NO SHADES OF GREY by Lou Rowan (Toowoomba, Queensland: Spotcolour) Paperback: 392 pages, ISBN: 9780646547862 Rec. price: $60.00 (postage added) (Available from Freedom Publishing)
Reviewed by Michael Gilchrist
The title of this book is an apt description of its contents, being the no-holds-barred memoir of a remarkable Australian, and sadly one of a dying breed of public leaders with moral integrity and solid backbone. Notably, No Shades of Grey, with its refreshing candour and naming of names, takes the art of political incorrectness to another level.
Whether one accepts all the writer's often sweeping opinions and observations, his long and distinguished career in a wide range of important endeavours and his roles as a dedicated family man and devout Catholic deserve respect. Would that there were more of his calibre in public life today.
At the outset, Rowan's detailed, often blunt observations on the shortcomings of the criminal justice system, based on his long career as a Queensland policeman and detective, will be especially fascinating to readers from the Sunshine State. A large proportion of the memoir is devoted to this subject, including police corruption and the Fitzgerald inquiry.
On the other hand, for dedicated cricket followers, the author's chief claim to fame will be his career as a test cricket umpire from 1963-1971, as well as his involvement in Sheffield Shield matches for several years prior to that.
In his foreword to No Shades of Grey, cricketing legend Alan Davidson AM MBE writes: "Lou's reputation as an umpire remains one of the highest in the history of test cricket." Indeed, Rowan is presently Australia's oldest surviving former test cricket umpire.
His distinguished career included several memorable episodes, notably the English walk-off in the 1971 Sydney test when express bowler John Snow, who had been intimidating Australia's lower order batsmen, was manhandled by a spectator on the boundary. Rowan warned the English captain, Ray Illingworth, that unless his players returned to the field immediately they would forfeit the match. Illingworth complied and another potential Bodyline-style crisis was averted.
And Rowan was officiating in a 1963 Australia versus South Africa test when his colleague, the equally no-nonsense Col Egar, repeatedly no-balled Ian Meckiff for "chucking" and effectively ended his career. Many years later, during a feature article in the Sunday Herald Sun in 2008, Rowan offered some typically candid observations, including that Sri Lankan spin bowler Muralidaran was "a blatant chucker ... regardless of what the new rules suggest".
Nor is Shane Warne spared: "I have always regarded Warne as an affront to the efforts of parents and guardians who seek or have sought to instil in children an abiding sense of decency, tolerance, moderation and humility. I see him as a person who scorns sportsmanship, authority and good manners. That he was permitted to wear the coveted green and gold of Australia despite his scandalous conduct is an indictment of the administration of the game" (p.366).
In the present book cricket gets only one chapter, given that Rowan had previously covered the ground fully in an earlier book, The Umpire's Story (1973), shortly after he retired from test umpiring. Unfortunately, this fascinating book is long out of print although copies can still be found (at a price) on Internet websites such as Amazon.co.uk. Rowan's extensive dealings with cricketing luminaries such as Don Bradman are among the many points of interest in both books.
Despite Rowan's hostility towards what he sees as Australia's undue subservience to the United States in her foreign policy as well as America's alleged ulterior motives and "bullying" international behaviour - which many might query - the author has kind words for cricketing "tragic" John Howard: "Back in 1995, John Howard saw fit to send me a fax on the occasion of my seventieth birthday. When Isabel [Rowan's wife] was desperately ill he telephoned me expressing his regret and passed on his best wishes and those of Janette. His letter following Isabel's death was appreciated by all. He has always demonstrated class, character and dignity. While he made a number of decisions with which I do not agree, they were after all matters for him to decide" (p.385).
Rowan's "tell it as it is" comments about the operations of the justice system in Queensland (obviously relevant to other states) would no doubt ruffle many feathers. There are numerous quotable quotes, of which space permits just a few typical examples:
"The closest I go to being stumped for words is when the matter of our gaols and the treatment of criminals is raised. Here again, the laws of libel deny me the right to fully express my views on those who have reduced our prison system to a joke" (p.259).
"I have no hesitation in blaming weak judges and magistrates for the lawlessness we witness in our streets today and the general proliferation of crime. Savage crimes are seemingly treated as unimportant when it comes to sentencing at all levels. Criminals and louts have no fear of the courts and the prisons" (pp.283-284).
"It is all very well for the advisors, the critics and criminologists, to claim that in times past police used rough and unacceptable tactics in clearing streets and public places of hoons, vandals and all manner of loud-mouthed louts. I feel no sense of guilt as regards any action I took in doing such work ... in making streets and public places safe for decent law-abiding citizens" (p.236).
Prominent politicians are also in Rowan's sights: "Of all the shallow, attention-seeking individuals Australia has so far produced, the former Queensland State Premier, Peter Beattie, would hold first place. To him, all members of society are suckers. Many people hold the view that he practises his speeches as he cleans his teeth.... He accurately describes himself as a 'media tart' and there never has been a person so absorbed with his own importance" (pp.184-185).
"Of all the leaders this country has so far produced I believe the most damaging have been Gough Whitlam, Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. Having mentioned them, I will not spend any more time on them" (p.183).
"I regard as offensive and insulting the intrusion of Kevin Rudd into the affairs of the Catholic Church, through spouting his support for the canonisation of Blessed Mary MacKillop. Rudd has long abandoned his Catholic faith as is his right. He should be seen for what he is, the ultimate egotist and glory seeker who is merely using the canonisation to draw attention to himself. He is the High Priest of Hypocrisy" (p.50).
"On the opposite side of politics we had Fraser. Now if ever there was a hopeless case as a leader it was Fraser, the belt and braces man. He simply could not govern. The leadership of the country was handed to him on a platter and he remained clueless until finally dumped. Even now, he does not have the common sense to shut up and obviously believes people still want to hear from him" (p.50).
There is insufficient space here to do justice to Lou Rowan's remarkable life and career. His book deserves a much wider readership than the present limited print run allows, but doubtless a larger publisher would wish to neuter the author's more outspoken, politically incorrect observations, and Rowan would have none of that, wishing to record his unvarnished views for posterity.
The book is attractively produced with numerous historical photos and facsimiles of documents. The omission of an index is unfortunate, as it would have helped keep track of the many characters who appear in Rowan's lively autobiography, but this was probably too tall an order.
The following quote is an apt summary of the author's life and philosophy: "There can be no doubt that we live today in a sick society where humanism and liberalism reign supreme. There are all manner of false gods. I was reared to believe in Almighty God and despite my many failings, I will die in that same belief. It is understandable therefore that I have a conviction that the laws of man must reflect the Laws of God" (p.172).