Murdoch: The All Black Who Never Returned
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.)”?