Iron Man Jack, the very appropriate tag given to Howard Dixon.
The late Don Whiteman christened him Iron Man Jack.
Don was General Manager of Bingara Shire Council and dabbled in reserve grade rugby league.
Iron Man Jack is Howard Dixon; he was a colossus of rugby league.
The difference between the men was stark.
Don, in more than the twilight of his career, was only making up the numbers.
Howard was the spearhead of the Bingara club, intimidating in defence and lethal in attack.
Don was spot on with the Iron Man Jack description, Howard gave out punishment, rarely receiving.
However, what was important to both men was their town. Bingara was about to face the greatest challenge for rugby league since the heady days of the early 1930s.
Both had a part to play. Howard as a player, Don the dynamic supporter of whatever was going on.
Boundary changes in 1961 saw a new dawning for the Bingara.
Until then the club played in second division or local area competitions. But, the club had considerable success and was looking forward to first-division.
The new competition saw Howard emerge as Iron Man Jack, a rugby league legend.
Group 5: First Division Rugby League
Often sport is considered “only a game”, but in those heady days of the 1960s, rugby league was the game in country NSW.
It was a time before television had encroached into the bush. Soccer and Aussie rules were regarded as foreign games. And as for rugby union, well, it was a game for the toffs.
Yes, rugby league was the only game that mattered.
It demanded town identity and nearly every able-bodied male played the game. From the under 5 stone seven pounds primary school kids to the first division, it was all for the towns.
It was a time when radio dominated households, and rugby league dominated radio.
On Sundays supporters had the choice of listening to live broadcasts on 2NZ (Inverell), 2VM (Moree), 2AD (Armidale), 2TM (Tamworth) and 2MO (Gunnedah).
Also, each station had game previews, match results, game reviews and significant coverage in their news segments.
The star players were household names in every town, village and farmhouse across the north.
Iron Man Jack was one of many stars.
Yes, rugby league was the game, the crowds were huge and the competition was strong.
Group 5 conducted firsts, reserves and under 18s competitions. In the first year, 1961, the clubs were: Armidale, Ashford, Bingara, Glen Innes, Guyra, Inverell, Moree, Uralla, Walcha and Warialda.
All clubs had three grades, except Ashford.
The 1960s belonged to Warialda with five straight premierships. Only Oberon in Group 10 had a finer record with seven straight.
Moree, Armidale, Guyra and Glen Innes were usually in the mix, Bingara was competitive against all clubs, and on occasions, headed up the rest.
The big names dominated discussions. These were the players who could change games through their coaching skills, their leadership, their brilliance or simply by being an imposing presence.
Iron Man Jack could be both brilliant and imposing. He played off instincts, last-second decisions, chip and chase, cut down the five-eight, or simply take the opposition on, it all came naturally to him.
No wonder oppositions asked, “Is Dixon playing?”
Is Dixon playing?
When Bingara players and supporters arrived at the opposition’s ground, the question most often asked of them was, “Is Dixon playing.”
Never one to yield to injuries, he invariably was playing; occasionally two games if the reserves were short.
However, the question should have been, “Are the Dixons playing”, all were champions in their own right.
The Dixon brothers, Graeme, Ross and Leigh were genuine first graders. Just as rugged as Howard, they dished out punishing defence and could score points.
Ross the eldest was an elegant runner and a prolific try-scorer of the 1950s, Graeme was a superb goal kicker and as tough as nails. Leigh a hooker was second to none.
But, it was Iron Man Jack the opposition feared most. He was a legend in Bingara, and in 2008 he officially became a Group 5 legend.
Group 5 Legend
At a gala night in Glen Innes, Howard was the first centre named in the Home Grown Group 5/19 Team of the Century and with that, he officially became a legend.
It was a wonderful night.
The Master of Ceremonies was the late Grant Goldman, a son of Jack Goldman. Grant was born in Bingara and he had the pleasure of witnessing his deceased father also being named a legend.
Incidentally, Jack was a member of Bingara’s 1949 premiership team and his team-mate, winger Ricky Kellett, a school teacher, was named as an ‘Import’ legend.
For the Bingara officials present, the most memorable moments were watching the ageing warriors make their way to the Bingara table, and shake the hands of Howard and Graeme.
The comments tossed around on the night certainly confirmed Don Whiteman’s idea of Iron Man Jack. He was one of the toughest of the tough being honoured.
Graeme was nominated for legend status, and while like dozens of others he didn’t make the final cut, he was certainly not forgotten.
The old warriors reminded everyone how hard it was to play against him, and all the Dixons over many years.
Amongst the most significant players from the 1960s selected as legends were:
Jim Payne (Warialda), Andy Blair (Guyra), Cecil Bull (Guyra) and Alf Hardman (Moree).
Payne coached Warialda to their five straight premierships. Blair was tough and brilliant, Hardman was regarded as the top hooker in the game (a time when scrums were competitive) and Bull had few equals in the forwards.
However, none were better than Howard Dixon.
He was a huge presence in the game and it started as a 14-year-old looking for a ball boy position.
Hopeful ball boy to a Legend
When Howard wandered along to training just after leaving school, the last thing he expected was to play rugby league.
He had not played at school and it was a complete surprise when he was selected on the wing for the season opener against Barraba! However, he was a natural athlete, a quick learner and he was soon moved to the centres.
In the next decade, he made his mark in Bingara’s teams.
For example, in July 1955 when playing Ashford in the under18s, he scored five tries and kicked a goal in Bingara’s 30-0 win. He was judged the best on the ground.
When Bingara was given the chance of playing in the new competition, the community and all the players grasped the opportunity.
With plenty of success in the 1950s came a desire to step up to the top division. While the going was often very tough, especially without the resources of larger centres, the supporters packed Gwydir Oval.
Every second Sunday the crowd witnessed NSW Country representatives, the occasional ex-international and dozens of group and northern division players.
But, none was better than Bingara’s big centre, Howard Dixon.
Playing under some very good coaches, supported by his fellow players, his reputation grew and with it, respect and in some cases, a degree of fear.
Howard attracted the media’s attention and was featured in many game reports.
Bingara v Uralla (1961 or 1962)
Game report Bingara Advocate:
‘Local Bingara player, Howard Dixon, scored five tries in his team’s 32 points to 10, victory over Uralla last Sunday.
Howard’s effort could be a post-war record and in any case, it has been a long time since anyone has eclipsed this feat for Bingara’
Armidale v Bingara (1963)
Game preview Armidale Express:
‘The key to Armidale’s showing on Sunday could be the showing of Farrell as inside-centre. But, he is likely to have his hands full if he is marking Howard Dixon.’
In the game report the following week, the reporter said:
‘Big Howard Dixon pulled out of a tackle and streaked away for half the length of the field to score the first try.’
The try was significant, as Bingara defeated Armidale by two tries to one, 6-5.
Armidale until this loss were joint competition leaders with Warialda. (Who Bingara defeated the next Sunday at Bingara)
Bingara v Warialda (1963)
Bingara defeated Warialda 18-16. (Warialda the current premiers, went on to win the 1963 grand final)
The game report included coverage of Howard’s performance:
‘Then H. Dixon with a typical dash, burst through the ruck, kicked ahead and secured the ball to again out speed the opposition.’
His second try was from a conventional backline movement and the newspaper’s game summary said:
‘The Bingara backline was superior with a match-winning centre, Howard Dixon, scoring two tries as well as being a tower of strength with his rugged defence.’
Wee Waa v Bingara (Trial 1964)
Game report Bingara Advocate:
‘The first grade won 16-4, Howard Dixon supplying all the Bingara points with two tries and five goals.’
Bingara v Armidale (1965)
‘Howard Dixon scored all of Bingara’s 15 points against Armidale at Bingara on Sunday.
He scored a try and kicked six goals from seven attempts. Over the years, Dixon has been a prolific points scorer for Bingara and is one of the best players in Group 5.’
Bingara v Inverell (1966 or 1967)
‘Bingara were now fighting hard and finally, John Howard went over near the posts for Howard Dixon to convert. Inverell 13, Bingara 9.
With hopes rising and urged on by an excited crowd, Bingara produced some terrific football.
‘Iron Man Jack Dixon went over wide out, converted a beautiful goal and Bingara hit the front 14-13.’
Howard kicked another goal to make the final score 16-13.
Bingara v Moree (1967)
Sun Herald Sydney:
‘In a recent game against Moree, Dixon scored all 13 points for Bingara, with three tries and two goals.’
Moree v Inverell (1968)
With Bingara withdrawing from Group 5 in 1968, Iron Man Jack was chased by many clubs. Both Moree and Inverell made offers and he ended up with Moree.
The following remarks were made after a clash between the clubs
Moree Champion had said:
‘With both teams going over for three tries, Moree could be counted unlucky not to have notched a further three.
And Inverell must be regretting having missed out on getting Howard Dixon at the beginning of the season, particularly as he kicked seven goals and notched a try for good measure.’
Howard scored 17 of Moree’s 23 points.
Moree v Warialda (semi-final 1968)
Game report Moree Champion:
Under the heading ‘Deadshot Dixon again! the journalist said:
‘A yard in from touch.
Visibility was on the way out.
The fate of the Warialda v Moree A grade match was in the balance.
The final hooter held its breath, waiting for Howard Dixon’s conversion attempt.
These were only some of the factors pouring frustration over the tense scene climaxing the rugby league epic at Warialda yesterday.
The situation was a replica of that which had marked the end of the previous tussle between the two teams.
And, the fact that the kicker was about to summon all his physical resources after 80 minutes of civil war type football.
There was a moment when everything stood still except for Dixon retreating deliberately from the prepared football area.
A moment of balance and gathering momentum as he appeared to run almost in slow motion onto the ball, and then with measured, professional, nerveless ease, booted the ball.
Unerringly it travelled along its route to raise the flags and release paralysis alike of the final hooter and the cheer choked Moree fans.’
Also, said the journalist:
‘Howard Dixon was once again in top form in all departments and played a really fine game. The top player in the group, one can only say, that he is a great acquisition to any team.’
Iron Man Jack Dixon, a colossus of the football field.
Prolific Point scorer
Thanks to the late Henry Geary’s statistics, plus other research for the 1962, 1963 and 1964 seasons, it appears Howard scored a total of 54 tries and 121 goals from 56 games played.
During these years Bingara was placed in the bottom half of the competition, which makes his performance even more outstanding.
In fact, on many occasions, he was the highest point scorer in the group, and also the best and fairest.
His point scoring efforts continued when he joined Moree.
For example, in 1968 Moree won the club championship and Howard was again Group 5’s highest point scorer.
After Moree, Howard moved to Warialda for his final season in the top grade.
Howard joined Warialda in 1969, and the following report is from a cutting of an unidentified newspaper.
The writer said:
‘To play rugby league in the Group 5 competition for 20 years and miss only one match in that period is an impressive record in anyone’s language.
Bingara player, Howard Dixon, can boast this record and at the age of 35, has every right to.
Dixon is at present playing for Warialda in the competition and to date, this season has scored 112 points. As a matter of fact, during the 20 years, there has barely been a season where he has not scored over 100 points.
He started playing at Bingara at the age of 14 and his highest point-scoring feat in one season was 245 (tries were only worth 3 points in those years) when he played for Bingara.
The only match he missed was a long time ago at Bingara and he said that on that occasion, he had a ‘crook shoulder’.
After the season with Warialda, Howard returned home to Bingara.
Father and Son
When Howard decided to retire from first grade, he played second division for Bingara until the mid-1970s, before hanging up his boots.
However, five years later in 1980, he was back playing and the Inverell Times Friday, September 12, reported on the eve of the semi-final:
‘The oldest and the youngest tag in the Second Division rugby league competition this season has gone to Bingara’s father and son combination Howard (44) and Anthony (17) Dixon.
Well known in Group five for some years, Howard Dixon came out of retirement this season to help out and give some support to the young bloke, his son Anthony.‘
That season completed his playing career, however, his interest in the game and the Bingara Club has never wavered.
In the early 1990s, the Club made him a life member.
Graeme is also a life member.
When questioned about any regrets about not chasing a top-level career, Howard has never expressed any regrets about declining offers.
While Howard had plenty of opportunities to play with other clubs, he did not leave until Bingara had finished playing first division.
He then had a season with Moree (Grand Finalist) and Warialda (Semi-Finals) and if some of Bingara’s coaches and paid players had their way, he would have moved to the very strong Newcastle league.
For example, Sammy Hincks, Ray ‘Wagga’ Johnson and Ron McLeod did their best to convince him to go; however, job security in Bingara stopped him.
When asked to consider some of the players he rated highly, his criteria was simple,
‘Players who stepped up, no backward steps.’
Half-back Tommy Troutman was one, and he said,
‘I could rely on Tom, in a match against Armidale at Armidale I said to Tom, you look after the half-back and I will handle Prosser (five-eight), he did, and we won the match.’
Also in a match against Warialda, Trevor Barnes was belting Tom and all Tom said was,
‘You better do better than that.’
In the ‘no backward step’ measurement, Howard singled out his brothers.
Leigh, ‘best in the group at winning the ball’
Graeme, ‘very tough player’.
Also, he had high praise for Bud Wilkinson and Ross Dixon.
Wilkinson, he said, was one of the best he played with. However, as far as the best he ever played with, he had no hesitation in naming school teacher John Lennan.
Finally, with such a marvellous career behind him, when asked about his greatest thrills, the answer was certainly a surprise.
‘It was in a Spicer Cup challenge match against Moree.
I was only seventeen and we hadn’t scored, we were getting ‘a hiding’, so I decided to just take them on and I scored under the posts.
I still feel pretty good about it.’
Thus, on this simple pleasure, Iron Man Jack Dixon, we salute you.