by Aiden Taylor
Few people get the chance to meet the Queen of the United Kingdom, let alone on a personal invitation to morning tea.
Greenbank resident Bill Jones reminisces on the day 45-odd years ago he dined with the Queen’s entourage at a civic reception in Darwin, celebrating community achievers in sport.
In attendance was Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Phillip, and then-PM Gough Whitlam.
“It was wonderful,” says Mr Jones. “I feel better now than I did then I think, I’ve realised the enormity of it to be selected.”
“All you had to do was curtsy and that, and she [Queen Elizabeth II] would ask you a few questions – it was quite nerve wracking actually.”
He still has his invitation to the event, bearing an ornate message in golden writing:
The Right Worshipful the Mayor, Ald. H. Brennan and Alderman of the City request the pleasure of the company
Mr and Mrs W. Jones
at a Civic Reception, to be tendered to Her Majesty The Queen…
The invitation came about when he was nominated for the Northern Territory’s 1974 Sportsman of the Year award – a culmination of his achievements on and off the court.
“I didn’t win, but I was nominated, and to me, that’s as good as you’ll get for character and everything,” Mr Jones says.
As part of his nomination, the Darwin Table Tennis Association wrote that “…despite the fact that no-one was able to beat Bill, he still remained one of the most popular players in the competition – surely a credit to his sportsmanship”.
All these years later, that is the one accolade Mr Jones is most proud of.
“To me, that means more than anything, that’s what life’s about,” he says.
“That’s all I try to achieve in trying to be humble and doing the best I can,” he says.
While Mr Jones lived in Darwin for work as a tradesman during the 1970s, he also ran a soccer club, which he was instrumental in starting, and coached five junior soccer teams.
On the court he was a champion table tennis player in QLD, the NT and Papua New Guinea.
Born in QLD, he started playing table tennis as a 15-year-old.
He represented the sunshine state in juniors and was even selected for Australia but had to turn down the offer due to the expense of international travel.
A move to PNG in the 1960s for work was the start of a huge couple of years on the court.
He was 35 years old and in the prime of his career.
“You’d be surprised, we had to be fit,” he says.
“I used to practice 7 days a week; we trained like boxers.”
Winning became a habit as he won a swag of medals representing PNG at the South Pacific Games.
The South Pacific Games – now called the Pacific Games – is a prestigious tournament for nations of the Pacific Islands, such as PNG, Fiji, and Tahiti.
“I had to win, whether it was in sport or at home doing the dishes, I was really competitive, and I always wanted to be the best,” says Mr Jones.
That drive led to gold in the singles tournament at the 1969 games held in Port Moresby.
He backed that up at the 1971 games in Tahiti with gold in the singles, gold in the doubles, and a collective silver for his team’s overall standing in the tournament.
A South Pacific Games newsletter from 1971 spoke of how Mr Jones prevailed in one of the “the most exciting contests of the whole games” to qualify for the final:
To reach the final, he showed considerable concentration and determination in his win over Patrick Low of Fiji in 3 straight sets.
Table Tennis of this calibre has not previously been seen in the South Pacific Games and is unlikely to be bettered for some years to come.
Mr Jones says his 1971 final was one to remember.
His opponent, Tahitian Victor Lau, outclassed him on paper in terms of skill and training.
And the match very nearly got away from the Queenslander.
“You see, he trained in France to get up to speed to win, and they brought out the French coach as well,” says Mr Jones.
Bill adds that the French were known for having some fantastic coaches and players.
“Anyway, besides all that, I won the first two games pretty easily, and then he got the next two games.”
Then, momentum shifted to give Mr Lau the match advantage.
“The fifth game, he had me 19/16, and he was only two points away from winning, but what he did was he changed the way he was playing,” Mr Jones says.
Mr Jones says the Tahitian forced him to attack more than usual, which threw him off his natural game.
Then Mr Lau broke strategy to play more attacking shots.
Mr Jones was then able to play with greater freedom and turn the match back in his favour.
“I was seeing the ball like a watermelon, and then suddenly it was 20-all, and I won the next two points,” Mr Jones says.
With the 1971 games done and dusted, Mr Jones finished his time playing for PNG on a high.
Shortly after, he returned to Darwin for work and took a short break away from the sport.
It was not long before he picked up the bat again and began dominating the NT circuit to become state champion.
In May of 1974, a few months after his Sportsperson of the Year nomination, Mr Jones lost his first match since arriving back in Darwin.
This coincided with when he was set to relocate Brisbane for work.
As a sendoff, the Darwin table tennis community arranged a tribute tournament.
A newspaper at the time reported that the event “…has been arranged to honor Bill Jones, a stalwart of the game as a player and supporter.”
Mr Jones last played socially in his 60s.
Today, he leaves the sports playing to his grandkids.
He likes to think that his career gives them something to aim for.
“I say ‘now you beat that, beat your old man,’” he says.