QUIET RESOLVE: Terry Fearnley helped drag rugby league into the modern era. TERRY FEARNLEY,
TERRY Fearnley’s calm exterior masked a steely resolve within, and his quiet and gentlemanly nature determined he would never receive the full acclaim he deserved on his sporting arena of choice – rugby league. He spent many seasons in the company of this fiercest of games, as player, ground-breaking coach, wise thinker and mentor, although never nailing the ‘‘great and elusive dream’’ of winning a first-grade premiership.
In rugby league memory this quiet, bespectacled man warrants a high historical ranking, having been a change agent in unearthing a ‘‘new way’’ – one that effectively dragged an old suburban weekend game into its modern, professional era.
It was one of many accomplishments, which included being the first coach to lead NSW to a series victory over Queensland in State of Origin football (1985) after taking Parramatta to its first premiership grand final (1976) – and repeating the achievement the following year (against St George). The Eels came away narrow losers both times, but with new respect. The battle against Saints produced the game’s first grand final draw.
Fearnley also coached Australia to series victories at his two attempts: the World Cup tournament of 1977 and a Test campaign against New Zealand (1985), in which, handed a poisoned chalice as Australian coach in the midst of a bitter Origin series, he infuriated the entire State of Queensland (it seemed) by dropping four Maroon players for the final Test.
It was Fearnley’s quality of genuineness that convinced reluctant bush champions such asPeter Sterling (Wagga) and Michael Cronin (Gerringong) to come to the ‘‘big smoke’’ – to everlasting fame and, perhaps, ahint of fortune. In his 1989 autobiography Sterling wrote: ‘‘Icame to Sydney and the Parramatta club because of Terry Fearnley. It’s as simple as that.’’
Terence Colin Fearnley was born in Sydney on July 21, 1933, one of three children of Jack and Edith Fearnley. Jack had come to Australia from Yorkshire aged 15 in 1924 with his brother, emigrating under the Dreadnought Scheme, and they were assigned to work at the historic property Coombing Park, at Carcoar. The little town and its beautiful surrounds captured the young Terry’s heart from the first time he travelled there on the overnight steam train as a four or five-year old. It never loosened its grip.
Fearnley would recall those ‘‘some of the most enjoyable experiences of my life’’, and went back time and again to enjoy the countryside and to mix with Fearnley relatives. Among them in more recent years was his second cousin, Kurt Fearnley, Australia’s greatest male Paralympian.
Terry, elder brother Ron and younger sister Judith grew up in turn at Earlwood, Marrickville and then the Eastern Suburbs as Jack worked in the wool mills in Marrickville.
Fearnley’s first connection with rugby league came in pick-up games after school.
‘‘My brother was one of the leaders … and I was just skinny little Terry,’’ he remembered.
‘‘I’d be last one picked every time … and they’d never pass me the ball. It made me a bit more aggressive, and in the end I guess I did show ’em!’’
His education was largely of the ‘‘university of common-sense and life’’ variety. His memoirs note: ‘‘My parents Jack and Edith came through the Depression and strongly believed that I should get a position with the Public Service. I could then start paying board.’’
There was no encouragement for him to press on at Sydney Tech High and get his Leaving Certificate.
He went instead, at 15, to a job of some drudgery, as a $6.20-a-week clerk with the Department of Motor Transport. In a diverse working life he would graduate to senior positions – inthe car industry and in professional rugby league – and tokey advertising roles with Australian Consolidated Press, particularly so at Rugby League Week magazine, where ‘‘The Coach’’ was a popular guiding hand and companion to all. Later, he worked as a legal registration clerk.
In 1957, Fearnley married Betty Rogers and they had four children. In December 2001 he married Patricia Stemp and with working days (and football) largely behind him, his life-long curiosity intensified, leading him to new and diverse interests – to gardening, movies, bird watching, writing his memoirs and extensive travels.
Family always ranked highly, with 11 grandchildren to keep him on the hop. He became a regular attendee at State Library lectures, on a rich variety of subjects. Active sport sustained its place through his life, with skiing, tennis and golf high on the list, until fading health dictated otherwise. In such a ‘‘sporting life’’, two weeks as a member of the AOC-media team at the Sydney Olympics of 2000 remained a cherished memory.
Terry Fearnley is survived by Pat, and his children with Betty: Karen, Kim, Tracey and Scott, and their families.