Aladdin’s Cave – Key Objects from the Bradman Museum Trust Collection by David Wells
The Curator of the Bradman Museum Trust collection has a responsible position in cricket. Not only does he have to preserve interesting cricket items but he needs to convey stories about the items which are on display. Here, David Wells talks about some of the items within the wonderful collection at Bowral in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales.
Mickey Arthur is – I should say ‘was’ but that hints at the conclusion a little early in the piece – as South African as you get. His family roots are deeply embedded in the Eastern Cape and wife Yvette heralds from the Northern Cape. East London and Kimberley are towns well worthy of the old adage: “You can take the boy out of X, but you can’t take the X out of the boy.”
Sir Donald Bradman valued the lessons taught by history. Throughout his life he read avidly about cricket’s origin and development, learning much about the game he loved from books. In 1983, when former Bradman Trust Chairman Garry Barnsley first buttonholed him at the Moss Vale Golf Club and tentatively put the question about building a museum in his honour, Bradman implicitly understood the benefit it would have in preserving Australia’s cricket history and providing a publically accessible focus. Once satisfied that the concept was soundly constituted, he became its energetic champion consistently urging management that the museum promote the game of cricket first and foremost and that his name would merely act as “a catalyst to give it birth and life”.
Public museums exist to inform, educate and entertain communities through the preservation, display and interpretation of material culture – in other words, ‘old stuff ’. They arrange and aggregate authentic artefacts, thereby providing a tangible window into the past. Good museums use their collections so well that visitors gain a clear understanding of the past, sparking further curiosity. Top museums inspire and transport visitors to another place and time, awakening possibilities, nurturing dreams and sometimes assisting to crystallise life goals. Don Bradman knew that a good cricket museum could bring the game to life to audiences beyond those who played it. He also knew it could engender cricket’s precious spirit in young people so that they would play the game well both on and off the field.
It’s curious in sports-mad Australia that no dedicated cricket museum, open to the public seven days a week, had existed before the Bradman Museum. Through the hard work and dedication of many cricket lovers, donors, philanthropists and volunteers over 25 years it now boasts a collection of over 11,000 items. Some once belonged to the nation’s elite players while others are associated with everyday followers of the game. Regardless of their origin, they universally convey the passion felt by many for cricket. Every item symbolises a place, person or event and acts as a vehicle to convey stories that, regardless of antiquity, remain relevant and, when well told, vibrant to contemporary audiences.
Fred Spofforth’s 1884 blazer
Displayed in the museum appears an example – the first example – of Australia’s cricket emblem on a faded blue blazer from the 1884 Test series. The blazer, reputed to have been worn by the 1882 architect of England’s first loss in cricket on home soil, ‘demon’ fast bowler Fred Spofforth, the crude but unmistakable emblem features the key elements of the historic crest including the kangaroo, emu and rising sun. Contemplation of this blazer reminds us that in 1884 Australia was a series of colonies, un-federated yet clearly developing a growing sense of nationalism. The concept of ‘Australia’ was still in its infancy and would not become a reality until 1901 but, in the players’ minds, taking on England at ‘their’ game generated a unity of purpose and magnified a concept of national identity.
Victor Trumper’s 1902 bat
The museum uses its collection to teach junior high school students the concept of primary sources – the object’s role as a reliable agent for historical knowledge. Rarely does one come across a primary source as significant as Victor Trumper’s 1902 bat upon which is a letter penned by the great batsman. It reads:
Inns of Court Hotel, Holburn, 14 Sept 1902
Dear Sirs, The bat I am forwarding you is the one selected at the beginning of our tour. I have made 1500 runs with it. It is perfectly balanced with as fine a handle and is altogether as good a bat as one could wish to have. Sincerely yours V Trumper
Trumper was writing at the time to the producers of cricket’s almanac, John Wisden’s, to formally donate his tour blade. 1902 was also the season when the seminal cricket image of Trumper at The Oval was photographed by George Beldam, an image which has become successively seared into the minds of generations of cricket devotees. During the damp 1902 Ashes series, Trumper thrived at the crease while many struggled. He made 2570 runs in 36 matches at 48.49 and in the Fourth Test at Old Trafford made the first Test century in a single session of play. In 2003 Wisden’s generously presented the bat to the Bradman Museum.
Don Bradman’s first bat
No other object in the museum’s collection transports viewers back to the Bowral of the boyhood Don Bradman like the battered kit bat gifted to him by the men of the Bowral cricket team in October 1920. Gently rotating in its dedicated showcase, visitors can see the carefully-inserted fillet of timber crafted by Don’s father George, an accomplished local carpenter. They can also faintly make out that it was no fine English willow blade but a humble Australian-made ‘City and Suburban Sports Manufacturers’ product.
Looking carefully, we can see inscribed on the reverse of the blade scores made by Bradman for Bowral CC from the 1925-26 season when he first bloomed as a batsman. His 54 not out (v Moss Vale) made on 31 October heads the list followed by 26 not out (v Sutton Forrest) and 59 not out (v Exeter). On 9 January Bradman famously scored his very first Grade century, an explosive 234 against Wingello. Next are etched the scores 14 and 66 (v Moss Vale). Ignoring an excursion to Port Kembla on Australia Day 1926 (60 and 30 not out), the inscriptions return with 105 v Bowral B, 25 and a duck v Berrima A. In February he falters with 2 but recovers with 120 against Bundanoon and scores his stupendous district record 300 in the grand final against Moss Vale in May 1926. Some five and a half years after commencing Grade cricket he receives his first new bat, a Sykes, from his proud parents.
He has commenced his march on indelibly influencing cricket history and this modest piece of timber documents his early ascent.
Don Bradman’s 1930 blazer pocket
The 14th Australian cricket team to England wasn’t expected to win the Ashes. Debutant captain Bill Woodfull led a side smarting after the 4-1 defeat of 1928-29. How, boasted the English press, could they possibly win under English conditions? With Don Bradman rampant with the bat – 974 runs at 139.14 and 10 centuries, three double centuries and one stupendous treble-century, Australia came home 3-1 up. The English, so chastened by the run-lashing by Bradman (ably supported by Woodfull, Ponsford and Kippax), returned to Australia in 1932-33 and implemented leg theory – or bodyline – which would profoundly affect Australia and England’s cricket relationship.
Once home and away from the national feting, Bradman returned to Bowral and gave his Australian blazer to a cousin who wore it on his farm until it became threadbare. Rescued from a shed, all that could be saved was the pocket. Bradman’s act of generosity was typical of all the players of that era. No monetary value was ascribed to such pieces nor apparently any sentimentality, so bats, pads, caps, blazers and all the other accoutrements of international Test cricket were dispersed. This remnant piece not only reminds us of one of the most extraordinary performances in Test cricket but also the pure functionalism inter-war players ascribed to equipment and uniform.
Don at 21 World’s Record Batsman
An innocuous 500mm-high plaster likeness of a fresh-faced boy and bearing an inscription ‘Don at 21 World’s Record Batsman’ is also held at the museum. This sculpture is the earliest known three-dimensional likeness of Don Bradman.
Fashioned in August 1930 by Victor Hawley Wager, the piece was made immediately after Bradman’s stupendous innings of 334 at Leeds the previous month. Wager was a Western Australian sculptor who had accepted commissions from the University of Western Australia and the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. Apparently not popular with the market, or not offered for sale by the artist, the Bradman sculpture languished under the floorboards of the Wager family home belonging to Victor’s son Geoff ’s parents-in-law for many years.
In 2003 it was exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra as part of ‘Presence and Absence’ which explored national and communal identity through sculptural production in Australia. Wager’s sculpture will feature in the museum’s forthcoming ‘Bradmania’ exhibition opening in December.
The Blackheath bat
None of Bradman’s many extraordinary innings elicit such universal disbelief as his 256 made at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales on 2 November 1931. Representing the NSWCA, Don Bradman and Oscar Wendell Bill travelled to Blackheath to play on a new malthoid pitch for the town XI in an exhibition match against a Lithgow Pottery XI. By coincidence, Bradman had earlier played against a Lithgow team in September when he’d been bowled for 52 by Bill Black. Black came on to bowl at Blackheath when Don was at the crease and it is rumoured that the wicket-keeper let Bradman know that Black had been crowing about previously taking his wicket. Over the next three (eight-ball) overs Bradman proceeded to pile on 100 runs. When his batting partner, Bill, found himself facing, he twice efficiently gave Bradman the strike by hitting singles. Bradman’s scoring strokes were as follows:
Over 1 6 6 4 2 4 4 6 1 (33)
Over 2 6 4 4 6 6 4 6 4 (40)
Over 3 1 6 6 1 1 4 4 6 (27) and two runs scored by Bill
Bradman was later out caught. His innings had included 14 sixes and 29 fours. Black’s two overs had cost 62 runs. Writing much later, Bradman downplayed the innings in typical fashion:
It is important I think to emphasise that the thing was not planned. It happened purely by accident and everyone was surprised at the outcome, none more so than I.
It is not beyond reason however that, ever-competitive and smarting at the suggestion that he was the Lithgow bowler’s bunny, Bradman decided to make a statement that day.
The story has an instructive postscript. After the game the Mayor of Blackheath, Peter Sutton, asked Bradman whether he might consider giving the bat to the town. Don replied that he would but only after he’d finished with it. Some months later and, significantly, after making a 201.50 Test average against the visiting South Africans, the now split bat turned up at Blackheath Post Office with a note to Sutton penned by Bradman, fulfilling his promise. After some years on display at the Blackheath Bowling Club, and due principally to the hard work of several local cricket devotees, the bat finally made its way to the museum for public display in 2007. Close observation of the blade shows that it has been made concave by repeated connection with cricket balls – precisely in the sweet spot.
The Jenkins photographic collection
The potency of cricket imagery is well known to all who love the game. Welsh- born Vivian Jenkins’ photography documents the commencement of World Series Cricket and its influence on the game many years afterwards. The Jenkins Collection numbers some 1500 35mm transparencies, each packed with information documenting a revolutionary time in the game. A photographer for Kerry Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press, Jenkins was hurriedly reassigned from the steamy Cleo magazine to the World Series Cricket in 1977. WSC had taken on the establishment and needed to visually market the energy, action and on-field rivalry between the teams to create a palpable point of difference between the rival competitions. Jenkins’ evocative imagery, all captured by manual shutter, includes seminal photographs – Dennis Lillee all long hair and handlebar moustache at the point of delivery in front of an empty VFL Park, Ian Chappell slashing at a Joel Garner bouncer, Michael Holding floating to the crease before releasing another thunderbolt and a packed SCG hosting cricket for the first time at night.
C’mon Aussie C’mon songsheet
A cricketing marketing jingle became an anthem in 1978. With World Series Cricket struggling and seemingly in irrevocable decline after its first season, its managers turned to Alan Morris and Allan Johnston, aka the MoJo Singers, to write music for the newly-minted cricket being played in coloured clothing under giant light towers. The crisis called for brilliance and the duo of Morris and Johnston produced a simple, refreshing score featuring lyrics describing well-known players later put to stirring on-field footage. The result became a huge marketing coup for WSC, with cricket lovers buying the record after it saturated the airwaves and was played at every WSC fixture around the country. Back at the MoJo studio the crumpled coffee-stained original score was fished out of the rubbish bin and made safe. Today it is on permanent display in the World Series Cricket Exhibition courtesy of Allan Johnston in memory of his creative partner Alan Morris.
David Evans’ bat and gloves
The cricket world was stunned when South Australian batsman Phillip Hughes was killed after being struck by a cricket ball in November 2014. It was inconceivable that one of Australia’s most gifted and dashing batsmen could be felled so cruelly. Yet cricket is a dangerous game at times and deaths, while highly rare, are not unknown.
A no less sad and bizarre event happened at Bomaderry in 2004. David Evans was batting in a Shoalhaven Grade match when he was struck by lightning and killed just as he was about to take strike. The force of the impact blew out the side of his bat and scorched his gloves. Surrounding fieldsmen and one of the umpires were thrown to the ground. The lightning bolt even left a hole in the ground where it exited the bat. ‘Big Dave’, as he was known, was a gregarious and well-liked member of the Bomaderry Blues fourth grade team. The 31-year-old was an enthusiastic fast bowler and a big-hitting lower-order batsman. Some months after his death, the museum received a delegation comprising several team-mates and close family who presented the bat and gloves. Struggling to understand the sudden and shocking loss of their family member and team-mate, they felt that the Bradman Museum would be a suitable site for his memory and where others could learn about the dangers of lightning.
In the wake of David Evans’ death, stricter rules were applied to when players must leave and re-enter the field of play play once thunder and lightning manifest themselves.
The first museums appeared in ancient Greece. They were places to reflect and learn from past events – to, quite literally, muse. Today, some 2000 years later, they remain central to the cultural expression of many contemporary societies, trusted spaces where successive generations from all walks of life witness authentic items which tell important stories about previous generations. In doing so it is hoped museums may provide some guidance to an uncertain future. In the Bradman Museum’s case, we work to ensure that cricket maintains its position as an important and vibrant part of our sporting heritage.