Keith Murdoch’s drinking mates never twigged to his All Blacks past

Keith Murdoch at London's Euston Station after being expelled from the All Blacks tour of Britain, Ireland and France.

PETER BUSH/STUFF

Keith Murdoch at London’s Euston Station after being expelled from the All Blacks tour of Britain, Ireland and France.

Keith Murdoch, the man-mountain prop infamously sent home from the All Blacks’ tour of the Britain and Ireland in 1972, kept his rugby past secret from his drinking mates in a Western Australian coastal town, even from the friend whom in his dying months he made his next of kin.

Dean Parry didn’t find out Murdoch’s true identity until after he died in Carnarvon Hospital in February,  aged 74, a feature in Perth’s Sunday Timesby journalist Tony Barrass reveals.

Murdoch remains the only All Black ever to be sent home in disgrace. But many of his All Blacks mates blame weak management for him being jettisoned from the tour after a security guard at Cardiff’s Angel Hotel was punched late at night after New Zealand beat Wales, a match in which Murdoch scored a try.

Keith Murdoch's mates never knew he was an All Black.

TV1 SCREENSHOT

Keith Murdoch’s mates never knew he was an All Black.

He didn’t arrive back in New Zealand, catching a flight from Singapore to Darwin to avoid the waiting firestorm at home. He did make visits to see family over the years, including a few work stints, but always returned to the Northern Territory and then Western Australia.

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The Sunday Times  feature paints a picture of a drifter but hard, reliable worker who said very little, but was admired by his few drinking mates at the Gascoyne Hotel, his drinking hole since arriving in Carnarvon, which is 900km north of Perth, about a decade ago. 

Keith Murdoch's portrait shot for the 1972 All Blacks' British Isles tour

EVENING POST

Keith Murdoch’s portrait shot for the 1972 All Blacks’ British Isles tour

“No one in Carnarvon knew Murdoch’s secret. No one. Everyone just knew him as Keith, the big bloke who sat in the corner and didn’t say boo,” Barrass wrote.

“Forever wearing blue shorts, thongs and a blue short-sleeve work shirt, Murdoch would come into the Gassie and have three or four cans of XXXX Gold with Dean. Often found sitting on a bench outside the pub in the smoking area, the non-smoker who was ‘fit as a mallee bull’ until his last months never offered up conversation as he watched the evening’s passing traffic.”

Parry said he was proud to say that he was Murdoch’s best mate. But the 53-year-old electrician did not even realise Murdoch was a New Zealander, saying he didn’t detect a Kiwi accent.

“He was a very quiet man, but he often opened up to me. He enjoyed discussing current affairs and things that were happening in the world.

“I would invite him over for a meal, and we’d watch television or have a few beers and a chat. He was a wonderful man. I miss Keith,” Parry told Barrass for the Sunday Times feature.

Parry said he was stunned when Murdoch’s sister Barbara, who travelled to Carnarvon for the funeral, told him about Murdoch’s identity.

“I keep thinking back to things that he said to me over the years and maybe he was trying to tell me, but maybe I was too stupid to pick it up.”

He said remembered Murdoch muttered something along the lines of, ‘I used to play rugby’, while they were watching an All Blacks’ rugby test on the television one day “and I thought something along the lines of ‘oh, that’s nice Keith’, you know, as two blokes do in a pub.

Parry revealed an incident in which Murdoch suggested to a drunken young man who was causing trouble that he calm down. The man demanded to know what Murdoch was going to do about it.

“I didn’t hit him hard,” Murdoch would later tell Parry, “but I did make him cry.”

Parry, who Barrass said Murdoch made his next-of-kin in his dying months, said his border collie, Sally, just adored Murdoch, who would housesit for him when he was away on business.

In Murdoch’s final days, he asked whether Sally could stay the night in his pensioner unit. “Of course, I said yes. Keith knew he was dying and obviously wanted to be near Sally,” Parry told Barrass. “I don’t care what anyone says; Keith had a good heart.”

Barrass said Murdoch’s sister Barbara declined to comment for the Sunday Times article, but she had talked at his funeral of his love for rugby when he was a kid and how their family was over the moon when he was selected for the All Blacks.

“She also talked about “a lovely card” signed by her brother’s remaining All Blacks teammates, including the captain of the 1972-73 team, Ian Kirkpatrick. She added that Kirkpatrick had told her that it was his biggest regret that the team didn’t support Murdoch and call off the tour.

Barbara then rested Murdoch’s All Blacks cap on her brother’s cross,” Barrass wrote. 

 – Stuff

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