Laymen, legends and lords were united in grief in December, mourning the loss of Queensland’s iconic first State of Origin captain, Arthur Beetson.
The rugby league world lost “Big Artie” to a heart attack on December 1, the same day he was to appear as the guest of honour at a celebration day for the Former Origin Greats’ indigenous education program named in his honour.
The grieving period for the game and the people of Queensland has continued since, with thousands paying tribute to the rugby league immortal around the world.
A private ceremony for family and friends was held at Redcliffe’s Dolphin Oval, and then later two public memorials were held simultaneously at Suncorp Stadium and the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Thousands came to pay their respects, with fans, former teammates and opponents and politicians all sharing their memories and stories about Artie, and his son Mark told the Suncorp Stadium crowd the family had been deeply moved by the love shown to their father by the public.
“We would like for everyone to join us in remembering dad as he was: a brother, a father, a grandfather, uncle, footballer, ambassador to his people and all-round good bloke,” Mr Beetson told the crowd.
Fellow FOG Wally Lewis said in his address that it had been a privilege to have known Arthur, and to play alongside him in the game that started the Origin legend in 1980.
“He was a wonderful footballer, a great role model in the indigenous community and an outstanding Australian,” he told the service.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said Arthur held a special place in the hearts of Queenslanders for the way he inspired the Maroons to victory in that inaugural Origin game, forever changing the way Queenslanders looked at themselves.
“(It) gave new hope to an entire state,” Ms Bligh said.
“Artie kept hope alive for a generation of Queenslanders,” she said.
But Arthur’s death was felt well beyond Brisbane and Sydney, with even the British parliament noting his passing with sadness, and recalling the impact he had on the game in England during a stint with Hull KR.
The motion carried in the English parliament said: “That this House notes with sadness the death of Rugby League legend Arthur `Artie’ Beetson; remembers that `Artie’ played for Hull Kingston Rovers with great distinction and has left a legacy in East Hull that has not diminished over the years; further notes that he was named in the team of the century and is a member of the Rugby League Hall of Fame; recognises that he went on to be the first aboriginal to captain any Australian national sporting team; further recognises his inspiring effect on indigenous Australians, encouraging many to take up not only sport but education and employment opportunities; and expresses its deepest sympathy to his family.”