Memories of a Second Class Cricketer

A Good Innings

I

Because cricket was for many years my chief escape from what are sometimes  laughingly called serious affairs, I promised myself I would never write about it. This is the seventh book I promised never to write.

Benny Green A History of  Cricket  Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1988.

For my agnostic father Alex, cricket was a religion. Perhaps it was an obsession.

Whatever it was, he bowled countless leg breaks or wrong’uns to my brother Vic and me in our backyards or on holidays wherever we went. That was probably the reason I hit Australian leg-spinner Peter Philpott for four leg-side boundaries on the Sydney Cricket Ground for Combined Country against Sydney in 1957. I don’t wish to imply I was ever a first-class cricketer, so that makes those boundaries an even greater achievement for my Dad.

During our annual visits to Berrara, a camping place of long ago (in the Forties) south of Nowra, off Fisherman’s Rock Road, we took a big spade and made a turf wicket for the “Test” matches that went on through the school holidays. There were plenty of players from the tents around us.

Mum and Dad were parents of the Great Depression and I was born in the alleged winding down year, 1933. Dad made me a billy-cart for Santa one Christmas, and added a cricket bat he also fashioned himself. Lots of cricket bats followed though, real ones, with compound cricket balls (cork not leather)  to play with as times changed for the better.

I remember buying a Stuart Surridge bat from Mick Simmons’ sports store:  George Street, corner with Campbell Street. Simmons made his money first from tobacco and then branched into sporting goods. Creams and shirts were bought there too. I loved going into that shop. Mick also would employ famous sportsmen to serve there, another big attraction for me and many others. Sport was not a corporate business then so the “stars” of the time were probably often glad of that job.

As I write, other sporting stores of my era come to mind. I bought my first wicket-keeping gloves from Bert Oldfield’s store, 243 Pitt Street Sydney. He taught me where to stand behind the stumps, advice I kept for the rest of my wicket-keeping days. A funny anomaly in those first cricket days was the sticky stuff we used to put on wicket-keeping gloves. Now I realise that if you didn’t concentrate, didn’t watch the ball and thus moved too late and snatched, the glue was a waste of time and money.

Yes times did move on as I’ve implied. In that past, you oiled your bat with linseed oil  – quite a test of your loving care. I think I remember rolling it with a broom handle and bouncing cricket balls on the surface to harden it. How different things are now – iron clad surfaces already on some of the bats you buy!

I remember too Stan McCabe’s store. He was a very quiet man who always served you courteously and humbly.  I bought in particular practice cricket balls from him. I was very sad to hear of his untimely death when it happened long ago now. His deeds against bodyline don’t die.

My introduction to Sydney Grade cricket came from Glebe South Sydney. This was because we moved to Newtown. I have learnt that the administrators of the grade competition decided, I think around 1910, that you had to live in the area of the club you played for. That aimed to strengthen the competition and draw crowds. So because I lived in Newtown, off I went to Jubilee Oval Glebe via the Glebe Point tram.

Albert (Tibby) Cotter, Warren Bardsley, Charles Kelleway and Bertie Oldfield all played for Glebe. Cotter, Bardsley and Kelleway also went to Forest Lodge Primary where Bardsley Senior was headmaster for many years, having taught one time in Warren, New South Wales. Oldfield was secretary of the Glebe Club in 1915.

Tibby Cotter was actually killed, in his life’s prime,  at the Battle of Beersheba in October 1917. He chose to join the cavalry charge although not strictly required to do so. As I write, the centenary of that event is being celebrated with full military honours. We can actually join the celebration of this and other fatal events for a deposit of $500 AU and then further payments. Death and destruction have strange bedfellows these days.

We young Glebe players were cared for paternally by a small group of senior players. I remember especially Jim Bowden, the First Grade keeper and later a Sheffield Shield umpire. A lucky friend for me. There was practice at the nets and there were practice matches mixing the grades on the main oval.

It was a great inspiration for us lower grade players to practice with the seniors. Ron Kissell, a state player, was there. He played eleven first class matches for New South Wales between 1946 and 1952. Bobby Madden was also there, an opening batsman briefly for New South Wales and a soccer player for Australia. I remember when he was dismissed for 99 for the state. 

One of the umpires in those practice matches was George Borwick, an umpire in the Bodyline series. Mrs Borwick made and served, with other ladies, afternoon tea for us. That was the kind of community we had then and will always need.

Mr Borwick was an influence on me. I remember a durable piece of advice: “If you think you are not out, look in the scorebook.” That has stabilised me many times since.

I was chosen in the club’s Green Shield (under 15) team as a leg spinner. I remember in a match at Waitara Oval that the fence was far to close for my bowling..

I made it into Fourth Grade as a batsman however, and so began a beautiful friendship. Then a wicket-keeper was needed so I volunteered. The friendship blossomed. Jim Bowden was a great help to me down a few years.

Those years passed and I worked my way up into Second Grade. Never to First Grade with that club.

Then came the family move to Ferodale, four miles north of Raymond Terrace on the Pacific Highway. In his usual way, Dad fostered my cricket interests as well as all the others. In conversation with Doug Rawlings, the manager of a shoe-store in Raymond Terrace, Dad found a link with Northern Districts Cricket Club in Maitland.

Another beautiful friendship began there, both with Doug and family and with cricket. Maitland has a special place in my life. I met my wife there much later. The cricket too is a lasting memory.

I remember Doug Rawlings, a memorable man who drove me up from Raymond Terrace each Saturday, and often rolled the wicket before a match. Col Johnstone, a State second eleven player, was our captain and my mentor. Our opening bowler’s name was indeed Mudd. The other opener was Keith Smith – a source of inspiration too as he had lost an arm in a factory accident. He batted quite well and bowled very well. He got a hat-trick against a visiting Sydney team (Western Suburbs). There, with those true friends, I studied the game further.

Inter-district cricket was one of the joys of that time. I met Doug Walters then, a while before his fame. He was a Dungog lad. I noticed the strength of his forearms.

The inter-district cricket led to selection in the Combined Country team of 1957.

Combined Country Selection

It all happened because I had resigned from teaching for a year to play cricket. First came the selection trial match at Tamworth. I survived that. On next to another match in Armidale. I survived that. Finally on to Grafton Oval. No mistakes there either, and I remember taking a diving catch out near square leg. That may have helped me gain selection in the final team.

At this time of writing I interpose a momentary reflection on Robert Holland. “Dutchy” has just passed away. Fate has been kind to me as I had the honour of playing Golden Oldies cricket with him in Vancouver and in Queensland.

A most inspiring person. Kind, humble and gifted in sport. I was present at the Sydney Cricket Ground when he took ten wickets against the West Indies when they were at the height of their power. I lost my voice for a week or so from cheering. I remember his Lords achievement of many wickets too.

Another kindness of fate was my sitting next to him in an Air New Zealand plane en route to Vancouver for twenty-odd hours. There was so much to share on that lucky journey. He told me of his talk with Bill O’Reilly when he Robert was chosen for Australia. O’Reilly told him the bowler was captain when the bowler bowled.

When he went to England, Robert saw fit to talk to the great English leg break bowler Douglas VP Wright, whom I saw dismiss Don Bradman with a lifting “leggie”  at the SCG just after the war. Wright apparently took eleven hat-tricks in his cricket lifetime. The advice from the Englishman, who by the way had a long run up and spread his arms like wings just before his last stride of the delivery, was to bowl the third ball of the hat-trick fast and on the stumps.

“Dutchie” was a gentle man; he was humble and not intent on winning above all else. I am so lucky to have known him and he gave me a stumping in one of his Golden Oldies overs. I am sad he has gone but memory eases the pain a little.

Now back to my narrative… (I will go on writing from here soon.)

Au revoir to the reader,

Royce

Gateway

My Time With Gateway

This is a little story about a university group. It is a tale of adversity, determination and, in many cases, ultimate triumph. The students who joined that group had experienced life the hard way. Some had been floored by drugs, there were several divorcees with children, one candidate had MS and used to talk to me each week about how his friends were getting weaker and sometimes dying; I have a beautiful painted shell given to me by one of several indigenous members of the group, and there was a blind student who typed her answers deliberately without using brail.

Gateway was a program, funded by the Federal Labor government in 1989, at the University of Wollongong. It was a spin off from the similarly funded “New Start” program, which my colleagues and I ran at UWS, two years before, with promising success.

This so-called equity scheme was a one-semester course for non-matriculated students to give them a chance to enter university. There was an English component, a mathematics component, and introductions to various aspects of university life, such as the library and the student union.

I am not a mathematician so my information on that is zero, except to say that the staff member was a revered member of the Mathematics Teachers’ Association, had both feet on the ground, and was a highly experienced university teacher.

As for English, we taught them that when you speak, you write on air, but when you write for formal occasions such as essays or examinations, it stays there for everyone to see and judge. We focused on the university essay and ways to make it good. We discussed especially the power of the sentence as a package of meaning; faulty package: damaged meaning.

We explained that every essay, whether it is an assignment or an exam question, ALWAYS has two components: the topic words, which tell you what to write about, and the directives, that tell you how to write about it. So, for Compare and contrast Sydney and Melbourne as modern cities, the topic words are Sydney and Melbourne, and the directive is compare and contrast as modern cities. To succeed here, you must talk about both cities; you must both compare and contrast them and not merely describe them; you must also discuss them as modern cities, not (necessarily) as football teams.

There is another essential. To do well you must have worked hard and know a lot about the two cities. The point though was that a fountain of knowledge sabotaged by irrelevance or incompleteness leads to at least disappointment, if not failure. Naturally spelling, grammar, style and narrative structure were among the outcomes of the weekly marking and post mortem discussions.

Can you decrypt this code I filled their first essays with: KTTQ?

It was Keep To The Question. Failure here still is a common weakness.

Candidates were given a 250-word essay to write each week. It was marked and returned to them in the next lesson a week away. There was always a post mortem session on strengths and weaknesses before the next lesson started. Words in excess of 250 were penalised. Too many, and the essay was marked but with a zero score. They were all informed of Blaise Pascal et al.’s famous words: “I am sorry I have not time to write you a short letter; I have to write you a long one.”

We worked through some of the commonest university tasks: description, analysis by resolution of controversy, analysis through definition or clarification, analysis through interpretation, the writing of technical reports and individual creative responses. We learnt the best way: with quick feedback from our mistakes. Everyone had to give a speech before the class group (a terrifying task for some) and we nurtured each other through that and every other ordeal. It was good for me as the teacher too. To teach is to learn something twice. Notice I prefer the word “teach” to “lecture.”

Now I want to talk about a few people I remember specially. No names, as we have such respect for each other, and they seem to be sitting beside me now, although it is part of two decades ago.

In one of the night classes, a man and a woman were sitting at the back of the room. I said to the class, “I might bring my ‘thesises’ next week to show you.” Within about two minutes, both of them were standing up waving their dictionaries at me. “You should have said “theses.”

I was a student of Professor Wilkes, at Sydney University. He had spent much of his life getting rid of Latin and Greek endings in English. I brought them my Collins Dictionary, which Professor Wilkes edited, and there was my version too. But I agreed with them that their version was easier to say.

The male student is a lawyer now. During his Law studies, he became World Champion Client Interviewer. It was a very big contest, run for law students around the world. He won the final in Scotland. The woman who waved the dictionary was an expectant mother. The baby joined us about a week after the Gateway course finished, and I had the delight of giving a present to a beautiful baby girl. Her mother was a brilliant student, went on to an honours degree and a position at the university.

On another occasion, I was spoken to on the telephone by the daughter of a potential student, who was seeking admission to the program for her mother. It turned out that both the mother and father were involved in a bus disaster some time previously in Queensland. Both were unconscious for a long time and both eventually survived. Recovering, they returned to Wollongong and were getting on with their usual life when the father dropped dead at the family home. The daughters wanted a remedy for the empty sadness.

We admitted the mother to the course. I could hear the screams of joy from her daughters in the background when I rang to tell them. That student walked with the aid of a walking stick. I remember her delightful, meticulous, small handwriting, and her willingness to discard her former ways and try something new. One of the first things I had said to each beginning class was “Warning! Warning! This course is dangerous to your preconceptions.”

The vision I remember most, however, of that particular brave person is her long walk to the stage on Graduation night, without her walking stick, in a beautiful, sparkling, black dress that contrasted with her neatly arranged, white hair. She entered university and studied with one of her daughters.

On another memorable occasion we had a call from the Secretary of the Steelers Rugby League Club, seeking a place for one of his young players. I was impressed by the caring attitude of that League official and his concern for the player’s welfare. The young man was qualified to enter the course, so in he came. He did the course, but was a star second-rower in First Grade for many seasons, with no time for university. Perhaps he could have used his entry qualifications later in life.

I remember too, a brave and diligent divorced mother with children who was badly treated by a recalcitrant ex-spouse. She dreamed of becoming a family lawyer. She became one.

We had a very popular leader of a musical group, suddenly dreaming of becoming an academic. Through Gateway, he gained university entry and an Honours degree in Creative Arts. He went on to his PhD thesis. Alas! When he passed away two years ago, I lost a true friend.

I am not sure I can explain the success of this group. In the six years I taught in the program, I could feel a sense of their bonding, their support for each other in a common cause. It is something that is hard for teachers to create, and even harder to define.

The Gateway group was the most successful of any identifiable undergraduate group in the University. Changes came, with lack of funding from the Federal Government, but I was gone then and the struggle belonged to somebody else. Sadly that gateway is now closed.

I still have a message from one of the women in the very first Gateway class, on a card given to me on my retirement from the University. It says, “Royce I will never forget you.” She had won the University Medal for Psychology.

Somehow, when I think of all my failures, of all the things I wish I had done better, people like these tap me on the shoulder and say, “Never mind; you did your best.”

So here I am in the wasteland of advanced maturity. Can you imagine how I feel, with my background, when I see the barriers to university study placed on students today. Wherever I go – OfficeWorks, Woolworths and Coles checkouts and elsewhere – I wish young people good luck with their studies and with their HECS payment. Almost always they smile back and thank me.

I have three degrees, each taking six years of part-time study. Because of the whims of time I have not paid one cent of HECS.  In fact the Department of Education of New South Wales actually paid for my first degree’s university tuition.  Such a golden age that was. Somebody then understood that the thousands of pupils in my 50 years of teaching would all fill workplaces and pay taxes. Lord what fools these present day political mortals be!

And what bigger fools vote for them!

Afterthought

If you have failed in one of those diabolical, terminal, one-off qualifying tests and still want to go to university, don’t give up. Go for it as a provisionally matriculated student. You’ll have experience on your side. R.

Nostalgia

Good morning

Illness and life-struggle have kept me away from this place for a while. I am glad to be back. It seems sometimes almost a duty to keep on sharing.

When you are old, above the average life span, it is hard not to think of the past. Old friends who seemed eternal pieces of the establishment are no longer with you. They keep tapping you on the shoulder and softly saying, “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?”

There is “Abba” for instance, an old mate from the distant past to the almost present.  A fellow teacher he was, like me destined for New South Wales classrooms. A shearer’s son whose courage, determination and acquired wisdom made him eventually the principal of a big Sydney high school. We shared “National Service” (Conscription) too, in 1951. The light of his laughter in later times still lingers. We claimed to have prevented a bigger war at the time. No conflict would have been feasible with soldiers of our ineptitude.

There is Nanny too, my Grandfather, who enlisted in the Eighth Division at the age of 60 (declared age 45) and was captured by the Japanese at Singapore. He taught me to count in Japanese when he came back, weighing six stone seven, in 1945, after helping to build the infamous Burma Railway.

And George, a recent demise. Another teaching colleague. I need advice of his no- nonsense kind, and I long for his companionship today. A life-member teacher unionist and primary school principal, George still reaches out to me with an awareness of so many things I could have done better in my early life.

So there they are – old friends. Let them be for now. Let them rest with Don Bradman and Pete Seeger and Humphrey Bogart and Richie Benaud and all the others. They’ll be back whenever a thought demands it.

Other memories are here now. Age gives you a big data base of recollections. In the Thirties and Forties you were a child of the British Empire. In cinemas you stood up before the feature film, for the national anthem. It was “God Save The King” until February 1952. In those young days you loved the  “cracker night” of every Empire Day. Catherine wheels and double-bungers and throw-downs and rockets and the big bonfire made childhood gloriously exciting. You learnt in Fifth and Sixth Class (primary school) that all the red countries in your atlas were part of the “Empire on which the sun never sets.” Nothing to do with communism.

Memories now of that BIG war. From 1939 to 1945 Russians were “goodies.” You liked them and you hated Hitler and Tojo, drawing spiteful pictures of the “baddies,” sometimes on your desk. During that war life was threatening. Even though you were merely a child, the memories remain strong.

The gun flashes out to sea off Cronulla were like sheet lightning. The city of Sydney seemed to have lost all its lights. Cars had funny metal things over their headlights with just a small slit for the light to come out. Some had big boxes on their roofs burning stuff as substitute for petrol. Food and clothing were rationed, as was petrol. During a film at a “picture show” you were asked to buy War Bonds to help beat the enemy. You were also warned that the enemy was listening behind walls so you mustn’t speak about war secrets. Chewing gum disappeared in those war years. It must have been reserved for soldiers and other war personnel.

All the railway stations had their names taken down. There were steel piles on the beaches to stop invasion forces. Fighter pilots were heroes and you could see them training overhead.

I knew their names as later I knew sporting names: “Paddy” Finucane, “Bluey Truscott, Clive “Killer” Caldwell … I loved watching the Hurricanes skimming the waters of Yowie Bay and the rest of Port Hacking. As a non-war excitement, I was also enchanted by the Tiger Moths that stalled and spun far up in the sky over the Port Hacking/Sutherland area where my first home was. Those non-war pilots were adventurers too. You don’t see arial games any more like those ones. The sky is needed by the commercial aircraft companies, the air force and the police. No one flies under the Harbour Bridge now either.

Back to the war. The searchlights practising at night and piercing the World War II sky are also unforgettable recollections. Anti-aircraft practice was noisy, but no enemy ever bombed lucky Sydney. Perhaps that is one reason we participated willingly in later wars.

I remember too, aeroplanes towing practice targets a considerable distance behind them on a long lead. The pilots of the planes doing the towing now seem to me very brave in their fearless disregard of the possibility of friendly fire disaster.

My parents’ newspapers provided other entertainment for us “kids”. There were “Bluey and Curley” exploits of mischievous soldiers, “Boofhead” tales of the funny idiot, “Ginger Megs” who was one of us, “Saltbush Bill” on Eric Jolliffe’s farm, my hero Buck Rogers who foretold the future, “Dick Tracy,” Brick Bradford and “Prince Valiant”. Then there was The Phantom or Ghost Who Walks, who left the imprint of a skull on your jaw when he knocked you out. You could buy the skull ring for your own pretended belligerence. Best friend of all for me was Mandrake the Magician, who gestured hypnotically in Mum’s Women’s Weekly that came out every month.

The modern wonder of the cyber world might give you a chance to share my remembered comic fun here.

Cinema serials were full of excitement too. “The Green Hornet,” and  “Roy Rogers”  have never left my memory.

There was no television in my childhood. The radio was king. I used to sit up close to the set to listen to “The Search For The Golden Boomerang.” Tuckonie the youthful indigenous adventurer was my hero. I loved the introductory music too. I think it was “The Dance of the Flutes” from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite”. Fancy a tale of a hero such as Tuckonie in the era of the White Australia Policy! There were other heroes too: First Light Fraser, Biggles (who still makes me sizzle sausages), Hop Harrigan, Superman, Tarzan, The Shadow, The Lone Ranger. “Hagen’s Circus” is also an exciting memory.

As with the “Golden Boomerang” music, the “Dad and Dave” theme is also strong in my memory. It was “Along The Road to Gundagai,” music and Lyrics by Jack O’Hagan. It was played between scenes at different speeds according to the excitement pitch of the moment. It also introduced and ended each episode.

Laughter was easy to get from the radio too. Rex Dawe’s “ Yes What” is forever funny. “Dad and Dave” with Dad’s “starve the lizards Mabel” and Dan Agar’s “Mrs ‘Obbs” still bring me pleasure and I still hear Lou Vernon’s whistling of “Annie Laurie” (I think) as he introduces his serial episodes with, “Hello. Aye it’s me, Doctor Mac.” Mum listened frequently to “Portia Faces Life,” “Martin’s Corner,” “Big Sister” and “When A Girl Marries.” Radio drama has been accurately called “Theatre of the Mind.”

Well there you are. Your past stays a part of you in spite of the intrusions, the retroactive inhibitions psychologists refer to. I could ramble on further about radio because it was embedded so firmly in my childhood mind.

If you would like to learn more about those experiences, you might enjoy a visit to here.

As I said before, the past seems to rear up at you when you get old. I hope my words suggest that it is not always an enemy. “Nostalgia” seems to sum up the situation pretty well: Greek nostos – return home; algos – pain. But what’s in a word? Meaning as well as beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.

Time is so valuable these days. I don’t mean the money-grabbing television time. I mean the real stuff. I’ll end by going back again, just a little way.

joan tree poem

Until next time, soon I hope,

Royce