Mur­doch: The All Black Who Never Re­turned

North & South - - Monthly Review -

Ron Palen­ski (Up­start Press, $40)

It’s one of those sto­ries that seems to hold an end­less fas­ci­na­tion for Ki­wis – like the Crewe mur­ders or Bob Deans’ dis­al­lowed try against Wales. In short: All Black prop Keith Mur­doch whacked a se­cu­rity guard at a Cardiff ho­tel and was sent home. The de­bate is in the de­tails: how pro­voked was he? Why was he made to leave the team? And what hap­pened to him af­ter that?

What is clear is that his ex­pul­sion was or­dered by British of­fi­cials, al­though the blame was taken by New Zealand team man­ager Ernie Todd. Vet­eran sports­writer Ron Palen­ski doesn’t make too much of it, but it seems like a clear case of the Home Coun­try putting the up­start colo­nials in their place. Flames were fanned by an un­usu­ally hos­tile British press.

Among those on whom the af­fair has had a last­ing ef­fect are Mur­doch’s team­mates; many of them, in the wake of his death ear­lier this year, have spo­ken out about their re­gret that they did not stand shoul­der to shoul­der with their team­mate on an “If he goes, we all go” ba­sis.

The more in­trigu­ing mys­tery lies in what came af­ter the ex­pul­sion. Mur­doch went bush. How­ever, he did not, as many be­lieve, go en­tirely un­der­ground so much as keep his head down and try to stay out of trou­ble, lead­ing a peri­patetic ex­is­tence be­tween the Aus­tralian outback and ru­ral New Zealand, where he re­turned and worked sev­eral times.

Palen­ski spins as much as any­one could out of a story he ad­mits can never fully be told. There’s no short­age of at­ten­tion-grab­bing de­tail, how­ever, such as the story of Mur­doch tow­ing a car with one hand on his steer­ing wheel and the other hold­ing a rope pulling the bro­ken- down ve­hi­cle.

And who else but our pre- em­i­nent rugby his­to­rian could drill down to such de­tails as, “The ref­eree, in­ci­den­tally, was Bob Forsyth of Taranaki, one of only two one-armed men any­where to ref­eree a rugby test. (The other was an Aus­tralian, Bill Chap­man.)”?

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