Tongan rugby legend Faleo Tupi, who changed the game in Australia, dies at 72Pipa News


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Half a century later, people still talk about it – the day the Tongan rugby team made history by defeating the Wallabies in Brisbane.

This was the second Test, which was played on 30 June 1973 in Ballymore. Tonga beat Australia 16 points to 11 – a victory that was never repeated.

Fa’aleo Tupi played in that legendary team. He would be instrumental in bringing Polynesians to play rugby union in Australia.

In those days, there were no Pacific Islanders on the Australian side.

Tupi, 72, was a great man of a man during his playing days, standing 192 cm tall and weighing 120 kg.

He died on 19 August after a battle with the disease and was laid to rest in a traditional ceremony in Woodridge, south of Brisbane, over the weekend, attended by hundreds.

men carry the coffin in the cart
Fa’aleo Tupi’s coffin is carried at his funeral at St. Edwards Church in Daisy Hill.,ABC News: Steve Keane,

Sinitella Sarchet remembers her father talking about that famous game.

But he said it had taken him a long time to understand how much it meant to the Tongan people.

“He actually said he was quite famous in Tonga,” she said.

“It wasn’t until we got into our teens that we understood how important he was and how important the Tongan team was to that entire country at the time.”

Fallo Tupi's funeral being kept in the car with the casket
Fallo Tupi was cremated at St Edward’s Church.,ABC News: Steve Keane,

‘The whole club has changed’

Three years after that match in Ballymore, Tupi moved to Australia on a working visa with Fatai Kefu, father of Welaby veteran Tautai Kefu.

Both players were lured to the South Magpies in Brisbane, a team that was struggling at the time.

“At the end of the 1975 season we won a game and were brutally belted out every week,” South’s Magpies Peter “Doubles” Daly recalled.

“Tom Feo, a Tongan hooker who played for us, said he could get his teammates from Tonga.

“Three of them arrived the next year, two of them being Test players, Faleo Tupi and Fatai Kefu.

“The morning they arrived, we were playing a trial game against the Brothers – and they insisted on playing.

Rugby league player Fa'aleo Tupi in black and white photo.
Fa’aleo Tupi was instrumental in bringing Polynesians to play rugby union in Australia.,Supplied by: Cindy Sarchet,

“They got off the plane and we beat the Brothers 7-4 that afternoon. The whole club changed after that day.”

South Magpies Committee member Bob Hammond played with Tupi and Kefu.

“I was a little hooker, so I had as big Tongan boys as my other rowers, so you felt like bulletproof against some sides,” Hammond said.

Faleo Tupi Memorial Card
Fa’aleo Tupi was a prominent leader in the Tongan community.,ABC News: Steve Keane,

“In the South in those days, you almost used to say easy beats.

“They arrived and it had an almost immediate effect. We all got this right all of a sudden.

“Quickly we started making semi-finals and finals in A-grade.”

For Fa’aleo Tupi and his family, life changed dramatically.

“They didn’t speak any English, so there was a language barrier and I don’t think there were a lot of other ethnic groups around that time in the 1970s,” Ms Sarchet said.

“Dad must have gone through a lot of struggles with the change of environment, the language barrier and would have started from here being nothing and being nothing.”

Bill Hayden helped with permanent residency

Fa’aleo Tupi and Fatai Kefu were initially only to live in Australia for three years, but the Souths Magpies helped them navigate the path to permanent residence.

“Club president at the time of Neil Bates – he played prop for Australia,” said Mr Daly.

“Betsy had some real good contacts – Bill Hayden played for the club.

“He was able to help Betsy navigate through the system.”

The former federal Labor Party leader, who later became governor-general, was then playing hooker for the South Magpies.