August 2005

Arts & Letters

‘The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story’ by John Harms

By Adrian McGregor

Standing on a property my daughter bought recently in Samford, half an hour’s drive north-west of Brisbane, I pointed across the valley to an impressive home. “That’s Steve Renouf’s house.” Said she: “Who’s Steve Renouf?” Had I read John Harms’s book then I would have quoted Roy Masters: Renouf was a rugby league centre who ran with such speed, grace and elan that “you sensed this is how God wants football to be played”. Renouf retired in 2001 after a decade and four premierships with the Brisbane Broncos. Yet in 2004, when he temporarily stepped out for a local Brisbane team at a suburban ground, 4,000 flocked to see him.

This is not a book about an Aboriginal footballer; it is about an Aborigine who happened to be a footballer. His journey, from schoolboy – the tenth of 12 children – in countryside Murgon to World Cup hero at Wembley, has much in common with Cathy Freeman’s. Their antecedents were athletic, they both grew up in a white environment, they were reticent by nature and they were never outspoken about black politics. Like Freeman, Renouf disliked training, and I suspect, like her, he is not exactly prolix.

Apart from being a good read, this book is a valuable resource and deserved an index. Harms is an entertaining writer: “Kevvy Walters, running freely, like a possum on a lino floor.” If I have any qualms it is that biography is a strict discipline, and on principle an author’s fine phrases must defer to the subject’s direct quotes if an elusive persona is to be given full voice. When Renouf’s own words are employed the story lifts, just as Steve used to when he set out for the try-line, imploring himself: “Take me legs!”

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