Written by Robert Burgin
Designed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of State of Origin, recently-released book Maroon Mentality delves into the childhood factors that forged the resolve of all 203 Queensland players to participate in the brutal contest from 1980 to 2019.
In this extract, John Doyle reveals the racial divides that framed his upbringing in the city of Rockhampton.
Sitting in the back of a police car as a child, being interrogated and insulted, John Doyle was all too conscious of his skin colour.
“I was with three of my mates and just because we matched the description of four dark kids, they put us in the car,” Doyle remembered.
“They took us to Pizza Hut where some other kids had done a runner. The kids had the all-you-can-eat and left without paying.
“The officers asked me if I had a previous police record. I said ‘No’. They said ‘So, you’re saying you haven’t been caught yet?’.
“When we got to the Pizza Hut, the staff told them it wasn’t us. The whole thing was unnecessary. And who knows, those other kids might have just been hungry and had no money.
“Dad definitely wasn’t happy and went and gave them a mouthful.”
The story has all the more meaning when you consider that Doyle’s father, Malcolm, has the record as the longest-serving Indigenous police liaison officer (PLOs) employed in Rockhampton.
Doyle Snr was a noted disciplinarian and was often caught in a difficult juxtaposition between protecting law and order, and advocating for the fair treatment of all people.
“Others didn’t realise how stressful that role was on him,” John told Maroon Mentality.
“If we had wider family members that were up to no good, like I guess all families do, that put him in a tough position and reflected badly on him.
“He was trying to please everybody.”
The eldest of six kids, John spent nine years growing up alone with parents Malcolm and Deborah before younger sister Rudie (now married to FOG #138 Matty Bowen) was born.
In that time he absorbed his surroundings, where he described his parents as “strict”, but also “fun, loving and caring”, with his mum frequently dabbling in artistic pursuits.
For a long time, his sense of being Indigenous was purely tied to how he and his family were treated by outsiders, rather than cultural customs passed down through generations.
“Both sides of my family are Indigenous, but the reality is I learnt a lot more about the culture as I got older,” said Doyle.
“My great-grandmother was a well-respected elder and my grandfather could speak a lot of the language, but that wasn’t passed down.
“We asked my grandfather the reason for that and he said the older generation was afraid of how the younger ones would be treated…that we’d be bashed.”
Despite how well his father Malcolm served the public in adulthood, he had grown up resentful of certain incidents in his youth.
John said, after speaking with many people about his father’s deeds as a footballer, he was genuinely convinced race had played a part in him not achieving higher honours.
“From all reports he was considered one of the best fullbacks in the state, but he never got a break,” John offered.
“There was an incident when he was a teenager when he got in a fair bit of trouble. His team went down to Bundaberg and he suffered some racial taunts, so he gave this bloke a hiding.
“The staff weren’t happy and went and got Dad’s bags off the bus and told him he’d have to hitchhike back to Rockhampton. He was kind of blacklisted by rep teams after that.”
Malcolm Doyle agreed to recount the Bundaberg incident for Maroon Mentality, revealing the racial taunts had come from a player within his own team.
“It was the brother of quite a famous player and I don’t want to drag that person’s name through the mud, because I had no problem with him,” Malcolm revealed.
“This one player was always egging me and trying to fight me. He just didn’t like me. We’d had a smack around, a punch up in the dressing sheds before this incident.
“Then in this game at Bundaberg he said some derogatory things and we started whacking each other on the field. We got a lecture about arguing and fighting. Then we went and sat at the table for a meal as a team and he put his cigarette out on top of my hand, so I belted him.
“When they took my bags off the bus, I ended up walking to a truck stop and got a lift with a bloke who was unloading coffins. He got me to help him carry the coffins into the morgue.”
Another time in childhood, John, a chronic asthmatic was reprimanded when he missed school for several days due to his condition. Teachers refused to believe he had been sick.
Despite the pervading sense of prejudice, there were some positive memories from his upbringing in Rockhampton, many tied to rugby league.
Together, John and Malcolm helped develop the North Rockhampton High School moniker, the Hawks, which became a lasting symbol for the school. Malcolm revealed he once dropped his son to the bench when he went to see his girlfriend, rather than train with the team.
However, he also honed John’s talents by making him practise long passes through car tyres and goal-kicking between two mango trees.
In return John spent many afternoons keeping score when his father was in the midst of his 20 seasons with the Fitzroy Gracemere Sharks, having earlier represented the Railways club.
Later, when John was playing with the Yeppoon Seagulls, his father signed up to play a reserve grade game alongside him, but it was ill-fated.
“I actually had to ask to play down a grade, because by then I was being picked in first grade, so I started on the bench,” recalled John.
“Before I got on the field, Dad got knocked out trying to tackle someone around the boots. He hit his head on their heel and that was the end of that.”
At the time of print, Malcolm Doyle, one of the first to secure the crime scene of schoolgirl Keyra Steinhardt’s high-profile murder in 1999, was in the advanced stages of battling a terminal illness.
Featuring 100+ original interviews, more than 5000 reference materials & extensive background research, Maroon Mentality provides new insight into what motivated Queensland’s greatest sporting gladiators.
This is more than a rugby league book. It’s a book about resilience, leadership, Queensland’s history – both proud & shameful – & of young people from all corners of the state, indeed the world, who would stop at nothing to realise their united dream.