QUEENSLAND State of Origin great Gene Miles was expecting to meet Arthur Beetson at a Gold Coast theme park when he heard the news.
As part of a program named in his honour, ARTIE – Achieving Results Through Indigenous Education – Beetson was to help give 400 indigenous children the chance to celebrate what they had achieved during the course.
“He said he’d see me around 10 to help out flipping the burgers and obviously polishing a few off,” Miles said with a chuckle.
“Instead I got the message of his passing. I’m totally shattered.”
Beetson, 66, died on Thursday after suffering a massive heart attack riding his bicycle on the Gold Coast but his legacy as a rugby league great and role model for the indigenous community will live on.
Young Kangaroos winger Jharal Yow Yeh said his influence was wide-ranging.
“Arthur was a great mentor for all indigenous people, not only in rugby league but in life away from football,” said Yow Yeh whose uncle, Kevin, followed Beetson from Roma in country Queensland to Redcliffe and then Balmain in the 60s to play rugby league.
“He was a leader for indigenous people both on and off the field.
“What he has done will not be forgotten.”
Frantic efforts by local Paradise Point resident Kevin Phillips to resuscitate Beetson failed.
“People pulled up immediately and surrounded him and directed traffic around him on the road,” Phillips told AAP.
He said Beetson was breathing shallowly at first but soon stopped and paramedics, who arrived within minutes, could do nothing to save him.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh broke the news of Beetson’s death in parliament, saying Queensland had lost a legend.
“He was a knockabout bloke from country Queensland, he loved his league, he loved his Queensland and his loss will be felt from many,” Ms Bligh said.
Former Maroons centre and Origin coach Mal Meninga said he held Beetson “dear to his heart” and was “very influential for my growth as a man.
“He was one of the people I admire greatly, not only for his footy, what he did on the park, but what he did as a human being for his people and for business people as well,” Meninga said.
“It’s a tragedy.”
Beetson played 28 Tests for Australia, captaining them twice, becoming the first indigenous person to skipper an Australian sporting team.
One of his proudest moments was captaining Queensland to victory in the historic first Origin game at Lang Park in 1980, crash-tackling his Parramatta team-mate and NSW centre Mick Cronin to give birth to the “mate-against-mate” concept which is now the jewel in rugby league’s crown.
Beetson went on to coach the Maroons to series wins in 1982, 1983, 1984 and 1989 and was as big on team bonding as training.
He played 235 club games between 1963-81 in the NSWRL and QRL.
In Sydney he played for Balmain, Eastern Suburbs and Parramatta.
He was named in Australia’s Team of the Century, Queensland’s Team of the Century, the Indigenous Team of the Century and inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame in 2003.
He was also named am Immortal by Rugby League Week in 2003.
Chris “Choppy” Close, who played the first Origin alongside Beetson described him as one of a kind.
“I still think he’s probably the greatest rugby league forward this country’s ever produced, and will remain that way,” Close said.
No funeral details were available but the Queensland state government said it would like to see Beetson “farewelled appropriately”. – AAP