On writing Barry Jarman’s biography
by BARRY NICHOLLS
Barry Jarman had coached me at Kensington and once foolishly claimed that I would play cricket for Australia. He was wrong but, on the other hand, he hadn’t only played Test cricket but had also worn a footy jumper for West Torrens, set up a well-known South Australian sports store and had been the jockeys’ and trainers’ representative on the SAJC. After retiring, he ran a houseboat business on the River Murray.
And did I say that, once, he captained Australia?
In a picture of Jarman and English captain Tom Graveney tossing the coin at a bleak Leeds ground in 1968, both players were leading their country for the first and only time in a Test match. The moment was almost missed because there were no photographers present – Graveney delayed the toss until they arrived.
Jarman’s story has only been told in parts.
Writers often write about the same thing, it’s just the subject that’s different. I’m interested in how moments can define us and this is the appeal in writing Barry Jarman’s biography.
His career and to an extent his life was defined by the Queensland wicket keeper, Wally Grout, who was picked for Australia ahead of Jarman by one vote – Grout’s state team-mate Peter Burge – for the first Test of the 1957-58 tour of South Africa. Grout struggled in the first innings, broke a world record in the second with a broken hand and kept for Australia for the better part of the decade. Except for one vote, that could have been Barry Jarman.
I rang Jarman’s son, Gavin.
“Would BJ be interested in co-operating in a biography?” I asked.
“I’ll call him and let you know…It would be a small market though.”
Gavin knows his markets. He sells 250,000 small rubber balls each year. He’s also sold sand to the Middle Eastern countries but that’s another story.
Gavin rang back with the green light and I made the call to Barry Jarman. I hadn’t seen him for a long time and wasn’t sure if he knew I was a journalist.
We caught up on pleasantries. I raised the topic of writing his biography.
“Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it for a while now,” he said.
Where do you start with a biography?
You learn as you go.
After a few months of initial research, I made my way to Jarman’s neat three-bedroom house near the Burnside Village Shopping Centre.
He lived with his wife Gaynor and their dog, which was about the size of a pony but thinner. During the course of writing the book, his two daughters also moved in. As the project developed I’d ask, “You still got your daughters living there?”
His reply was always quick as a flash: “Yeah, and the dog.”
Jarman was quick-witted, a little too quick sometimes. When I missed his quips, he’d repeat them until I acknowledged what he’d said.
The project began to take shape when Jarman showed me the scrapbooks that Gaynor had assembled and his vast collection of personal photographs, many of which have rarely been sighted.
Initially, we spoke about various parts of his career. Jarman talked well although his memory was fading. During these early visits I had enough prompts to encourage him to wheel out the well-known anecdotes but not enough detail to pin him down on hidden events. Writers need a lot of information to remind interviewees of things they have forgotten.
From Alice Springs,I emailed Jarman for contacts with former teammates. Australian off-spinner and author Ashley Mallett was keen to see this project thrive and gave me many numbers from his contact list.
I spoke to a couple of Jarman’s mates from his school days and managed to get hold of former Australian batsman Bob Cowper before he left for his annual six-month stint working in Monaco as a financier.
I’d tried to get Bill Lawry when I was in Melbourne, the week before Easter.
It was a bit too hard for Bill at that stage but I was more successful, interviewing Lindsay Kline in his lounge. He had scrapbooks too, and was terrific. We spoke for a couple of hours before he gave me a lift to the train station on his way to see the doctor. I spoke to Ian Meckiff by phone as I was coming down with a big cold that laid me low for a week when I returned to the Alice.
But, still, I didn’t have enough of the finer details of Jarman’s life and I asked Ashley Mallett for advice.
“You’ve got to put a timeline on it,” he said.
I’d procrastinated on the prologue that I’d set in Jamaica in 1998 when Jarman had been the ICC ref in charge of the match that was the first Test to be abandoned because of an ill-prepared pitch.
“Boil it down and concentrate on just a few themes,” historian Warwick Franks told me. “Speak to as many people away from cricket that you can and don’t make it a love letter.”
I told Jarman the last bit of advice and he laughed and said he appreciated what Franks was saying.
I spoke to David Rowe, Jarman’s business partner for thirty years and Bill McDonald, who was head of the SAJC when Jarman was the jockeys’ and trainers’ rep. Richie Benaud responded to my email promptly and comprehensively, which gave me the chance to tease some finer points out of incidents in Barry’s career.
I was gaining momentum and then losing it. Then along came Bali. I packed a pair of board shorts, a T-shirt and a pair of sandshoes, books, articles and a DVD of the 1962- 63 Test series against England. Bali was a writer’s Mecca. Like a foreign correspondent, I walked in with a 1960s brown business bag in one hand and a laptop over my shoulder.
Staying at the sleepy town of Sanur on the south coast I followed the same routine every day. I worked in my hotel room early in the morning and took my notes and books to breakfast in the resort’s restaurant. During the day, I walked or swam, and continued writing in the late afternoon and evening.
After nine days, I had completed 35,000 words.
After I returned to Australia, Ian Chappell gave me some detail with which I could challenge Jarman.
“Did you really push Chapelli against the state dressing room wall by his lapels or was that on a team bus after a match in Port Pirie?”
Little details tell the story. Former Australian tourist John Drennan revealed much about the lack of preparation by international touring sides and some insights into the tour in South Africa. Drennan also told me more about the unfulfilled end to his career. More pieces of the jigsaw came together.
Some former players proved harder to track down than others. Some made my task much easier. Former league footy coach, Dick Jones, sent a detailed account of Jarman’s brief Eagles league career the day after it was requested.
The momentum was now hard to stop… I had some runs on the board.
At last, the book had wings.