Outback rugby club founder honoured for dedication
BARGARA legend Geoffrey Thomas Barton has been awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his dedication and service to rugby union.
The 70-year-old, who is well-known for his volunteer work with regional rugby union players and for founding the Outback Barbarians Rugby Club in 2006, was among a group of admirable Australians recognised in the Queen's Birthday 2018 Honours List today.
And as if to confirm his complete and utter commitment to the sport he is so passionate about, Mr Barton was overseas, managing the Barbarian's rugby union tour through the Unites States, when the list of honourees was released.
The local man worked as a police officer and detective in the Queensland Police Service for 37 years, between 1965-2002.
He started when he was 16 and retired at 54.
In 1982, Mr Barton was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct, which acknowledges an individual's bravery and gallantry during times of both peace and war.
His wife, Colleen Barton, said it was this often-challenging role which ultimately led him to the endless hours of volunteer work with local rugby union players.
"Through his life he's seen a lot of young men floundering and he believes that sport is a way to help them develop their sporting, personal, interrelationship and team building skills," she said.
"Part of his pleasure and the personal reward he gets from doing this is basically mentoring these young men through sport."
Mrs Barton said her husband of 46 years never expected to get recognition for his volunteer work.
"He was pretty chuffed about it but he was actually quite taken aback that his work had been appreciated enough to be honoured like this," she said.
"He's just doing something he loves, so it was most unexpected."
Mr Barton's interest in rugby union started way back in the 90s, according to Colleen.
She said when her son Scott Barton started playing rugby union at school, her husband got involved, having never done anything related to the sport before.
"Scott played club rugby in Rockhampton and was then selected to play for the Capricornia Region ... and then Queensland Country," Mrs Barton said.
"Geoff did a lot of voluntary work around the rugby fields. He became a selector for the Central Queensland team and then he became involved in selecting for Country, and all at the same time he was supporting his local club and district."
His wife said Mr Barton's biggest sore point had always been the limited pathways available to rugby union players from the country.
"They didn't have anywhere else to go to play unless they were willing to up their roots and move (to more urban areas)," Mrs Barton said.
"But a lot of them were farmers so that wasn't an option.
"So this idea of an international tour grew out of that desire of wanting to give the young players more."
The concept behind the Outback Barbarians rugby union team was born in the 80s in Longreach.
"It ran for a decade but the volunteers running it got too busy and so Geoff had been talking to those people and basically resurrected the idea," Mrs Barton told the NewsMail.
The tours span one month and see about 35 rugby union players from regional and rural areas travel to the US.
The work Mr Barton puts into each tour is all voluntary and takes almost two years to plan.
"It's a big job. He liaises with the clubs in America, plans the games and a schedule, does the itinerary, sorts a bus, organises sponsors, flights, the gear, everything," Mrs Barton said.
"He arranges tourist-type things for them too. It's a bid deal for some of these young men who haven't ever even left the country.
"It gives the players the experience of playing internationally and gives them a learning experience too. And it certainly develops their maturity.
"Their skills are improved, which then they take back to their clubs, and they make friendships for life through these tours too. It really is a big thing."
Mr Barton left for this year's tour on May 19 and is expected back in Bargara on June 21.
So far, the all-country players team has played seven games and are currently at Birmingham, Alabama.
"This is Geoff's sixth tour - they run every two years and are entirely self-funded," Mrs Barton said.
"He's always been a sportsman and interested in sport. The only real limiter here is his health and his age.
"But the mentoring of young men gives him an enormous amount of pleasure, even more than the sporting successes they may have.
"He's really got a skill in communicating with them."
Mr Barton's devotion to rugby union has impacted clubs and players all over the state.
In 1993, he became a Central Queensland Rugby Union member and sponsorship coordinator. He also managed the CQ Rugby Union's Senior Representative team until 2004.
For three of those 11 years, he sat on the management committee, and in 2002 he worked as a volunteer supervisor and carried out club upgrades.
That year he also managed the Under 19 Representative Team for Queensland Country Rugby Union.
Between 2005-2007 he was a selector for Queensland Country Rugby Union, around the same time he founded Barbarians.