||Year End 2005|
Interview: Back to the Future
Unions: A Real Page Turner
Industrial: The Pin-Striped Union
International: Around The World In 365 Days
Legends: Terrific, Tommy
Your Rights At Work: Worth Fighting For
Politics: The Year That Was
Economics: Master and Servant Revisited
Culture: 2005: The Year of Living Repetitively
Bad Boss: The Bottom Ten
Religion: Hymns from a Different Song Sheet
The Locker Room
Waves of Destruction
Free to Rat
Tax Cuts and Cockroaches
Proportion, Not Distortion
John Howard has seen off some tough customers in his time but he has never tangled with anyone quite like Tommy Raudonikis.
Raudonikis has form.
Yes, he was the Phantom Biter who left tooth marks in opposing halfback Johnny Gibbs after a spiteful rugby league showdown in the late 70's
"I nearly bit his nose off, poor bastard," Raudonikis recalls. "You know mate, there are things you regret. I had been knocked out and didn't know where I was but, who knows, in the same situation, I might do it again."
Raudonikis terrorised opponents, generally, and halfbacks, who might have threatened his Australian jumper, specifically.
Queenslander, Greg Oliphant, learned early.
Raudonikis had been reduced to the NSW sub's bench and Oliphant was getting over his young replacement, Steve Mortimer, in an inter-state match. Raudonikis entered the game late in the second spell, steaming, and immediately set about the rookie, sparking a fight that nearly turned the game.
Most Queenslanders didn't mind the fisticuffs as much as the fact that Raudonikis had to push an ambo out of the way to get at Oliphant who was being treated on the sideline.
The pair became great mates and, three years later, squared off in a boxing ring to raise much-needed cash for an injured Balmain player.
Even that act was tinged with controversy after Raudonikis was awarded the bout on a TKO that Oliphant backers still insist was caused by a flying elbow.
Raudonikis' attitude to footy might have been encapsulated in a match report from the 1981 grand final that ended with his new club, Newtown, beaten by Parramatta after another wild brawl.
Parra fans were so confident of a bright, new era they returned to their dilapidated home ground and burned down the grandstand.
Raudonikis, after a stand-out performance featuring a solo try that kept his side in the hunt, had a different take on the day's events.
"If they could guarantee a blue like that in every game, they would get another 20,000 through the gate," he told a reporter.
The kid who grew up in the bush ended his Sydney career, one year later, effectively rubbed out by a three-month suspension for a tackle that flattened Parramatta's Ernie Garland.
"I wasn't the best footballer in the world but I might have been the toughest," he says. "I would do anything to win."
It is an attitude he is taking to a Prime Minister and WorkChoices laws he says will wreck Australia.
Raudonikis is the battered face of union opposition to the federal government's agenda, in Queensland.
He got involved after being confronted by ETU members when he was on the way to a guest commentary gig at Lang Park.
"I've always been a Labor man so I took one of their pamphlets," he explained, "and, I thought, too bloody right.
"Mate, I've played footy, I've worked for myself, I've laboured and I've worked on the wharves. I know what the average bloke is up against.
"I honestly believe if we don't get rid of Howard and this government Australia will be stuffed. He wants us to work for Chinese and Indian rates and that's not going to happen.
"Where's the incentive in that?
"Truly, I worry for our kids and our grand kids. What are we going to leave for them?"
It was on the wharves, he said, where he learned the importance of trade unionism. He has kept up his MUA ticket, ever since.
"It's the same as footy," he says. "You've got to have teamwork and you've got to stick together.
"They're telling us young people can go to the boss and get a fair deal by themselves. Yeah sure, pigs might fly."
Raudonikis has more claim to Working Class Man status than Jimmy Barnes ever will.
He was born in a Bathurst migrant camp to a Greek Ukrainian Dad and a Swiss Mum.
They moved to other camps, at Cowra and Wagga Wagga, where his father worked the railways and he was taught by nuns.
Since leaving the Sydney big time, he has worked at the Brisbane fruit markets, driven cabs and been a wharfie. When we caught up with him, he was driving a truck around the Gold Coast, doing deliveries.
Through it all, he has moonlighted as a popular footy commentator and guest speaker.
The delivery is rough, and earthy in a way some nuns might not appreciate. It comes out in a unique rasp, a lasting momento of a high shot he copped on a Kangaroo tour of the UK.
"It hasn't done me any @#$^$# harm," he laughs. "I've got to work for a living, I certainly can't rob a bank."
When a television currents events program asked him why he was out to stiff arm the Prime Minister and Workchoices, a new audience got a dose of Raudonikisese.
"I'm no political genius. I'm not a doctor or a lawyer or flying them jet planes, but something I know - I know shit when I see it," he explained.
When Raudonikis answered an emergency call to go back to Wests, as News Ltd money threatened to drown the club in the mid-90s, he took back values many thought had died.
TV audiences were shocked to see a first grade coach wearing jeans and smoking.
He slammed down bleeding ox hearts, fresh from the local butcher's, when he wanted to raise a ticker question. And his Cattle Dog strategy passed into folklore. Not to be too technical about it, it was a call to start an old-fashioned punch-up.
So successful was Raudonikis' rescue job that, for three years, he was handed the blue chip role of NSW State of Origin coach.
But Raudonikis didn't become a Rugby League legend on the strength of biff, alone. There was more to it than that, or even the stats he left in the record books.
He played a record 201 first grade games for his beloved Western Suburbs; 30-odd more at Newtown; 20 Tests for the Kangaroos; contested two grand finals and won World Cups in 1975 and 1977.
He captained Australia and was NSW's first State of Origin captain.
Believe it or not, he even won the Rothmans Medal as the code's Best and Fairest player.
Raudonikis earned universal respect and the tag "Tom Terrific" for his loyalty, and fans' perception that here was a little bloke who would fight anybody for the cause.
For a dozen back-to-back seasons, that cause was Wests.
When coach, Roy Masters, introduced the notion of Wests as "Fibros" against Manly's "Silvertails", it was right up Raudonikis' alley.
"Bloody oath we believed in it," he said, "because it was true. The system gave Manly all the favours but we believed in ourselves and we fought the bastards.
"Then, when we got a good team, they went and changed the rules. It's just like this fight we've got today.
"People have got to join their unions and fight back. We've got to throw this lot out and make sure we get new rules that give people a fair go."
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