People who know Peter Roebuck far better than I do have already written about their personal experiences with the troubled Allen Ginsberg type figure of world cricket.
I only met Roebuck once, which is weird considering the amount of time we spent in shared press boxes. Writing about that one meeting, where he was very nice (bit of a close talker), doesn’t make much sense.
What I can write about is how Peter Roebuck had a small part to play in cricket with balls.
Most here would know that there aren’t many more aggressively didactic propganda machines than cricket in Australia.
This machine was in operation for years, even when Australia was rubbish.
By the mid 90s it was an oppressive machine telling me everytime I picked up the paper, watched the TV or listened to the radio that Australian cricket was the Alpha and Omega.
They weren’t wrong, Australia was better than a truck load of Dixie cups.
But they completely overlooked anything that didn’t fit the narrative.
It was as if Australia was a utopian cricket team that could do no wrong.
And mostly it was, but when something didn’t go right, or something else was up, no one seemed to notice or care.
It was a weird time to be a cricket fan in Australia.
Then there was Roebuck, one of the few voices in Australia who ever pointed that on occasion Australia was not the only thing that mattered in cricket.
Sometime around 2000 I remember an ABC radio stint that Roebuck did. Someone said to him, “surely Adam Gilchrist has to be thought of as perhaps the best Test batsman in world cricket”. It was a ludicrous suggestion.
I could imagine others in the Australian Cricket Machine eating that up, or at least treating it like it was worth considering.
Roebuck wouldn’t have any of it. Instantly he popped out the names of Lara, Waugh and Tendulkar. Then he talked about how much easier it was to bat at seven. Then he’d barely been in around in Tests for very long. He did it in his own analytically angst driven way, like his brain was going slightly quicker than his mouth and he was trying to spit all the facts out.
That was Roebuck to me, the dissenting voice.
That moment, and hundreds more like it, made an impression on me, and although Roebuck didn’t have much to do with my minority opinions, it was just good to know it wasn’t just me having them. That cricket was cricket, and that it wasn’t just a chance to prove Australian superiority.
I didn’t always agree with Roebuck. Sometimes I thought he was about as far from right as was humanly possible, and it’s hard to believe that he started thinking of himself as an Australian over the last few years.
But, he had the balls to say what he thought, and not just mindlessly nod in the direction of the gospel of the Australian Cricket regime. He really thought about things, and then he spoke or wrote about them pretty damn well.
It was easier for him, because he wasn’t Australian. Although, I doubt that made him any more likeable to the vast majority of Australian cricket fans.
Not that he was ever going to be that popular, his uneasy intense manner, posh accent and spanking of 19 year old boys in his care were always going to limit how much love he got.
It’s that dark side of Roebuck’s personality that may be the next story in his death. When the report of his death first was written, that line about the policeman was more ominous that Roebuck’s last published line.
Like Allen Ginsberg, it doesn’t really matter how important some people may think their work was, that young boy tag doesn’t disappear, especially not when you’re known as Spanky.
Ginsberg once said “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”.
Roebuck had one of the best brains in cricket, and it is now destroyed, starving, hysterical and naked.
That he killed himself, was involved in illegal actions with young men and perhaps even more doesn’t change the fact that years ago he also did things that had an impact on me.
Life isn’t ever clear cut, and history will remember Roebuck its own way, but for me he was a dissenting voice with some serious issues that eventually got him.
EDIT: Some think that I have inferred that Roebuck was a pedophile in this piece, which was far from my intention. I have no idea who Roebuck fucked, although I know he never fucked me, even though I was looking pretty damn sexy the night we met. When I mentioned the young boy tag, I did so on purpose with Ginsberg (who also wasn’t a confirmed pedophile), but that didn’t stop people inferring that he was. Within 24 hours of this piece 3 other articles, that I know of, inferred Roebuck was a pedophile, which I knew would happen. It was inevitable considering the amount of rumours about him behind the scenes, some said by people who wrote touching obits about him. It’s actually kind of odd that a man who likes his men younger, but legal, is a pedophile, but a man who likes his women younger, but legal, is a legend. Either way, it wasn’t my intention to say Roebuck was fucking young boys, ofcourse, if I wanted to say that, I would have just said it and not slipped it in a weirdly subtle way. But I didn’t want to say it because Peter Roebuck didn’t invite me to watch him in the bedroom, strange as that may sound.