Buzz: Watching Origin with Darrell Eastlake
FIVE years ago The Daily Telegraph's Phil Rothfield sat down with legendary sports broadcaster Darrell Eastlake to watch a State of Origin match.
This lovely interview published on June 27, 2013 gives an insight to how the larger-than-life character's life was in the final years.
IT'S a long way from the old Lang Park where the voice of State of Origin was born exactly 30 years ago.
I'm watching Origin II out of the Chamberlain Gardens nursing home at Wyoming on the NSW Central Coast.
You walk into Room 129 and it's hard to recognise the unshaven old legend with the long grey hair, looking nothing like the immaculately attired television star he once was.
Darrell Eastlake has still got the booming voice but is struggling with his mind and memory. He's a month short of his 70th birthday - only six weeks younger than Channel 9's current caller Ray Warren.
Eastlake has been struck down by dementia, diabetes and emphysema.
He gets by on a walking stick but is under permanent care at this nursing hospital, his home for the past two years. We settle back to watch to game in a room not much bigger than the old commentary boxes he called from.
Darrell on his bed, your columnist in the chair next to him. He's had toasted sandwiches for dinner and we're sharing a six-pack of Crown Lagers he insisted I bring.
He's not happy about the late start to the television coverage because of the leadership challenge in Canberra.
"C'mon Nine, get to the f---en football, it's half past seven," he yells, "Let the ABC cover the politics."
He heads to the balcony for a cigarette.
Finally the action starts. Sam Thaiday scores for the Maroons after two minutes.
"Too easy, too soft," Darrell says.
Darius Boyd races over off a Johnathan Thurston pass in the 17th minute.
"Oh f---, this could be a cricket score. They've come to play tonight."
Finally, NSW get their first penalty after 23 minutes of virtually all defence.
Darrell calls out: "About bloody time."
We break for half-time. Darrell asks for another beer from his mini-fridge.
I ask him for his thoughts on the Channel 9 coverage.
"It's excellent, they do a great job," he says. "But I can't stand Fatty, he's a smart arse."
The Maroons score again early in the second half through Boyd. It's game over.
Then the four players get sent to the sin-bin. Darrell hasn't got a problem with it. "They were told about the edict before the game."
A generation of rugby league fans remember this guy as the defining voice of Origin, as big as the game itself. The voice that boomed into millions of lounge rooms around the country.
Big Darrell was as well-known as Arthur Beetson, Mick Cronin, Jack Gibson, Barry Gomersall and Wally Lewis. He had only one volume level and it was loud.
Nine legend Kenny Sutcliffe recalls working alongside Eastlake, Jack and Mike Gibson and co-commentator Ian Maurice in the early days.
"Darrell used to get to a fever pitch from very early on in the game," Sutcliffe said.
"He'd get so excited that David Hill, our executive producer, stood behind Darrell in the broadcast box at Lang Park with a rolled up Courier-Mail.
"He'd belt him over the head if he started getting too carried away but Darrell just kept on calling in his own unique style."
These days Eastlake is a lonely figure.
"I'm his only regular visitor," says his wife Julie, "plus another good friend, Roy, from Darrell's racing car days."
Faith, his favourite nurse, treats him to takeaway pizza most weeks.
"Look, I smoke, I've got a lot of channels on the tele and I go around on my walking stick and do all the corridors," Eastlake says.
"That's how I keep fit - my weight's very good.
"The meals are restaurant quality and the staff can't do enough for me."
It's a world away from his old broadcasting days in rugby league, surfing and the Olympic weightlifting.
And the nights when Jack Gibson would say of Andrew Ettingshausen: "He's so quick he can switch off the light and be in bed before it gets dark." Darrell would just bellow: "Heh, heh, heh, good one, Jack."
As a commentator, Eastlake had his own inimitable style.
"He'd be the first to admit he never had the broad knowledge of the game that Rabs has got," Sutcliffe said.
"But he had his own unique style. You heard his voice and you knew you were watching State of Origin."
Eastlake' short-term memory these days is a problem but he still loves his footy.
I ask him if he can recall the first Origin game, testing his memory from a fortnight ago. "Yeah, Rex Mossop called it - it was a one-off game," he says, thinking I meant the very first series in 1980.
That's the thing about this illness. His long-term memory is unaffected but short term can be a blank.
I ask him about the Gallen/Myles punch-up. He recalls it because it's been replayed on television so many times.
"That was just a couple of pussy punches," he says.
"You wanna see a real fight, that was (Kevin) Tamati and (Greg) Dowling in the Test at Lang Park (1985)."
As Darrell would call it, that was huuuuuge.