1969: Vung Tau

Much has been written about the South Sydney ‘Rabbitohs’ in the lead up to tonight’s National Rugby League Grand Final – and now doubt much more will be written now they have won their first flag in forty three years. But here’s a little curiosity I dug up from 1969, the year South Sydney finished top of the NSWRL ladder, only to lose to Balmain in the Grand Final.

You might recall – or just plain know – that in 1969 the Australian military had a presence in a place called Vietnam. And when news of the Rabbitoh’s defeat filtered through to the 1st Australian Logistic Support Group in Vung Tau, a few bets were called in, and a parade, of sorts, drew a crowd:

Warrant Officer John Cunneen of Kingsford, NSW, led the parade by pushing a wheelbarrow containing a stuffed rabbit. Both he and the rabbit were wearing South Sydney guernsies.

Cunneen was followed by a Victorian on a Vietnamese bicycle, a Canberran dressed in an aodai, and a Queenslander putting a golf ball (!). Parading over two miles of muddy track, the Australians drew a quite a crowd of interested onlookers, before stopping at the US Air Force Communications Base. Once there:

the stuffed rabbit was ceremoniously buried to the strains of the South Sydney victory song…played at half speed.

Well I reckon Russell Crowe will make sure the South Sydney song is played at correct speed, long and loud tonight. And as the Australian military prepare to go into battle, (oops I mean ‘advise and assist’ the Iraqi army) it’s a nice reminder that sport can offer moments of light relief in difficult circumstances.

*      *      *

Many thanks for those of you who have wondered where I have been the last couple of weeks, as my weekly posts have stretched out to almost fortnightly. Well fear not – it is just that we are doing what we can to keep the Australian economy afloat by renovating our house. So if The Sport History Project goes ‘Off Air’ for a little while, it will just mean that we’ve gone to choose carpet or pull down a wall. I promise to keep the sporting curios coming when I can, so please stay subscribed and keep posted. And in between times – may the sport be with you.


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