Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Bradman Museum

Yesterday, on the way back from a trip to Sydney, I broke the journey with a visit to the Don Bradman Museum in Bowral. I love Australian country towns, and Bowral is one of the nicest - and certainly one of the most affluent. It is a leafy place with lots of spacious early 20th century houses - deep verandahs, ornamental woodwork, pretty roof finials et cetera - set in large gardens.

Don Bradman is the town's favourite son,(although if we're being pedantic, [and when have I ever resisted?] Cootamundra shares the honours, since the future cricketer was actually born and spent the first three years of his life in that town.) Still, it was in Bowral that Bradman learned to play the sport in which, according to Frank Keating, the Guardian newspaper's sports columnist he remains "history's untouchable, unarguable champ of champs."

The museum has been built beside what is now called the Bradman Oval and the first thing you see on your way in is a statue of Don Bradman at the end of a 'Commemorative Water Feature' which John Howard opened in 1996 by bowling the first coin into it. Judging by the accuracy of Mr Howard's only other recorded bowling efforts that coin almost certainly did not reach its target but is probably now somewhere in the surrounding bush. (While on the subject of politicians and Bradman, didn't John Hewson nominate Don Bradman as one of the dead heroes he would like to have at a dinner party, only to be telephoned by the man himself, who pointed out that he had not actually expired? [although he has since.])

The museum is divided into a gallery dealing with the history of the game of cricket, another gallery looking at the history of the Ashes and the cricketing rivalry between England and Australia and, upstairs, a gallery devoted to Bradman himself.

I went in knowing nothing about cricket. I picked up a lot of information, most of which presumably everyone else interested in the game is already aware of, but I'm so proud of how much I learned that I'm going to list it anyway:

1. It is thought cricket was first played by shepherds and the word comes from the Anglo Saxon word 'cricce', meaning crooked staff.
2. Wicket supposedly comes from the Anglo Saxon word 'wican', to give way (can't quite follow the logic there, but that's what it says at the museum)
3. Bail may come from the word Baile, which was something used to secure a wicket gate.
4. The earliest reference to the game was to 'Craiget' in 1300
5. The first certain reference to the game was on 16 January 1598 when one John Derrick wrote that at the free school of Guildford 'several fellows did ... play there at Kricket.'
6. The first known women's cricket match was in 1745 (there is a picture in the Bradman museum of the Countess of Derby and her friends playing a sedate-looking game in Surrey in 1779)
7. The first balls were small rounded stones.
8. Bowling used to be underarm along the ground and overarm bowling was only legalised in 1864 and not in general use until 1885
9. In early games one batsman defended a hole and the bowler rolled the ball from 9 yards away. In the 1680s the distance the bowler stood was increased to 22 yards and then it was decided he would therefore need a marker so two sticks each 12 inches high and 28 inches apart were put beside the hole. The third stump was introduced in 1775. At this stage, it appears that cricket was really a peculiar kind of golf.
10. The urn the ashes are kept in was presented to Ivo Bligh, the English captain on the 1882-83 tour, by two women in Melbourne and is thought to have been a women's scent bottle.

That is the extent of the possibly obscure facts I picked up from my visit. However, I also found out about the all Aboriginal XI, of whom I'd been vaguely aware before. It turns out they came from the Western District of Victoria and were trained by a former English first class player called Tom Wills. They played against their local team very successfully and then in 1866 at the Melbourne Cricket Club in front of 8,000 people. Another English player, Charles Lawrence, who toured Victoria with the first all England XI became interested in the financial possibilities of touring an all Aboriginal XI and organised a tour for them through Australia and England in 1867, which ended up getting no further than Sydney due to money problems and the fact that four team members died (why? how? such a sad fact is left unexplained, but one of them, I suspect, since his name doesn't appear in the subsequent line up was the team member with the rather surprising [to modern eyes at least] name Tarpot). In 1868 another tour was organised and a team sailed from Sydney on 8 February 1868. While in England, the team played 47 matches in 15 counties, (won 14, lost 14, drew the rest). They only had 11 fit players as two were sent home sick and the handsome figure on the left of the photograph of the 1867 team, King Cole, died of TB (and is buried somewhere in Tower Hamlets - I think I will make a point of going to find his grave next time I'm over). They played on 99 days out of the 126 they were on tour and six of them ended up playing more than 45 of the matches.

The museum has so many exhibits in its history section that I cannot list them all here. My favourites though were Victor Trumper's gloves - he didn't normally wear gloves to play but had to during the 1902 tour to England because the conditions were so wet (good old English weather).

No judgment is expressed on Bodyline, but there is footage showing Larwood in action in Adelaide. For me the images looked more like the television coverage of the Redshirt barricades in Bangkok than anything to do with the game of cricket. There is also a recording of Don Bradman saying that during that time each Australian player thought it 'beneath his dignity to speak to an Englishman and vice versa.' However, it is also pointed out that when Larwood was playing in Sydney, following the incidents in Adelaide, he got a standing ovation for scoring 98 runs in 138 minutes. It was the last Test Larwood ever played in and, having broken down in the 11th over of the second innings and then been forced by Jardine to keep going, he stood at the stumps in pain and bowled to Woodfull who patted them back, even though Larwood had whacked him full in the chest with a ball in Adelaide. Larwood ended up migrating to Australia. Frank Keating writes movingly about that here .

There have been some half-hearted attempts to dismantle the legend of Bradman recently (his post-cricket business dealings have been raked over and claims have been made of some possible lack of probity.) That's as may be, but in the sphere in which he excelled Bradman remains a magnificent figure. In the upstairs gallery, his interest in the game is traced from its beginning and there is also a replica of the water tank Bradman first practised against in his youth. A stick and a ball are supplied so that visitors can have a bash themselves. My favourites among the exhibits in this section were a) a photograph of a very awkward looking scene, showing Bradman sitting up in bed in his pyjamas on the day his knighthood was announced, being congratulated by a trio of men in three-piece suits who he clearly wasn't expecting and b) a letter he wrote at about the age of 18 reluctantly turning down the first offer he was given of a place in a Sydney team. In neat, flowing handwriting, he thanks the man involved for his help and thoughtfulness and explains that he doesn't have enough money to pay for the travel costs from Bowral to Sydney that the offer would entail. He doesn't complain about this. He seems merely apologetic, commenting that he had never imagined that this would be a difficulty, in a tone that suggests he feels he has messed people around. It is his undemanding modesty that is so striking. How the world of sport has changed.


  1. Blimey, you know alot more about cricket than me!!!

    When I lived in Oz, I too was quite amazed to discover that Don Bradman was alive and well and living out his days in an unremarkable little place. Can't quite imagine Ronaldo or Beckham doing the same

  2. Great stuff - next time you're in London, take the Lords Museum tour for a mirrored experience.

    Bradman was a freak not just within cricket but in sport generally. There isn't really anything in any other sport to compare with the way he was so much better (and measurably so) than anyone else then or before or since. Whole books have been written trying to explain the Bradman Problem.

  3. Worm - It is all bluff. I had to write it down before I forgot it, plus I still don't really know what an innings or an over is.
    Brit - I will try the Lords museum but I have a feeling I will come out feeling grumpy after shelling out a rip-off entry fee (not that Bradman's is cheap - $15!) and undergoing a tiresome security check involving bag searches and the sense one is in a herd of cattle being shoved towards the abattoir

  4. The bag searching is a pain but when I went there were only about 10 of us on the tour so it was very personal (7 of the 10 were Aussies).

  5. I thought you lived in Sydney :-(

  6. Brit - Once I've found the grave of King Cole in Tower Hamlets, I'll make it my next point of call
    Nurse - Oh dear, won't you talk to me anymore?