may not know this, my good friend, but I was once an Echidna from Roma”.
    For such is the bond of this good club, in good times or in strife,
    The day you pull the jersey on, you’re an Echidna then for life.

    Kieran Plasto
    June 1994

  5. Jenny Cameron, 14/02/2022

    A wonderful article James, you write so well. It’s wonderful to have been part of the Club since its inception and watch it grow. I think once an Echidna always an Echidna. Jenny Cameron

    Thanks for your comment, Jenny. If only James’s rugby skill had matched his writing talent. Editor

  6. Kenrick Riley, 14/02/2022

    Nice yarn James. Thank you.

  7. Craig Turner, 14/02/2022

    Great report from my favourite echidna, so happy the weekend was such a success

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