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Death of Mr John Raper

Hansard ID: HANSARD-1323879322-122178

Hansard session: Fifty-Seventh Parliament, First Session (57-1)

Death of Mr John Raper

Mr DOMINIC PERROTTET (EppingPremier) (15:29:00):

— I move:

That this House extends to the family the deep sympathy of members of the Legislative Assembly in the loss sustained by the death, on 9 February 2022, of Mr John Raper, and notes his remarkable contribution to the sport of Rugby League.

John Raper was an iconic and beloved New South Welshman, and one of the finest rugby league players ever to take the field. As members may know, last week the Raper family accepted the offer of a State funeral for Johnny in recognition of his remarkable contribution to the sport of rugby league. That will be a fitting tribute. Today, on behalf of this Government and the people of New South Wales, I take the opportunity to extend my deepest sympathies to Johnny's family. To Johnny's wife, Caryl, and their three sons, Stuart, Kurt and Aaron, and to all his extended family and friends, we offer our deepest condolences. Please be assured that you are all in our prayers.

Johnny Raper was a legend in the true sense of the word. His name is synonymous with rugby league in Australia and he is among a select number of genuine contenders for the mantle of "greatest of all time". Growing up as one of nine boys in Revesby, footy was his calling from a young age. He was a prodigious junior and earned a jersey in the Newtown President's Cup side at just 17. A year later he made his first grade debut for Newtown, and the year after that he represented NSW Colts as a lock against Great Britain. From 1957 to 1958 he played 37 games for Newtown. In 1959 he began his historic tenure with St George, and would go on to become a lynchpin and leader in eight of the club's legendary 11 successive premierships. The Saints side Johnny joined had already won three first grade titles. They were renowned for their impenetrable defence, their ball skills and their fitness. They were a great side. But even among greatness, Johnny Raper stood out. He was tougher, fitter, and even more skilled; he was a natural, brimming with talent.

The great Jack Gibson said he was blessed with rare instincts and courage, a weapon in defence with his tackling and a weapon in attack with ball in hand. Johnny Raper's career with the Saints spanned a decade, with 185 games, eight premierships, 47 tries and 149 points. His name is etched into the club's history and folklore. His representative record is remarkable too: 24 caps for New South Wales, and 39 in the green and gold for Australia. In eight tests he ran out as captain, including the famous 1968 World Cup. After a final year as captain‑coach with St George in 1969, Johnny stepped back from the New South Wales Rugby League competition. He joined the Newcastle competition as captain‑coach with the Western Suburbs Rosellas, and he promptly led that team to victory in the 1970 grand final. He stayed with the Rosellas for two more years and then finished his distinguished playing career with two seasons at Kurri Kurri in 1973 and 1974.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Johnny Raper's achievements on the field were a testament to his talent, but they were also testament to the character of the man they called Chook. His work ethic was the stuff of legend. In a team that trained harder than any other, Johnny Raper trained hardest. As Jack Gibson put it, "There was an intensity about him. Nobody trained like he did." Roy Masters described him in as a man who burned the candle at both ends "with a blow torch". I am told that after Frank Hyde said Johnny would not reach the age of 50, Johnny woke him up with an early phone call on his fiftith birthday to tell him, "I made it." Underneath the gladiator of the sporting arena was the heart of a larrikin, loved by all. He was a charmer, with a sense of humour and a personality much larger than life.

He had a talent for making mischief, and a special affection for bowler hats, or so the story went. He earned the respect, admiration and universal praise of teammates and opponents alike, and the deep affection of friends, family and, of course, the fans. Footy was not the only life Chook knew. At 16 he had joined the NSW Police Force as a cadet, and he was confirmed as a constable in 1958. He worked general duties in the Sydney CBD and later at Kingsgrove. When he resigned from the NSW Police Force in 1963 to dedicate himself to footy full‑time, he described it as one of the most difficult decisions of his life. His support for the force was unwavering throughout his lifetime, so it was only fitting that when the NSW Police Force celebrated its 150th anniversary, a picture of the young Johnny Raper in uniform turned up on the promotional materials.

The Sun-Herald's

After Chook called full‑time on his playing career, he remained an integral part of rugby league as a coach, administrator, mentor, commentator and all‑round ambassador for the game. To show how magnanimous he could be, he even stooped to lend his talent to that other code—rugby union. He coached the Lane Cove Rugby Union Football Club to victory in 1977. As you would expect, Chook's career was studded with accolades. He was named the NSW Rugby League's official player of the year in 1960 and 1964, and player of the year in 1960, 1963 and 1967. He was the Clive Churchill medallist in 1966. In 1981 he was named as one of the first four Immortals of rugby league. In 1985 he was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. In 2000 he was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to Australian sport and in 2002 he was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame.

Whenever the punters and pundits compile their team of the decade or team of the century, Johnny Raper is always there. In the debates among fanatics over the list of the greats, if Chook is not number one, he is never far off the pace. The awards testify to a life of extraordinary achievement—the kind of achievement that moves crowds to moments of rapture, that inspires young kids to reach for the stars, that pushes the boundaries of what we thought was possible and that raises the bar for the next generation to clear. It is the kind of achievement that brings us together in awe and admiration when talent and toil combine with something magical. It gives you goosebumps and you can hardly believe your eyes. Johnny Raper gave all those things to the people of our great State, the people of Australia and league fans all around the world for many years. When he rallied, they rallied. When he was cut down, they felt the impact and willed him back on his feet. When he hoisted the trophies high, he hoisted spirits high as well.

The Man n he Bowler Hat

Frank Hyde described Chook as "the finest footballer I have seen". Australian Rugby League chairman Bill Buckley said that "his was the greatest game". To witness someone extraordinary doing extraordinary things is a blessing to cherish. Chook was all that and more to many people across our State and nation. But we recognise that, for all his achievements on the field, more than anything he was a beloved husband, dad, grandad and friend. Ultimately that loss is the most deeply felt. In Johnny's life story, , Caryl writes:

There are two of him; there is the wild man out there, and then there is the other man at home—a person who is loving and caring and does such incredible things that it knocks your socks off.

The recent years were challenging for Johnny and his family as he battled illness in Sydney. We hope that in the sadness of this time, there is peace and consolation that Johnny is now at rest. For a lifetime he had knocked our socks off. We mourn his loss. We honour his memory. Vale, Johnny Raper. May he rest in peace.

Mr CHRIS MINNS (Kogarah) (15:37:40):

As Leader of the Opposition and member for Kogarah I pay tribute to the late Johnny Raper, who passed away on 9 February aged 82 after a long battle with dementia. He was the last surviving member of the St George Illawarra Dragons' four Immortals: Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands and Norm Provan who passed away in October. A larrikin and a true original, he joined the St George Dragons in 1959 after they had already won three premierships in a row. Raper joined their galaxy of stars but far from being intimidated by their success, he immediately found form and launched himself into a representative career for New South Wales and Australia. That included Australia's win over Great Britain in the so‑called Swinton Massacre, winning the game 50-12 and securing the Ashes for the first time in 50 years on English soil. Veteran broadcaster Frank Hyde labelled the performance the greatest 80 minutes a footballer had ever played. He also captained Australia to victory in the 1968 World Cup Final over the French.

There is a fixture in professional sport of a stressed‑out, anxious coach, captain or player studying the best move, worried about losing the lead or the match or their job, and screaming at their teammates. More often than not success will not buy relief. For them, competition is almost agony. It is what drives them on to be the best. There is also another category: the natural; the player who could party all night before a big game, skip sleep, enjoy friends and the reputation of being the best player on the best team in rugby league history, then shake it off with a run on the morning of the game, turn up to the SCG in the afternoon and win man of the match. Chook Raper, the natural, did it with ease and made it look easy, even though it is not easy.

As Buzz Rothfield pointed out last week in the Telegraph, Raper was not big; at just 87 kilograms, he was not a monster on the field. Style, technique and heart had to make up the difference. There would not be too many sports stars today, with Instagram pages and PR managers, who would be thrilled with headlines about them walking through a little country town in England with nothing but a bowler hat on. The story was apparently a case of mistaken identity; Raper did not seem to mind and instead adopted the bowler as his trademark. Dementia is a horrible disease. It robs the spirit and vitality from people who suffer from it, particularly those who seemed to love life the most. Our sincerest condolences go to the Raper family: his wife, Caryl; his brother Maurie and Maurie's wife, June; and all his siblings, children and grandchildren.

Mr STUART AYRES (PenrithMinister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade, Minister for Tourism and Sport, and Minister for Western Sydney) (15:40:32):

— I pay tribute to an iconic person—an immortal of rugby league, one of the original Immortals. His playing career started at Newtown before he moved to St George, where he was most well known, from 1957 through to 1969. His long and distinguished list of recognition and achievements includes over 215 games in different formats of rugby league; eight premierships; 57 tries; and 39 tests, including captaining our nation in the World Cup in 1968. In 1966 he won the Clive Churchill Medal as the best player on the field in the grand final. He coached the Cronulla Sharks in 1975 and 1976 and he coached Newtown in 1978. He was one of the original Immortals when they were established in 1981, alongside Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton and Reg Gasnier. He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985. He entered the Australian Rugby League and International Hall of Fame in 2002. When rugby league named its team of the century, there probably was not much debate; John Raper probably was the first name on the list, straight into the lock position.

They called him Chook and, if you listened or spoke to any person who watched him play, they would all talk about the fact that he was not a big-bodied player. In fact, coaches spoke about him not being that big and not being very quick, but he just had the most exceptional technique. He ran in the right angles, he passed the ball at the right time, and his sense of timing was exceptional. And if you ever made a video of the technique of tackling in rugby league from 1950 through to 2022 for young kids to watch, you would include John Raper's tackling technique. From that time to today, it is still perfect. On the National Rugby League website you can see images of him playing and you can see that technique. You can also see his capacity to pass—the flick pass that would make Benji Marshall proud. This was a guy who did it all on the field.

The Leader of the Opposition spoke a little about John Raper's reputation for being able to do it at both ends. In fact, Roy Masters said that he burnt the candle at both ends. He was probably the first celebrity footballer. I wonder just how big John Raper would have been in the world of Twitter and Instagram. He was the first guy to enjoy the champagne, put the bowler hat on, take his brand into the commercial world with the "JAX the Ripper" ads and put the bowler hat to good use. This guy was a legend. His rugby league capability was truly amazing. They talk about that 50-12 test match at Swinton in the United Kingdom. Of 12 tries, Raper was involved in eight of them. It was an extraordinary achievement and a masterful game—a game of near perfection. This is a guy who enlivened the spirits of rugby league fans and particularly St George fans. He was obviously such an important figure in his family, and we offer our condolences to his entire family.

It is a unique thing to lose a person of such significant standing in the rugby league world. Just recently we have seen the loss of Norm Provan and Bob Fulton. I thank the Premier for offering John Raper's family a State service. For a period of time, we frowned on the idea of recognising people who made their contribution to the community through sport with a State funeral. It is appropriate that we recognise how important sport is to the fabric and psychology of our community. I have no doubt that through the dark days of the 1950s and 1960s, when they had ups and downs, it was people like John Raper who brought people out to the football. It was people like John Raper who allowed families to come together. His is still a name that inspires people not just in the St George district but right across the State of New South Wales. This is fundamentally what people in the sporting landscape can do, and we should never shy away from recognising them.

I stand here feeling like a bit of a fraud as a Penrith Panthers fan, but Marise happens to be the most devout St George fan that I have ever met. I am fairly certain that if you nicked a little bit of her skin and she bled, little red and white Vs would drip out of the wound. She is as passionate as they come. I think I get a photo in Marise's office, but it might depend from one week to the next whether the frame is up or down. There is a photo of Andrew Peacock in her office behind her desk. She gave a speech at his memorial service last week in Melbourne. The only other photo in her office is of her and John Raper. After 24 years of meeting people in the Federal Parliament, the one person she will always talk about and never forget meeting is John Raper. I thank Caryl, Stuart, Aaron and Kurt for sharing their family member—the absolute legend, John Raper—with our community in New South Wales.

Ms JULIA FINN (Granville) (15:46:30):

I also pay tribute to John Raper, one of rugby league's original . I join the Leader of the Opposition, the Premier and the Minister for Tourism and Sport in giving my condolences to his family, and I pay my respects to his incredible legacy. He played 24 matches for New South Wales between 1959 and 1970 and scored five tries during that period, but it was as a Kangaroo that he really excelled. He set a then record of 33 test caps in the Australian national team between 1959 and 1968 and represented Australia in six World Cup games between 1960 and 1968. For the 1968 World Cup, he captained Australia in four undefeated games, including the 20-2 victory against France in the final at the SCG.

While he made his first grade debut for Newtown in 1957, he joined the St George Dragons in 1959 as a lock forward. He played for St George until 1969, when he took over as captain-coach of the Dragons and steered his team to the semifinals. He played 185 games for St George and was one of their greatest players, if not their greatest player, in their greatest era. He played in eight consecutive New South Wales rugby league first grade grand final victories for St George and, throughout his career, he played a total of 377 first grade games and scored 96 tries.

In 1981 Johnny Raper and former test captains Clive Churchill, Bob Fulton and Reg Gasnier were recognised as Immortals, as a way to recognise the code's best ever players. He won the Clive Churchill medal in 1966. He was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Australian Rugby League and International Hall of Fame in 2002. He was awarded an MBE from the United Kingdom in 2000. I have no doubt that other members today will comment that most people would say his best match was the second test at Swinton in 1963. Australia scored 12 tries in that match, of which he had a direct hand in nine. Some have gone further, including ARL chairman Bill Buckley, who said, "His was the greatest game I have ever seen."

In a major understatement, after the match, Johnny Raper said of his performance, "I just pass the ball the right way every time." Legendary rugby league caller Frank Hyde said, "When Johnny Raper was born, they not only destroyed the mould, they pulped it." Former New South Wales State of Origin coach Laurie Daley recently said of Johnny Raper:

Very sad when I heard the news. Chook was a massive figure in the game, certainly a massive figure at the Dragons. I had a bit to do with Chook when I was playing for NSW and Chook was chairman of selectors. Really enjoyed his company, he was good fun to be around. Obviously the last few years haven't been the best because he's been unwell. It's always a shock when you hear the news. In particular, I think it hits harder when they're a legend of the game, they're a massive figure. Anyone that knows rugby league or has been involved in rugby league knows the name Johnny Raper, so there'd be a lot of sad people today.

That was absolutely true. Johnny Raper attributed his success to being disciplined and was a fitness fanatic many years ahead of his time. He undertook a phenomenal amount of additional running and weights every day, which helped him achieve his personal goal of being the fittest player in the fittest team in the competition. Other speakers today have talked about that. It was an incredible commitment decades before sport science really perfected the art of knowing how much to train. He pushed himself to be the absolute best player he could be, and he was possibly the best player ever. Rugby league, and sport more generally, are part of our national psyche. Johnny Raper's dedication to fitness ensured that he became one of our best ever sportsmen.

Today we commemorate the passing of Johnny Raper and remember his enormous contribution to St George, to rugby league and to New South Wales—a commitment that continued long after he retired as a player. He was a coach, a commentator and an administrator, a public figure in our State for decades after he retired as a player. He gave so much to the game we all love, and a State funeral is absolutely a fitting gesture to reward and recognise the contribution he made to our State and nation, and the wonderful memories he left so many people. Dementia is a devastating disease and it is so hard on families, especially when you lose a larger‑than‑life figure. Dementia can cause people to, essentially, fade away and lose their own sense of self and their memories of their greatest achievements. It can be very challenging for family members as well. My thoughts are with his wife, Carl; his three sons, Stuart, Kurt and Aaron; and his extended family and friends. You have lost a giant.

Mr MARK COURE (OatleyMinister for Multiculturalism, and Minister for Seniors) (15:51:59):

— I acknowledge and pay my respects, and those of my family, to the late Johnny Raper, who passed away peacefully on 9 February 2022 at age 82. Affectionately known as "Chook" Raper, he was born in Revesby in south-west Sydney into a working-class family and played junior ugby for the Camperdown Dragons before his debut at Newtown in 1957. However, Chook truly made a name for himself with the St George Dragons in 1959 as lock forward, appearing in 180 games and winning eight premierships in a row upon his arrival. He played 39 tests for Australia and represented New South Wales on 24 occasions, becoming well regarded for using pioneering tactics, such as his trademark low tackles behind the defensive line.

Chook was also well renowned as a larrikin and always loved a good time. He often stayed out all night drinking into the wee hours of the morning before going on a run, even winning the man of the match one afternoon at the SCG. He was fond of a drink and a party, and famously became known as "the man in the bowler hat". Jack Gibson, a legendary rugby league coach who played alongside Raper, described him as "small and not all that quick" however there was "an intensity about him, nobody trained like he did", and that it can truly be said that he had a "football instinct". His talent and dedication to the sport were recognised in 1981 when he was named as one of the first great Immortals of rugby league alongside some amazing players like Norm Provan, Reg Gasnier and Graeme Langlands. Moreover, he was inducted into both the international and Australian hall of fame in 2002, which is an absolutely phenomenal achievement.

Not only was Johnny an incredibly talented player, he was also a hardworking coach. He trained the Cronulla‑Sutherland Sharks in 1975 and 1976, and he also trained the Newtown Jets. As a member of the St George community and a lifelong supporter of the mighty Dragons, I was deeply saddened to hear of the loss of Johnny Raper. I truly believe that he made a wonderful impression on sport as a whole in our community and right across New South Wales. Growing up, Johnny Raper was a sporting hero and an icon for many aspiring rugby league players. I would like to think that his legacy has inspired many of the next generations of rugby league players to get involved in this fantastic sport.

Local rugby league clubs remain incredibly important to families within our community, encouraging critical thinking skills and demonstrating the importance of working in a team and staying fit and healthy. Team sports provide the opportunity to make lifelong friends and connections, as well as the chance to represent your local community on the field. Chook promoted these core values of rugby league while displaying tremendous skill in each and every game he played, earning his title as a legend not only in rugby league but in Australian sport as a whole. In the words of St George Illawarra and St George District chairman and my good friend, Craig Young:

Johnny Raper was an inspiration to his teammates and the entire St George organisation and is one of the key reasons why the famous Red V holds such esteem to this very day.

That sentiment truly conveys the man that Johnny Raper was. He was "a larger than life character on and off the field who loved the game dearly". I understand that Raper and fellow Dragons legend Norm Provan, who passed away last year in October, will be honoured by the St George Dragons in their round two clash with Penrith at Nestrata Jubilee Stadium at Kogarah—a touching tribute for two legends of the sport. I send my condolences, and the condolences of my family, to Johnny's wife, Caryl; his sons, Stuart, Kurt and Aaron; and his friends and former teammates. I understand this must be a difficult time for all involved. I conclude by acknowledging Johnny Raper's incredible contribution to our local community, the St George region and sport in Australia. May he rest in peace.

Mr RYAN PARK (Keira) (15:56:49):

As a mad St George Illawarra Dragons fan—like the member for Oatley, the member for Lakemba, the member for Wollongong and others in this place—this is a very sad time for those of us who love rugby league. Johnny Raper will go down as arguably our finest player. For those of us who love the game, watch the game and watch our kids or family members play the game, there was always something about the old footage of "Chook" Raper that we used to see. I think the member for Penrith, and Minister for Tourism and Sport, summed it up when he said that Raper's tackling technique was what you would show people now if they wanted to see how the best players in the game tackle. Probably a year or two ago I showed my young fellow, who is a mad rugby league fan and player, some old footage of Chook tackling. It was so impressive. You would not have wanted to be on the end of it. As the Leader of the Opposition said, he was not the biggest and certainly was not the fastest, but Raper will go down probably as the toughest, the fittest and one of the most determined players ever to play the game.

The Sun‑Herald

Many of us who lived in the Illawarra before the mighty Illawarra Steelers joined the New South Wales Rugby League competition were fans of the St George club. It was a natural club for us to follow, so we have always had a great affinity with St George. Even before the two clubs combined back in 1999, there was a strong relationship between St George and Illawarra district rugby league. Certainly, all of us had great memories of watching vision of Chook playing. Certainly he was one of the finest players who played in some of the finest teams the league has ever produced: premierships from 1959 to 1966; Kangaroos tours; New South Wales player of the year; best and fairest; grand final man of the match in 1966; the Australian Rugby League team of the century; New South Wales team of the century; Australian captain of the NRL teams of the 1950s to 2007 and the 1960s to 2006; and, of course, one of the first and finest Immortals—a small group of players who have played at the highest level for a sustained period in this great game called rugby league.

Obviously, Chook was not only a fantastic sportsman but also a remarkable human being. As the Premier has outlined, he served in the NSW Police Force and made an enormous contribution to keeping our community safe. He was a joker and a larrikin, and he summed up the time really well. He was the reason so many people back in that era enjoyed spending time in those packed grounds, where you could sit on a roof and stand wherever you could. There was not much consideration for public safety, but they had come to watch people like Chook. He brought them to the stands and the grounds from suburbs right across Sydney and beyond. They loved his endurance, his toughness and his tenacity. They loved his fitness and what he stood for. He gave the game his all every time he played.

Of Raper's absolute masterstroke and masterpiece in that second test at Swinton in 1963, then Australian Rugby League chairman Bill Buckley said, "His was the greatest game I have ever seen." The shadow Minister for Sport outlined that occasion when Raper launched a 12‑try onslaught, with him obviously having a hand in three‑quarters of them—an incredible moment and an incredible part of New South Wales Rugby League and Australian Rugby League folklore. We will remember Chook fondly and never forget him. Obviously, it is a very sad day. Members have spoken about the terrible disease that is dementia. I do not think there will be a person in this Chamber who has not had someone close to them touched by that terrible, insidious disease, which sucks the life, the vibrancy and the will to live, in many cases, out of some of the finest who walk amongst us. It is a terrible disease. He fought it hard but, as tough as he was, like many others he was taken too young and obviously not in the way that he would have liked.

We pass on our sincerest and deepest thoughts to Carol, Stewart, Kirk and Aaron. We remember Chook the legendary rugby league player, but they remember a great husband and father. During condolence motions when we take time to reflect on the public achievements of great sports men and women, sometimes we forget the people who walk with them privately, who are part of their family and who have seen them in their most difficult times and in their best times. We know that this is a difficult time for the entire Raper family, and for their extended family and friends.

I thank the member for Oatley, Mark Coure, who said that the Dragons will be honouring John Raper and Norm Provan at their NRL opener against the NRL premiers, the Penrith Panthers, on 18 March. I will be there with my children. We will be barracking for our mighty Dragons, but we will also be thinking about the legacy of Chook Raper, what he has brought to our game and the way in which he inspired generations of young people—certainly my father's generation—to get out there and play rugby league, and to play the great game the way that Chook played it: hard, tough, fair, determined, always giving his best and always trying so hard predominantly for the mighty Dragons.

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gaiMinister for Skills and Training, and Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology) (16:04:49):

— To be called an Immortal is certainly a title that few people can claim. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this motion of condolence on behalf of the people of the Ku‑ring-gai electorate. I begin by extending my condolences to Carly Raper, and to Stuart, Kurt, Aaron and other friends and family of the late rugby league Immortal Johnny Raper, who was a great natural sportsman.

Sport is incredibly important to building community, teamwork and personal character. There is no doubt that rugby league is a game that particularly requires courage and toughness, no more so than in the era in which Johnny Raper played. I remember going to my first game as a primary schooler in the early 1970s at the Sydney Cricket Ground. In those days, rugby league would fill the Sydney Cricket Ground with 30,000 spectators. That was before it had the fancy grandstands that it has today; there was a lot of grass around the ground. Regularly on a Saturday the Sydney Cricket Ground would be full of fans watching rugby league, such was the popularity of the sport at that time. There was far less protection of the players in those days. It was a game played by tough people. Johnny Raper was one of the absolute stars of that era, which is why he is being remembered in this way with this condolence motion and a State funeral.

One of nine boys, John William Raper was born in 1939 and grew up in the rugby league heartland of Revesby, a place I spent quite a lot of time in during the 2019 election. There is an excellent train service from Gordon to Revesby, which I availed myself of at the time. Johnny initially played junior rugby league for the Camperdown Dragons before transferring across to Newtown Rugby League Football Club in 1956. At the age of 16, Johnny also became a cadet in the NSW Police Force, which epitomises the way he was not only a great rugby league player but also a great citizen and somebody who was willing to perform what is an incredibly difficult job being a police officer.

In 1957, at the relatively tender age of 18, Johnny made his first grade debut and played 37 games for the Newtown Bluebags, which, of course, would become the Newtown Jets. Regrettably they are no longer in the premier competition but hopefully one day they may return. The following year Johnny was confirmed as a constable of police and posted to general duties in Sydney, later transferring to Kingsgrove. In a decision that he would later describe as the hardest of his life, Johnny left the Police Force in 1963 to focus full time on rugby league. For those newer members of the House, 1963 was the year when the Beatles had their first number one hit. It was a long time ago and that was the era that Johnny played in. In the same year as he was sworn in as a police officer, Johnny also debuted on the international stage, playing for New South Wales against Great Britain.

In 1959 he began his magnificent career with the iconic Dragons—the white and red. During his career, he wore New South Wales blue on 31 occasions. He also wore the green and gold for Australia in 39 tests, captaining our nation on eight occasions during the famous 1968 World Cup victory. There can be no greater honour than to play for Australia and also captain a national sporting team, which reflects his iconic status in the sport of rugby league. One of the greatest in the rugby league paddock, Johnny Raper retired with 215 first grade games and 57 tries to his name. In 1970 he left St George and completed his playing career in the Newcastle rugby league competition. That was, of course, a time before the Newcastle Knights were created. One can only think that he may have strapped on the boots for the blue and red if the Newcastle Knights existed. He played three seasons as captain-coach for what was the leading club in Newcastle at the time, the Western Suburbs Rosellas. He took the club to the premiership victory in the 1970 grand final at the number one sports ground, before a packed-out stadium. I remember the time well.

Johnny Raper then went to Kurri Kurri, who poached him. The cross-town rival, Kurri Kurri, had some great teams. He played for Kurri Kurri from 1973 to 1974. He won the Harry Sunderland medal in 1964, the Clive Churchill Medal in 1966, and was named one of the four original immortals in 1961. He was a true inspiration. As we all know, sport in Australia is part of our rich culture. There is quite an extraordinary level of sporting talent in my electorate, whether it be league, union, soccer and so on. But there is no doubt that at the time that Johnny Raper played, rugby league was absolutely the leading football code in New South Wales. The member for Kiera spoke about its popularity in the Illawarra. When I grew up, it was enormously popular in Sydney, in the country and in regional areas, like the Hunter. Johnny Raper was a poster boy for it.

It is fair to say that my electorate of Ku-ring-gai has traditionally been a rugby union area. But I am happy to say that in recent times rugby league has started to take a bit of a foothold there. Our local Ku-ring-gai Cubs junior rugby league club is now entering its eighth season, and is fast becoming one of our community's most popular sporting clubs for boys and girls. As a strong supporter and patron of the club, I am pleased that their home ground at Turramurra Memorial Park has received a major upgrade to its facilities thanks to a grant from our Government under the Greater Sydney Sports Facility Fund.

That upgrade is particularly important for facilitating female participation in sport because the facilities there were completely inadequate for women rugby league players and also women rugby union players who play for Old Barker Rugby Club, which was very instrumental in getting that grant to upgrade the facilities. One of the great developments in rugby league is how many young women are now playing the sport and enjoying the benefits of a wonderful team sport. It builds many individual characteristics that are of great benefit later in life. The skills of getting on with people and having to work together and the personal strength and courage that a contact sport encourages is enormously important.

I am really looking forward to officially opening the upgraded facilities at Turramurra oval next month. Like all of us here, Johnny Raper had strong connections with his local community. Once his playing career finished, Johnny Raper did not hesitate to give back to the game. It is one of the characteristics of our sporting clubs throughout the State: the way in which people go from learning from their elders as they are a junior coming up, the way in which they play as a senior player, and then the way former players return and give back to their sport through coaching and working in the canteen. That is the way that parents support the clubs and participate. It builds a really important community focus through our sporting clubs.

Johnny Raper did that too. He lived and breathed rugby league and for his service to that sport was honoured as a member of the Order of the British Empire. He served with distinction as a city, State and national director and went on to coach the Cronulla Sharks and the Newtown Jets. Johnny was also inducted to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2002. Johnny Raper was an all‑round good guy, who some have referred to as a larrikin. He was a tough working class warrior and a great Australian success story. He was a Revesby boy, which in those days was a pretty humble working class area. It is now much changed, but he was a Revesby boy made a star. Johnny gave so much to the sport and to this State. He was respected, he was much loved and he will continue to inspire many thousands of players. Vale, Johnny Raper.

Mr NATHANIEL SMITH (Wollondilly) (16:16:44):

It is with great sadness that we mark the passing of an Australian rugby league champion, John William Raper, member of the Order of the British Empire. His nickname was "Chook". He was born on 12 April 1939 and passed away on 9 February 2022 at the age of 82. He is easily considered one of the nation's finest footballers of last century. Every year as the Dally M Medal award approaches we have this debate of who was the greatest, and we go through history looking at great men like Johnny Raper, Clive Churchill, Reg Gasnier and Andrew Johns. We look at all of these great players that have inspired their local communities, not just for their rugby league team. There are many young boys and girls who now look up to a sporting star, whether that is in rugby league, rugby union or cricket.

Recently the member for Ku-ring-gai spoke about the female involvement in rugby league, rugby union and cricket. Just recently we saw some excellent cricket in the Women's Ashes, with great viewing on the Seven Network. As a lock forward, Johnny earned a record of 33 test caps in the Australian team between 1959 and 1968, played six World Cup games between 1960 and 1968, and had the magnificent privilege of captaining his country in rugby league—which is an absolute honour. He captained on eight occasions from 1967 to 1968 and played in eight consecutive New South Wales Rugby Football League [NSWRFL] first grade grand final victories for the St George Dragons club.

As everyone knows, I am a big Balmain Wests Tigers supporter. I have been for many years of my life, but some years ago when I was a councillor on Kogarah council, St George was my second team. I had to support my local club. I will declare that when they played the Tigers I had mixed loyalty. The Red V is a fantastic club. I remember my father, who was a big Western Suburbs Magpies supporter and a former member for Epping, telling me stories about running onto the Sydney Cricket Ground after grand finals between Wests and St George. Back then people did not get fined for jumping onto the hallowed turf, and it was a race to get the corner post. The former member for Epping was quite a sprinter back then, and an inside centre and outside centre for Randwick. He played a bit of De La Salle rugby league in the Eastern Suburbs.

Mr Anthony Roberts:

He still has a bit of pace.


He still has a bit pace for a 74‑year‑old. He got the corner post. He would be able to tell many stories about watching Johnny Raper in a grand final, especially when they played the Western Suburbs Magpies. John was practically born into a football family, being one of nine kids. He comes from a big family, like the Perrottets and the Tudehopes, who also have big families. I am one of five and grew up in a rugby league/rugby union family. John grew up in Revesby in the electorate of East Hills, and played junior rugby league for the Camperdown Dragons prior to representing Newtown in the President's Cup side in 1957. He displayed early talent and made his first grade debut for the Newtown Jets, which is now in first division—it is no longer in the NRL—when he was just 18 years old. That is quite a young age. We do see some 18‑year‑olds in first grade. Another great, Brad Fittler, played at 16 or 17 in the Penrith grand final many years ago in the early 1990s.

John's recognition on an international scale came in 1959, only two years after making his first grade debut, when he joined St George as a lock forward with incredible ball skills and the best defence we have ever seen. His defence was legendary. When I think of great lock forwards like him—Wayne Pearce for the Tigers, who was a magnificent defender, and people like Ray Price for Parramatta—there are some who have changed and evolved the game. Playing the game he loved, John helped St George win eight grand finals between 1959 and 1966. That is an incredible record. We talk about the records of Bradman, and Michael Jordan in basketball, but winning eight grand finals in that many years is amazing. Chook, as he was known, was tough, smart and determined. During his time with St George, he trained harder than anyone else. He was determined and the fittest player on the fittest team in the league. His endurance was remarkable and his strong defence and perfectly executed tackles saw him gain respect from competitors and spectators alike. Later on Chook coached the Cronulla Sutherland Sharks from 1975 to 1976.

Mr Geoff Provest:

Hear, hear!


We obviously have a few Sharkie fans in the Chamber, that being the member for Tweed and the member for Heathcote, who is in the chair. We have a few others, I think, including the member for Cronulla, the member for Miranda and others who are in the Chamber or upstairs in their offices. John Raper was then the coach of Lane Cove rugby union—he made the switch.

Mr Anthony Roberts:

Hear, hear!


I acknowledge the member for Lane Cove and Minister for Planning, who is at the table. I confess I did win a semifinal and knocked out Lane Cove in a suburban grand final when I was playing for Beecroft. I was suspended for 10 minutes at one point, but I was lucky I did not get sent off because I would not have been able to play in the grand final against Blue Mountains. John coached Lane Cove and helped them win the Judd Cup, which is the Sydney suburban competition just under the Sydney Shute Shield. In 1978 he was the caretaker coach of the Newtown Jets, following the resignation of Paul Broughton. John's life post‑retirement continued to be a hive of activity. He was always in high demand as a guest speaker at various TV and radio talk shows and he even did an advertisement for the Liberal Party. I fully endorse that the great man did an advert for the Liberal Party. He was also awarded a Member of the Order of the British Empire and was named an Immortal of rugby league in 1985. He was appointed as the Australian test selector in 1988 and was a representative of NSW Rugby League.

Chook graces the walls of both the Sport Australia Hall of Fame and the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame. In 2008 he was on a list of Australia's 100 greatest players commissioned by the NRL and the ARL. In my electorate of Wollondilly, the efforts of Johnny Raper and what he has achieved for rugby league will not be forgotten. His endurance was remarkable in the days when footballers played 80 minutes straight. These days we interchange a certain number of players, so the bigger fellows on the field like me can take a breather and get back on. When I was playing A-grade rugby league, there was unlimited interchange, so we had quite a big forward pack. We could go on field, go hard for a time, come off for a breather and then go back on. But back then Johnny Raper was an 80‑minute player. Lock forwards are roving defence players, they cover tackling, and they are in ball play as well with fullbacks. They are the fittest players on the field. That is why people like Johnny Raper, the great Wayne Pearce and other lock forwards like Bradley Clyde are the fittest, strongest and best all‑round players on the field.

Frank Hyde declared in 1995, "When Johnny Raper was born, they not only destroyed the mould, they pulped it." In Wollondilly we breed some of the toughest players in rugby league and hope to be inspired by the legend of Johnny Raper. With the indulgence of the House, I will mention some of my local clubs. The Southern Highlands Storm was set up last year. It is in group 7 rugby league and covers part of the Southern Highlands down to the Illawarra region. We also have group 6 rugby league. Every year I have the pleasure of presenting the first grade premiership shield at Campbelltown oval, where my beloved Wests Tigers play. The Thirlmere‑Tahmoor Roosters have been the reigning premiers in group 6 for the last two seasons. They had a pretty tough time in October last year when a cyclone went through Thirlmere and ripped up the roof of the newly renovated female change rooms. Hopefully that will get sorted out pretty quickly.

The Mittagong Lions are a long established team in the area. The Oakdale Workers Club was in debt only a few years ago and Macarthur FC, the A-League soccer club, came in and bought out their debt. They spent about $1 million renovating the club, so it will not only be a supporter base for Macarthur FC but also help the Oakdale Workers. The Oaks Tigers were in a grand final two years ago. The Camden Rams in the member for Camden's electorate crosses over with the Macarthur and Wollondilly regions. The Picton Magpies were premiers a few years ago. The Appin Dogs, the Warragamba Wombats, the Bargo Bunnies and the South West Goannas are all in Wollondilly. A lot of the teams do so much for the community, not only in rugby league. The Bowral Blacks rugby union club hosted a Waratahs and Brumbies match only a few weeks ago, which was the first time since the club was rejuvenated through grants from the State Government. They are doing wonders for the community and they are bringing people to the region. Johnny Raper, rest in peace, and may perpetual light shine upon you.

Mr GEOFF PROVEST (Tweed) (16:28:25):

I feel very honoured to pay tribute to the great Johnny Raper. When I managed the Georges River Sailing Club, which is adjacent to Kogarah, often a lot of the current or previous legends, including Johnny Raper, would come down. So I had the pleasure of meeting him, Graeme Langlands, Billy Smith, Craig Young, Robert Stone and others. They are all legends. One of the things that always struck me was the amount of attention they paid to the younger players. They were always there in guidance. They were always there to say a few words. But it would be remiss of me if I did not inform the House about why St George are called the Dragons. The legend of Saint George and the Dragon tells of Saint George, who died in 303, taming and slaying a dragon that demanded human sacrifices. The story goes that the dragon originally extorted a tribute from the villages. The oldest known record of Saint George slaying the dragon was found in a Georgian text of the eleventh century. I think that says it all. They won approximately 11 grand finals in a row. Being an old rugby league player, which I was not very good at at the best of times, I actually started my career playing for the Taren Point team, in the white and the red V.

Mr Ryan Park:

That is a long way from Tweed, mate.


That is a long way from everywhere, yes. In fact, I did have the career honour of becoming best and fairest. For the member of Keira's knowledge, I do think that was in C grade, so one would say I did not get a call-up. I was a pretty mad fan of St George until the Cronulla Sharks came into being, and then I moved. But as a young fella I knew Norm Provan and I went to school with some of his kids and so on. I think Johnny should be remembered for what he was: a real legend. He was a genius on the field. He promoted the game.

St George Leagues Club, some members may or may not know, used to host the oyster growers luncheon, which was very famous. At that time I think the chief sponsor was Penfolds wines. We had legends—previous legends, current legends and future legends—there. Let's say it was a fairly long lunch. Seeing those guys out in the early mornings, coaching young kids, going to school—my father was actually the deputy principal of Carlton South Public School. For those who do not know, that is just across the road from the Kogarah Oval. I can remember a couple of times Johnny would get free parking. The school P&C would raise money during a game by opening up the park beside the school and charging people to go and park their car. Johnny would always get a free car park right near the front entrance, which I think is very well deserved.

We go right back in history with St George. They were legendary. I think they set a great deal of the current rules, like that no five-tackle rule. They just blitzed it. I can always remember one of the other legendary callers: Frank Hyde; Tiger Black—remember Tiger Black?—and his daughter, Lyn, who I think went out with Changa Langlands for a little bit; and Peter Black, who went on to have a very illustrious career in Ainsworth poker machines. Those sporting legends should be remembered with honour. It was a tough time. I remember a good friend of mine, Graham Eadie, who was a Manly player.

Mr Guy Zangari:



Absolutely. He kicked the winning goal against Cronulla in the grand final. We will never forgive him for that—I recognise the member for Manly for that. He used to often tell me that back in those days, I think it was about $200 a win and $100 a loss. I am probably showing my age, but as a young fella to get an autograph of some of those legendary footballers, we would wait out on the road because they would all work on the local garbage truck. This was in the days when we had the silver can. My father used to complain they always dented—every time we bought a new one, they would dent. As young kids, we would run behind the garbage truck to get an autograph. Times have changed, football wages have changed, and I do not think they will be out there collecting garbage any time soon. Johnny was a legend. Condolences to his family and to the whole football community, because I think he made a great contribution and his memory lives on, really, with it all. Being an old Taren Point man, I used to run out with pride wearing that white jersey with a red V, thinking I was one of the local heroes. I hope you rest in peace, Johnny. You have certainly left a legacy both here and now and into the future.

Members and officers of the House stood in their places as a mark of respect.