Tarakan Jack

If one cares to look at the framed jersey in the club showing the names of the 'Easts Team of the Century', the tight head prop is Tarakan Jack (John 'Jack' Baxter). A lot of the team are well known - Gavin, Emanuel, Brial , Payne etc. but who is Tarakan Jack? Forget about fan bleats; the story of John 'Jack' Baxter should be tacked up on every Wallabies dressing room wall as obligatory reading for anyone wearing the green and gold or the red, white and blue of Easts. He was christened Archibald John Baxter. A World War II veteran with the Royal Australian Navy, Baxter was the Wallabies' reliable tight-head prop on their successful 1949 Bledisloe Cup-winning tour of New Zealand. After the tour, Baxter returned to the defence force and was a leading seaman on the supply ship, HMAS Tarakan, that was moored in Sydney Harbour at the naval dockyard - Garden Island. On January 25, 1950, the Sydney waterfront was rocked by an explosion aboard HMAS Tarakanafter petrol fumes from a disused tank between decks were ignited by a cigarette or a spark from an electric fan. Three sailors were killed instantly, while four more later died. Many were injured. Baxter was sighted with his head hanging out of a porthole. Rescuers, who had to cut through the side of the Tarakan to get to those on-board, discovered that Baxter had broken numerous bones, chipped vertebrae and was badly burned on his legs, back, arms and face. He was unconscious for well over a week, and numerous Sydney club footballers, fearing he was going to die, donated blood to help save his life. Of the explosion, Baxter said: "One minute I was doing some work below decks, the next I woke up in a hospital bed." Baxter remained in hospital for nine months, and he was still in plaster when he left. Then an ankle, which could not be set in hospital as it had been too badly burned, had to be rebroken. When he left hospital, he vowed that he would play for Australia again. His friends laughed him off. At the start of the 1951 grade season, Baxter, now known as Tarakan Jack, was training with Easts. By June, less than 17 months after the explosion, he was back in the Test front-row, tussling with the All Blacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He played in two more Bledisloe Cup series, and against the 1952 Fijians for South Harbour, Sydney, NSW and the Australian United Services side. Baxter, who played nine Tests, died in 2004.

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