Story behind a classic Beetson moment
The identity of a youthful Indigenous man pictured embracing Arthur Beetson in an iconic State of Origin photo from 1980 can now be revealed, 37 years after it was taken.
Beetson led Queensland to an historic 20-10 win at Lang Park and was photographed being embraced by 17-year-old Matthew Solomon amongst a sea of jubilant spectators. The Courier Mail newspaper the day after the victory and it became a symbol of what was achieved that night by a proud Indigenous leader and a mighty Queenslander.
As the years ticked by, Beetson and his family wondered who the delighted youngster was, pictured hugging the great man while clutching his Maroons beanie in his left hand and clasping the league legend's arm with his right.
Solomon, who played rugby league for Inala in Brisbane, said he was at one of the Lang Park bars that night and watching on with awe as Beetson led the Maroons to a famous victory.
"As soon as the game finished I ran on the field. I had two XXXX cans in my hands and I dropped them," Solomon told NRL.com.
"I was pushing people out of the way to get to Artie, because I'd had a few, and I got to him.
"Artie means everything to black fellas because he made us all believe we can do anything. It all started with him."
Maroons great Chris Close has spoken of the roar that erupted when Beetson emerged from the change rooms, the loudest he'd ever heard.
"And I was one of them roaring," Solomon said.
"He was the greatest, that man. He proved it that night. That's why he's an Immortal.
"I watch a lot of old games now on Fox. Every time I see Artie come on TV a tear comes to my eye and I think about that night in 1980."
Solomon, who described himself as "a bit of a rebel", caught a train to and from Inala to attend the match.
The next day he was greeted with a surprise.
"I was in college and the next day I asked my mum if I could have some money to get some lunch and she said to go to the corner shop to get The Courier Mail.
"I took the paper back but I didn't look at it. Then I was going around the corner to catch the bus and my sister sang out 'come here'.
"I ran back and holy hell, there I was on the front page with Artie Beetson.
"My sister has an original of that photo and I still love to look at it."
NRL.com spoke to Solomon's sister Michelle Maybanks in Ipswich and she said that it was no secret in the community that her brother was the young lad in the image.
He'd been hard to track down because he lived in Alice Springs for 20 years before moving to Melbourne, where he now resides.
Solomon said the picture is still a topic of conversation with his wife Donna and five children.
"They all love it," he said.
Arthur's son Brad Beetson said finally tracking down Solomon was "something dad would have been very happy about if he was still around".
"It was an iconic image of dad embracing his people after the game," Brad said.
"It has always been in the back our minds just who that young man was and what happened to him. It is part of Origin folklore and something dad always remembered as part of his Origin experience.
"Dad loved his mob and it was the first time he'd captained Queensland so that photo captured the spirit of the whole event.
"Of course, a lot of Murris were just so happy to see dad come back and play for Queensland."
Brad said he was 14 that night and "on the hill with my mates" cheering his father on.
Arthur Beetson Foundation chairman Steve Johnson said the call had gone out months ago on social media to discover the identity of the man embracing Beetson.
The Foundation will host a luncheon in Brisbane on World Cup final eve on December 1, celebrating Beetson's life on the sixth anniversary of his death.
"It is just a wonderful celebration of what Origin is – the joy on the faces and the love the Queensland community has for Arthur," Johnson said.
"It is all captured in one image.
"Arthur wanted to find the young man in his lifetime and now with the advent of social media we have. We were able to finally establish after discussions with Matthew and his family that it was him."
Colin Scott was the Maroons fullback in 1980 and he too had been on a quest to find the young man in the image with Beetson.
Scott will speak about Brad Beetson and the iconic photo at the luncheon in Brisbane on Friday, appropriate considering Beetson was the first Indigenous player to captain Australia and did so in two of the four World Cup campaigns he played in.
"To be able to play alongside Arthur Beetson in that first Origin was something I will never forget," Scott said.
"That night laid the platform for a lot of Indigenous players that followed after us.
"That photo typified what that game meant to us as Queenslanders. Prior to the Origin concept we were getting touched up by a NSW side full of Queensland players.
"Back in those days you could jump the fence and get on the field and I can understand why Matthew ran straight for Arthur.
"For me, that photo typified what that night meant to Indigenous people and to all Queenslanders."