Billy Martin Wests Heritage number 590 (1961)
Photo courtesy of Steven Lalich
Chart below courtesy of the new Wests Archives website is Billy’s complete time at Wests .
Website address www.westsarchives.com.au
Note: The two preseason games in 1962 were First grade games.
Photo of Billy Martin playing against Manly at the SCG on Saturday 27th of May 1961.
Left to right Nick Yakich, Dave Barsley and Billy Martin.
Wests 26 beat Manly 4
Game report from the Sunday Mirror
As one travels through life if you are lucky you will meet someone like Billy Martin.
Billy Martin 2024.
It was my honour to sit down with Billy and talk about his time at Wests and also his life before and after Wests.
Billy was born on the 24th of May 1936 at Port Macquarie NSW.
Between the ages of five and seven he attended Port Macquarie Public School and before classes each day he milked cows.
At the school he played a form of Rugby League in five stone seven pounds and six stone seven pounds competitions.
At the age of nine Billy saved a young boy’s life at Port Macquarie.
Billy went to Port Macquarie High School then moved to Kurri Kurri to commence an apprenticeship as a carpenter but returned to Port after a short time when the business failed. He was a member of the Port Macquarie under 18s Rugby Union premiership winning team.
Then at the age of just 17 in 1953 Billy joined the Royal Australian Navy on a seven year term.
The first two years of his training was on board the HMAS Australia and the HMAS Vengeance and then for the next five years on the HMAS Tobruk which had been built at Cockatoo Island and launched in 1950.
HMAS Australia a County-class Heavy Cruiser was Billy’s first ship.
Billy Martin is somewhere in this photo.
In 1954 Billy trained every afternoon for weeks with the Royal Guards in preparation for Queen Elizabeth II Royal visit.
Billy loved his time in the Navy and his favourite ship was the HMAS Tobruk.
Whilst in the Navy Billy played many games of Rugby Union against an assortment of RU teams from other ships and other Navies.
On one occasion a Gridiron game was played in Toyko by a visiting American warship. The curtain raiser was a rugby union game featuring a team from the HMAS Tobruk and a team from the HMNZ Black Prince, a virtual “Navy Bledisloe Cup” and played in front of a crowd of 20,000. Billy played in this match.
The New Zealand ship HMNZS Black Prince had a much larger crew 550 compared to 290 on the HMAS Tobruk to pick a good Rugby Union team from.
On another occasion he was a member of a Combined Services Team in that was presented to The King of Siam. In the latter years of his time in the navy he was heavily involved as a Physical Training Instructor on his completion of his term Billy was invited to continue in that role.
HMNZS Black Prince.
Billy remembers going to the Third Test Australia V NZ played at the SCG in 1959 and watching Harry Wells and Reg Gasiner in full flight never thinking that one day he would be playing alongside Harry and marking Reg.
After his seven years in the Navy Billy returned to Port Macquarie and gained employment as a pastry chef.
In 1960 Billy rejoined the local rugby league team Port Macquarie which at the time was coached by ex Wests legend Frank Stanmore.
Frank “Paddles” Stanmore. Stanmore was a brilliant five eighth who played 93 First Grade games with Wests between 1948 and 1953 and was selected from the Club and had toured Great Britain with the Kangaroos in 1948 and 1952 He was a member of Wests 1948 Premiership winning team and would have been a member of their 1952 Wests Premiership winning team. By being selected with the Kangaroos, along with teammates Keith Holman and Arthur Collison, he could not play in the Grand Final due to the Kangaroos leaving for Great Britain by ship earlier. Port Macquarie won the 1960 Premiership defeating Wauchope 14 – 2.
Keith Holman and Frank Stanmore.
(Above images thanks to Chad Mccarron)
Legend has it that the reason Billy Martin came to Wests was because of Port Macquarie Captain/coach Frank Stanmore had recommend Billy to Wests.
Not true said Billy in fact Billy’s team mate from Port, David Hibbard was the player that Wests were looking at.
Billy came down from Port with David to support him in his trial with Wests at Pratten Park. Billy was sitting near the fence when David suggested to a Wests official that Billy could play five-eighth and after a pair of boots and other footie gear were sourced Billy played in the trial. So impressed were Wests that they asked Billy to come back next week for another trial game. Billy told them he lived in Port and it would be impossible to return. Wests then offered to fly Billy from Port to Sydney and return. They did this for the next four weeks.
David Hibbard decided against playing in Sydney and went and played further up the North Coast. Billy came to Sydney a further three times for trials and with only one season of Rugby League experience was signed to play with Wests for seasons 1961 and 1962. One of the first players he met on arrival was Carl Ross who christened him “Smiler” because Carl said that is all Billy did. And I might add still does today.
Billy spoke of Dick Poole inviting him to Henson Park for a private lesson on Rugby League.
Dick told Billy about the method of “Running the esses” in attack which Billy used often during his R L career.
Dick Poole passing to Dave Barsley.
Billy then moved down to Sydney and lived at Haberfield played a few First Grade trial games. One was against Saints where he marked Reg Gasnier.
Note: the old Style Wests jumper and Billy confirmed that Reg did steal the ball.
The 1961 Season begins.
Billy moved to Sydney and settled in Haberfield and through Wests President Jack Neill, who was about to become Secretary Manager of Wests Leagues Club at Ashfield, he secured a position with Pitt, Son and Badgery in the wool industry. Billy said: “all I had to do was count wool bales”.
The first game of the 1961 season and there were four Wests RL First Grade debuts.
Billy was in the news because Wests did not pay Port Macquarie a transfer fee.
Note: Billy wearing his Port Macquarie jumper at Wests training.
Billy scored four First Grade tries during his time at Wests.
I have researched all four tries.
Wests V Souths at Redfern Oval Billy scores his first try for Wests.
Billy’s Second try.
Billy’s Third try.
Note: This was Noel Kelly’s first First Grade game at Wests
Billy’s Fourth try.
Note: The advertisement for the Keith Holman Testimonial Carnival.
The Finals of the 1961 Season begins.
Billy played in all three Finals that Wests appeared in.
Below are the programs and game write ups thanks to Trove and the new Wests Archives website.
First game was the Major Semi Wests V Saints.
Billy spoke of how the plan was to “bottle up” Reg Gasnier and judging by the newspaper reports this worked except Gasnier was not the only great player in the 1961 St George team!!
Also Harry Wells was injured in the last game of the season and withdrew at Tuesday nights training.
Report below from the Sunday Telegraph.
The Preliminary Final.
Wests V Balmain.
Wests played in all three grades on Saturday the 9th of September at the SCG and winning all three grades.
Note: Not much has changed in Rugby League as you can see by the article below.
SMH September the 7th 1961
Grand Final Week of 1961.
Still below taken from footage of the 1961 Grand Final.
A sad finish to a very long and proud career with Wests.
Billy started the season well playing in the first two official pre season games.
1962 was the first time an official pre season competition was held.
Wests made the final but unfortunately were beaten by Canterbury – Bankstown
CB 14 Beat WS 10
Images of the 1962 Pre-season programs courtesy of Rick Fetherson.
After these first two preseason games Billy did not play First Grade again for Wests reason being Billy decided to study accounting at Tech and found it hard to make training at Pratten Park.
Billy said this did not go down very well with the Wests officials. Billy was thinking ahead for when his Rugby League career was over.
During the 1962 season Billy played 10 games in Reserve Grade and nine games in Third Grade.
Below is the Reserve Grade chart that shows Wests winning the Minor Premiership of 1962.
Billy also played in the 1962 Reserve Grade Grand Final.
Billy replaced Rob McGuinness as Rob replaced Ken Bray at fullback. Ken played in the First Grade GF.
Also Brian Henderson replaced Gary Russell.
After the 1962 season Billy gave away playing Rugby League completely.
Billy gained employment with Penfolds Wines as a representative and marketing before joining Kaiser Stuhl. He then joined John Cawsey which was headed by legendry Kangaroo representative, radio commentator and Eastern Suburbs tragic Ray Stehr. John Cawsey had also employed Keith Holman and Wests junior and First Grader John Armstrong.
Billy Martin achieved a unique situation in Rugby League. He is the only player with only one season of Rugby League in the country to play the following year in a Sydney Rugby League First Grade Grand Final.
Coaching the Wests Presidents Cup teams 1970,1971 and 1972.
All three years made the semi finals.
Billy told us that over the three years he was coach only once did he have trouble with Wests officials.
I will quote Billy word for word because I think it speaks volume about Billy’s character.
” Before we started we had 20 players. I assured everyone that they would all get a game. We came to the last game and there were still two players who had not played in a game. We had been winning every game but now these two players time had come to play. And they were picked in the team. Five officials came to me and said do not change the team you have been winning, leave the team as it is. I said okay so I went back to the team and told them what had happened and put it to the players we must stick to the original plan to give everyone a run and the players agreed. In fact they were prepared to walk off Pratten Park and not play the game. So I went back to the officials and told them what would happen if the two players were not allowed to play. The officials backed down and we won the game”
From 1973-1978 Billy coached the local Killarney Heights Rugby Union team which included a very young Dean ‘Bulldog’ Ritchie.
It was near the end of our chat with Billy when the subject turned to his life as a active member of the North Narrabeen Surf Life Saving Club.
Billys first SLSC when he first came to Sydney was Bondi but for the last fifty years Billy has been a member of the North Narrabeen SLSC.
Even today Billy had been out on his surf ski for a paddle which he does every Tuesday and Thursday regardless of weather conditions.
Billy has been involved in the 20 Beaches Ocean Classic and numerous other prestige events in the sport.
The beautiful North Narrabeen Surf Club and beach at sunset.
His greatest happiness comes from his regular kayaking with his son and two grandsons which occurs frequently. He also enjoys his regular coffee get together with members of the “Northside Fibros” Geoff Squires, Steve Winter, Steve Knight, Barney Glasgow and Phil Franks.
When discussing his Rugby League career, he states that his favourite ground was the SCG, toughest opponent was Brian Clay, best coach Frank Stanmore and favourite teammates Harry Wells, Dick Poole, Arthur Summons, Noel Kelly and Bill Carson.
In talking about himself he said “If I had to sum up my life, I have met many, many wealthy people but I have never met anyone as rich as myself because of the affiliation I have with my wife and companionship with my family. I am very fortunate”.
Sorry Billy, we are equally as rich because your quality, humanity, wisdom, compassion and experiences of knowing and having William “Smiler” Martin as a friend, teammate and part of the Wests Rugby League Club
Billy Martin I thank you for giving of your time and wisdom during this outstanding interview.
The Pratten Park motto is very apt for the closing line of this interview.
“Think where mans’ glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends” – Yeats