Bill Coolburra Shield – this Saturday!

A special North Queensland Anzac Day tradition will continue at 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday afternoon when the Palm Island Skipjacks defend the Bill Coolburra Shield against the Australian Army Thunder.

Started in 2008, the Shield honours Bill Coolburra, a rugby league-loving Palm Islander whose 17 years in the Army included serving in Vietnam in 1965-66 as a member of 1 Field Squadron in Support of 1 RAR & 6 RAR.

Bill left Palm Island when he was just 18 and travelled to Charters Towers where he signed up for the Australian Defence Force.

 "I was going to get a job on a station. I met a mate who said the army was pretty good, so I went there instead,” he said later.

The annual match aims to develop a better working relationship between the Defence Force and the Indigenous people of Townsville and Palm Island by engaging them through sport, as well as targeting Indigenous people to consider a career in the Australian Defence Forces as part of the Australian Defence Force Recruitment Strategy 2008.

It was originally proposed in 2007 by an Indigenous liaison officer with Serco Sodexho, who suggested the match be part of the Australian Defence Force’s support of National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Celebrations (NAIDOC) activities.

The first Skipjacks v Army clash was played at Brothers Leagues Club in Townsville on 10 July 2008 and finished in a 28-all draw.

It’s also been contested on Palm Island and this year, the match will be played as part of the 2014 Anzac Day commemorations as a curtain-raiser to the Toyota Cowboys’ home games against Parramatta.

During his service in Vietnam, Bill was one of the first Australian soldiers to go into the tunnels at Hobo Woods, an underground labyrinth that at one stage harboured an estimated force of 10,000 Viet Cong.

After narrowly escaping death when he was shot in the chest by a female sniper, Bill eventually returned home to live on Palm Island to live with his wife Edna and their children.

He passed away in 2009 and as well as the annual league clash, is honoured at the redeveloped Jezzine Barracks which features a "Bill Coolburra Lookout" near Cook Street.

This year’s Army Thunder squad were special guests at Cowboys NRL training on Wednesday afternoon.

Saturday's match will kick off at 1300SMILES Stadium at 1.20pm, with all gates opening at 1.15pm.