A short conversation about flamingos and rugby provides a notable detour at Cowra's sportsperson awards

Former Wallabies Beau Robinson, Bill Young and Jeremy Paul were the special guests at this year's Cowra Sportsperson of the Year awards. Photo: Ben Rodin
Former Wallabies Beau Robinson, Bill Young and Jeremy Paul were the special guests at this year's Cowra Sportsperson of the Year awards. Photo: Ben Rodin

"We used to play before social media and camera phones," Jeremy Paul observed to a crowd of around 300 at the Cowra Services Club with fellow former Wallabies Bill Young and Beau Robinson during the town's Sportsperson of the Year dinner question-and-answer session.

"So the landscape has changed dramatically."

"What we did used to love about going overseas and playing with the Wallabies was the different things we got to do."

Things like tea with the Queen of England, meetings with Nelson Mandela and multiple Australian Prime Ministers as well as several former Wallabies.

Moderator of the question-and-answer, the Cowra Rugby Club's Ben Casey, noted that the iPhone came out in 2007.

"We had retired by then," Paul observed, pointedly.

However, after Young talked about the love and passion needed to stay in rugby, the conversation turned to his first international trip.

"Someone told me you had a very serious impact off the field, with wildlife perhaps?" Casey asked, leading Young into a surreal, violent and some would say disturbing, episode of his early career: An early morning encounter with an animal in a South African pond.

It was the 2000 Tri-Nations tour.

"I'd done nothing," Young noted, the player travelling with powerhouse Australian team of the time but getting very little opportunity on the park.

"We win the Tri-Nations, Stirling Mortlock kicks that goal... It's fantastic."

The joke of the week was: Imagine if someone could catch one of those birds.

Former Wallaby Bill Young

"Anyway, you're in a suit... you're sitting there and you're thinking, 'Ah well, you've got to make an impact somehow.'

"So you get on the piss with the boys, and you try to make a go of it."

Coming home after an evening out, Young said he noted the presence of some pink flamingos at the residence the Wallabies were staying at.

"20, 25, live, big, six-foot, pink flamingos, in this pond. And the joke of the week was: Imagine if someone could catch one of those birds."

As the night went on, Young acknowledged the disillusionment he felt, but said the playing group was getting around him.

"The boys geed me up a bit, I had a little bit of experience in country life... knocked around in farms and that."

"I said, '[...] I'll get one of those flamingos for sure, no problems.'

It's worth noting that at the time Young hadn't yet played his first match as a Wallaby, and that there were several "dignitaries" in attendance.

By that stage the boys had gone from absolute, outrageous laughter to going... 'This'll be on the back page tomorrow.'

Bill Young's violent tale of amateur bird hunting had attendees at a Sportsperson of the Year dinner paying close attention.

"But you've got all the boys behind you, and you've got all the sponsors... and all that shit I never really liked," Young, who clearly enjoyed himself at the Cowra Services Club, said.

So, in the early hours of the morning, still suited up, he headed in.

"As I go through... suddenly I'm at home again."

"It's dark, I'm pissed, it's late," the crowd laughing with both appreciation and nervousness as he recounted the event..

Young, leaning into the story, crudely compared the capture of the bird to a night out on the town, complete with a casual slur among other curious descriptions.

"There's a few birds still left in the club... There's got to be one slow spastic, waiting for me.

"Sure enough, the good-looking ones went to the left, the intelligent ones went to the right, the smart ones just walked over the top of me."

"And there was one dumpy one, and I just went, 'Whack!'"

He caught it: A six-foot pink flamingo.

"I've got it by the throat and I'm thinking, 'Holy Shit!'

"It's pecking and I'm thinking 'No public displays of affection, no outside the nightclub area until we get home,'" he said, the crowd continuing to lap it up.

Dirt and mud on his suit, the bird continuing to struggle with him, the bird's neck was squeezed so tight it eventually no longer moved.

"By that stage the boys had gone from absolute, outrageous laughter to going... 'This'll be on the back page tomorrow.'"

Thinking he killed the bird, Young walked over to the then president of Rugby Australia, Phil Harry, with bird in hand.

We used to play before social media and camera phones...

2005 John Eales Medallist, Jeremy Paul

"I go, 'Hey Phil!'" the guest speaker's voice lifted, an aside casually reminding the crowd of the story's veracity - "This is a true story by the way" - as the detour concluded.

"I know you can't get a bird for yourself, I've got one for you."

Young picked the flamingo up, and threw it on Harry's lap.

"At this stage, thank goodness, well sort of thank goodness, the bird comes to life and it goes berserk."

"Don't mess with flamingos in Africa," he later exhorted.

While Young was warned by then-assistant Ewen McKenzie to keep a lid on any alcohol-fuelled misbehaviour for a later trip to Paris, the incident seemingly had minimal long-term career impact.

He played 46 matches for Australia, including a World Cup final in 2003, and now owns multiple pubs in Sydney.

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