Sue Wilks – part 2

More from the Kerwin Diary

Sue Wilks enthralled us with her revelations from the Kerwin Diary.  Now her friend, Colleen Abbott, when asked if she could make any sense of the loose news cuttings about cricket, has written the following, as Sue puts it “valuable social history”.

Cricket Tours 1938 to 1948 – Colleen Abbott

This is a personal response to my reading of the newspaper articles in the “1911” diary Sue Wilks lent me in July 2020. While the story of the diary could be a novel in itself, my interest was mainly in the newspaper articles about cricket.

Most of the names of cricketers in the articles are very familiar to me. I grew up in country New South Wales, about 800 kilometres north-west of Sydney, south of the Queensland town of Goondiwindi, where my extended family was part of a cricket team that played on a cricket ground on my grandparent’s property in local competitions from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Everyone played cricket apart from the stockmen and jockeys, everyone listened to it on the radio and read about it in the papers when we got them.

In the period covered by the articles it was clear that cricket was much more than a game. The only thing resembling cricket’s position of importance in the national psyche today would be Aussie Rules in Victoria. Knowledge of and interest in cricket linked men and women together across the social gaps created by age, wealth, occupation and education. I noticed this type of cross pollination of social interaction when we came to Melbourne in the 1980s, in overheard discussions about Aussie Rules, the warmth of tone as an ancient Greek grandmother and the local bigwig shared their love and opinions about their favourite team in the local fruit shop. Women went to watch cricket as they did Aussie Rules in a way that usually did not happen in other sporting codes.

Australian cricketers were household names, but for reasons which may be different to the way sports people’s names are well known to day. Then again, when I was a kid, grownups did not gossip in front of you. They would discuss a sportsman’s ability or lack of it, but few personal details. I suspect they did not know the very personal details we do today.

The cricket world was totally dominated by New South Wales and Victoria. State rivalries were maybe even stronger than they are today. Cricket management was done by the professional class.

Having a good character, and being a ‘character’ was almost as important as skill. Good sportsmanship was essential.  You shouldn’t be representing the country if you were a bad sport. You could be uneducated, a bit rough around the edges but not ill-mannered!

The booklet ‘The Listener In Test Cricket Book’ that was tucked into the diary encapsulates the above. It was compiled and edited by Rohan Rivett, a very well-known ABC broadcaster, journalist, newspaper editor and survivor of the Burma Railway. People who wrote about cricket were also expected to be of good character and properly literate. Even the ad for ‘Richmond Pilsner’ on the inside of the front cover is written in full complex sentences, sentences containing more than one clause!

Rohan Rivett

On the matter of the writing, much of what I browsed was telling the story of the game with little criticism of the players, just statements of how the skilled opposition had got the better of them. The articles are from several different papers: The Record, The Globe, The Sun, The Sun News Pictorial (A A P.) The Melbourne Herald and The Times. Some articles have no identification and some are written in a literary style with the odd classical reference.

For many people newspaper articles would be read some time after the game so the radio was the main source of information. People were used to waiting for news and detailed explanations. Newspaper reading was done in leisure time, in many homes not till after work.

Things worth remembering. These games were just before the war and shortly afterwards. There was international tension and then devastation of places and people. It is surprising that countries, especially England, could field a team in 1946. In light of Covid we might reflect on the importance of sport in helping us get through tough times. People need heroes.

One thing that struck me about the articles was how many games a touring side played against the English Counties. I counted at least eight plus a couple of other games. I assume these were three day games. No wonder the touring teams were away for so long.

I noticed the use of the word “barracked” as we would use heckled. Lindsay Hassett was “barracked” by the English crowd because a ball hit a batsman and he fell.  But not as badly “barracked as in Australia”!

Lindsay Hassett

Ian Johnson was offered a thousand pounds to play for Lancashire for a year but he did not accept the offer. I wondered about the financial situation of the touring men. How many came back to secure jobs?

Character was as important as skill. You didn’t have to be educated but you had to be a decent person. The public (as I knew it!) had high expectations of decency and good sportsmanship. They also formed quite strong opinions about the players. The following opinions have stayed with me since childhood. They may not be reliable.

  • Bradman was a wonderful player, a good man but a bit mean, lacked warmth and didn’t like to drink!
  • Hassett was a gentleman. Arthur Morris a tough nut. Harvey a young spark.
  • Miller was a hero because of the war and then because of his social antics. “Turning up to play a game still in his tux after a night out with Princess Margaret”. Also because he refused Bradman’s order to bowl fast at some county tail-enders because he had flown with them in the war.
  • O’Reilly was outspoken and didn’t get on with Bradman who didn’t like Catholics!

And so on.  People did not know anything much about wives, or families, let alone what sort of car someone drove or where they dined.

Rick McCosker / Bob Willis

I have a second cousin, Rick McCosker, (on my mother’s side) who opened the batting for Australia. We thought he was ok, a bit boring as a player.  In the Centenary Test his jaw was broken but he went back out to bat and he became a hero and we all claimed him.

For all the differences in the times we can still see some threads hold strong.

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