Friday, 22 January 2010

Recollections of Keith Murdoch

One of the most visited postings on my blog are the ones on Keith Murdoch. Here are some updated jottings on Keith. (photo right)

Keith Murdoch was my hero when I was a teenager. I was 17 and he must have been 23 when I got the chance to play with him. I must of played about five games with him that season, 1966.

He had represented Otago as a 20-year-old prop in 1964, then had a season with Ponsonby and one with Marist in Napier before returning to Dunedin. That was when I played with him. He was somewhat unfit and so he decided to start the season off playing for Zingari Richmond in the Dunedin second grade competition.
I remember that cold Otago winter of 1966, when we played on a frost covered ground against Eastern at Waikouwai-iti. I was a wing three quarter and my job was to throw the ball in at line out time. There was something unsettling about throwing into Murdoch, a hulk of a man who physical presence was magnetic. The first time I threw the ball in, it was crooked. Murdoch glared at me. The second time I threw it in off centre. Murdoch grabbed me by the shirt and said, “Next time throw the fuckin’ ball in straight.” The threatening look in his deep eyes convinced me to improve instantaneously, I improved and never threw the ball in crooked again to Keith Murdoch. I was 17 and not fully physically developed, and a couple of the opposition forwards picked on me and roughed me up. Murdoch must have seen it and said, “next time someone hits you, give me his number.”
A few minutes later, a prop with No. 14 on his back, punched me in a tackle. I looked at Keith Murdoch, and said " No. 14.” A few minutes later No. 14 was on the ground, half conscious, and cowering. No one picked on me for the remainder of the game. I had found a grumpy Godfather.

We had a great after match function, and after consuming huge quantifies of beer, Keith offered to drive me home in his olive green Mini Minor. Imagine a 130 kg hulk of muscle getting into a small mini. About 30 mins later, he didn't quite make a corner somewhere south of Cherry Farm and the car slid off the road into a grassy ditch. I offered to help Keith manhandle the car back onto the road. He glared at me with disdain. "Leave it alone boy" he said, "I'll do it myself." With that said, Murdoch lifted, bounced, wrenched and slid the mini up the side of a a 3 metre ditch, skewed it onto the road, straightened the car up like a city slicker straightening his tie, and wiped his hand on the back of his tight shorts.

We stopped at the Ravensborne pub for a few more jugs and Murdoch gave me a man-to-boy talk about how to play rugby.

A schoolmate, Nev Cleveland,told me recently he was a neighbour to the Murdoch family in Ravensbourne. Nev was the milk boy and remembers delivering 12 pints of milk to Keith's home daily. He told me that one Sunday morning about 7 am, he met Keith 'as pissed as a fart' crawling home on hands and knees. We both recalled Keith's older brother Bruce, a bricklayer, who was also a fine rugby player.

The famous Peter Bush photograph of Keith Murdoch leaving his hotel in Cardiff after being requested to leave the team.

I also have pleasant memories of drinking after games we played at Montecillo and walking through the southern cemetery, or driving to the nearest pub at the southern end of the Oval.. Wyndam Barkman, Frosty are some of the other players who come to mind. Murdoch was generally kind and protective of his friends and a pleasure to drink with. He choose his words carefully and added colour and zest to conversations.

Murdoch's career ended controversially and mysteriously. He scored the All Blacks' only try in their 1972 win against Wales in Cardiff, but later the same night was involved in a fracas and was sent home from the tour by All Black management, reputedly after pressure was brought to bear by the home rugby unions. Rather than returning to rugby in New Zealand, Murdoch virtually went into hiding, quitting his home and his sport and moving to the Australian outback where he has lived ever since.

A rare appearance ... Keith Murdoch in 2001. Photo: Getty Images

A play Finding Murdoch by Margot McRae, which premiered at Downstage Theatre, Wellington in June 2007, is about McRae's tracking down of Murdoch. She says of the media frenzy when he punched a security guard that "If there's a baddie it would be the media."

Writer John Haviland: wrote this about him " In 1979, Murdoch paid a brief visit to New Zealand, and was seen saving the life of a drowning toddler, by giving the child mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for four minutes."
see link

Murdoch was often the subject of rugby talk, some of it about his not inconsiderable rugby ability, much of it about his behaviour. A favourite story was of Keith Murdoch towing a car up a Dunedin hill, clasping the tow rope in his teeth! I could believe it !

Selected for the South African tour of 1970, Murdoch, according to esteemed rugby writer TP McLean, suffered an ankle injury during a fight with friends of Springbok Piet Visagie. He was out of action for 10 games.
Later, his passion for the game and his unbelievable strength were emphasised when he played the fourth test in pain, then afterwards he was immediately whisked away to be operated on for appendicitis!

I am happy he is living a peaceful life in outback Australia.


Gollum said...


Don't want to be a nit-picker but that photo is from the Barbarians game (it may even be from the 1974 Baa Baas game at the end of the tour of Ireland that year) and well after Murdoch was sent home. I think the player is the centre is Kirky and Tane Norton is on the far right.

I saw Murdoch play at Fraser Park, Timaru in 1972 when Otago played South Canterbury. I was only a kid and didn't pay much attention to him. Later that year he became "infamous" and I wished I had watched him a bit more.

Murdoch and some players of his generation (Meads and Grizz Wyllie spring to mind) wouldn't have survived in the modern game with the close attention paid to foul play. But in those days the psychology of softening up key opponents with physical violence was part and parcel of the game.I believe Greg McGee has written something about this in a book he launched last year but which I have yet to read. However, those games did produce characters who will be remembered long after the current crop have been forgotten. Murdoch is clearly one of them.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Gollum, you just might be right there mate. My eyesight isn't as good as it was, so I removed the photo and put a new one in.

Yes, physical violence was part and parcel of the game, as was drinking and driving.

I think the game today is much better to watch, faster and more attractive. But how can we forget Griss, Meads, Kevin Skinner and the like. Good mates to have in a bar room brawl. It was a real honour to play with Keith Murdoch and my meories are as fresh as ever.
Thanks Gollum for pointing out the mistake in the photo.


Gollum said...


I'm getting a bit old myself. Tane Norton didn't play in the 72/73 Barbarians game - they let Ron Urlich have a run instead. I used to have tons of stuff on the 72/73 tour including some glossy black and white Peter Bush photographs. I think they came from the Timaru Herald who would give away such things to kids when they no longer needed them.

There is an ESPN documentary on Youtube about the rugby relationship between South Africa and New Zealand with particular focus on 1956 and Kevin Skinner. Incredible that after over 50 years there is still such a high degree of emotion from the players of that era who were involved in the Third and Fourth tests.

I don't have much interest in the modern game which is so highly structured. Better in the old days when everyone was squashed up in the lineout and fists and elbows went in every direction.

Have a good break down south.

Paterika Hengreaves said...

Hi Bob

His character traits don't seem to mesh with Virgo men. Is there anyway of knowing if he is still alive?

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Gollum

Thanks for your feedback Gollum. I recall collection everything possible on the 1959 Lions tean that toured New Zealand even to the extent of watching train at Carisbrook and getting Tony O'Reilly's autograph.

Good to have contact again. Bob

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Paterika

Keith Murdoch is still alive in a remote part of Northern Australia. He shuns journalists but to his beighbours and friends, they speak of a gentle giant who would do anything for a neighbour, or someone in need. Murdoch was a product of his time where violence on the rugby field was not only accepted, but encouraged. He is 66 years of age and in good health.

The New Zealand Rugby Union are about to give his older brother. Bruce, 'a cap' which honours his many games for the All Blacks.

Have a good day. Bob

Paterika Hengreaves said...

Hi Bob

Thank you very much for answering my question about Murdoch. What you have revealed truly reflects the character traits of Virgo people. Many of my friends male and female are Virgos. My son and I are Virgos.

Have a great day

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Anonymous said...

It is interesting that no one including the playwright to 'Finding Murdoch', chose to do the obvious, for probable biased reasons, which was to ask what happened from the other side, either at the Angel Hotel in Cardiff, or by researching to try find the assaulted security guard, and interview him. It also makes for a better play and mystery not to do so.

Apparently, after the game, and reception, back at the hotel and drunk (thats Ok), he was hungry, but the kitchen was closed. So, he barged into the kitchen and started helping himself to food (thats not OK, basically theft).

A hotel security guard was called, who asked him to leave, understandably, as that was his job. The next part, who started punching first, needs to be found out from both sides, but bottom line the guard who was just doing his job, was beaten up (definately not OK).

Now after checking the above, if it is true, should he have been sent home, sent to jail for assault, or should it have been ignored?

I believe the right decision was made, and it was an unfortunate, sad incident for all concerned.

I am sure Keith Murdoch if he had not been drunk, would have been/is as nice a man, as those above say he was when sober, and equally violent when drunk. I am sure he felt afterwards, still feels, horribly guilty about the whole thing. But here, now, the mystery is out. Let the poor fellow alone, as he wishes, as I am sure he does not want to be constantly reminded of incident. Would you?

A man of 72/73.

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