Paul Speed Jones recalls his friendship with Pop Burns

Retired Wauchope Gazette editor, Paul Speed Jones recalls his friendship with Pop Burns:

The eye of experience and a knowledge of current policies dictated that I would not get the required space allocation to write more paragraphs about Pop Burns than I did in my piece about his wife, Betty.

It is my belief that Pop deserved more than just one paragraph, least of all from me anyway.

Like Betty, Pop lived into his 90 years, and he and I knew one another for 70 of those years.

When I came to Wauchope in 1948, I had a very brief background in school soccer.  The only rugby league I had played was in Cameron Street games during my first holiday here.

At my New Lambton Boys school, I was considered too young for the weight division I belonged in and I was too heavy for the team of my age group.  But I fitted the soccer criteria and I played briefly, if only for the opportunity to wear the school soccer shirt around the burbs all weekend.

I got the chance to play schoolyard footy at Wauchope Public. 

After several weeks hanging over the Mackay Street fence, Pop saw something in me and picked me to play in the 6 stone 7 team he put together with his mate (another man who became a life long friend, Hissy Campbell) to play in a CRL schoolboy knockout in Kempsey which eventually became an annual event.

At the time, this was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me, even though he had me pegged as a second rower. 

Just seven years later, Pop again recognised something in me again, his mate Hiss was involved when, as selectors for the Blues, they elevated me to first grade status a few days after I turned 16. 

Pop had a distinguished association with footy as a player and official.  But I want to bring to light something else, something unknown to anyone. 

To the best of my knowledge, Pop was the pilot of the drogher which punted the very last load of logs from Bain Bridge log dump to a mill which operated beside the Hastings at Hibbard.  I was living at Glen Inch, beside Bain Bridge at the time and remember the log dump and the droghers. 

After a 12-month stint with Tooth & Co, where I perfected some bad habits, I was back home.  That was 1962. 

One of the coolest places in town in those days was under the tank stands at the factory.  I often joined the lunch group that gathered there and I enjoyed many long yarns with another old timer in Tom Corrigan. 

Tom was a wealth of information about old times and the river traffic days and it was he who told me about Pop and the last drogher. 

Years later, I tried a couple of times to extract the story of the last drogher out of Pop.  He would grin at me and tell me one day we would sit down and talk about it. 

I don’t need reminding, I didn’t get around to it.  Something I seriously regret.

Paul Speed Jones 


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