Les Donnelly Field

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Mullumbimby Rugby League Football Club History

Well known local identity Les Donnelly, has been involved in the Mullumbimby Rugby League Football Club for many years. In fact Les’ association with the club began in 1952 when he played in what was known as the United team. This team was a combined team of players from Brunswick Heads and Billinudgel. Les left United to play with the Billinudgel team in 1953 and remained with this team until retiring from football in 1959.In the 1950’s there were six teams in the Brunswick Valley competition. They were Brunswick Heads, Billinudgel, Byron Bay, Mooball, Bangalow and a combined Bangalow/Byron team. Originally, games were played at the Recreation Ground near the High School and also at the Mullumbimby Showground. When the competition moved to the fields at Pine Avenue, wet weather became a constant problem. Being Council-owned fields, players and spectators were often frustrated with constant field closures and an inability to play all planned competition games within a season. As such, a decision was made to purchase land and create fields owned by the club itself.And so began the enthusiastic fund-raising effort known as the “2 bob pub raffles.” Players and committee members sold 20 cent tickets in meat tray raffles every Friday night at the Middle Pub and the Chincogan Tavern. (known at the time as the Top Pub) As reported by Les, “It only took 12 – 14 months to raise enough money to buy land for the fields.” In 1977, Les negotiated for a parcel of 28 acres of land to be purchased by the Club from Noel Porter. It cost $18 000.00. After placing a deposit on the land in 1977, documents were prepared to gain approval to build the main road into the ground. This approval was granted in 1978 from both the Dept. of Main Roads and Byron Shire Council.After the purchase was made, Les Donnelly and a band of enthusiastic club members and volunteers started the arduous task of creating their own fields and club house.The land was quite heavily wooded so a fellow by the name of John Ward made his dozer available to knock down trees and clear the area. Les recently recalled the challenges they faced. “There were some big stumps out there and they were a real problem. We had to make our own gelignite and blast them to bits so we could move them.”

Les reported the land was also very wet and had to be extremely well drained if the fields were going to be used to their full potential. Two large drainage pipes were placed the full length of the field and twelve ag lines were placed across the field from one end up to the 25m line. Les recalled measuring out the field and double-checking to be sure it was to specifications. Soil that was removed for the drainage pipes was carefully spread out across the field to improve the playing surface. It is this meticulous planning that has proved a huge success today as the main field is now recognized as one of the best playing surfaces in regional NSW.

As Club President for a total period of 12 years, (stretching from the early 1970’s to 1985) Les worked hard to ensure the vision club members had of owning their own fields became a reality. He had help from a number of people including his wife, Mary. Mary worked for many years fund-raising for the club through the MRLFC Ladies Auxiliary, of which she was President for a number of years. Taking a look at some of her old records, Mary produced receipts and financial records, all neatly hand-written and kept in immaculate condition. She has receipts from 1981 showing the MRLFC Ladies Auxiliary annual membership fee was $1.00 per person. Mary also cooked at the club with her friend Gloria Henry. They served main meals every Friday night and also at special functions with all proceeds going to the club.

Les reported recently on the support he had from others who worked through a myriad of documents and regulations in order to obtain approval to build the club house and also to gain a liquor license. He was particularly grateful to local solicitor Graham Smith for the many hours he spent preparing documents in order to gain a liquor license for the club.

The building of the club house was an incredible achievement for a band of committed volunteers. The foundations and entire lower story were built by volunteers working after hours and on weekends. As the club became more financial funds were used to pay tradesmen to complete the upper story and the roof. Les reported if took only 18 months to complete the clubhouse and prepare the field for matches. It was in 1985 that the first competition game was played on the new field and the clubhouse was officially opened.

The entire Mullumbimby Rugby League Football Club, Les Donnelly Field and sports complex is an example of the amazing feats that can be achieved when a group of people work together to achieve a goal. The dedication and perseverance demonstrated by all involved and the commitment of people such as Les Donnelly is an inspiration. The Brunswick Valley has been shaped by many community-minded people, all of whom deserve to be recognized for their generous efforts.

Les Donnelly 1926-2014