2023 Queensland Hall of Fame – Geoff Pemberton

Geoff Pemberton is a typical true-blue Cairns boy. Born-and-bred in the North Queensland ‘capital’, he loves fishing and camping, and the easy-going lifestyle of the north but loves Australian football more. This is why he’s a super-stalwart of the code as a player, junior coach and umpire for almost 40 years.

Born into a football family in which father Greg played at South Cairns and mother Gail was a long-time secretary, president and all-star volunteer at ‘the Cutters’, he was coached at Under-13 level by one of Cairns’ favorite footballing sons Troy Clarke, a Brisbane AFL player, long-time AFLQ development operative and AFLQ Hall of Famer, and grew up with future AFL players Che Cockatoo-Collins and Mark West.

A much-decorated player through a career that spanned 265 senior games with South Cairns, Cairns Saints and QAFL club Southport from 1989-2006, he won four premierships at Saints (1998), Southport (1999-2000) and South Cairns (2003). All after an early SANFL trial with Woodville-Torrens, which was cut short because he didn’t particularly like Adelaide.

Primarily a wingman in his early days, he was recruited by Southport to play fullback and there he stayed. He was a five-time Cairns/North Queensland representative who twice represented Queensland Country and twice was chosen in the All-Australian Country team after national carnivals in Bendigo and Berri, where he was Queensland Player of the Carnival to cap off his proudest moments.

While playing in the third and fourth legs of Southport’s phenomenal 1997-98-99-2000 premiership quadrella, he represented Queensland against Victoria at Coorparoo in 1999. He was a two-time best and fairest winner at South Cairns, and in 2005, was chosen in the AFL Cairns Team of the Half Century. Significantly, too, annual trophies at South Cairns in seniors and juniors are presented to the ‘Geoff Pemberton Rising Star’.

In retirement, after a couple of years off, he coached the South Cairns junior sides in which sons Jesse and Will were playing. Watching them enjoy football ‘their way’ was as satisfying as anything he did himself. And then, wanting to stay involved, he took up umpiring in 2016 after a phone call from Cairns umpiring stalwart Rowan Tattersall.

After ‘three or four’ reserves games he slotted into the senior ranks.  He officiated in the reserves grand final in his first year, has done four senior grand finals since then, and was voted Umpire of the Year in the Cairns Football League in 2019 and 2022. He officiated in the NQ v SQ representative games in 2019 and 2021 but declined the offer in 2023. According to insiders, he wanted someone else to have a go.

Known as an umpire who enjoys a good relationship with the players, he often shares some quick-witted banter. “Like when I award a free kick against someone and they’d say, ‘you used to do that – why are you penalising me?’ I always answer ‘yeah, but I never got caught.”

Quite simply, he enjoys umpiring an Under-11s game on a Sunday afternoon as much as he does a top-ranking A-Grade game on a Saturday. It’s all about staying involved and giving back to the game that he says has given him so much.

Owner of Top End Truck Align, a wheel alignment business in Cairns, he was taken aback when AFLQ chairman Dean Warren rang to tell him of his Hall of Fame induction. “I immediately thought ‘what have I done? Someone must have complained about me,” he said.

An ever-humble true-blue Cairns boy who lives fishing and camping, and especially football!

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