Norman John Rowe was born on the 1st of February 1947 to Albert (Albie) and Constance (Connie) Rowe. He grew up at 19 Charles Street, Northcote. He performed at an early age in a choir at Primary School. While at Northcote High School, he formed a band, the Valiants, where he played guitar and sang. Rowe was also involved in the Alphington Methodist Church Choir. At age 14 he was performing in a school concert and was noticed by radio personality Stan Rofe. This began his first professional step as a dance performer.
Normie Rowe was one of the first ‘long hair’ performers in Melbourne. He famously quit working for Postmaster-General's Department (now Telstra) because they wanted him to cut his hair. In the mid -1960s, he became a regular on Australian television shows Teen Scene and The Go!! Show. EMI passed on giving him a record deal but Sunshine Records signed him up. In 1965 he produced his first single ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ (from Porgy & Bess). In July 1965 he released his second single Ben E King’s “I (Who Have Nothing)”. His third single stablished his popularity. One side featured the Doris Day classic “Que Sera Sera” and the other side was “Shakin’ All Over.” The single went to No. 1 and headlines raved about the “Normie Rowe riots” at live performances. It is a legend that security guards at the live performances used to trip or push the singer into adoring fans to encourage the “riots”. Normie Rowe and his band The Playboys were the stars of the Sunshine tours. In 1966 Normie travelled to England recording many tracks including “Ooh La la”. Normie gained popularity in England. He toured with Gene Pitney and The Troggs in 1967.
Upon his return from overseas in 1967, his life changed dramatically when he was conscripted in the army and sent off to The Vietnam War. It was recently revealed that Normie Rowe’s birthday was not drawn in the “Birthday ballot” of the National Service Scheme. Prime Minister Harold Holt, struggling with the Anti-War movement, spoke with an officer to solve the problem. The officer’s response was, “what you need is an Elvis Presley. Get Normie Rowe called up”. Rowe had suspected something was off. In an interview he told a story where he was pulled over by a police office because he was speeding. The officer, on looking at his driver’s licence, said “you were born on the same day as me. How come you went into the army and I didn’t?”
When he returned from the war the music scene had changed and Johnny Farnham was King of Pop. Normie did a show on February 1st 1970 where he did not get much reception from the crowds who were enamored by Zoot. His last hit from that era was in May 1970. He retreated from the industry for 6 months and then moved on to work with the big bands and the masters such as Ricky May, J O’K, and Col Joye.
On 6 March 1971 he married his girlfriend Sue Powlesland at St Benedict’s Church in Burwood. They had three children, Erin Skye, Bianca and Adam John. Tragically his son Adam died at 8 years old after we was knocked off his bike by a motor bike. The 1970s were challenging creatively for Normie Rowe. Despite releasing albums “Out of the Norm” (1974) and a song “Elizabeth” (1975), he did not get radio play in Australia. Molly Meldrum never acknowledged his work on Countdown.
In 1984, Normie Rowe studied Drama under Hayes Gordon. He worked on stage and TV, including on the popular Sons & Daughters. In 1987 he won great acclaim in the lead role of Jean Valjean in the musical Les Misérables. Perhaps ironically, he would go onto play Harold Holt on three occasions over his career; in The Prime Minister is Missing (2008), the musical based on his life 'Normie: The Musical' (2012) and Holt (2018).
His marriage with Sue ended in 1997. In 2001 he was admitted into a hospital with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the Vietnam War. He has become a leading advocate and spokesman for the Vietnam Veterans. In 1987 and 1992 he was instrumental as a member of the National Committees for the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade and the Vietnam National Memorial Dedication. He has become the Ambassador for Soldier On, which is a support organisation focusing on younger ex-service people dealing with physical and psychological effects of their war service. 2005 was a big year for Normie Rowe. He was inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame and recognised by the Australian War Memorial as a National Hero.
In 2016 he published his biography Normie, The Normie Rowe Story. He continues to produce music and perform on stage and screen.
Australia, Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980
Bang, Maureen (24 March 1971), Normie Rowe’s Wedding, The Australian Women’s Weekly, P. 3
Cashmere, Paul (2015). Normie Rowe Was Set-Up By An Australian Prime Minister To Go To War. Retrieved from http://www.noise11.com/news/normie-rowe-was-set-up-by-an-australian-prime-minister-to-go-to-war-20150606
Celebrity Camper: Normie Rowe. Retrieved 10 December, 2020, from https://www.timetoroam.com.au/celebrity-camper-normie-rowe/#:~:text=Normie%20grew%20up%20in%20suburban,brother%20Graeme%20and%20sister%20Lois .
Fifty Australians - Normie Rowe. Retrieved 9 December, 2020, from https://www.awm.gov.au/visit/exhibitions/fiftyaustralians/41
Normie Rowe Official Website. Retrieved 9 December, 2020, from https://normierowe.com/
Rowe, Normie (2018) Normie Rowe: How my battle with post-traumatic stress disorder raged on after Vietnam, retrieved from https://greymatters.net.au/normie-rowe-how-my-battle-with-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-raged-on-after-vietnam/