Jack Woolaston, 93, has left an indelible mark on the rugby league team and the city he loves deeply

MARK OF RESPECT: Jack Woolaston at the ground named after him. "It’s been a family tradition, Norths, since I come back from the war.” Photo: Gareth Gardner
MARK OF RESPECT: Jack Woolaston at the ground named after him. "It’s been a family tradition, Norths, since I come back from the war.” Photo: Gareth Gardner

Jack Woolaston was raised in Somerton but left his mark in Tamworth – moving there after serving in World War II and creating a legacy that will live on long after he is gone. We salute one of the city’s towering figures. 

Once life has had its way with some people, bitterness brims in eyes like boiling water, their very presence scolding. 

But not Jack Woolaston.

At age 93 the Tamworth icon can reflect on his life with a great sense of achievement, without ever betraying a modesty that tends to be intrinsic to elderly Australians’ nature.  

As one of New England’s great sporting servants plays on deep in the second half of his life, he stands stooped but unbowed by hardships endured, including 640 days spent in Papua New Guinea during World War II. And he recalls the years leading up to this moment, him talking inside the clubhouse at the ground named after him, with a lucidity which leads one to the conclusion that he has truly won life’s jackpot.

Beside him for most of his life has been his wife, Pat, whom he had three sons with – Peter, Tony and Barry. Peter’s son, Sam, presented Jack with his first great grandchild, Henry, more than a year ago. Many men have come unstuck trying to remember their wedding anniversary, but not Jack. He and Pat will celebrate 69 years of marriage in September.   

HISTORIC: Jack at the opening of North Tamworth's ground on Manilla Road in 1967. He is standing directly behind the guest speaker, then North Sydney Bears president Harry McKinnon.

HISTORIC: Jack at the opening of North Tamworth's ground on Manilla Road in 1967. He is standing directly behind the guest speaker, then North Sydney Bears president Harry McKinnon.

“We’ve been compatible,” Jack said. “We’ve had a good life. We’ve reared three great sons. And then you look at your grandchildren. That makes your life. And my latest addition is a fourth generation of a Woolaston … they all come home at Christmas. They’re a great family.”

“Luckily we’ve [he and Pat] had good health,” he added. “Worked hard, had a good business. I started out on my own as a carpenter, and I was one of the main builders here. At one stage I did 15 houses for the [Housing] Commission in one go.”

Jack still sells doubles at Jack Woolaston Oval, home of the North Tamworth Bears, of which he was the founding president. He helped build the ground, through toil and his own money. At home games he sits in the scorer’s area, watching his beloved Bears invariably thump teams, while accepting the respect of passers-by, his outstretched hand, like his face, heavily marked by time. “You’ll break the camera,” he joked as the phone camera was switched on for this interview.

As with his business dealings, Jack worked hard to help turn reigning four-time premiers North Tamworth into the successful club they are today. He also served as secretary and treasurer of the club, where, when they were called the Goat Hill Warriors, or the Tricolours, he debuted in first grade in 1947. He played wing and centre before moving to lock-forward. He played lock for Northern Division, too.

NEW CHAPTER: The Bears when they  re-entered Group 4's first division in 1964. Back row: R Bayliss (massuer), J Woolaston (president), R Fletcher (secretary), D Thomas, J Sutton, D Snook, R Kelly (captain-coach), W Brennan, R Mitchell, T Dixon, JR Maguire (treasurer). Front row: T Simmonds, R Green, G Carter, A Wilder, G Bradbury, G Ford, B Mellon, B Smith, Poly Miller (manager).

NEW CHAPTER: The Bears when they re-entered Group 4's first division in 1964. Back row: R Bayliss (massuer), J Woolaston (president), R Fletcher (secretary), D Thomas, J Sutton, D Snook, R Kelly (captain-coach), W Brennan, R Mitchell, T Dixon, JR Maguire (treasurer). Front row: T Simmonds, R Green, G Carter, A Wilder, G Bradbury, G Ford, B Mellon, B Smith, Poly Miller (manager).

The Bears were formed in 1911, three years after the birth of NSW rugby league. Following the 1955 season, they amalgamated with East Tamworth to become Tamworth City. The Tricolours returned as a separate entity in 1964. “Our first game was at Scully Park,” Jack recalled. “I walked out with the bloody banner and had a goat on a lead.”

The club was rebranded the North Tamworth Bears when the current ground on Manilla Road opened in 1967. The ground was named Jack Woolaston Oval in 1985. “It was a great honour,” Jack said. “They usually don’t name anything after you until you pass on. I beat them to the post.”

Jack served 14 straight years as Norths president. “I didn’t really want to be president. [But] they said, ‘You’re president.’” He added: “It’s been a great honour. It’s been a family tradition, Norths, since I come back from the war.”

His three sons played for the Bears. Peter captain-coached first grade. “I remember as a kid,” Peter says, “when we lived in Piper Street. And if we weeded the garden, I had to keep all the kikuyu runners in a bag. Dad had brought them down here [the ground] and sewed them on his paddock.”

LEGENDS MEET: This photo of Jack and league Immortal Arthur Beetson hangs in North Tamworth's clubhouse.

LEGENDS MEET: This photo of Jack and league Immortal Arthur Beetson hangs in North Tamworth's clubhouse.

Peter says his mum and her “band of ladies” had worked in the canteen at the ground, “making 100 rissoles and stuff to sell”. He agrees with his father: it was a real family affair.

Born in Tamworth and raised in Somerton, Jack returned to the region after the war and settled in the former. Like a lot of young men, he inflated his age to enlist, telling the army he was 18, when, in fact, he was 17. Ninety-four is his “army age”. He enlisted in the army in 1942. “It was a long time out of an 18-year-old’s life,” he says, in reference to his army days. “I can talk about it [his military service] but I don’t do much of it.”

Jack Woolaston was a builder. He swung a hammer and helped create the Tamworth of today, while at the same time building a successful business. He helped build sporting organisations, including Oxley Bowling Club, where he served as president for eight years, and the now-defunct West Tamworth Turf Club, where he was the first secretary. He built the foundation for a “great” family with Pat. And he built a legacy, without, you suspect, trying to.

For his efforts, the former horse trainer and bookie was made a life member of the Bears, Group 4 and Oxley Bowling Club. He was also an alderman for three years – an experience he doesn’t recall fondly. The inability to get things done “bored” him.

LEGACY INTACT: The Bears celebrate their fourth straight premiership at Jack Woolaston Oval last season. Photo: Gareth Gardner

LEGACY INTACT: The Bears celebrate their fourth straight premiership at Jack Woolaston Oval last season. Photo: Gareth Gardner

His life is full of love, and he loves Tamworth. “I never dreamed that it would get this big. It’s got a great future, Tamworth.”

It’s a future made possible because of people like Jack.

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