Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson, Oodgeroo Nooncuccal, Les Murray, Judith Wright.
Our next Great Queenslander is known to many of us as the poet of our generation and is an obvious addition to this list. His poems and tributes capture the essence of what it is to be a Queenslander and what it is to be an Australian, particularly if you have a love of sport.
When we meet with Rupert McCall, small talk quickly moves to the Redcliffe Dolphins recent and mighty comeback win over the Gold Coast Titans. Growing up on the Redcliffe Peninsula, Rupert remembers crawling through a hole in the fence at Dolphin Oval as a kid and being part of the steadfast supporters who fought to retain the name “Dolphins” when Gold Coast entered the NRL competition and wanted to take the name.
Back then his dream was to get across the Houghton Highway bridge to the big city of Brisbane.
He made it, and we meet in Paddington in Central Brisbane, in the shadows of Suncorp Stadium where many of the sporting glory moments happened that are recorded for posterity in his poems.
After a brief stint in Sydney in the early 2000s timed around the Sydney Olympics, Rupert and his wife returned home to Brisbane to raise their children. Today, many of his poems are written on the front deck of his Queenslander looking across the leafy hills of Brisbane, often to the tunes of the local butcher birds.
His passion for poetry has seen his profile grow across Queensland, Australia and internationally. The commissions Rupert receives from people and corporate organisations reveal how beloved his work is today and he has performed in front of royalty, billionaires, Prime Ministers, Premiers and everyday Australians.
Many Australians treasure the poems written by Rupert to commemorate the Anzacs, including “90 Years Ago” recited in Gallipoli and “A Hundred Years from Now” which he recited on 25 April 2015 as the sun rose over the Redcliffe foreshore at the Dawn Service of the Anzac Centenary.
When asked if he gets nervous, Rupert recalls his nerves rising when he was in Gallipoli for Anzac Day in 2005 to recite in front of Prince Charles, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Helen Clarke, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the many Australians and New Zealanders who had made the pilgrimage to be there on that very cold morning.
“I thought about what those boys must have felt in this place ninety years ago and my grandfather who was a Rat of Tobruk,” Rupert recalls, “That thought brought about a sense of perspective and calm – it warmed my blood and I knew that I was going to be fine. Now, if I ever feel overwhelmed before a big recital, I can always return to that moment, and find that same sense of peace.”
We feel quite confident that if he were not the author of “Q150”, the poem he wrote to celebrate the State of Queensland’s 150th anniversary, Rupert McCall’s name would appear alongside those of Powderfinger and Mal Meninga, and the other 148 Queensland icons he wove into the story of our State.
And if we were as clever as Rupert, we would finish up here with a line about what would rhyme with Rupert or McCall!
Instead, we finish feeling a sense of relief that Rupert did not follow his initial career path into the law and that today there is one less lawyer in the world, and instead a great poet and another Great Queenslander.
“Warmth,” is Rupert’s immediate response before he goes on to explain this description means so much more to him than just Queensland’s climate.
“It’s the people who live here. When thinking about what makes something great and reflecting on the best times we’ve had, from parties, BBQs, catch-ups and big events, it’s always the memories of the people that rise to the surface, and the warmth that comes from these people.”
“People make things memorable, and for me, particularly the down to earth nature of the people here in Queensland make it a great place to live.”
After moving to Sydney with two young children and living there for two years, his desire to raise and school them in Queensland, close to family and friends, brought Rupert and his wife back to Brisbane.
“I was raised here, and my wife is from Augathella – a grass roots country town – Queensland is our home.”
An unusual question to ask a poet, Rupert recalls his short career as a lawyer.
“For me, a sense of freedom in Queensland – believing that anything and everything was possible- gave me the opportunity to leave the law early – to trust my instinct and listen to an inner voice that implored me to follow the path of my greatest passion…which was storytelling.”
Rupert acknowledges this could probably have been done anywhere in Australia, but he believes success probably arrived more quickly for him here in Queensland.
“There is a genuine freedom to take up opportunities in Queensland and with all that is happening in our State, there seems to be a great upside for business right now. I believe there is as much opportunity as there has ever been and that is very exciting.”
Throughout his career Rupert has had many opportunities to take inspiration from Queensland icons.
“In my lifetime great changes have come about because of milestone events like the Commonwealth Games and Expo 88,” Rupert remembers, “For example, outdoor dining legislation was enabled because of Expo 88 and is now one of the highlights of the city’s culinary landscape. Brisbane’s focus on the river became central to our identity and, over the next decade leading up to the Brisbane Olympic Games in 2032, we’ll see our city and State get even better. The world is taking notice.”
There is a real sense of pride around the table as we talk about Brisbane being named one of the “World’s Greatest Places of 2023” by Time magazine, with a puzzling undertone of why it hasn’t happened sooner.
Rupert clearly knows what he is going to say as he begins with a chuckle, “As a teenager growing up on the Redcliffe Peninsula, I would have said move Moreton Island one kilometre to the left and deliver a surf beach to Redcliffe. The Coast kids were so much cooler because they had the surf. All we had was fishing!”
Today Rupert has a more serious and much more realistic wish.
“Now I want to see us protect and preserve our heritage as Brisbane becomes a world class city.”
“Too quickly we have torn down monuments of our past, monuments of our city – Cloudland, the Bellevue Hotel in Brisbane, and the Palace Hotel on the Peninsula where the Bee Gees kicked off their world famous career. Now it’s just a hole in the ground, and it breaks my heart whenever I drive past.”
“It is important for us to protect and hold onto this history for future generations. While I’m also mindful of not getting stuck in the past, it’s important to remember where we came from, and to treasure it.”
“The Olympics really is a marker in the sand for us and it is an exciting time, particularly for our kids,” says Rupert.
“It will bring significant change and propel us forward but we need to keep in mind what it is that makes Queensland so unique and so great, and not lose sight of it.”
“It definitely feels like a coming of age but it’s important that we remember not to be so much in a hurry that we lose our true identity – our relaxed, laid back, friendly nature. We should always stop to soak up the sunshine and appreciate what is happening around us. In this great nation of Australia, I hope we remember what it is that makes us Queenslanders! We are the most relaxed, friendly and welcoming species of all!.”
Although Rupert starts by mentioning Lang Park and Suncorp Stadium because of all that has happened there over the years, he settles on his front deck at home.
“When I am sitting there, whether it’s with a cup of tea as the sun dawns listening to the birdsong, or later in the day with a cold beer or wine surrounded by family, friends or neighbours, firing up a few of my favourite tunes, I know I am where I am meant to be.”
As with many people we have spoken to, this is the most difficult question for Rupert to answer because he seems to have too many options!
“Allan Border for his undying spirit no matter what the adversity,” says Rupert, “AB had this fight and never-say-die attitude and belief that his team and the people around him were always capable of more, yet it was delivered with such humility. Even today and for all his greatness, he never likes to draw attention to himself.”
“Cathy Freeman is another. The pressure on her to perform at the 2000 Olympics was immense…she carried the weight of our whole nation on her back…and she delivered. It was more than just a race and medal though – the pride of a country was at stake and it meant so much to her indigenous roots. It united all of the different colours of our nation.”
“And I also rate the band Powderfinger. I love how Bernard Fanning would open a concert no matter where he was in the world by saying ‘G’day folks. We’re Powderfinger…and we’re from Queensland.”
Rupert McCall is an Australian poet of international renown. His tributes to special events and occasions have become highly sought-after and treasured for the indelible mark they’ve left on audiences everywhere.
He is the author of six anthologies of verse that have collectively sold over 120,000 copies. Equally at home in radio or on TV, his resume features hosting roles for CH7’s “The Great South East”, 4BC’s “Sports Today” program and CH9’s “Weekend Extra”. Rupert’s great passion for sport was on display when he was appointed commentator for CH10 at the 2007 Rugby World Cup in France.
His popularity transcends all demographics and ages, from the schools he visits to the corporate and sporting functions that he entertains. He is a passionate Australian and his ability to share this enthusiasm with any audience is warmly received.
In 2013 as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, Rupert received a Medal (OAM) of the Order of Australia for services to the community, particularly as a poet.
Established in 1893, Thynne + Macartney has helped people and businesses to build and grow within Queensland and across Australia, as well as navigate the challenges and issues that sometimes arise. Our firm’s history is intertwined with the development of the State, but we haven’t shouted it from the rooftops. It is just not our style.
However, it is not every day that you get to celebrate 130 years of continuous operation and we thought that was something to shout about, but what to say?
Then we realised there must be other people, businesses and charities out there who get on with what they have to do to make Queensland the great state it is – other Great Queenslanders.