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McAuliffe, Ronald Edward (1918–1988)

by M. L. Howell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Ronald Edward McAuliffe (1918-1988), Australian Labor Party organiser, politician, and Rugby League football administrator, was born on 25 July 1918 in Brisbane and adopted as a baby by Edward McAuliffe, fettler, and his wife Margaret Ann, née Fogarty. Ron was educated at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, and in 1936 began work in the Queensland Railways audit office. A fine athlete, he played Rugby League for Sandgate and Northern Suburbs and, having won his first professional foot-race at 17, trained under Arthur Postle for the Stawell Gift but failed to make the final.

On 28 May 1940 McAuliffe enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He sailed for the Middle East with the 2/2nd Casualty Clearing Station; the unit was at Tobruk, Libya, during the siege in 1941. Back in Brisbane, on 22 June 1942 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Sandgate, he married Doreen Lilian Campbell, a shop attendant. He then served with the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit as a warrant officer, class two, in 1943-44. Returning to Queensland, he was discharged in September 1945 and resumed his post with the railways. As a member of a Labor League club and of the Australian Labor Party’s Baroona branch, he developed into an accomplished debater, representing Queensland in interstate competitions in 1950 and 1951. He was secretary (1947-55) of the Brisbane federal divisional executive of the ALP and campaign director for George Lawson in the 1951 and 1954 Federal elections. (Sir) Jack Egerton, an ALP power broker in Queensland, was a mentor.

McAuliffe resigned from the Queensland Railways in 1952 and became proprietor (1959-69) of the Hotel Kirrabelle, Coolangatta. A member (1966-77) of the ALP’s Queensland central executive, he was elected to the Senate in November 1970 and took his seat on 1 July next year. Heavily involved in committee work, he served as chairman of the foreign ownership and control (1974-75), Senate estimates (for two periods), and public accounts (1973-75) committees. He also chaired the Labor Party caucus from May 1978 until he retired from parliament on 30 June 1981.

Active for over thirty years in the administration of Rugby League football, McAuliffe had been first associated with the shift-workers’ league that, under the umbrella of the Brisbane Rugby League, began Sunday football. He was appointed chairman of the BRL in 1952, but relinquished the post to become the first secretary (1953-59), jointly, of the Queensland and Brisbane Rugby leagues. As chairman (1970-85) of the QRL and deputy-chairman (1980-86) of the Australian Rugby Football League, he reputedly ruled Queensland’s major winter sport ‘with an iron fist wrapped nicely in kid gloves’. He is credited with pioneering the ‘one league’ concept and with transforming the QRL into a business.

McAuliffe was the driving force behind the State of Origin series. For years Queensland had been thrashed by New South Wales in interstate matches, and when McAuliffe first argued for a series where players represented the State in which they had first played senior football there was much scepticism. The concept was an instant success, however, when Queensland won the opening game in July 1980. McAuliffe was also chairman of the Lang Park Trust (1979-88) and of the Rothmans National Sport Foundation (1984-88). In 1982 he was appointed OBE, and in 1985 he was presented with the Company Directors Association of Australia, Queensland chapter’s gold medal; he also won an Advance Australia award.

The press appreciated McAuliffe for his highly quotable remarks, for example, ‘the best committee consists of three people, with two away sick’, ‘you can’t sit on the fence and have your ear to the ground at the same time’, and ‘all things considered, it is awfully hard to be humble when you are a Queenslander’. Energetic and loquacious, he was known for his loyalty, integrity and honesty. He was a trustee (1978-88) of the Queensland branch of the Totally and Permanently Disabled Soldiers Association of Australia.

Survived by his wife and their son, McAuliffe died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 16 August 1988 in Brisbane and was buried in Nudgee cemetery. Complying with his wishes, a wake was held at Lang Park (Suncorp) Stadium, complete with a five-piece jazz band ‘to blast me away’. The Queensland coach Wayne Bennett said: ‘He had fight and great vision. He wasn’t afraid to make a decision, which a lot of people found unpopular. Some mightn’t have liked him, but they did respect him. That’s the mark of the man’. The Ron McAuliffe medal is presented annually to Queensland’s best player in the State of Origin series.

Select Bibliography

  • M. and R. Howell, The Greatest Game Under the Sun (1989)
  • Rugby League News (Qld), 26 Apr 1952, p 2
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 21 Sept 1985, p 25, 17 Aug 1988, pp 1, 60
  • private information and personal knowledge.

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Citation details

M. L. Howell, 'McAuliffe, Ronald Edward (1918–1988)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mcauliffe-ronald-edward-15050/text26248, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 1 May 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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