Thursday, May 7, 2009

NSW Greats 5 - Don Bradman, Phar Lap, Slim Dusty and some notables

Don Bradman
The link in the title takes you to the Australian Govt culture and recreation website, with some great accessible information about Don Bradman's life and career, in terms the non-cricket tragic can understand!

Well, what can I add about Don Bradman. He is simply a legend. A dead set legend. Don Bradman embodied everything Australians revere. He was an outstanding sportsman with an outstanding sense of sportsmanship. He was modest. He was strong and principled and stood up to bullies without compromising his principles. He was without a shadow of a doubt the greatest cricket batsman to ever set foot on the cricket pitch and far and away our most loved sports person of all time and I really cannot see that changing. His batting average of 99.94 has even the world's greatest batsman in awe. The best have batting averages not much more than half that. He is the God of cricket and not just to Australians. He was simply awesome! how do you "play" a batsman that good? This was a problem that faced Douglas Jardine, Captain of the English team. It was clearly unthinkable, England, home of cricket, masters of the universe, facing an absolute drubbing on their tour down under to play the colonials. .. and lets not be dainty about it, the Australian public weren't the type to hold back, both people and press would be crowing about it and rubbing it in with vulgar relish.

There was always a strong sense in Austrlia that the English thought they were a cut above the "colonials" and lets face it many of them did. It went all the way back to the times when if you were born in England you were referred to - in Australia mind you - as "sterling" and if you were born in Australia you were a "currency" lad or lass ie inferior. It really was a serious divide within Australian society at the time. As you may have noticed from previous entries, it was a long and bitter struggle for Australians to establish a relatively egalitarian society. Consequently there was never a contest that presses more buttons for Australians than a sporting contest against the English. Especially snooty upper crust English - yes, and especially in those days that meant cricket - the sport of gentlemen! It's not like that quite as much these days, that sense of class warfare has pretty much gone from the contest, but it's an important element of the Bodyline tale (.. and well... we do still like beating England at sport LOL).

... so back to Douglas Jardine. He came up with a new strategy. Not against the rules, just so against the spirit of cricket that Australians considered it to be cheating. Leg Theory - or as it was dubbed by the Australian press - Bodyline. It involved the bowler aiming the ball, not at the stumps as was supposed to be the case, but at the body of the batsman, forcing them to duck or be hit. Now to aim a hard cricket ball travelling very very very fast at the body of a person, could potentially kill someone. This wasn't sport anymore this was war.

And the strategy was successful. Batsmen were hit, perhaps in the chest- Bill Ponsford was hit in the temple and it was feared that this loved and respected player might have been killed. To put it mildly the mood in Australia was ugly. There were fears for the safety of the English team. But England was winning, so appeals to the masters of the game safety home in England where they got the scores but couldn't see the play fell on delightedly deaf ears. Perhaps we should note here that some in the English team objected to the tactics and refused to play to them. One player even left the team entirely.

We are very proud to say, that despite the severe provocation, the Australians did not retaliate. They kept going out, ducking, getting hit and suffering on the scoreboard. The series went on and ultimately the tour ended. The issue of Bodyline was not resolved until the Aussies toured England and out came bodyline in front of the home crowd. The English, when they saw it for themselves, were as horrified as the Aussie fans had been and the rules were changed to prevent the use of "leg theory" tactics. And Jardine? Well, Jardine was reviled. It really was a gripping story and there was an outstanding mini-series made which is available on DVD. Obviously the series is called Bodyline.

In the dark days of the depression - and by the way Australia was second only to Germany in how hard we were hit by the great depression - the Don (along with Phar Lap) was a filip to the Australian spirit. The crowds would sing the song penned in tribute to him when he walked onto the pitch. Must have been an amazing atmosphere.

The link a line or two above will take you to a little film clip of the Don giving some advice to young players and film of the crowds and audio of the song.

The song goes like this:

Who is it that all Australia raves about?
Who has won our very highest praise?
Oh is it Amy Johnson, or little Mickey Mouse?
No, its just a country lad that's bringing down the house.
And he's our Don Bradman! Now I ask you, Is he any good?
Our Don Bradman! As a batsman he can sure lay on the wood
Oh when he goes into bat, he knocks every record flat
For there isn't anything he cannot do!
Our Don Bradman! Every Aussie dips his lid to you!!

This is a link to the Bradman Foundation the official Bradman site and operators of the Bradman Museum in Bowral.
Or you can follow the Bradman Trail another official site which gives information about sites of pilgrimage.

Two towns in NSW lay some claim on the Don. The town of his birth is Cootamundra. The house where he was born is now a museum "dedicated to the event" ... (the mind boggles LOL).

But of course Don Bradman is "the boy from Bowral" Bowral is in the Southern Highlands a very pretty area which is a pleasant day trip out of Sydney. Bowral is the location of the Bradman museum, you can visit the house where he grew up and the cricket pitch where he first played.

For most of his adult life, Don Bradman lived and worked in Adelaide and he gave his own collection of memorabilia to the SA Government. It is on display in a purpose built gallery at the State Library of South Australia.
Information and links on these sites are provided on the Bradman Trail site.
There is a link to a biography of Bradman in the title of this section.

While we're about it speaking of personalities that raised spirits during the depression, this seems the logical place to talk about Phar Lap. A Kiwi bred horse foaled near Timaru, he was an ugly duckly bought for a song. We could argue all day about where he belongs in terms of lists, but ultimately his owner was a Sydneysider and he began his racing in Sydney.. so that's my excuse for claiming him for NSW LOL!! Phar Lap was of course a great winner of the Melbourne Cup and his hide is stuffed and on display at the Museum Victoria in Melbourne. His bones were donated to a museum in NZ. The Museum of Australia in Canberra has his heart, which was un-naturally large it turned out, making a literal fact of his strappers claim that he was all heart!

Phar Lap died under suspicious circumstances in the US. Discussion and new theories about Phar Laps death can still raise the attention of Australians today. There's still people doing tests and coming up with theories. Indeed an Aussie grudge that (believe it or not still persists) is the suspicion that the yanks killed Phar Lap. The motive being that the bookies couldn't make money off him. He was a punters sure bet and his owners/trainer would not rig the races - which clearly did nothing to damage the love the people had for Phar Lap during such hard economic times.

It is also useful to know how prominent and popular the horse racing industry was in Australia at the time. The Melbourne Cup is still the race that stops a nation, but general interest in racing is tame now to what it was at the time of Phar Lap. (For Aussies: there was a fascinating documentary series on the ABC some while back, it doesn't appear to be available on DVD, but if you should happen across it, do tune in!)

It is a tribute indeed to have it said of you that you "have the heart of Phar Lap". The govt website reckons that the saying means that you are Australian and proud.. but I reckon they've got that wrong. I say that if you have the heart of Phar Lap you give it everything you've got. Will never give up the chase no matter what, you're a battler fighting against the odds. Phar Lap kept winning no matter the handicap. They kept loading him up with weight and he just kept on keeping on. That's what it means to have the heart of Phar Lap. That explanation on the website is rubbish it's got nothing to do with being Australian!

There is a very good multi media presentation on Phar Lap on the website of the Museum of Victoria.

Never mind who claims him, Phar Lap is a great Anzac icon.

From an internationally revered cricketing God, and the great Phar Lap, we move on to the late great Slim Dusty. A lighthearted addition to this list, which shouldn't be taken toooo seriously.
Slim is the icon of Australian country music. Responsible for the iconic song "The Pub with No Beer" or "Duncan" a song that when I was a teenager had all the generations singing happily along together - now THAT didn't happen often in the charts. Can you imagine Countdown - the regular weekly top of the pops show and about as modern as it got - having the no 1 song a country drinking ditty? LOL just picture it the whole mob at the high school discos bursting forth:

I love to have a beer with Duncan,
I love to have a beer with Dunc
We drink in moderation
and we never ever ever get rolling drunk
We drink at the town and country
were the atmosphere is great
I love to have a beer with Duncan
'cause Duncan's me mate

and on it goes. High culture! But there's other great tunes too, like When the Rain Tumbles Down in July; Redback on the Toilet Seat; or Gumtrees by the Roadway and many many many others. Even those who aren't into country surely love Slim Dusty.

Some notable mentions

Now I'd better bring the NSW list to a close, though I am certain there's many another great New South Welshman we could discuss and when the other jurisdictions are completed I might add some more perhaps. However I would like to add a few notable mentions for my State

Mervyn Victor Richardson - Inventor of the Victa Lawnmower. Yeah, I know foreign readers won't understand this entry - but Aussies surely do!

Sir Douglas Mawson of the antarctic - geologist and explorer

Lawrence Hargrave - aeronautical pioneer and inventor... born and educated in England though.. I guess we really have to share him..

Peter Finch - actor -

Ion Idriess - author - true Australian stories. Very collectable and most them a bloody good read. My favourite source of collectable Idriess is the Read Healer in Echuca Victoria - just in case you want to get in on the act!!

William Charles Wentworth - one of the first great Australian patriots.. oh, and an explorer too.. but he makes my list for his political activism "more than any other man he secured our fundamental liberties and nationhood". William Charles Wentworth was the owner of Vaucluse House, an historic property that can be visited in Sydney.

Dr Victor Chang - surgeon and humanitarian.

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