NOT OUT: Lou Rowan, Australia’s oldest living test cricket umpire, looks back on a life of opportunity and good fortune.
NOT OUT: Lou Rowan, Australia’s oldest living test cricket umpire, looks back on a life of opportunity and good fortune. Jonno Colfs

Lou Rowan and his letters from the Don

LOOKING out over Yangan and the Great Dividing Range from his lounge room chair, Lou Rowan's life is a little different these days.

Gone are the days of being a hard-nosed drug squad detective and controversial yet well-liked test cricket umpire, but still in fine voice are the strong opinions that made the man well respected in both fields.

Now, Mr Rowan spends time with his memories, few fonder than those of his friendship with Australia's legendary Don Bradman.

Mr Rowan said as a boy he idolised the Don.

"I don't know what he saw in me or why he was so generous to me, but it's something I cherish to this day. One of the most cherished parts of my life," he said.

Mr Rowan said he first met Bradman in 1962 at the Gabba.

"He was then on the cricket board and I was a standby umpire for that test match, it was Australia and England," he said.

"And for whatever reasons, our friendship developed from there.

"It was a professional friendship at first but over time we became very good friends on a private level.

"He always exhibited a interest in how my family was doing, and we caught up every time we could."

At the heart of this fondness for the nation's greatest ever cricketer are more than 130 letters from Sir Donald that Mr Rowan has secured for safe keeping at a bank in Warwick.

"When I'm gone they'll be shredded in their entirety," he said.

"They contain personal thoughts and comments on a whole range of topics and I'd rather they are destroyed than have them fall into the wrong hands.

"He confided a lot of personal matters in me and we discussed the laws of cricket a great deal.

"I've been extremely privileged to meet a lot of great people in my life."

Sir Donald Bradman was famous for writing letters and Mr Rowan said the cricket star received thousands and there was a massive demand on him for autographs, right till the very end.

"I'd say he signed tens of thousands of autographs, he often made mention that he had to go into town to the cricket ground to sign more," he said.

"He commanded respect wherever he went.

"He had time for everybody, but there was the occasional time when he wanted his privacy and it was respected"

Mr Rowan said he once found a holiday house in Surfers Paradise for Sir Don.

"He came up and holidayed at the coast for two weeks, nobody knew he was there," he said.

"One night he told me he'd gone for a walk and a lady recognised him and said to her husband, 'that's Don Bradman there' to which the husband replied, 'don't be stupid, what would he be doing in a place like this?'

"The Gold Coast was a little different in those days."

Mr Rowan said the Don suffered a great many personal tragedies in his life.

"But he had the will and determination to overcome these adversaries, as he so often did on the field," he said.

Mr Rowan umpired 26 test matches throughout the 1960s and early 70s, presiding over such names as Doug Walters, Neil Harvey, Alan Davidson and officiated in the great Dennis Lillee's first test.

His career was not without controversy.

"In 1971 I presided over one of the most controversial moments in Test Cricket up until that time," he said.

"John Snow was bowling for England, and he hit Terry Jenner in the head with a bouncer and after Jenner got up and Snow was walking back past me, I just said, 'ease up on those bouncers' and he flared right up.

"He insisted he wasn't bowling bouncers and I said 'well somebody is'.

"Then the English captain Ray Illingworth came over and got into an heated exchange with me, there was a little bit of crowd trouble and then without comment and without warning led his team from the field."

Mr Rowan said his umpiring colleague Colin Egar and he both agreed the English, by leaving the field under those circumstances, had forfeited the match.

"We followed them off the field and I immediately entered the England dressing to rectify the situation, I told to the English captain to come to back onto the field and continue the match or forfeit the game," he said.

"He chose the latter and the Poms ended up winning the game.

"Snow and Illingworth aren't on my mailing list."

These days, Mr Rowan says he is a contented man.

"Why wouldn't I be? I owe nobody anything and I have a lot of friends, I'm not lonely," he said.

"I wake in the morning and look out to make sure the rest of the world is out there.

"I was never really liked here though because I came and took away the best looking sheila they had.

"Even when we were leaving the hall on the way to our honeymoon, one bloke said while congratulating us said they would have preferred she marry a local.

"Haha...too bad."



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