Rubbing sholders with the greats
By MAX GODBEE
FORMER Sydney first-grade rugby league player Barry Norden now calls Yamba home.
He played first grade with the Parramatta and Canterbury-Bankstown clubs.
Frequent holiday visits to Yamba gave him an insight into country life. That is the way he is doing it now, living permanently at Yamba, where he has built a house. He has become a solid part of the community.
He has good neighbours, loves the beaches and enjoys being part of the lifestyle, in particular his time playing golf, competition or social, at the Yamba Golf Club course.
Barry John Norden was born at Paddington Hospital in August 1946, son of Fredrick Charles (Fred) and Daphne Clara (nee Batson) Norden.
His father knew the pride and mateship of being a member of the Australian Eighth Army Division during the early part of World War Two.
The eighth division in early 1942 saw action as part of the British forces endeavouring to defend Singapore, virtually without air cover, against the countless odds of invading Japanese troops and aircraft.
Overwhelmed and captured Fred spent the remainder of the war behind barbed wire and suffered and survived the horrors of the infamous prison camp that was Changi.
When peace came in 1945 Fred returned to Sydney and after a while resumed long-term employment as a technician with the Post Master General's (PMG) Department.
His son Barry was a student at Old Guildford Public School in Sydney for primary school education during the 1950s and then went to Liverpool High School for three years to gain the Intermediate Certificate at 15.
His sports at the primary school were athletics, rugby league and cricket. At Liverpool High he continued athletics and cricket but as they did not play league at the school he became involved in rugby union.
Laden with speed and with solid defence he was chosen as five-eighth, or when required, as inside centre. He represented in the junior grades and then as five-eighth in the Open 15.
"Somehow I was always interested in what I saw of the action in local butcher shops and decided this was the trade I wanted to be involved in when I left school," Barry said.
"So naturally I was chuffed when I gained an apprenticeship at Townsend's Butcher Shop at Liverpool and after some time there finished the apprenticeship at Roger Leonard's Butchery in Parramatta.
"I played in the junior league competition in the area and my final club was Wentworthville but by then the Parramatta Rugby League Club was showing interest and I signed with them.
"At first it was with the Eels Jersey Flegg (Under-17s) team and from there I graduated to the President's Cup (Under-21s).
"I remember our first President's Cup game against South Sydney when the Rabbitohs had two players, virtually unknown at the time, but destined to become among Australia's best, the magical Eric Simms at fullback and the super tough Paul Sait in the forward pack.
"Helped greatly by the efforts of those two, South Sydney beat us in that grand final."
It was in 1965 when still a teenager that Barry Norden was called up to grade football with Parramatta.
He started in the Eels third-grade with ex-Newtown player Mick Kelly as coach.
The Eels reached the grand final but it was against the mighty St George.
The Saints had made the grand final that year in all three grades and subsequently won all three.
Early in 1966 Barry had been playing fullback in reserve grade but he was called up to play his initial first-grade game for Parramatta as halfback against the well-performed Balmain at the Tigers homeground Leichhardt Oval.
"As halfback I was to kick off," Barry said.
"Our captain Ken Thornett told me to pretend I was going to kick the ball into the distance but in reality do a short kick to upset the Tigers, and our forwards would be ready to retrieve the ball in the surprise move and go on the attack.
"However, it did not work out like that. The ball went only a few yards and we were penalised.
"Keith Barnes, called Golden Boots by many but we called him Tin Legs, took the kick from halfway, easy for him, and booted it straight between the uprights for 2-0 to the Tigers.
"Not long after there was further embarrassment for me when the lightning-fast Balmain utility back Kevin Yeo Yee broke through our line.
"It was my job as cover defender to nail him and I had him all lined up as I raced across field to make the tackle, but Kevin ran over the top of me and sped on for the try, to the deafening roar of delighted Tiger fans.
"It was not a cheerful introduction that day for my first-grade debut.
"We were on the back foot from then on and Balmain won the game and went on that 1966 season to reach the grand final against St George."
Barry played no first-grade for Parramatta in 1967 but was in favour again in 1968.
The season started with him playing fullback in reserve grade but not far into one game early in the season, the Eels international fullback Ken Thornett was injured and Barry was called from the bench to replace him.
Barry was safe under pressure, took the ball well and showed speed, swerve and sidestep to dazzle the defence that day. Not only was he extra pleased with his effort but the selectors were, too.
In congratulating him they said they would find a regular first-grade spot for him, even though Thornett was expected to be right for the following week.
The selectors were true to their word and he was a regular that year in first grade at five-eighth.
The following season Barry had the misfortune to have a leg injury in a pre-season game and did not get into action until part of the season had passed.
Parramatta put a $3000 transfer fee on him when Canterbury-Bankstown showed interest in gaining his services.
In those times a $3000 transfer fee was pretty hefty and Barry did not appreciate them doing that to him, so when Canterbury agreed to pay the money, Barry switched from the blue and gold to the blue and white and became a Bulldog.
One of rugby league's toughest men, second-rower Kevin Ryan, was captain-coach of Canterbury and Barry was pleased when given the position of five-eighth, with star International Les (Dandruff) Johns at fullback and Great Britain import Merv Hicks, who because of his snowy white legs was known as the White Whale, playing in the forwards.
Barry played out the 1969 and 1970 seasons in first grade with the Bulldogs and in 1971 accepted an offer to play in the country with the Campbelltown Rugby League Club.
Campbelltown with Barry Norden playing a masterful game at fullback won the Group Six premiership that season.
From there Barry was enticed by former Canterbury hooker Marty Driscoll, at that time Asquith Rugby League Club captain-coach, to join him with the second division club.
"They were a committed and friendly outfit and there was a bit of money on offer so I enjoyed my time there with many good mates," Barry said.
"Asquith made the grand final, too, but I broke my arm in that premiership decider, so decided to retire from football."
Best players in his era? Barry nominated dual international Ken Thornett, Bob (The Bear) O'Reilley, Brian (Grumpy) Hambly and Ron (Thirsty) Lynch, Ron Coote, Kevin Ryan, John Raper, Graeme (Changa) Langlands and Arthur Beetson as the best footballers he had played against.
"While still playing league I had managed a few games of golf along the way and had become taken with the game, so in retirement with more spare time I began to play golf more frequently," Barry said.
It had been during 1969 that Barry Norden married childhood sweetheart Jean Evelyn Smith at St John's Anglican Church at Parramatta.
In the meantime Barry had joined the NSW Police Force.
He was with the police for more than 32 years, mainly at metropolitan stations but including some special plain clothes detective work, and when he finally retired from the force he did so with the rank of Sergeant.
He and Jean have two sons, Derek who lives at North Parramatta and Trent, who was married in Sydney just a week or so ago at Blacktown.
Over the years the Norden family had often made Yamba their holiday destination, loving the seaside resort and the way of living it had to offer.
Barry and Jean bought a block of land in Ardisia Close at Crystal Waters and built a house.
Tragically, after 32 years of marriage, Jean died of cancer in April 2001, a loss Barry is still battling.
Touch football has replaced rugby league for Barry, playing in Yamba's veteran ranks with the Hotel Pacific Tigers.
He takes long walks on Yamba's beaches, likes meeting people and there is always golf.
"I am not the greatest golfer in the world but certainly enjoy the challenge of the little white ball and being with the members and visitors," he said.
"There was a time when I had my handicap down to 10 but I'm just as content playing off my current mark of 14."