By Julian BuckmasterTIGER KING
“Keep going you bunch of clowns. The way things are looking, we’ll just have to play among ourselves!”
It was a very dark day for our young All Blacks crew on this hot Summer’s day at Walker Park. The timeline was around late-February 1987. We were mid-way through our semi-final against the Tigers, led by the ‘Tiger King’ older brother, David. Chief protagonist, owner of this and other none too subtle sledges and architect of our demise, on this day.
The stakes were high. Just one win away for either team to earn the right to play in the decider and secure the prestigious Yass Touch A-Grade Men’s title. As always, it was on for young and old. And quite literally a genuine contest between young and old unfolded: the wisdom of age and experience led by Bucky, against the intemperance and exuberance of youth. The intra-town rivalry of siblings and mates was palpable, as it has always been.
A typically tight contest ensued. But then something started to turn along with the weather and the clouds converging overhead. For us, it turned for the worst. Inexplicably, one by one we were removed in numbers from the field. Whatever bait the Tigers were throwing, we were biting. The ‘Ringmaster’ was at play. Granted our discipline was not the best on this day as we got sucked into their tedious tactics. Our referee on the day, Yass Touch legend, Kenny Bell, duly obliged giving his marching orders to all but three of us left on the field.
The end-result came swiftly; and so too the recriminations. The wily old Tigers would progress to the GF at our expense. That they ultimately fell just short to the star-studded Bulldogs team to win the chocolates in the decider and scoop the pool that year is not the point. The fact they smoked us out and resigned us to the sideline left us all feeling burnt. And the fact they got us between the ears with the Ringmaster – the master tactician at his masterful best, really had us smouldering. Roll-up, roll-up…
Not only was David one of the best when it came to motivating his troops, but he was also equally adept at getting under the skin of opponents. As he was crafting a cunning game plan and getting a result and a rise for his team. He had a black belt in tongue-fu and possessed the best hands and silkiest of skills with a sublime pass and turn of pace to go with his kitbag of quick thinking, clever on-field quips and wit.
BEST HANDS IN YASS
Speaking of hands, it was widely acclaimed around town around this time, that Tony ‘Tank’ Hawker “had the best hands in Yass”. Whether this was self-proclaimed or not by the local ex-baker and mischief-maker, no-one’s really sure. But the legend surely grew, and another challenge emerged – in our household at least.
You could well imagine the Cheshire-cat grin on David upon returning home from the presentation that night after putting us to the sword: safe in the knowledge and manner that the old blokes prevailed over the young upstarts. And with at least 12-months’ bragging rights against his younger brother and ‘punk’ mates front of mind. Sibling rivalry beyond rivalry.
“Don’t worry McDuck, there’s always next year,” he would burn me again with his trademark grin and leave me to smoulder some more as we hit the sack. Not only was it important to get the win, but also to have a laugh. And another one. Usually at my mates’ and my expense.
As I look back I can thank him now – in 2020 hindsight of course, sadly the year of his passing. His motivation skills turned full circle, as they usually do. On reflection, that sole event propelled our mentally scarred All Blacks and set us on the path of a six-year winning streak as Yass A-Grade Men’s champions, with the memory of that fateful day still burning inside some of us today. And as he always had done throughout his life, David taught mates and I and foes alike, yet another valuable lesson in life. Chief among them that discretion is the better part of valour. And revenge is best served cold!
Touch Football was one of the great loves of David’s life and in our DNA around our Church Street precinct. As people know, his love and connection to the sport were shared and extended deep into our family, friends and the community. And beyond, into other sports and cultural pursuits including music, theatre and art across the town and region.
One of the early pioneers of Yass Touch, he was very passionate and a key part of the sport’s early growth, development and success. He played a leading-hand with other forebears of the sport locally with Rod Wise, Mick Benton, ‘Flash’ McKinnon – and way too many luminaries to name here. The shift in the positioning and perception of Touch as a bonafide sport, from a Summer-time fitness pursuit and a pre-cursor to a Yass Rams / Magpies training night as a warm-up on the cold Wintry nights, was profound.
He was a central figure in enabling the shift. He and others built the competitiveness, mateship, fun and camaraderie that he particularly fostered with his beloved Tigers and across competitions and local Wednesday night watering holes. All great qualities that have endured and are synonymous with 2582 today.
As some will recall, these same qualities and quips followed him to the Shell Roadrunners, Yass Post Magpies and across the local Touch venues north and south of the river. It always did strike me as odd though that he didn’t ever get a Dragons team up and running on behalf of his beloved St George?
Funny he would only change his stripes to black and gold – the Lone Wolf in Tiger’s clothes. And when the fun on the field had finished there was more funny business to be had off-field, at any one of the several pubs ‘down the street’. With the old Ringmaster at the heart of the shenanigans with his larger-than-life personality and beer peers.
THE RINGMASTER’S CALLING
Ultimately though, it was behind the mic on the presentation dais, and with the guitar in hand when the opportunity arose, that he really found his calling and went next level. The great all-rounder – at the heart of so many of the sport’s great times and memories in-region and across the State. The centre of entertainment, fun and frivolity. It was a simple formula – just add beer, music and a few jokes – easy! There were a few other key elements that added to his mystique and muse…
His self-appointed ‘mentoring’ role led many a young Tiger cub astray as Messrs, Turnbull, Townsend, Kemp, McLeod and Tate would likely attest. Lucky though that he had the good grace to accept valued feedback and counsel and to be mentored himself by veteran Yass Touch luminaries. These include the likes of Yass Touch legends Frank Grace, Brian Kemp, Breeze Howard, Ginger Miller, Johnny Poidevin, Billy Mackay and Johnny Bruce, to name but a few. The impact these Tigers old and young had on Bucky was massive, to say the least. And all key players in some of the tallest tales you had to see to believe and all part of touch footy folklore.
I remember vividly the night a younger older brother Bucky stumbling through the front door at home after one night on the tiles after Touch with his arms up high above his head. While he wasn’t under arrest, he was probably lucky not to be.
With the advent of random breath testing (RBT) in 1982, this naturally inspired some off-beat, off-street transport ingenuity.
Bucky and his brains trust figured that to evade ‘the fuzz’ (Police) they would have to get creative. So, the car keys were promptly thrown into the dish and out came the push-bikes to carry on their carry on from pub to pub and in defiance of the new laws and regulations. And to provide another headache and nuisance value for the local constabulary.
The arms were raised as he entered the house and in a tongue-in-cheek show of defiance: “we beat the cops at their own game,” he announced loudly and proudly. Well, it was obvious shortly as to who beat who. With the flashing blue and red lights streaming through the front window at home, I remember dad remarked deadpan: “Yep, you sure beat them, alright. You beat them home you silly bugger!”
FIRST AMONG EQUALS
His Touch Football pedigree was also, not surprisingly, one of firsts. I and others have been very proud to follow in his footsteps with some of his inaugural posts. All big shoes to fill.
He was the first captain-coach of our very successful Yass Men’s Open team of the late-1980’s and 1990s at the annual Riverina regional Championships (superseded by Southern Suns). Our team would go on to win nine titles in 10 years, a hallmark of David’s early belief, guidance, competitiveness, drive and aforementioned mind games and tactical genius.
He also captained one of the early Riverina / Region 1 Men’s Open teams which we regularly over-achieved against the more fancied Sydney regional teams. One of the most memorable tournaments was the NSW regionals event in the late-1980’s at Sawtell near Coffs Harbour. Playing on fields soaked with rain and in a quagmire of mud, the spirit and fight in the team led by Bucky was symbolic of the great times we all had touring together.
The Riverina Men’s Open team Coffs Harbour c 1989
He was also captain of the hybrid Yass Cougars team which toured annually to the Forbes Touch Knockout. Coached by Alan Cooper, ex-minehost of the Club House, the team was a slick combination of Tigers and All Blacks, which I always cynically viewed as a peace-offering of sorts. And provided an opportunity for the old cats to teach the young punks a thing or two on tour. Presumably how to keep more than three players on the field at one time!
With the Tiger King at the fore, he would lick his lips in anticipation with his paws all over the pranks and set-ups imposed on his younger brother and punk mates. All to our chagrin, but great delight to the older players and the old man who would fill the ‘manager’ vacancy for most of these posts. And he didn’t want the girls to miss out on the fun. This extended to our hybrid mixed team which played at the mid-January Cootamundra mixed touch knockout, inclusive of sister Cate and a selection of her Slick Chicks.
THE EYE OF THE TIGER / FAT RAM
Behind the nice guy veneer, lie a steely and fierce determination and competitive spirit. I speak from direct experience, as I would regularly be the recipient of his Tigers v All Blacks on-field commentary and post-mortems, post-game. Safely across the kitchen table out of harm’s way.
Whenever we won, it was the ref’s fault. Whenever the Tiger’s won, it was class that prevailed. As you imagine there was a lot of remonstrating about referees from the old boy. Save for that fateful day when the old Tiges taught us a big lesson.
And once the Summer Touch season had passed, many of us would follow the leader to the Yass Rams. With, you guessed it, the Pied Piper, aka The Fat Ram, Lone Wolf and Tiger King at the helm as captain-coach and entertainment coordinator. A man of many talents and just as many disguises.
The Rams provided a magic opportunity to re-acquaint our representative Touch connection and with our older brother, Steve and the wider Rams faithful. Like Touch, David was the heart and soul of the Rams and again the Ringmaster of all things good about the sport and community – with a little bit of mayhem and all with relative impunity with David calling the shots and pulling the strings.
It was on this stage too that so many would witness the incredible self-taught skills and dexterity he would display with his hallmark handiworks. From his bullet pass and direction from the scrum-base during the day to his bass guitar skills at night, with his gifted artworks promoting a night full of fun frivolity in between. We were blessed to be in his company. And to be on the same side as the maestro and witness first-hand his mind games and game plans against hapless opponents.
Once the Winter was done and Spring had sprung, we were back on the touch fields to do it all again – “this time with feeling,” as David would often say.
They were the best of times and memories. I’ll forever cherish his hand me down knowledge and wisdom. Hand me down touch and rugby shirts, hand me down skills. And gratefully, his hand me down hands.
And when they laid our brother down to rest mid-year, they not only retired the best hands in Yass. So too we bade farewell to one of the biggest hearts, talents and best personalities. He was our dear brother, but everyone’s great mate. And he will always bring a smile to all who had the pleasure of his company and recall his mayhem and mischief. And magic.
We all love and miss our dear brother, Bucky.
Love to hear how the touch footy games and bass guitar lessons are going with St George and friends.
And wonder what devious tactics he has devised to get another win. And share another laugh.
On behalf of the late, great, David Buckmaster, his family have donated a perpetual trophy to be awarded annually in his memory to the Yass Touch A-Grade Men’s champions. The trophy is an honour and testament to Bucky’s craft and contribution to the sport across Yass and the region. A financial contribution will also be made by his family and presented to a Yass region charity of choice by the competition winners, in memory of Bucky and his legacy supporting benevolent organisations.
The Yass Valley Times thanks Julian Buckmaster for sharing these memorable stories of his brother. The article in print coincided with the late David Buckmaster’s ashes internment.