By PAUL YANDALL
Disgraced former All Black Keith Murdoch has spoken publicly for the first time in over a decade and proclaimed his innocence in the mystery death of an Aboriginal man.
In an exclusive interview with the Weekend Herald yesterday, Murdoch said the last he saw of Christopher Limerick was when the police were taking him from Murdoch's home in Tennant Creek, Northern Territory.
Speaking from the remote Camfield cattle station, about 450km south of Darwin, Murdoch said he was only a witness in the case and that he would return to Tennant Creek to appear at the inquest.
Australian police have been searching for 55-year-old Murdoch since he failed to appear when the inquest began on June 12.
The remains of 20-year-old Mr Limerick were found at the abandoned Nobles Nob opencast mine last October.
Murdoch was one of the last people to see him alive, after catching him breaking into his home. He allegedly gave Mr Limerick a beating for breaking in.
Mr Limerick was seen once more at the mine, looking injured and begging for water. He was later found dead.
But Murdoch denied he had caught Mr Limerick, and taken him away.
"It was about a month before [Mr Limerick's body was found]. We called the cops. He came around the door and the cops came and took him away. That's all," Murdoch said yesterday.
It was the first time the reclusive man has said more than a few public words since he was sent packing in disgrace from the All Blacks' tour of Britain in 1972.
After first saying that he was at "some people's place" when the police collected Mr Limerick, Murdoch admitted that he was at home the night the officers did this.
"There were three police that arrived. They just stopped on the side of the road and came and took him away," he said.
"There's three of them there. One black one and two white ones."
Tennant Creek police were unavailable yesterday for comment on Murdoch's claims, but the officer overseeing the case, Detective Senior Sergeant John Nixon of Alice Springs CIB, said Murdoch might well be right.
"I will not go into what he has told us previously, but that's probably right."
He said he would wait to hear what Murdoch said at the inquest before commenting further.
Police at Wave Hill, a small Aboriginal settlement also known as Kalkaringi, near the Northern Territory town of Katherine, found Murdoch on Thursday. He was served a summons to appear at the inquest on July 25.
Murdoch said he was unaware that police had been hunting him.
"Well, it [the death] was so long ago, that's all. I didn't know nothing about it. Well, I didn't know the time [of the inquest]."
He said there was nothing suspicious about his leaving Tennant Creek before the inquest - he had simply left town to look for work. He was now working as a water bore checker at the Camfield Station.
A work colleague said the job involved travelling around the 10,000 sq km property and checking the pumps at its numerous water bores so that troughs for cattle stayed full.
Northern Territory deputy coroner Stewart Brown said Murdoch, as a court witness, would be reimbursed his travel expenses when he appeared.
The court could also arrange Murdoch's travel, if he wanted.
"We will do what we can to help him," said Mr Brown.
He said if Murdoch did not turn up at the inquest, the coroner would either adjourn the hearing again or issue a warrant for his arrest.
Keith Murdoch has been the mystery man of New Zealand rugby since his expulsion from the 1972 All Black tour.
The massive prop punched security guard Peter Grant at the Angel Hotel in Cardiff, after that day scoring a try in the All Blacks' 19-16 win against Wales. After the test victory celebration incident in Cardiff, team manager Ernie Todd sent Murdoch home, making him the first and only All Black to be expelled from a tour.
Murdoch broke his flight home in Singapore and is believed to have travelled under an assumed name to Australia.
There were occasional reports of his whereabouts but nothing substantial until Herald rugby writer T. P. (now Sir Terry) McLean tracked him down 18 months later in the north of Western Australia.
After a largely one-way conversation, McLean left when the inhospitable Murdoch threatened to rub his face in an oil streak.
"It was the most terse meeting I ever had in my reporting career," Sir Terry said later.
Murdoch has returned to New Zealand for a number of brief visits. On a trip to Timaru in 1979 he helped save a toddler who had fallen into a swimming pool. Ambulance officers said the child would have died had Murdoch not applied mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for about four minutes.
The last interview with Murdoch was secured for a TV One documentary, Mud and Glory, in 1990.
Researcher Margot McRae tracked him down in a small town pub in Tully, North Queensland - between Townsville and Cairns - and although she said at the time she was unable to get much from him, the whole story was never likely to be told anyway.