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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

In Memory of John Thornett

Born: 30 March 1935, Griffith

Died: 4 January 2019, Batemans Bay THORNETT MBE John Edward 4th January 2019 at Opal Aged Care Denhams Beach, late of "Clarendon" Cowra. Dearly loved husband of Vivienne, father and father-in-law of Toby and Penne, Jamie and Steve, Alexandra (dec), Michael and Simone and Pia and David. Much loved Poppa of Jack, Harry, Charlie, Barny, Lulu and Georgia, Indigo and Piper, Josie and Alex.Aged 83 years.

John Thornett, MBE, played his last rugby test for Australia almost 20 years before David Kirk’s All Blacks swept France aside in the final of the first of the Rugby World Cups played in 1987.

John moved to the coast and called Malua Bay home before takig up residency at Opal Aged Care Denhams Beach.

Rugby is still very much in John’s blood.

John Thornett played 37 tests for Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, captaining his country on 4 overseas tours. In total, he represented Australia in 118 matches. He was a powerfully built forward with great ball-handling skills. Quietly spoken but charismatic, John was described as an inspirational leader and a Wallaby statesman who advocated hard but fair play.

At Sydney Boys High School he was school captain, captained the rugby 1st Fifteen and crewed for the school’s rowing eight. He was a strong swimmer, representing NSW in water polo together with his brothers Dick and Ken.

Dick was a 3-time international, representing Australia in water polo, rugby union and rugby league. Ken was a rugby league international.

In 2005 John was inducted into Rugby Union’s Hall of Fame. Australian Rugby Union President, Paul McLean, described Thornett’s name as being “synonymous with Australian pride and great leadership”

The game is far more professional these days in approach and financial reward. John recalls his playing days when Australian rugby representatives were paid a dollar a day on tour and nothing at home. He believed that the game was a means of building character and was adamant that the principle of sportsmanship had to be maintained at all costs.

John observed at the time, “Rugby Union is an amateur game played by men who should always stand for the highest ideals of sportsmanship. The amateur spirit is a state of mind which shows in how you approach every match and how you go into every tackle”.

Overseas tours in the 1950s and 1960s sometimes lasted as long as 7 months. Without an adequate salary and a limited opportunity to secure and develop a career, the game was played solely for the joy of playing the game and to forge strong friendships. John recalls that these tours created very close bonds with teammates and opponents alike. Most of John’s present circle of contacts are rugby players of that time.

In between tours John still found time for study and was awarded degrees in science and engineering.

Each tour proved to be a different experience with different expectations. Tours to the British Isles were conducted every nine years. In the earlier part of John’s career the team travelled by boat creating major disruption to team fitness, partly due to the limited opportunity for training and partly due to an open access to the First Class Bar.

During John Thornett’s long test career from 1955 to 1967 Australian rugby was a little behind the standards of other rugby nations, particularly South Africa and New Zealand.

Test series wins were rare and when Thornett’s Wallabies returned home in 1963 from 4 tests in South Africa with a 2-all result, the team was met at Sydney airport by a fleet of open sports cars and given a huge reception through the city’s commercial area.

The fourth test of that tour was the scene of an ugly riot. The apartheid South Africa of 1963 separated rugby fans according to colour and the non-whites of the crowd, strongly supportive of Australia, noisily disputed a doubtful South African second half try. Bottle throwing and pitch invasion followed and there were some reports of shots being fired causing a number of deaths. South Africa narrowly won the match.

John Thornett spent a number of years as general manager of Clarks Bricks, but left after a company takeover. Then followed a period running a franchise business before John accepted a job in a business advisory service in Orange.

Nine years later John and wife, Viv, bought a small farm property in Cowra before finally retiring to Batemans Bay.

The priority for John Thornett over the next few weeks is to follow the World Cup closely, appreciative of a game that has changed considerably and has rewarded him with so many strong memories.

(All published articles in the Our Town Our People series can be viewed at

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