Robert (Wallaby Bob) Esmond McMaster
15 January 1921- August 2003
Australia (7 Tests)
Robert Esmond McMaster or ‘Wallaby Bob’ as he was known to his mates, was a popular, colourful and entertaining player. McMaster played seven tests for Australia and also had a successful post rugby career playing League for Leeds in Britain and although a wrestler and very tough forward, when it came to on field punches, he would tell his team mates to forget the fights and concentrate on the game. McMaster’s dog, Kelly, also a keen rugby fan, is believed to have run onto the field to bite referees who penalized his master during matches . After football, the former hardman was heavily involved in horse racing and owned a hotel in the Gold Coast hinterland, called ‘Wallaby Bob’s’.
As a schoolboy McMaster honed his rugby skills first at Kelvin Grove State School and then at Gregory Terrace for six years where he played seventy seven games for the school. Initially a half back or fullback, Bob moved to the forwards as his weight increased. At sixteen stone he was an impressive man, a tough forward and, unusually for a front row forward, a fine goal-kicker. Like a large number of Terrace Old Boys McMaster went on to play his club rugby for Brothers and was part of the premiership winning side in 1946, coached by Joe French. It was the beginning of a ‘second golden era’ for Brothers .
After leaving school McMaster became a lowly paid cadet on the Brisbane Police force, where he learnt to wrestle as part of his training. He was to put the skills to good use. Bob trained with Sam Burmister, first as an amateur and then as a professional, spending his entire rugby career hoping officials would not find out as it would effect his amateur status and his eligibility to play that game . During his professional wrestling career, McMaster became known as the was master of the ‘Kangaroo-tail Whip’ and the ‘Rockhampton Shoulder Tackle’ .
During the Second World War McMaster enlisted in the Australian Army in 1941 and was part of a Combined Services Team to play Queensland the same year. Every effort was made during this time to keep rugby alive and avoid the pitfalls that followed the demise of rugby in Queensland after World War I. The Services side was led by Bill McLean but the team was no match for Queensland and was defeated 31to 14. In 1946, McMaster was discharged from the army as a part of the general demobilization after being promoted to the rank of Sergeant and the still fit former prop forward was keen restart his rugby career.
In 1946, state selectors, Eddie Bonis and Joe French, gathered a representative team to play Crow’s Nests and Toowoomba with a view to preparing them for interstate matches. McMaster was among this team who defeated Toowoomba 29-11. The team were, however, unable to defeat the touring New South Wales side later that year losing all three matches to the Waratahs.
Following his performances in the interstate matches, McMaster was selected for the tough twelve game tour of New Zealand in 1946. Bill McLean was again the captain. Despite the rigorous of the tour McMaster earned a reputation as the iron-man of the tour as he played nine of the twelve matches against tough opposition . The Australian team that undertook this tour and played the first post war international games was a mix of youth and experience. Accommodation for the Australians on the tour was considered poor though McMaster, who had just spent five years in the services, was not bothered. The New Zealand team had considerable international experience as a New Zealand Army team had just toured Europe.
Seven of the Army players were in the New Zealand team to meet Australia and McMaster believed this experience was to their advantage and at Carisbrook, Dunedin, Australia was beaten 31 to 8 in the first Test. McMaster remembered the match as a slaughter by a fine side recalling that they ‘had the combination we didn’t have because the nucleus of their side had been with the New Zealand Army Team’ . The second Test was against New Zealand Maori and the result was no better than the first. The Maoris dominated the game winning 20 to 0, a score according the McMaster that the Australians were lucky to get away with! Following the tour McMaster described the Maoris as ‘darn big fellas who could run through brick walls’ . The Maoris played well on the waterlogged ground and McMaster made no excuses for the Wallabies defeat.
The New Zealanders then recommended a Kiwi coach for the Australian side. The suggestion was not taken well and the Australian side set out to reclaim some pride in the third test against New Zealand. Unfortunately, before a crowd of 30,000 at Eden Park , Auckland, the Australians lost 14-10 in a game decided by goal kicking and failure to capitalize on opportunities in the first half. A New Zealand player later admitted to McMaster that Australia was unlucky and could have easily ‘knocked them off’ .
When the All Blacks toured Australia in 1947 a nine year gap had elapsed since their last visit. Only two Queenslanders, Bob McMaster and Bill McLean, were selected for the first test against New Zealand. The game was played on the rock hard Brisbane Exhibition ground on 14 June before a crowd of 23,000. The All Blacks controlled proceedings up front and, although McMaster played well, Australia was outplayed going down 13-5. Two days later on the King’s Birthday holiday, Queensland played the All Blacks before a disappointing crowd of 5,000. Queensland’s tackling was hard and strong but they were defeated 23 to 14. The All Blacks fronted up again on the 18 June at Toowoomba Showground to once again defeat Queensland 25 to 9 in a fast open match on a fine but windy day.
The second Test was played on 28 June at the Sydney Cricket Ground before a crowd of 30,000. Wholesale changes were made to the Australian team with eight players replaced from the unsuccessful first test side, but Bob McMaster remained. This test was yet another to feature two Terrace Old Boys. McMaster would play alongside fellow Terrace graduate Clem Windsor, who was making his test debut. New Zealand’s goal kicking was sensational and proved too good for the Australians who lost 27 to 14 in a match that was in fact a much closer contest than the scores indicated.
All the players from the unsuccessful second test side, with the exception of Roger Cornforth, were selected for the touring side to Great Britain, France and North America. The team would become known as the ‘third Wallabies’ and would be the first Australian team to tour Great Britain for many years because of war time exigencies and the machinations of Australian Rugby. Before their departure as Australian Wallabies, ‘Wallaby’ Bob and Clem Windsor, were presented to a full school assembly at St Joseph’s, Gregory Terrace, to wish them well. ‘Wallaby’ Bob and Clem Windsor were presented with leather wallets embossed with the Terrace badge.
The trip to the British Isles was an entertaining one for the Wallabies due to the teamin of ‘Wallaby’ Bob and (later Sir) Nick Shehadie. McMaster and Shehadie shared a room on the ship and as a wrestler ‘Wallaby’ Bob liked to practice his moves in the cabin. Nick Shehadie later recalled that ‘he’d call me over and tell me to put him in a head lock, then he’d throw me against the wall’. Shehadie described Bob as one of the funniest men he ever met who with the other older players taught him the value of respect and manners . According to team mates, McMaster and Shehadie were a great comedy team that kept the players laughing the nine months they were away . The Wallabies of 1947-48 would remain a close team of men, staging many reunions throughout the years .
The tour consisted of thirty matches, including four tests against the Home Unions and one against France. The Third Wallabies would earn the title of the ‘cleanskins’ as during the four Tests against the Home Unions the Australians try line would not be crossed . Huge crowds, ranging from 40,000 to 65,000 attended the tests and memorable displays were given by the Wallabies at all matches. McMaster, who was suffering from malaria, only played in the Tests against Ireland and Wales . Nonetheless, he played well throughout the tour with his hard tackling and excellent goal-kicking. The Wallaby’s strength as a team was credited to the ‘engine room’ of forwards with the vigorous and bold play by McMaster, Kraeft, Shehadie and Cooke especially noted . In the match against Gloucester, the Times reported that McMaster ‘clearly is a first class as well as a strikingly powerful forward’ who contributed fifteen points to the score .
McMaster’s fine form on tour however, was to be to the detriment of Australian Rugby Union. Impressed by his play the directors of the Leeds Rugby Leauge Club were keen to sign McMaster after his excellent performances on tour for the Wallabies. McMaster agreed to play four seasons with Leeds as a forward and had a very successful, well paid, career in Great Britian. With his Rugby League and professional wrestling work, McMaster became one of the most affluent footballers in Great Britain during the 1950s, according to Jack Pollard .
Upon his return to Australia following his playing career in England McMaster purloined his sporting success, personal flamboyance, and business sense into a range of activities. With a background as a professional wrestler, Bob became a referee on World Series TV wrestling in the early 1970s. The show featured extravagant moves, over-the-top bouts and with names such as Big Bad John and Spiros Arion became compelling weekend viewing . In 1958 McMaster took ownership of a hotel at Mudgeeraba in the Gold Coast hinterland that he called “Wallaby Bob’s”. .
In the lead up to the first test against South Africa in 2003, one McMaster was traveling to, he died suddenly of a heart attack. Following his death McMaster was recalled fondly by a host of friends, colleagues, and former teammates. Wallaby Bob was a popular man and received many tributes with passing. Queensland Harness Racing Club and the Queensland Cancer Fund held a memorial night for ‘Wallaby Bob’ at the his hotel to honour ‘one of the Gold Coast’s most colourful legends’ The main harness event at the Gold Coast Cup was named the Wallaby Bob McMaster Memorial Race in honour of Bob . On Friday, 18 July, at a dinner to honour former Terrace Wallaby players, a special commemorative combined Terrace Firsts and current Wallaby Football jersey was signed by those in attendance and raffled the next day. The jersey was won by Patrick Casey who, in a touching tribute, placed it on McMaster’s coffin the morning of his funeral.
‘Wallaby Bob’ McMaster’s post rugby career was just as colourful and entertaining as his rugby days. A legend both on and off the field, Bob rarely had a bad game and was admired by his team mates. His post rugby career saw become only a successful business man but a respected member of the Mugdeeraba community. He was survived by two sons, who both inherited their father’s comic sensibilities and became entertainers and comedians.