Broncos mourn a founding father
BRISBANE lost another of its Golden Boys last night when Broncos founding father Gary Balkin died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
Along with Barry Maranta, Steve Williams and the late Paul "Porky" Morgan, Balkin, 78, was one of a generation of entrepreneurial business personalities determined to show those in the southern states that anything they could do, Queenslanders could do better. The embodiment of that was the Brisbane Broncos .
The friendships that Balkin forged in his time with the Broncos lasted until the day he died.
Two weeks ago, about 30 former players plus Maranta, Williams and foundation chief executive John Ribot honoured him with a function in the club boardroom.
Last week, Balkin received the last rites from a lifelong friend from his schooldays in Gympie, and on Tuesday he left palliative care at St Vincent's Hospital to attend a long-standing reunion lunch at Gambaro Seafood Restaurant with Ribot, Alfie Langer, Steve Renouf, Glenn Lazarus, John Plath, Chris Johns and Andrew Gee.
"He rang me up the day before and said, 'you're not going to let me down are you, because nothing's going to stop me getting there'," Ribot said last night.
The next day, Balkin gave his final interview to The Courier-Mail.
Still buoyant after the reunion with his Broncos' comrades, Balkin said he knew his time was short, but he was at peace and ready to go.
"That's life," he said from his hospital bed.
"You have to face it when your time comes.
"It's not as if I haven't had a full life. I always had big dreams and one dream seemed to flow into another."
In his long and colourful career, Balkin helped introduce touch football to Queensland, gave Wayne Bennett his first coaching job and built and operated the iconic Kookaburra Queen paddle steamers that still ply the Brisbane River.
But Balkin's greatest legacy will always be his part in the foundation of the Brisbane Broncos 30 years ago.
An old boy of Christian Brothers College Gympie, Balkin came to Brisbane to work in the pub industry and play rugby league for Souths and Brothers.
In 1964, he was top tryscorer in the Brisbane Rugby League.
By the time his playing career ended, he was owner-licensee of the Melbourne Hotel and for 14 years patron of Souths Rugby League Club.
"I was what you call an active patron," Balkin recalled.
"We brought out Brisbane's first foreign coach from England (Tom Berry) and when he went back home in 1977, we were left in the lurch so I agreed to pay Wayne Bennett, who'd been our A grade fullback.
"The other day Wayne said I paid him $4000 for the season. I thought it was only $3000 but he said I paid the tax too, so I must have.
"It's a bit different to what they get these days."
By the mid-1980s, Balkin's business interests included the floating restaurant Bonaparte's Afloat.
"I'd been to New Orleans and seen the paddle steamers and I had Bonaparte's Afloat and the two ideas just came together," he said.
The result was the first Kookaburra Queen in 1986 and Kookaburra Queen ll in time for Expo 88.
The Kookaburra Queens would become Balkin's most successful business venture, but it was the Broncos which gave him the greatest satisfaction.
"Barry Maranta was the one who brought me in," he recalled.
"He'd seen an ad in the paper calling for submissions. He hadn't known anything about it before that.
"He had Steve Williams who owned an advertising agency and Paul Morgan, who was the money man, and then Barry approached me because I knew the presidents of all the clubs.
"That was the key, to get the BRL on our side."
The NSWRL, led by Ken Arthurson, preferred a syndicate fronted by former QRL chairman Senator Ron McAuliffe but it was Balkin's relationship with the clubs that swung the vote their way.
The sight of the Broncos running on to Lang Park for their first-ever game against Manly on March 6, 1988, was something Balkin would never forget.
"It was fantastic. I just couldn't stop smiling," he recalled.
"I remember looking across the aisle at the QRL box and seeing Ken Arthurson and Ron McAuliffe staring at me, and I knew what they were thinking: 'How did you do it?'
"Those were such good times. We all loved rugby league and the game drew us together. The friends I made through the Broncos were the best friends of my life."
Three weeks ago, Balkin went to the physiotherapist with a painful back. Tests revealed cancer. Since then, those old Broncos friends had been regular visitors.
"That lunch at Gambaro took it out of him but he wouldn't have missed it for anything," son Jon said.
"Those old players have been amazing.
"They called the four of them the founding fathers but the players called Dad 'The Players' Father'.
"They knew how much he'd done for them.
"They all wondered where they would have been without the Broncos, and Dad was just so pleased to have been a part of it all."