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Then and Now

20/August/2021

One of the newer exhibits in the Australian Sugar Museum is called ‘Sugar and Sport.” 

This display highlights and pays homage to over fifty people who have represented Qld, NSW, and/or Australia at a senior level in a sport who have connections to the sugar industry. While rugby league is certainly a dominate sport in the sugar cane industry, there are more than ten sports featured, including Rugby Union.

Amongst the three Australian representatives who are connected to the sugar industry is 1983 Australian player, Ollie Hall.

The other two, Edmund Dore (1903-4) and Declan Curran (1980-83), have direct connections to cane farming, but Ollie’s connection to the sugar industry is quite different.

Ollie became an actor and played a lead role in the TV series based on a cane cutting gang set in Silkwood called “Fields of Fire.” The series was made between 1987-89 and featured the lives of the cane cutting gang and town’s people between 1939 and 1952. Ollie’s character, “Tiny Russell,” was a key member of the gang and community and he appeared in every episode of the series.

Ollie himself led a very interesting life. Growing up on a cattle property near Wellington, in country NSW, he played rugby while attending boarding school in Sydney in the 1960s. Returning to the family property after school, he kept playing local rugby and started making rep sides.

After a year in the Northern Territory, he returned home and made the NSW U23 side to play a curtain raiser for the 1975 Australia England rugby tests played at Ballymore in Brisbane.

He also played for NSW country for several years, before retiring for the first time from rep footy in 1979

Then in 1982, at 30 years of age, Ollie moved to Sydney to have one last season in top-level rugby with the Manly Club and, in 1983, he was selected in the Australian touring side, coached by Alan Jones, to tour Italy.

After this tour, where he played five provincial matches for Australia but no tests, he kept playing but injuries started to take a toll, so he turned to acting! Yes! Acting! And he did very well in this new career!

Scoring a role in the third Mad Max film, “Beyond Thunderdome” starring Mel Gibson, he played the part of Tina Turner’s bodyguard, and this role was soon followed by the role in “Fields of Fire.”

This three-part series, when watched today, was remarkable in that it managed to cover many issues faced in those times by people in the sugar industry, from hand cutting, to World War II, and life after the war, as well as the impact of migration, and the move to mechanical harvesting.

Ollie’s character, Tiny Russell, is pivotal to all three series and he represents the stoic, hardworking Australian who helped build this industry.

After Fields of Fire, Ollie acted in a film called “Quigley Down under” starring American Actor Tom Sellick and English Actor Alan Rickman.

Then he returned to the bush and kept coaching junior rugby teams. 

Sadly, Ollie passed away last November at 67 years of age. He managed to pack of a lot into his life and his efforts in portraying an iconic character in the history of our industry is recognized in the museum’s display.

The rugby careers of both Edmund Dore and Declan Curran will be featured in future columns.

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