Updated: Mar 29, 2020
"He always had an extrovert personality, bigger than life sort of thing. And he always loved to entertain. He was a natural entertainer. He was the life of the party wherever he went." He was a battler, an unsung hero, an entertainer. He was Reg Fridd, and he embodied the loveable Reggie Rabbit.
I recently had the honour of talking and laughing with Reg's sister, Raewyn, who was happy to share some stories about her kind-hearted brother and how he became the legendary Rabbitohs mascot.
We all know about the players that grace our screens every week. The tantrums the media portrays, or the heartwarming moments. We hear about the coaches who are divisively researching tactics, or player swaps that fill the newspaper columns of our daily reading. Even the referees have their consistency reviewed in the media. But there is one person that is there every week; on the field every home game, and has made more appearances than any professional NRL player.
A select few have the opportunity to wear this uniform. This person is not just the mascot, but rather the face of a team, and no other team has a 'mascot' of the same calibre than the South Sydney Rabbitohs and their hero, Reggie. Kids flock to see him or gather a photo by his side, even some adults become child-like when the opportunity arises to meet him. Jumping off their seats, and racing down to shake his hand. Everyone remembers the first time they met eyes with the loveable bunny, and their heart filled with joy. Filled with peace. Filled with hope and glory.
Traditionally, mascots are named after ferocious animals or mighty professions. A sea eagle can rip things apart with their talons. Titans, raiders, knights and warriors are brave and experienced soldiers. The 'media' portrays bulldogs as burly, strong dogs. Some eels can electrify you. Roosters can puncture skin with their beak or rip with their claws. Broncos have a wild side and mighty kick, while cowboys are powerful enough to break them, or shoot from their hip. Panthers and tigers are both strong, wild cats. St George is a slayer of mighty dragons, but then again dragons breathe fire. One could even say that based on the recent weather, storms are dangerous and constantly active. And if blood is in the water, 'dangerous killer' sharks are known to circle.
However, the rabbit is a fluffy little mammal with big ears, whiskers, a wooly tail and a hop in their step. It isn't an animal that is known for its threatening stature.
And that is what makes the Rabbitohs unique compared to every other team.
The Rabbitohs weren't built on professions or animals that sounded 'tough'. They were founded upon authentic, tough, working class individuals. People that shouted 'Rabbit-oh, Rabbit-oh!', as they sold their catch to the street to make an honest buck. They were the battlers, the street merchants. They were the underdogs, a symbol for the everyday person. For you, for me, and overall - for people.
You may not have heard of Reg Fridd, but his heart transformed a simple 'rabbit' into a symbol of hope and happiness. He started his working life as an apprentice for the Timaru newspaper, on New Zealand's South Island. In 1974, his career changed when 'A J C Williams' Australian musical production came to town.
"The show ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ was touring around New Zealand, and they had people taking part from Australia, and [Reg] decided that’s what he would like to do. So, he went off to Australia and did tours with that company."
In the production, he performed along side his friend Roscoe Bova, who was the third person to become the 'Rabbit' mascot. The first rabbit was Ray Vawdon, a third grade player who wore the outfit in 1952 against Norths. During this time, Reg decided that he no longer wanted continue in theatre productions, and that instead of going back to New Zealand, he would find another 'role' that would allow him to stay in Australia. When Bova tragically passed away in the early 1970s from a car accident, the torch was passed on to Reg, who stayed with Souths for the remainder of his life. He started by helping the Rabbitohs "set up for functions, and that’s what he got paid for. Then he went on to being their groundskeeper, and then [finally] their mascot."
“He used to incite the crowd [while] dressed up in the bunny suit. But he also used to do a lot of charity work. He used to [go] up into the children’s hospital. [Help out the mayor]. To some extent, he made Reggie the Rabbit quite famous.” "He could be anywhere and at the flick of a switch he could turn on his ability to entertain. Be an ordinary sort of guy having a meal, and then be the life of the party. It was always comedy. Actions rather than singing or dancing, as such. He used to prance around."
For someone of small stature he was very big in life, and in other people's lives. Even from a very young age, he would enthusiastically amuse his family. He would do some sort of "aerobic" like routine, usually comedy related, and on some occasions, would proudly show his New Zealand heritage.
"From a very young age [about 4] he would entertain the family. He would get up on the table and do the haka for them. He just loved it."
When Reg wasn't donning the famous Reggie uniform, he was the club's groundsman at Redfern Oval - preparing the oval, preparing the grandstands, painting the seated areas and helping with the set up of functions. Reg became similar to a 'method actor', becoming all aspects of the Rabbit role. Legends state he lived in a rabbit warren, and it appears those legends were true.
"He lived in a flat under [the] old grandstand. There was an old part of the grounds, because they weren’t using the grounds anymore, but he stayed in part of the old grandstand. But he would never let us see it because evidently it was pretty rough."
Living in this flat, underneath the grandstand, would benefit him when it came to getting to work, since he lived on the grounds. There was no ability to 'cook' food within this flat, so he would often go across the road to the Leagues club for dinner. He would often help out at the club and they would feed him. A long time friend of Reg was Brad Cocking, who recalled that the space used to be the council's groundsman's depot. Downstairs there was some sort of an office space and upstairs was left as a storage area. By the time Reg "The Rabbit" moved in,
"He had a couple [of] chairs downstairs and a bed upstairs. Not the nicest of places, but he liked it. No toilet or shower, so his bathroom was either the club of the players room."
Yet, living in this 'burrow' wasn't always advantageous. There was an occasion that Raewyn recalled hearing from Reg's close friends,
"One Friday night, they [Reg and his friends] were going home and they'd locked the gates to the grounds, and they had a fairly high fence to climb over. They had been drinking all night, but he still insisted he could climb over the fence to get himself home. Here he was, entertaining them all, trying to get over the fence so that he could get to his 'flat' [bearing in mind he was about 1.4m]. A place he had made himself to live in."
We don't know where he slept that night, but I imagine that with his go-getting attitude, he managed to hop the fence.
Reg was only paid as a groundskeeper and for his work in setting up for functions. He offered his services as the Reggie Rabbit, without pay. His beautiful heart for the community, and the smiles he would receive from people and children, would be more than enough 'payment'. His name was adopted for the raging rabbit and has stuck ever since. It was the role he helped make famous, the role, one could say, he was born to play. He was and forever will be, Reggie.
"He was never that terribly interested or terribly worried about money."
Reg often went with the flow and didn’t have the constant worry about things going the 'opposite to the plan'. There was an occasion when the Rabbitohs players were hopping on the coach to head to Brisbane for a game. The plan was thrown out the window when they were waving 'goodbye and good luck'.
"He, along with some others, were watching them embark on the coach and seeing them off, and one of the players picked him up and chucked him onto the bus. And then the bus went with him. He just had t-shirt, jandals and shorts on, and he went off to Brisbane with him. That sort of thing he would do at the drop of the hat, it wouldn’t worry him."
He became a part of the furniture and more importantly, the family and mateship of the team. The same thing happened when he was on tour in London, England, with the Australian Representative side, the Kangaroos. You would think that if you have travelled to the other side of the world, you are in in the Northern Hemisphere, and something goes awry, you get worried and start to panic, but Reg had a different perspective on life, "oh well, that's life, and on he would carry."
“He and some other supporters had become part of going. He tried to get money out of his account, and he wasn’t doing it right, and in the end the machine ate his card. He was stranded in England without any money. And they said he didn’t turn a hair... Most people would panic, but he never did, [he would say], ‘that’s life’.”
Close friends to Reg, Leanne and her husband, Tony Henderson (ex- Souths Trainer), recall travelling with Reg to away games and spinning great yarns with him on their long drives.
"Reggie usually came with us to most away games. We had a station wagon and Reggie would lay in the back all the way to and from Canberra with the bags. We had great times with him."
From the yarns that I have heard, I think that is how people will remember him. As quite a character, for his humour, his yarns, his mateship, his passion for the community and to always give from the heart, his relaxed perspective and for his ability to immortalise a true legend of Rugby League and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. An unsung hero, a battler, and an entertainer.
In 1995, on behalf of the Rabbitohs, Reg was awarded 'The Spirit of South Sydney Award: For Outstanding Contribution to the Club'. The award is pictured here with Raewyn who is wearing his club/sidelines jacket, and alongside his Reggie jumper.
It was an absolute honour to bring you the stories Reg "Reggie" Fridd, who definitely had one red and one green eye, and breathed the Red and the Green until his passing. I would like to thank those that have done the South Sydney Rabbitohs proud by bringing 'The Rabbit', and later, 'Reggie Rabbit' to life, and providing ear-to-ear smiles on everyone's faces regardless of who they meet. You have to be a beautiful-hearted person to be given the opportunity to wear this uniform.
In order of their roles: 1. Ray Vawden
2. Albert Clift 3. Roscoe Bova 4. Reg Fridd 5. Peter 'Swissy' Welti 6. Jason Tattershall 7. Anth Courtney 8. Kevin Freeman 9. Charlie Gallico
I never had the chance to meet Reg, but I would like to thank Raewyn for giving me the opportunity to tell his yarns, and to immerse myself in his life and his passions. I hope that I have done yourself, your family and Reg, proud. I am forever grateful.
Everyone recalls having a moment with Reg 'Reggie' Fridd, from having a yarn to just shaking his hand. These are a few memories from supporters:
- "I remember the first time I met Reggie. It was early 1980’s at redfern oval. First time at a game. I was about 4 or 5 and just remember after the game chasing after the bunny. When you were allowed on the field after the games. Was a fan from that day!!"
- "I remember standing around those tall round tables at Souths Leagues talking with David Boyle and Les Davidson (Rabbitohs players in the 80s) and there being an empty space with a beer there. Then a hand came up and grabbed the beer, it was Reggie. The first time I had the pleasure of meeting him, was introduced by David Boyle. We had a pretty handy team back then, I think that was about 1986."
"I had the pleasure of working at Souths during Reggies time. He was one of a kind and irreplaceable."
- "What a legend! I remember when my grandfather Chica Cowie introduced me to Reggie as a 6yr old in the changeroom at redfern... what an icon. And the current Reggie Charlie is a credit to the bunnies mascot."
- "Just over 30 years ago, I rang the South Sydney Leagues Club, to ask if Reggie the Rabbit, 'Reggie Fridd', could make a surprise visit to my best mate's (Colin) birthday party. They put me through to Reg, he said, 'not a problem'. I picked him up from the club and travel to the Central Coast, where he stayed the night and had a ball. Champion bloke SSTID." - "He was a great bloke. [He] offered to sleep in our walk-in wardrobe... lol. Said he didn’t need a big bed."
May you enjoy these yarns, laugh a little, and reflect on times gone by. If I can recommend anything, ask a friend to hear theirs, if not – I will. Please contact me if you have a story that you want to share or leave a comment about your memories of the legend that is, Reggie.