Few people would disagree that Childers, with its quaint buildings and leafy tree-lined streets can, as a rural township, be considered as somewhat of a knockout.
Flashback 34 years ago and Childers really was a knockout.
The town, represented by a team from its local Apex Club, won the national final of the top rating television game show “It’s a Knockout!”
In 1986 the team collected the winner’s cheque of $25,000 to put with an additional $10,000 it had won in the semi-final plus $3000 in lead up games. A $38,000 windfall for the Childers Apex Club and its community.
The show featured teams chosen from Apex Clubs across the nation with Childers winning the right to be the Queensland representatives in the final. They took on teams from New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.
Apexians John Harbourne, Steve Loder and Max Henke were joined by local women Pam Harbourne, Sue Dilger, Sandra Counter and Cathy Heidrich and undertook coaching under the watchful eye of local solicitor Keith Stanton.
They even attracted a local sponsor with local business owner Joe Yared providing track suits for the team members.
Former team captain John Harbourne and his wife Pam now live at Woodgate Beach.
The beach lifestyle is obviously agreeable to the couple and has enabled them to retain the fitness and strength that took the team to that great win 34 years ago.
An amazing win for Childers
John, now 70, said it was an amazing result for Childers.
“We are just a small community, but we took on teams from much larger centres. Five times we went to Sydney to compete and to win our way through to the grand final,” he said.
The pair have kept quite a deal of memorabilia associated with the competition including flag wavers used by the crowds (some signed by Lisa Curry and Grant Kenny and Billy J Smith), to the competition singlets – (they still fit!), team track suits, programs and run sheets provided by the game co-ordinator in Sydney and the cups and medallions presented as keepsakes by Isis Shire Council.
Pam was an original team member but sustained a serious knee injury in a Childers basketball game and was forced to sit out the final.
She laughs as she recalls some of the ‘behind-the-scenes’ goings on during the games. “Let’s just say there may have been things done to even the competition out a little – perhaps close games made for better viewing.”
Much of the team training was done at the Harbourne home in Childers. John, a painting contractor set up trestles and ladders to imitate some of the skills required in the variety of Knockout games. Ropes were hung from mango trees as the team practiced multiple skills.
Steve Loder, a Childers electrician, well remembers the competition and the training that was involved.
“A lot of the games required balance, strength, agility and a huge dose of good luck.
Balance, strength, agility and good luck
“Building pyramids while balancing on a tyre in a swimming pool and various basketball-type games really tested the versatility of the team,” said Steve.
John Harbourne believes the team was a good mix of body shapes for the various skills needed in the competition.
“The blokes were quite fit and strong, and our women were very athletic and fearless,” he said.
“It was a memorable time – our five minutes’ of fame,” laughed Cathy Heidrich.
Cathy, who now works in Canberra, recalls the bumps and bruises associated with the games.
“I think we got more bruises training than we did in the actual competition.”
“We were flown to Sydney for each stage of the competition and even though we won the final in July it was not screened until a couple of months later.
“I came in for Pam (Harbourne) who was injured. It was really disappointing for Pam who had been so instrumental in getting the team to the final.”
The team returned home to a hero’s welcome. The Council threw a free community barbecue to celebrate and the deeds of the team were watched on an oversized screen. Members were presented with small engraved cups and medallions as keepsakes.
Guest appearances at functions from Biggenden to Cairns followed as the whole of Queensland celebrated another national win.
Plenty of community discussion centred around the manner in which the prizemoney would be spent. “With $38,000 in the kitty there were plenty of suggestions,” said John. “I favoured putting the money towards a community sports centre. That project eventuated later with the community stadium now extensively used by the high school.
Projects for the $38,000 prizemoney
“Some of the funds went into a park with play equipment – Apex Tramway Park – in Crescent Street and I believe some was also used for landscaping purposes in and around Childers.”
As a point of interest, the $38,000 the team won in 1986 has an estimated current value of $90,000.
The co-hosts for the Channel 10 game show were the late Billy J Smith and Fiona McDonald.
The pair helicoptered into Childers in the weeks after the final to produce publicity footage and to congratulate team members. A Childers “It’s a Knockout” sign was placed at the entry into Childers. A song, Childers It’s a Knockout, was written to commemorate the amazing effort of the local team.
The show later gained international acclaim becoming hugely popular in Mexico. Fans were also won over in the United States, Argentina and Chile. Channel 10 did attempt to resurrect the show in 2011/12.