5RAR Book Reviews Page


Stan Bisset - Kokoda Wallaby

Author: Andrew James

Reviewed by Michael von Berg MC

     Stan Bisset was a real hero, both in battle on the rugby pitch and in desperate armed combat against the Japanese during the Second World War.
     As a member of the ill-fated 1939 Wallaby touring team to England, he was a rugby legend. In the Middle East and on the Kokoda Track, he was one of Australia’s most distinguished and heroic combatants. But above all else, he personified so many attributes of the Australian; moral and physical courage, compassion, selflessness, independence, loyalty, resourcefulness, devotion and humour.
     Stan Bisset MC, OAM (MID) remarkable life story is told by former Australian soldier and Afghanistan veteran Andrew James. This is a truly inspiring book that crosses generations.    

Stan Bisset, Kokoda Wallaby     I first met Stan Bisset during my time as captain/coach of the Powerhouse Rugby Club in Melbourne in the early seventies and I was both humbled and honoured to be asked by my old club to launch this wonderful book at the club rooms on Lake Albert on the 30th of November 2011. Stan was a diminutive and quietly spoken man but when he spoke you listened. Not one to talk about his exploits, it wasn’t until I read this book that I realised that I had been fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with such an incredible man.
     This is not just a book about rugby and war, both in the Middle East and Kokoda. It’s much more than that. It’s the life story and journey of a wonderful athlete and soldier who overcame adversity both in sport and war. We all know how difficult it is to be selected for the Wallabies from Victoria and in 1939 where the game really was Sydney centric it was almost an impossibility yet Stan made it along with two other Powerhouse Rugby Club players, Andy Barr and Max Carpenter. Whilst the Wallabies were preparing for their matches in England in 1939, war was declared, and the team recalled. The team members could either enlist in the UK forces or come back to Australia to enlist which is what Stan chose to do.
     Those that have played not just rugby but any sport will appreciate Stan’s total dedication to his sport where he excelled in the then VFL before turning to rugby. Those that have experienced the horrors of war and those that abhor it will equally appreciate the pain and the suffering that Stan went through on Kokoda, none more so than when his beloved elder brother died in his arms on Kokoda at 0400 hrs on the 30th August 1942. It’s bad enough losing a mate but to lose your brother who you admired and looked up to, take his last breathe in your arms is heart wrenching stuff.
     This book is what I would describe as an “easy read” and that is not meant to denigrate the terrific job by the author Andrew James. It just seems to flow so easily from Stan’s young days, his rugby and sporting feats, his war experiences, his post war life and his last enjoyable days in the sun in Queensland, where the Australian Rugby Union awarded Stan his Wallaby Cap in 2002 at the Gabba stadium for a “Australia XV” match against the Springboks in 1937 which was granted belated Test status.
     I strongly recommend this book to any aspiring athlete and anyone who is in a leadership or aspiring leadership role. It should be compulsory reading for students at Duntroon, the Australian Defence Force Academy and Junior Leaders Course at the Infantry Centre. Leadership must come from within the very depths of the human spirit and the qualities, characteristics and nuances of leadership evident in this book are unable to be adequately portrayed in any leadership pamphlet or the sterile and sometimes contrived environment of a class room making this book an essential read.

Mike von Berg
3rd January 2012

     A postscript to this review is the six degrees of separation where Max Carpenter the third member of the Powerhouse Club to be selected for the Wallabies in 1939 was the NSW Army inter-services coach in 1963 and MajorA Rugby Union Lineout General Peter Arnison AC CVO the then Governor of Queensland who officiated at the investiture of Stan Bisset with the Order of Australia, in Brisbane in June 2000, was in that team along with yours truly and other well known Army rugby suspects.
     In those days the numbers started at 15 for the tight head prop and Peter Arnison can be seen wearing number 13 as the loose head prop (Graham Walker in 14) and although the head shot is not clear those that have played with Peter would immediately recognise his generous posterior. The little fat bloke at the end trying to get the ball is me.