Inside Greg ‘Hollywood’ Hartley bush paradise on the Hawkesbury River
Inside Greg ‘Hollywood’ Hartley bush paradise on the Hawkesbury River

‘Hollywood days are long gone’: Inside Greg Hartley’s bush paradise

They sit together on a narrow bank of the Hawkesbury River each morning, a man and his dog.

Clutching a light blue coffee mug - made especially for him by the kids he coached way back in 1978 - he throws a fishing line while his Border Collie, Elly, wrestles nearby with a stick.

Few on the prawn trawler boats which glide past know the stocky man on the shore in a weathered cowboy hat was once among the most famous and controversial figures in rugby league.

This is former leading referee Greg Hartley's world these days. The once theatrical Hartley - famously nicknamed Hollywood - has shifted from celebrated referee to bush recluse in a modified caravan.

And he couldn't be happier.

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Greg ‘Hollywood’ Hartley has traded in his Sydney life for some peace and quiet on the Hawkesbury.
Greg ‘Hollywood’ Hartley has traded in his Sydney life for some peace and quiet on the Hawkesbury.

Hartley, who controlled five NSWRL grand finals, has given up his once glamorous Sydney lifestyle for an existence of peace, tranquillity and contentment.

Now 78, Hartley lives in the Leetsvale Caravan Park, a cluster of 64 cabins in a small village 83 kilometres northwest of Sydney, situated on the beautiful Hawkesbury River. Only three people - including Hartley - lives in the park full-time, the rest float in each weekend and public holidays.

Hartley has extended his caravan into a modest yet comfortable cabin just a 30 metre walk to the river. He paid just $40,000.

"I had all the glitz and glamour but it's time to pull back. And this is absolute paradise," Hartley said. "I have been around the world but at 6 o'clock in the morning, I don't think there's better place in the world, when the mist comes across the water, water skiers coming from the mist.

"I don't have to answer to anyone. I will live here until they cart me out. I have no reason to move. I'm fit, healthy, live simply and don't want for anything. I live a reclusive lifestyle to some degree - but it suits me.

"As long as you have a full belly, dry house and good friends, you're rich."

There is no public transport into Leetsvale and Hartley - rugby league's first show pony referee - loses phone reception when he shifts 15 metres from his home. He has Foxtel though and the internet.

"Not that I know how to use it," Hartley joked.

Hartley now lives a recluse life on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at Leetsvale. Pictured with his dog Elly enjoying the quiet life. Picture: Toby Zerna
Hartley now lives a recluse life on the banks of the Hawkesbury River at Leetsvale. Pictured with his dog Elly enjoying the quiet life. Picture: Toby Zerna

Each morning, he makes a strong coffee - in a mug given to him by the under 6s he coached 42 years old - and takes Elly down to the water, the dog often charging into the water. The pair are inseparable.

"Elly is with me 24/7 - I'd be absolutely knackered without her," he said. "She is smarter than me which worries me sometimes. She has a great life here and I love her to death."

Hartley sold farms near Gulgong and Mudgee and had sufficient cash to buy a property in Sydney but wanted a divorce from the rat race.

Around the caravan park, Hartley will mow lawns with his own sit-on mower, generally while sipping a beer. And when his ageing hips offer up grief, Hartley transports himself around in a second-hand golf buggy he bought for around $4000.

"There are a lot of young kids here on the weekends between eight and 12. They will stand out the front of my place in line and I put them on the back of the buggy where you put your clubs. They are strapped in and I take them for rides," Hartley said.

"Some call me Uncle Greg, others call me 'Poppa Holly'. I enjoy the kids and they love me. It's just a lovely way to live."

Hartley is happy, comfortable and untroubled. He once embraced the limelight, refereeing in front of crowds upwards of 60,000. Not anymore. His flamboyant 'Hollywood' days are over.

Greg Hartley was never one to shy away from controversy.
Greg Hartley was never one to shy away from controversy.

LEETSVALE LODGING

Hartley has a sign hanging out front of his Leetsvale cabin, which reads: Hartley's Hideout.

"I bought a cabin down here five or six years ago and fell in love with the place," he said. "When I sold my farms - one was outside of Gulgong and the other at Cooks Gap, which is 36 kilometres out of Mudgee - I decided I wasn't going to buy another house. So what better place to live because I love the bush. I decided to keep the dough and live here.

"I didn't need to buy another house. I'm very well off and I live a simple life. This is perfect for me. I've got my beautiful dog, a nice boat and I fish up and down the river. There are a lot of good fishing spots at Webbs Creek. This to me is absolute paradise.

"It's a quiet life and it suits me. I live well, I drink the best scotch. Elly and I go down to the beach every morning, she swims, even in the middle of winter. She just loves the water. I will sit, take in the view and make up my mind about exactly what I will do for the day. If I don't want to do anything then I don't.

"This is like a little community each weekend. Most are caravans with cabins built onto the side. Only three people live here full-time, the rest are tradies that come on weekends with their big boats. It is water skiing community.

"There are also millionaires here too. They work hard Monday to Friday and this is their weekend getaway. Nearly everyone in the park has a football team. Only problem is two-thirds are Parramatta fans and they don't miss me.

"I'm also in the Men's Shed at Wiseman's Ferry … the senior vice President. I do three to four hours there on a Tuesday and Saturday morning. We do a lot for the elderly community, we fix their chairs and tables so I fill in my time there.

"I do a lot of mowing around the park. I sit on the mower and relax with a beer. Basically my whole existence is in Leetsvale although I see my daughter, Belinda, up in Cherrybrook a couple of times a week."

Hartley sold his properties and set up at ‘Hartley’s Hideout’. Picture: Toby Zerna.
Hartley sold his properties and set up at ‘Hartley’s Hideout’. Picture: Toby Zerna.

THEN AND NOW

The limelight and spotlight have gone. Now for some solitude.

"I had a very good time in my ten years as a referee. That life to this life - they are poles apart," he said.

"I did five grand finals (1978, '78 replay, '79, '80, '81). Ken Arthurson, Kevin Humphreys and Peter 'Bullfrog' Moore sent me around the world. I was the only one to referee a rugby league game in Marseilles. I went to New Zealand, did the inaugural Test between PNG and France and one Test on the SCG against Poms.

"But I have gone from that side of my life to doing what I'm doing now. In the winter months I get lonely. I would like to have met somebody in my age group but that hasn't happened."

 

WHY HOLLYWOOD

Hartley today revealed the man who gave him his famous nickname.

"It started with Bob Fulton in around 1972 when Manly played Norths at North Sydney Oval," he said. "'Bozo' dropped the ball over the tryline as he was trying to score - George Ambrum (Bears and Australian player) hit him from behind, he was a big mother George, I loved him, a gentleman.

"Bozo dropped the ball about a foot and he looked around to see whether I saw it. I caught him and said: 'No try, knock on'. Well, 'Bozo' jumped up and screamed and said I wasn't in Hollywood now.

"It was picked up from there and it stuck. It didn't worry me. The media went mad, guys like (journalists) Geoff Prenter and Ron Casey."

Hartley and Peter Peters teamed up to become Sydney’s number one rugbly league commentary team in the mid 1980s.
Hartley and Peter Peters teamed up to become Sydney’s number one rugbly league commentary team in the mid 1980s.

SHOWPONY OR JUST DIFFERENT?

"I was different," Hartley conceded. "Jack Bradley (former referee) said to me one day: 'You should be like all the other referees'. Those with the starch collar, walking around like a porcupine.

"And I said, no, not really, why? It won't make me a better referee.

"I turned up to the SCG one day with new yellow and black Tiger-sponsored boots, my collar tucked in and I wore an armband because I would sweat like a pig. The establishment didn't like that and they dropped me.

"I wanted to do my own thing and the one thing I had over all those blokes was that I trained my guts out and tried to be fittest bloke I could be on the field. And it was great that I got to referee some of the greatest players of all time in my ten years."

 

MANLY DRAMA

Hartley was falsely accused of favouring Manly during the Sea Eagles' historic charge to win the 1978 grand final.

A woman in the SCG crowd during Manly's semi-final win over Parramatta, Dot Williams, actually counted the tackles during each set and realised Hartley had allowed a Sea Eagles try on the seventh tackle. She contacted the media and the final series erupted.

There were also three five-tackle sets for Parramatta that day and another seven-tackle set for Manly.

Hartley always denied favouring Manly, saying: "I made a mistake, it was on the seventh tackle. Some lady in the stand was counting tackles and all hell broke loose. That blew up in my face. It was honest mistake, I missed by one tackle.

"There was some grief in that period with guys like (then Eels secretary) Denis Fitzgerald. He hated my guts and I didn't like him much other.

"The suggestion that I favoured Manly didn't worry me. My aim objective each match was to finish with 26 players and make sure players weren't hurt

"I guess I was offended to some degree that they thought I was favouring one team or another. I remember one rumour was Manly had some apartments built for me."

 

DEATH THREAT

Hartley received multiple death threats and was nearly hit by a flying piece of metal during a drive-by while living in Greystanes.

"I love my lawns. People used to tip my garbage out onto my lawn and then there was this one Saturday morning when I was at home with a mate, Gary Coulton," he said.

"We heard this screech from a ute and there was a bloke in the back. He had a piece of two-inch pipe and he had welded each end and bent it. I had an open lawn and the next minute I heard this thud. It just missed Gary's head by a foot.

"I used to laugh off the death threats. I thought they were cowards."

A fan jumps the fence to abuse Hartley during a game at Leichhardt Oval in 1980.
A fan jumps the fence to abuse Hartley during a game at Leichhardt Oval in 1980.

LEICHHARDT LADY

A frustrated woman - wearing a blue top and white shorts - famously jumped the fence and charged onto the field to abuse Hartley during a match between Balmain and Parramatta at Leichhardt Oval.

"That was a funny day," Hartley said. "I pinched Michael Cronin for being off-side. The next minute this blonde lady is standing right behind me and she was into me, calling me a cheat. I told her to leave the ground and then 'Jethro' (Eels prop Geoff Gerard) picked her up and put her back behind the fence.

"That same day, that same game, I was coming out of the dressing room and - because of what happened - the coppers said I should stay back and have a few beers.

"Because, as I was walking off the ground, a Balmain supporter who had one of those really big flags hit me over the head. I've still got the dent in my head. I went down and the coppers got him. They asked whether I wanted him charged but I just told the cops to take him out the back and give him some but they said they couldn't.

"I walked out the back later on and there was the bloke in the carpark. He said: "Hartley, do you believe in reincarnation?

"I said: "To a degree mate, why?" He said: "Well I hope you come back as telegraph pole so every dog in Balmain can piss on you."

 

HOLLYWOOD AND ZORBA

The Decibel Duo - Hartley and Peter Peters - became Sydney's number one rugby league radio commentary team during the early to mid-1980s.

"They were wonderful times," Hartley said. "Zorba is like a brother to me. We were there together for 25 years and Peter and I never had one fight, never a cross word. We had a lot of funny times."

Originally published as 'Hollywood days are long gone': Inside Greg Hartley's bush paradise



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