Gene Fairbanks made his name in Super Rugby as a versatile journeyman and a crushing inside centre, and last year led the Bowral Blacks second grade team to its first premiership in 45 years. As the season kicks off again, the former rugby star turned coach and estate agent talks country, family and David Campese.
What do you love about living here? Everything is close to home. My wife Jemima and I have two young children, Digby and Sibella, and two businesses, and yet some days I can still duck home for lunch. I couldn’t do that if we lived in Sydney.
How did a Queensland boy end up in Bowral via Osaka? I left Goondiwindi at 14 to go to boarding school in Toowoomba. I travelled a lot through my 13 year career with the Queensland Reds, the Brumbies, the Western Force and the Kintetsu Liners in Japan. My inlaws, Sarah and Mitch Hooke, live here, and a few years ago Jemima and I bought what we thought was an investment property. We started renovating, and six months later I retired from rugby and was approached to set up Ray White Bowral.
Do you come from a rural rugby playing family? My parents managed farms and I’m the youngest of six kids, all sports mad. Playing rugby league for the Goondiwindi Boars is my earliest team memory.
What attributes made you a great player? I was super competitive, luckily born with a keen football brain. But I guess my defence defined me as a player in the end.
Did you play for Australia? I played for Australia at the under 19 and under 21s World Cup, and for the Australian Mens Sevens for 12 months. I toured with the Wallabies in 2006 but was never capped.
Career highlight? Playing for the Brumbies. Also, at 21 I was nominated as one of the top three players in the world for my age by the International Rugby Board (IRB). That was pretty special.
When did you start with the Bowral Blacks? In 2015. I became head coach in 2016.
When the Seconds won its premiership, did you feel like Moses leading the Israelites out of the desert? The coaching staff were all very proud. To be able to watch a group of individuals come so far and to have played a small part was a real buzz.
You’ve recently had giants of rugby Bob Dwyer and David Campese helping out? I take a lot from Bob’s counsel which I use in training. And it didn’t take too much to get Campo on board. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the club, and fun, especially when he jumps around and thinks he’s 20 again…
Why is an inclusive rugby club important? You can express the culture of an area in the way you play your rugby. It’s a responsibility to perform to the best of our ability in a manner that reflects the culture of the Highlands community.
How is the club travelling? Unreal. Our juniors numbers are extremely healthy, and our senior club has a third grade team this season. As a whole, rugby union needs to do better at developing the nursery of junior players, and extending the game more broadly than the traditional breeding grounds of private schools.
Best advice you ever received? Have the confidence to follow your dreams but always remain respectful.
Biggest loves? My wife and kids.
Biggest gripe about the Highlands? Winter is very long.
Favourite place to go? Turning the phone off and appreciating family and a cold beer in our great backyard.
What qualities did you learn playing that helps sell houses? Be tough and tenacious but remain scrupulous and honourable. I also have a degree in business and marketing from Monash University.
Any relation to Douglas Fairbanks, dashing Hollywood silent film star? Unfortunately not.
And finally, please finish this sentence. Old rugby players never die, they just… get extremely sore and start coaching.