Mr There and Back: How Col Whelan got hitched to Souths, photography and life on the road

Colin Whelan was a rugby league photographer for 34 years. He’s also an author, traveller and brilliant story-teller. Steve Mavin, co-host of the Rabbitohs Radio Podcast, so enjoyed listening to Col’s yarns on the show that he wrote up a yarn so good it needs three parts. This is the first one. It begins with Whelan hitch-hiking across Australia, ends with a favour from “Break Even” Bill Mordey. Enjoy the ride. 

During my career playing for the Rabbitohs in the late 80s and early 90s, Col Whelan was always on the sideline taking pictures. 

Although I’d say hello we never really got to know each other, and it’s only since he joined our Facebook group Rabbitohs Radio Podcast Listeners that we began to regularly communicate. 

Col has also graciously shared many old Souths images from his lifetime behind the lens, and we’ve been lapping up the interesting commentary it generates.

The Rabbitohs Radio Podcast team – Grant ChappellDarren Brown and myself – interviewed Col in our studio in June. As soon as our chat began we knew it was going to be a great one.

And while it’s very hard to do justice to telling the stories of a master story-teller, I’m going to have a crack.

Colin Whelan was born in Sydney in 1951 but grew up without rugby league in Adelaide and then in Perth. In 1963 the Whelan family moved back to Sydney, lived in Kensington and Col enrolled at Sydney Boys High where in 1964 he discovered rugby and rugby league.

And hitch-hiking.

Col started hitching from an early age after being inspired by Jack Kerouac‘s On The Road. Aged 13, to honour a bet with a mate, Col stuck out his thumb to see if he could hitch rides from Sydney to Perth and back. He completed the feat in eleven days. He had his mother’s blessing.

The adventure instilled a love of travelling in Col and an appreciation for “the intimacy of the road”.

Les from La Perouse was Col’s first mate at school. Les had only one stipulation about their friendship: “You have to barrack for Souths”. So Col did and they remain good mates to this day. 

The night before the famous 1965 grand final between the Dragons and Rabbitohs – the one that saw a record crowd of 78,056 cram into the SCG – Col and Les left school, walked across Moore Park in their uniforms, and slept behind the Brewongle Stand. In the morning the boys emerged undetected and watched the game. So the crowd figure should be 78,058!

Experiences like this, Whelan said, meant he was “bitten by the red and green monster, and there was no antidote.”

In 1969 Col became the first (and still only) Prefect to be expelled from Sydney Boys High because of his refusal to stop protesting against the war in Vietnam.

Col had begun drinking in pubs after school and became a regular at Jim Buckley’s Newcastle Hotel on George St, The Rocks. At this establishment he met several brilliant authors who would shape his life.

At the Newcastle Col met Donald Horne who’d written The Lucky Country in 1964, Germaine Greer whose breakout book The Female Eunuch came out in 1972, and Frank Hardy (below) whose Power Without Glory is one of the most infamous books in Australian history.

Frank Hardy left his Marx on the sands of the northern beaches ...

Col was taken under Frank’s wing and learned the etiquette of pubs; about drinking and of shouting. He learned about telling yarns. He learned the difference between telling stories and sharing them. He learned to listen. 

Col went to work at the Commodore Tavern in North Sydney which he described as “a working-class pub that was very rough”.

One day George the publican asked Col to check what was blocking the toilet. Col discovered a Beretta pistol was hidden in the pull-chain cistern. George told Col to leave it there. A few days later it was gone, no-one the wiser about its owner.

The highlight of Col’s working week was when the beer truck arrived each Thursday with Paul Sait and Ron Coote delivering the amber fluid.

“I’d see two of my heroes and they were just normal blokes, real down-to-earth guys,” Whelan said. “I was working once a week with my idols, the guys I’d watch play on the weekend.”

Col went to Macquarie University from 1970-72 and played rugby union. When he left he hitchhiked (of course) from Burma (now Thailand) to Copenhagen in Sweden, a trip which took him across Afghanistan and other places now off limits.

He hitchhiked to North Africa and the Middle East. He followed the Grateful Dead’s tour of Europe and developed a love of opium and hashish. He spent five months working on an opium farm in Turkey and six months on a hashish plantation in Lebanon’s Beka’a Valley.

He was briefly held by the Syrian secret police for photographing where he shouldn’t have been. He headed to Jordan and Israel. He worked with Bedouins. He lived on a kibbutz in the Negev desert.

In 1976 Col returned home to Sydney with an Israeli woman, Naomi, who became his wife and the mother of their twins, a boy Jesse and daughter Natalie who were born in 1988 through IVF. 

And he wondered what to do.

“I came home and thought what do I want to do?” Whelan said. “I had an interest in football and photography so I started teaching myself how to take photos.

“I started snapping pics at rugby games but at first I was terrible. So I would just give my photos away to players. There was no money in it.”

One day a phone call came from Gary Pearse that would change Col’s life. Pearse, a former Wallabies backrower, worked in marketing for Winfield, needed a photographer for the company’s new Winfield Cup sponsorship. After seeing Col’s action shots, a job offer came from John Quayle at the NSWRL followed by an opportunity at Big League Magazine thanks to “Break Even” Bill Mordey.

And a super sports snapper was born.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in which we talk to Col about his adventures as an NRL photographer, and Part 3 in which we talk about his cracking book about bush pubs. You can follow Col Whelan on Facebook at Nothing But The Pub or email him to say hello at idrink@nothingbutthepub.com.

Or have a listen to the chat with the man here:

Special thanks to Matt Cleary from League Whistle

Peter Tunks, Greg Hawick & the defeat of the Dogs

On our huge show this week we feature 2 of the greatest rugby league players of all time Peter Tunks & Greg Hawick.

Peter Tunks

Peter Tunks Wikipedia

“Blocker Always Started It”: Peter Tunks Recalls His Fierce Rivalry With Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach

2SM Talkin Sport

Greg Hawick First Grade Player #397

Greg Hawick Wikipedia

Vale Greg Hawick

The Ultimate Utility: Greg Hawick

Greg Hawick Museaum Of The Riverina

GREG HAWICK MEN OF LEAGUE

Alexandria Rovers “Best Of” Team

Greg Hawick Rugby League Project

Thanks to Brad Ryder who knew Greg & his wife Maureen well & Marco Sivis for their contributions on Greg Hawick. Click the link below to visit Marcos SSR Almanac Greg Hawick player profile-

Gregory Rawson “Greg” “Megsie” Hawick – South Sydney Player Report

Rabbitoh Gallery

Pinocchio’s

Rabbitoh Of The Week Andréa Mandadakis

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Click image to visit the EFS site
Click image for locations

Garlo, The Falcon & beating the Broncos RABBITOHS RADIO

On the podcast this week we have former Souths captain Sean Garlick, our remembering a Rabbitoh is Mario Fenech & we preview Friday nights big Broncos clash. #RabbitohsRadioPodcast https://rabbitohsradio.com.au/2020/08/03/garlo-the-falcon-beating-the-broncos/
  1. Garlo, The Falcon & beating the Broncos
  2. Latrell Mitchell, Eric Simms, Munkimuk & Dan The Man
  3. Thomas Burgess, John Peek & The Red & Green Machine
  4. Col Whelan, Paul Sait & Action Jaxson
  5. Peter Tunks, Greg Hawick & the defeat of the Dogs

Albert Clift, George Treweek & Eddie Root

Albert Clift, George Treweek & Eddie Root (image courtesy of Col Whelan)

On Friday 26th June 2020 an image was posted in our newly created Facebook group ‘Rabbitohs Radio Podcast Listeners’ by legendary photographer Col Whelan.

Beneath the photo Col asked the question “Any idea who these blokes are”?

The next day we had our answer thanks to Chris Isouard. In the picture stood three Rabbitohs legends Albert Clift, George Treweek & Eddie Root.

“Albert mentioned this day in a couple of his interviews over the years” said Chris. “Treweek and Root visited him in the early 80s and presented him with some of their playing memorabilia. Like many, Albert was a hero of mine and inspired me as a kid to collect everything Souths”.

Albert Clift

Albert Clift was a former player for South Sydney, former official and director, was the Club’s first mascot back in 1968, held an amazing collection of Rabbitohs memorabilia including the famed timekeeper’s bell from the first game in 1908 & is a Life Member of the Football Club.

Albert Clift
Albert Clift & Russell Crowe ring the famous timekeepers bell in 2002
Russell Crowe purchased the bell for $42000 to ensure it stayed in red & green hands

Eddie Root

Eddie Root (first grade player #139) 109 games & 34 tries was a starting forward in the Rabbitohs golden era of 7 premiership wins between 1925-32. Root had a brilliant career & is rightly regarded as one of the greatest ever Rabbitohs.

Eddie Root

The 1931 Rabbitohs

The 1931 South Sydney Rabbitohs defeated the Eastern Suburbs Roosters 12-7 in the NSWRL grand final. Eddie Root was the hooker & George Treweek played second row.

Second row: Eddie Root, Jack Morrison, Frank O’Connor, George Treweeke (vc), Frank Curran, Harry Eyers, Benny Wearing.
Front row: Jack Why, Jim Tait, Carl Eggen, Paddy Maher (capt), Albert Spillane, Jim Deeley, Perce Williams.
(Picture courtesy of SSR Almanac)

George Treweek

George Treweek (first grade player #153) 119 games & 40 tries was a starting forward in the Rabbitohs golden era of 7 premiership wins between 1925-32. He is a legendary attacking player who was rated as the finest second row forward the game has produced.

George Treweek was once described as “all arms & legs”
George Treweek played 7 tests for the Kangaroos
George & Eddie visit Albert

Keaon, Cody, Pati & the Jet

On this weeks show we talk to our newest Rabbitoh, first grade player number 1157 Keaon Koloamatangi & welcome back Cody Walker & James ‘Jimmy The Jet’ Roberts. We also look forward to the debut of another rising star in our forward ranks Patrick ‘Pati’ Mago.

Keaon Koloamatangi

Keaon Koloamatangi Wikipedia

Keaon “Big Mac Daddy” “Koala” Koloamatangi – South Sydney Player Report

Keaon Koloamatangi Official Profile

The family connection Souths fans can thank for Keaon

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Rabbitohs v Titans 3pm Saturday 13th June Bankwest Stadium, Sydney

Rd 5 team analysis: Cavalry arrives for battling Bunnies as stars race the injury clock

Patrick Mago

Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski

Ziggy is one of the touch judges in the Titans clash, lets hope he listened to our Ziggy podcast last week!

Remembering A Rabbitoh

This weeks Remebering A Rabbitoh is first grade player number 153, 5 time premiership winner the legendary George Treweek.

George Treweek Wikipedia

George (Albert George) Treweek – South Sydney Player Report

South Sydney Rabbitohs First Grade Players – By Debut Year

Malcolm Richard Spencer – South Sydney Player Report

Malcolm Spencer Rabbitoh number 411

Rabbitohs Dream Team

  • Fullback Clive Churchill
  • Winger Harold Horder
  • Centre Herb Gilbert
  • Centre Paul Sait
  • Winger Ian Moir
  • Five-eighth Jim Lisle
  • Halfback Bob Grant
  • Lock Ron Coote
  • Second row Bob McCarthy
  • Second row George Treweek
  • Prop John O’Neill
  • Hooker Elwyn Walters
  • Prop John Sattler (c)
  • Reserve Greg Hawick
  • Reserve Ray Branighan
  • Reserve Ian Roberts
  • Reserve Les Cowie
  • Coach Jack Rayner

Rabbitoh Of The Week

Matthew Cheeseman

Mikey Siciliano nominated his mate Matthew Cheesman (Cheese) “without this guy I wouldn’t be the mad Rabbitohs fan I am to this day. I met Matt by chance as I was walking my dog down the street and he was walking his. We went to the same school together back in the day but were never really close. Anyway, as I started to chat with him it turns out we had something in common, we were both massive Rabbitohs fans. He told me that he made it to pretty much every Rabbitohs game each year with his family and invited me to join. Ever since then we’ve become best mates and haven’t missed a home game in Sydney since, even traveling to the Central Coast for home games and Mudgee for the Charity Shield. I owe Matthew my passion for NRL and the Mighty South Sydney Rabbitohs to him”. Mikey also credits Cheese for making him a Rabbitohs Radio podcast listener so thanks for that Cheese!

Beanies For Brain Cancer

RIP Toni Mavin

Garlo, The Falcon & beating the Broncos RABBITOHS RADIO

On the podcast this week we have former Souths captain Sean Garlick, our remembering a Rabbitoh is Mario Fenech & we preview Friday nights big Broncos clash. #RabbitohsRadioPodcast https://rabbitohsradio.com.au/2020/08/03/garlo-the-falcon-beating-the-broncos/
  1. Garlo, The Falcon & beating the Broncos
  2. Latrell Mitchell, Eric Simms, Munkimuk & Dan The Man
  3. Thomas Burgess, John Peek & The Red & Green Machine
  4. Col Whelan, Paul Sait & Action Jaxson
  5. Peter Tunks, Greg Hawick & the defeat of the Dogs

Mark ‘Spudd’ Carroll & the countdown to kickoff.

Mark Carroll

On the show this week we speak to rugby league legend Mark ‘Spudd” Carroll.

Spudd kicks his one & only field goal & that famous clash with the Chief

Mark Carroll Wikipedia

Mark Carroll Career Stats

Matty Johns reveals extent of infamous feud between Paul Harragon and Mark Carroll

Mark Carroll gets passionate about fitness through his Sydney gym

‘He saw red’: What made Cody Walker snap and fly-kick a man on the street

James Roberts’ partner opens up as Souths star aims to play just 7 days after rehab

Pride Of The League – The history of South Sydney

Garlo, The Falcon & beating the Broncos RABBITOHS RADIO

On the podcast this week we have former Souths captain Sean Garlick, our remembering a Rabbitoh is Mario Fenech & we preview Friday nights big Broncos clash. #RabbitohsRadioPodcast https://rabbitohsradio.com.au/2020/08/03/garlo-the-falcon-beating-the-broncos/
  1. Garlo, The Falcon & beating the Broncos
  2. Latrell Mitchell, Eric Simms, Munkimuk & Dan The Man
  3. Thomas Burgess, John Peek & The Red & Green Machine
  4. Col Whelan, Paul Sait & Action Jaxson
  5. Peter Tunks, Greg Hawick & the defeat of the Dogs