Poignant day for family of Aussie legend

David and Bridget McLean with their with their late dad Jeff McLean's favourite F100.
David and Bridget McLean with their with their late dad Jeff McLean's favourite F100. David Nielsen
Australian Rugby Union player Jeff McLean. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times
Australian Rugby Union player Jeff McLean. Photo: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times Contributed

JEFF McLean would no doubt be happy to know that the F100 that was once his pride and joy is still in such good nick.

The late Wallaby star and well known Ipswich publican would no doubt also be touched to know that his birthday will be celebrated with a cake today by his daughter Bridget and son David at the Coronation Hotel, where he was such a popular figure.

Jeff passed away on August 6, 2010 but his legacy remains strong.

That is why on his birthday, Australia Day, it is fitting to remember a great Australian and Ipswichian.

Jeff McLean, who played 13 Tests for Australia, was certainly that.

There are countless ways that he will be remembered - as a father, husband, mate, publican, a lover of all things Ipswich... and of course a Wallaby from one of Australia's great rugby families.

But when good mate Peter Baxter drove up in the F100 that he purchased from Jeff and parked it out the front of the Coro this week, it brought back vivid and fond memories for Bridget and David.

"The F100 was just dad. Everyone knew it," Bridget says. "If it was parked outside any place, then nine times out of 10 people would stop in because they knew dad was there and they'd have a beer with him.

"It had certain car park spots wherever it went. If he went to the Turf Club, he would park it in the same spot. Outside the pub here, it would be in the same spot.

"It was big. It was bulky... and he just drove it how he wanted."

David, who admits to having inherited his dad's passion for cigars, has a big grin on his face when he recalls how Jeff drove the big F100.

"He'd be driving along wearing an Akubra Bogart hat and he'd be smoking Corona cigars," he laughs.

Bridget has come to love the car, but it wasn't always that way.

"It is a favourite thing of mine now, but when I was at high school dad thought it would be a great idea to do the fatherly duties and drop me off in it at the front gate," she grins.

"I had to get out of this monstrosity of a ute. It was a work ute, so dad used to put kegs on the back of it to drop off at parties.

"At the time I thought it was the worst thing... but now it is something that I've grown to love."

The car has 'JFS 14' personalised number plates, with the number to signify the wing position Jeff  played with the Wallabies.

The plates have a motif of a rugby ball with 'the game played in heaven' written on them.

For David and Bridget, now the co-publicans of the Coronation Hotel, it is their father's support that stands out in their minds.

"The Ipswich Cup of 2009 was one of the most quintessential and defining moments that I had as a publican and son," David says.

"We'd only taken over for three weeks. We'd kicked out the tenants, who had gone broke and left us with a mountain of debt.

"Dad was sick and barely able to talk but he still got in behind the bar and lent us a hand.

"This place was inundated with people... the busiest it has ever been.

"That's when dad turned to me and said, 'I love what you have done here.'

"That night will go down in history for me."

"Then there was the time when we had the Central Hotel and the Reids fire happened.

"I was very young and dad came to my bedroom and said, 'We've got to go'. Then he took me out.

"The joint next door was on fire, but he still went back in to fight the flames.

"It was a testament to the bravery of the man.

"He was the most thoughtful, wonderful and inspirational father and mentor I could have asked for."

David says working with his father on the Tank Hotel in Queen St, Brisbane was another fond memory.

"I was able to collaborate with dad on all forms of bar design and be with him to fulfill one of his own dreams of building something from scratch.

"We took it from an old office building to being a very nice hotel."

A fond memory of Bridget's was when her dad would stand on the veranda overlooking the Ipswich hockey fields where she has played many games.

"He would stand at the top with his hat on and watch every game - before mine and after mine. He was always giving people encouragement," she says. "It was just great knowing that he was always there supporting me."

It was a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula that ended Jeff's stellar rugby career in central Queensland of all places.

But it says a lot about the man that he was up there promoting rugby in a league stronghold.

"Dad was going to play rugby league in Sydney in 1974, but he never went because of his leg," David says. "He had the worst year of his life. Ipswich got flooded, his father passed away and he broke his leg.

"They were trying to promote rugby in Rockhampton and dad was high profile, so he went up with the Brisbane Barbarians to draw a crowd.

"Dad almost had a car accident on the way to the airport and then when he got there he had a career ending injury."

Jeff used to take David into the rooms after a Wallabies match and the experience was always worthwhile.

"He'd have a yarn to whatever winger was there and give them some positive reinforcement and a few ideas," David recalls. "The game had changed so much, but his fitness regime and the way he would centre kick was still very relevant.

"When he presented the Wallaby jersey to Drew Mitchell in Ireland at Lansdowne Rd, dad said that he told him to always remember the centre kick because you can't defend it.

"He had this great ability to run one way and kick it the other way... and then score."

One sore point with Jeff was the way the Australian rugby players were targeted in 1971, when the Springboks toured Australia. David says his father remained upset about that right through his later years.

"Peter Beattie led a protest down at the RNA Showgrounds when the students revolted against Apartheid in South Africa," David says. "Beattie was representing a mob of people that were going to change the world and get black rights. That is fair enough, but they chose the wrong way to do it.

"That was one thing that made him emotional - that Australians would turn on Australians. It made him sick."

Jeff loved his country and Ipswich with a passion.

He was Ipswich through and through. So much so, that when the McLeans moved house in 2000, Jeff gave his wife Carmel some strict guidelines about the location of the new abode.

"Mum was given a few stipulations," Bridget grins. "The house had to be within the 4305 postcode and walking distance to the Coro and CBD...basically he had to be able to walk to everything he needed and loved.

"He never saw it before mum bought it.

"I still remember Paul Pisasale saying he was one of the proudest people to live in Ipswich.

"You could not say a bad word about Ipswich to dad, because he would find some way to defend it

"No matter where he went in Ipswich, he would know someone. I remember him saying to mum, 'I am just going to get some groceries for dinner.' And he would come back four hours later.

"Mum would say, 'Did you get lost Jeff?'

"He'd pop down to a pub to talk to locals or go to his beloved Turf Club to make sure it hadn't up and moved."

David makes the point that his father had "travelled the world" as a rugby player and in other pursuits, but was not tempted to relocate outside the postcode where he was most at home.

"He had been to Monaco, France, New York, Africa...everywhere," David says. "But he loved Ipswich."

Australia Day is always a poignant one for the McLean family, as it was for Jeff.

"Every time the Australian flag needed to be flown, dad would ensure it was flying out the front of our house," Bridget says. "That was Anzac Day, Remembrance Day, the Queen's Birthday... and Australia Day."

Topics:  australia day coronation hotel rugby union wallabies

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