John Suckling has been a valued Life Member of the Western Australian Rugby Union for almost 50 years. Throughout the years, John has dedicated many years to the running of the school boys State teams and his beloved Kalamunda Districts Rugby Union Club.
I was born in Fiji of NZ parents and went to my first school at Suva Boys Grammar School where I first “played” a form of rugby. My next involvement was at boarding school in Charters Towers, Queensland where, as a 13 year old played rugby league in the Under 6 stone team. It was not until I moved to Perth to stayed for my teaching qualifications that I was persuaded to come down to Rosalie Park and play with Western Suburbs. That was in 1958. I played with Wests in various grades, starting in C Grade as an 18 year old, moving up to A Grade and the sliding back to C Grade in 1969. I had many enjoyable years at that club, particularly when we had the use of the upper room at the Shenton Park Hotel!
I graduated as a teacher in 1959 and was appointed as the Physical Education teacher to the newly formed Bentley High School for the start of 1960.
Rugby has played a big part in my early teaching years. I was consumed by my passion for teaching and coaching the game which was still very foreign to Western Australian students. In 1960, the game was played at schoolboy level at most of the large Public Schools as well as Perth Modern, John Curtain Senior High School, Kent Street Senior High School and Kingsley College. Mr Jim Clarko (later to enter politics) started a team at the new Churchlands High School and a team was formed at Mt Lawley High School. When I entered an Under 8 stone team from Bentley in the 3rd Division, there were only 6 teams. The team won the Grand Final in its second year. In 1962 I was transferred to Forrest/Cyril Jackson High where I started teams in U 16 and Under 14 competitions. At the end of 1962 Forrest High was closed down and I was moved on to Kalamunda High School where I started Under 14 and Under 16 rugby. I remained there until 1970.
In the meantime, I took on an administrative role with what was then called the Junior Development Committee of the WA Rugby Union. I became the Secretary and discovered that the Eastern States had Junior Rugby Unions. So, I put forward the idea that we should form the WA Junior Rugby Union. I remained Secretary until 1968 when I took on the role of President until 1973.
In 1693 the powers that were controlling junior rugby in the Eastern States approved an Australian Under 16 carnival to be held in Adelaide. WA decided to send a team and I was appointed Manager with Ron Fell as Coach. My first taste of interstate competition was an enjoyable and humbling experience as it was there that I noticed the differences in skill levels of rugby played between New South Wales and Queensland, and the rest of the States.
The following year I was appointed Manager of the State Under 18 team to the Australian carnival in Canberra. The team I took across consisted of many of those who were in the Under 16 team the previous year and so they had some idea of the strength of the opposition. It was decided at this carnival that the Under 18 carnival should be held the following year in Melbourne along with an Under 16 carnival in Brisbane. As these carnivals were held during school holidays, teachers were more likely to be selected as officials to manage these teams. Once again, I was appointed Manager of the Under 18s and Mike Harris Manager of the Under 16s.
In 1966 I was appointed organiser of the Australian Under 16 Carnival in Perth. Teams involved in this carnival came from NSW City, NSW Country, Queensland City, Queensland Country, Victoria, South Australia and WA. To make it an easier competition to organise, two teams from WA were included.
The Under 16 carnival in 1967 was held in Hobart and one of the most significant decisions made at the meeting of officials, was the decision to back a proposal put forward by Ron Williams from SA to form a Southern States Team to tour NZ, playing against selected teams of Under 17 players. This tour was to take place in 1968 with the plan to hold tours every two years. Players were to be selected at Under 16 carnivals in the intervening years. Ron was appointed Organiser and Manager and I was appointed Coach.
These tours to NZ were held in 1970, 1972 and 1974. The 1970 tour was again organised by Ron as Manager and I was again the Coach. This was Ron Williams’ last rugby tour as he passed away in July 1972 after being appointed Manager for the 1972 tour. The baton was passed to me and I had the task of locating a Coach and finalising the our details with only a month’s notice. Mr Alan Mitchell capably took on the role of Coach with only three weeks’ notice.
In 1969 and 1971 I travelled to Adelaide and Sydney as Manager (1969) and Coach (1971) with Mr Peter Bowman as Manager of the Under 16’s Meetings of Officials at both carnivals selected the Officials and Players for the following year’s tour to NZ. The 1973 Under 16 carnival was held in Perth and it was my responsibly to organise this tour. The main task was to contact NZ Unions to ascertain their interest and find suitable opposition for us and arrange billets, organise airfares, uniforms, transport within NZ and a feasible itinerary.
The 1974 tour was to be the final tour of this type. Designed initially as a means of helping promote rugby in the Southern States, I believe it was extremely valuable however after the ’74 tour it was not possible to find anyone to organise future tours and I had found that, with a growing family and the resulting obligations required, had not the time require as I was becoming more involved with the rugby club I had initially formed at a meeting in Kalamunda in 1969.
In 1974 I was honoured with Life Membership of the WARU, something I am extremely proud of.
The Kalamunda Districts Rugby Union Club was formed with Western Suburbs stalwart Mr John Dickens taking the role of President. The major reason for its formation was the need to provide a club for the junior players emerging from Kalamunda High School to continue playing. The first teams fielded were an Under 18 team and a C Grade team. The club was approached by Terry Wilkinson from the Southern Suburbs Club regarding the possible amalgamation and in 1974 they merged as the Southern Suburbs Kalamunda Districts Rugby Union Club based at Hartfield Park in Forrestfield with Laurie De la Hunty as President. SSKD was considered a mouthful, so in 1977 the name was changed to Kalamunda Districts Rugby Union Club. I became President in 1977 for a three year term after which I resorted to Treasurer until 1983 when I decided to become a Shire Councillor.
I continued coaching club Under 18’s and when I was transferred to Forrestfield Senior High, I started the rugby programme there for five years until I was promoted as Deputy Principal of Manjimup Senior High School.
I was awarded Life Membership of the Kalamunda Rugby Club in 1979.