- Published 20120426
- ISBN: 9781921922534
- Extent: 264 pp
- Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook
IT’S ONE OF the most powerful images of the twentieth century: the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. It’s an evocative and resonant symbol, embodying defiance. The winner’s podium for the 200 metre final displayed Tommie Smith at the apex, with John Carlos in third place, both shoeless in solidarity with the wretched of the earth. The silver medal went to an Australian sprinter, Peter Norman, an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge pinned to his lapel. The raised fists became a provocative gesture that caught the media unprepared, an in-your-face assertion of black pride. In the tumultuous year of 1968, racism was under the spotlight. Its associated ills of discrimination, inequality and oppression were components of a generational struggle. An unassuming Australian stood at the American sprinters’ side and, in their words, ‘He did not flinch.’
Peter Norman’s funeral in 2006 provided the complementary picture. Here the podium was inverted. The black sprinters from the US, now greying, hoisted his coffin on their shoulders. ‘You guys have lost a great soldier,’ remarked John Carlos, noting the loss of this brother whose moral support transcended race. Coming second was irrelevant. Norman the human being was greater than the athlete. Silver turned out on top.
Don Bradman has an entire museum devoted to his sporting exploits, in Bowral NSW. By contrast, Peter Norman has a single mural, under threat of demolition, tucked in a tight laneway in Sydney’s inner west.
SPORT UPHOLDS A pantheon of heroes, both commemorated and neglected. I don’t wish to reduce Norman’s stature but there’s another neglected athlete who goes by the name of Peter, with claims to Bowral too. First born at Bowral Hospital, Peter had the first bite of every cherry, or so it seemed to us younger cousins living in Mittagong. We called him ‘Big Petro’ because he seemed larger than life. Peter was a trailblazer: he was allowed to stay up late, meet girlfriends at the roller-skating rink opposite Charlie’s Café, and claimed to be ‘in the know’ with the notorious ‘Beanie Gang’, the motorcycle-owning 15-year-olds who terrorised the ducks by the lake. Peter was naturally gifted, excelling at most sports he tried. To a child’s eyes, this gave him hero status. Peter played grade cricket for Mittagong Hotel while still a raw teenager. His haul of 9 wickets (plus a run out) in one innings against Sutton Forest, meant he single-handedly thrashed the opposition. As ‘Man of the Match’ Peter received a slab of beer. Even so, his greatest pleasure was rubbing it in the faces of Mittagong’s pretentious neighbours the Bowral Blues (Bowral boys spent winter playing Union after all, never League). I eagerly waited midweek at Newman’s newsagency across from the town clock for the local paper, to crow about his achievement. I was soon disappointed. ‘Sportsman of the Week’ in The Southern Highlands News went to some freckle-faced kid who, if memory serves me well, scored a meagre 50 not out.
I felt a sense of injustice at Peter’s exclusion. Did Peter lie about his feats to bolster his already healthy ego? He had no need. Or did the editor make a glaring error? I wanted to phone Mr Mackey Cott, whose name I located on the inside page, and demand an apology, but my parents declared their clunky rotary-dial phone off-limits. Was there something behind this omission? Peter’s skin was dark – was his appearance not befitting of true blue cricketers? Although second generation Greek, he could have passed for Aboriginal or Islander given the Aboriginal wards of the State were housed at Renwick Mission in Mittagong. I learnt to read between the lines. It riles me even today to think that racism in a minor key flawed my hometown. At an age where fast cars and the joy of CB radio were all one really needed, this neglect didn’t faze Peter. He shrugged his shoulders and raced to the pool with his mates. But of course Peter never pursued cricket seriously. Along with our classmates, we switched allegiance to Rugby League (Ian Russell starred for the Illawarra Steelers in the ’90s, but his brothers Doug and Gary were local legends too). Exclusion is a stain on what should be an inclusive society. I could never view cricket so innocently again. And I’ve boycotted The Southern Highlands News ever since.
Because of Bradman, Bowral plays a unique role in the nation’s psyche. It’s easy to be ambivalent towards cricket mythology when you know it was John Howard’s preferred method of validating the Australian character. Howard’s love of Bowral mimicked British Tory PM John Major’s extolling of leisurely matches nestled in the picturesque countryside, where the ruling class took tea under the elms. Who can forget the criteria for Howard’s citizenship test, to know Bradman’s batting average (99.94, as easy as ABC), and his determined attempts to appropriate a local hero into a national icon? Bradman was ‘the greatest living Australian’ and a personal friend of the PM; Howard attended Bradman’s 2001 funeral, further ingratiating himself into cricket’s lore (as he did in 2005, visiting troops in Pakistan, when he bowled a ridiculous off-spinner).
Howard supports the St. George Illawarra Dragons and so do I. He also is a cricket tragic, and occasionally I am too. I owe my cricket appreciation to my fifth-grade teacher Mr Keast, also a tragic. Our teacher wore cardigans in summer, sandals year round, and drove a Kombi to our demountable at Mittagong Public. He was a bearded hippie, but we still liked him. When Bowral’s Bradman Oval was reopened in September 1976, Mr Keast skipped school. Two heavyweights met that day to reprise their 1925 duel. Bill O’Reilly, the crafty spinner from Wingello, confronted the ‘pint-sized powerhouse’ Bradman, who swiftly belted O’Reilly about to reach 234. Mr Keast played truant to watch his heroes and was still beaming the following day. And in those lax times of the mid ’70s, our teacher wasn’t given a dressing-down by the headmaster, but was applauded. As his best student, Mr Keast selected me to watch black-and-white TV in the staff room and file reports on the West Indies’ tour of Australia in 1975-76. It turned out to be a 5-1 thrashing by Australia, one that set the pace for an ugly decade or two, when sledging became the norm, concealed racism at its core (the extent of which is detailed in the 2010 documentary Fire in Babylon). In true Aussie spirit I fell for the West Indies, for their underdog status. So did my best mate, who adored calypso music and imitated Viv Richards’ swagger. Michael Holding, known as ‘Whispering Death’ for his elegance and pace, became my model. The memory of that chubby 10-year-old trundling in to bowl like Holding unnerves me still. I batted on Bradman Oval numerous times, usually at sixth drop, and proved to be a vital cog in a permanently losing side. Mittagong toughs were always the underdogs and Bowral boys always pretentious twats, schooled at private institutions like Tudor House.
Back then Bowral had yet to really market the Don’s exploits; by 2011, however, the Don’s 1934 Baggy Green was fetching $250 000 at auction. The Boy from Bowral had no memorial, but big plans were afoot to cash in on his fame, with the local paper its perennial cheerleader. But Bradman wasn’t the hero of my generation. If anything, Bradman was the choice of Senior Citizens who loved the fresh air of the Southern Highlands, a place with few of these new-fangled restaurants serving exotic cuisine.
I’m forever grateful Mr Keast convinced my parents that my talents would be better spent away from our thriving café on the Hume by accompanying him to the Sheffield Shield, in the days Allan Border played for New South Wales. I sat politely in the SCG stand and was introduced to David Colley and Graeme Hughes during tea interval. These forays got me interested in the game, of course, but also in the personalities, the batting records, the bowling averages. I later attended One Day Internationals with Peter to watch the West Indies at their prime, and even shake hands with Curtly Ambrose in the outfield. I also accompanied university colleagues to the Pura Cup to watch Queensland overthrow their hoodoo (one companion turned out to be an intense Beckett scholar: why do Absurdists take to cricket? Beckett? Pinter? Stoppard? There’s a thesis to be written here).
Being studious, I kindled a fondness for cricket literature. I envied the late Peter Roebuck’s florid prose in theSydney Morning Herald, and particularly admired CRL James, the Marxist historian whose memoir Beyond a Boundary is a superb distillation of the significance of Caribbean cricket within colonialism. Likewise, Mike Marquese’s Anyone But England, written by an American no less, mixes cricket and social politics during Thatcher’s era with aplomb. I’m charmed to this day by Neville Cardus’ musings, entwining cricket with philosophy in musty hardbacks foraged from bins at Berkelouws in Berrima: ‘Old age, in fact, sets in as soon as we take note of changes in the wind and think of wet feet.’
I also met Ramachandra Guha, editor of The Picador Book of Cricket; his illuminating writings of corners of the foreign field proved disturbing. I read of Viv Richards’ offence at racist outbursts led by university graduate Geoff Lawson in the 1984-85 tour, which consolidated my dislike for Australian cricket. So much for obtaining a tertiary education, I thought. Why support a national team so lacking in grace, intelligence, and sportsmanship?
The turning point away from Australian cricket occurred with the 1985 Rebel tour, as an all Anglo-Saxon team travelled to South Africa. Blithe spirits to the apartheid regime, they circumvented an international boycott of a pariah state. I specifically recall penning a letter calling on my local MP ‘to investigate this breach of conduct contrary to international standards’. I also told him to do something about nuclear weapons. I never received a reply.
I was a fellow traveller then of the worldwide anti-racist cause, attending anti-apartheid meetings on Sydney Uni lawns, ignoring Bicentennial celebrations and pamphleteering ‘Rock against Racism’ concerts in Glebe. During the 1980s, when South Africa was rightly taking the rap for apartheid, Australian cricket got off scot-free. We should compare that to the inspired leadership of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. Theirs was a moral stance, refusing the lure of the rand (something Alvin Kallicharan and Colin Croft had no qualms in accepting). During this period I reconsidered my loyalties. Was this benign support of racism what Australian cricket stood for? Yes, the team had rebels, but like their English counterparts, those same players were seamlessly rehabilitated into the national squad on return. The government acted on principle and refused to give the Rebel tour official status (I penned a letter to the Hon. RJ Hawke ‘commending him on his courageous decision,’ but never received a reply). The media made it murky though, expressing the tired adage that sport shouldn’t be mixed with politics, even though politicians never fail to mix with sportsmen or vice versa.
Australian cricket discriminated in various ways which meant the question of race could not be dismissed. More galling was that Australia prided itself on an inclusive society, giving a fair go to all, in sport and in life. We weren’t like those dreary Poms, with their class allegiance and ingrained discrimination, were we? Curious, then, that English teams of the 1980s and ’90s often had Caribbean, Indian, or Pakistani players: Chris Lewis, Devon Malcolm, and Monty Panesar among others. Nasser Hussain was captain, no less. The Australian squad was white and Anglo, and could have auditioned for Neighbours. For a good decade or so, I kept my distance from the national game. It was a bleak period. John Howard climbed to power. And my St. George Illawarra Dragons didn’t lift my spirits until 2010.
MY FLATMATE JITENDRA was declared ‘Sri Lanka’s best DJ’ because he remixed Hindi pop with the Bee Gees. We shared a dilapidated terrace 3 minutes away from the SCG and at his insistence I accompanied him to the cricket. We agreed Adam Gilchrist was honourable, Mark Waugh poetry in motion, and Shane Warne a great spinner and proper bore (Warne’s refusal to tour Sri Lanka was deemed a personal slight to Jit, bombs notwithstanding). Jit’s passion was unquestionable and his dislike of Indian cricket – Tendulkar copping an earful from the Hill – an echo of Bradman’s era: the colony shaking off an inferiority culture against the mother country. Peering through Jit’s binoculars I didn’t see too many ‘wogs’ or ‘ethnics’ in the Australian squad, nor even in the crowd. Cursory readings of Stuart Hall and Frantz Fanon provided perspective: Racism that is covert is more dangerous than overt, because it normalises what is hidden.
Recently there’s been a big media fuss with the inclusion of Usman Khawaja to the national team. Khawaja’s Wikipedia entry enthuses: ‘Khawaja became the 419th Australian to be presented with an Australian Cricket Test baggy green cap. Khawaja became the first Muslim and first Pakistani-born Australian player to play test cricket for Australia, and only the seventh foreign-born cricketer to do so in the last 80 years.’ This is written as though it was something to be proud of. By indicating how far we have come, Australia has shown itself to be decades late by other countries’ standards. For too long the Australian cricket team resembled the Italian soccer team, a display of monocultural hegemony and a refusal ‘to admit the other’. From the 1970s to mid-’90s the Australian cricket team was dubbed ‘the Ugly Australians’. The charge list includes sledging that knew no bounds, sore losers, deceit (underarm bowling), betting against their own team (1981 Ashes), macho posturing (Marsh’s 45 beers from Sydney to London was eclipsed by Boonie’s 52). But when they won, they were ‘larrikins’, and the nation forgave all. Why support such drongos?
One could well ask: why have footy codes become more culturally inclusive and socially progressive than cricket? Body types, skills and temperament won’t hold. Cricket institutions never invited the non-Anglo into this white club of privilege. If you were an ‘ethnic’, Asian or Aborigine, you had no networks to identify talent, nurture its growth, and provide scholarships and media training to advance through the grades. Rugby League was more representative of the Australia I knew, with names like Tommy Raudonikis and George Peponis, Australian captains in the 1970s. Today we have Indigenous and Polynesian players too numerous to mention. In any outback town you will find Aboriginal kids kicking a footy, as they do in suburbs and the inner-city. Ricky Walford, Anthony ‘Choc’ Mundine and Nathan Blacklock were superb Indigenous footballers who I barracked for as part of the St. George Illawarra Dragons. They were never cricketers for St. George, as Don Bradman had once been.
In The Sydney Morning Herald 19 December 2011, Cricket Australia admitted it has paid the price for neglecting to include what it euphemistically terms ‘migrant’ communities (namely, Australians in suburbs other than north or east). Falling match attendances and a decline in club memberships has seen the popularity of cricket contract, compared with the expansion of AFL and soccer.
If Cricket Australia needed an answer to their failure, it was evident in the same edition of The Sydney Morning Herald. Artie Beetson’s memorial service at the SCG honoured the life and untimely death of Australia’s first Indigenous captain in any sporting code, from 1973 to 1977. That’s 40 years of cultural capital League has accrued. Meanwhile, cricket spokesman (and former NSW Premier) Morris Iemma tosses up the same canards to deflect cricket’s endemic racism: ‘parents have to work’ (the same ones who drive their kids to soccer three times a week?); there are ‘cost issues’ acting as a barricade for inclusion. Iemma mustn’t have observed Serbians in Fairfield who pay exorbitant amounts for tennis coaching, court hire and gear.
Scanning the cricket pages of the mainstream press, no Greek, Italian, Yugoslav or Chinese appear, the latter having been in Australia for five generations. For years the only characters to fill this gap were Richard Chee Quee, a smashing middle order batsman who played first grade for NSW. And of course the feisty Len Pascoe: all sweat, gold chain bouncing off his hairy chest, and larger than life gestures, consolidating stereotypes in the process. To suggest cricket in Australia is inherently racist misses the point. To deny cricket is not part of a culture that discriminates is equally so. Critics will point to an Aboriginal cricket team that toured England as evidence of inclusion. Of course, it was as recent as 1868 (The Times: ‘they are perfectly civilised and quite familiar with the English language’). Weasel words from Cricket Australia are a disgrace. It’s time they took a stand.
IN 1990, AFTER twenty-seven years of captivity on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela was freed and subsequently honoured on the steps of the Sydney Opera House. I was glad to attend and see the legend in person. His departure from Victor Verster Prison marked a significant victory against apartheid and the scourge of racism. Mandela’s release was accompanied by a great quote: ‘Is Bradman still alive?’ His statement indicates how quickly time passes but also what is preserved by memory. Compare Mandela’s generosity to that of cricket tragic John Howard. His opposition to sanctions throughout the 1980s, to force the hand of South Africa to dismantle apartheid, is in Hansard, 21 August 1986, for all to read. The African National Congress was in his eyes a terrorist organisation, not a liberation movement. The ‘Ugly Australian’ was thriving then, proving you should never mix sport with politics.
But with time, things change in unexpected ways. Gordon Greenidge claimed the 1975-76 squad under Ian and Greg Chappell went beyond all boundaries, using race to denigrate their Caribbean opponents. Yet Ian Chappell’s principled stand in 2003, going in to bat on behalf of asylum seekers surprised me. Chappell simply wanted ‘a fair go’ for these maligned people, something government policy had denied them. Recently Geoff Lawson coached the Pakistani team; the university graduate must have ironed out his worst traits, attacking media representations that routinely demonised the sub-continent as a terrorist haven.
Those sportsmen deserving recognition are the least well known. Peter Norman’s actions in 1968 are a beacon to this day. His international solidarity with the American sprinters was a timely domestic reminder. Given the right to vote in 1967, were Australia’s Indigenous populations any better off than the poor of the Third World? Health, housing, employment and educational opportunities: the wretched of the earth could even be found in sunny, developing, resource-rich Australia. We have certainly come a long way.
Norman was a man who paid a price for his moral support. As a human rights advocate, he never cashed in on his media spotlight, nor did he ever retract his stand. He suffered, of course. Sports administrators read between the lines and consequently banned him for two years on return and denied him the opportunity to represent Australia in the 1972 Olympics, even though he qualified in trials for the 100 metres and 200 metres (his 20.06 seconds for the 200 metres stands as an Australian record). As John Carlos said in his eloquent funeral oration: ‘Not every young white individual would have the gumption, the nerve, the backbone, to stand there.’ Tommie Smith added: ‘Peter’s legacy is a rock. Stand on that rock.’ Their attendance at his funeral speaks volumes, suggesting a relationship spanning four decades. US Athletics associations often wonder why Norman’s contribution is not celebrated, surviving only as a mural on a doomed wall.
For this reason I had to see it up close. My 1968 VW Beetle sputtered into the back streets of Newtown, down Pine Street and left into Leamington Lane. Creeping vines sprouted jasmine over a railway barricade, and aluminium sheets stood as a makeshift fence. I titled my head upwards and spotted the mural. On the outside wall of a cream-coloured terrace, Tommie Smith thrusts his fist upwards, as though wanting to punch a skylight through the tin roof. What draws me to Peter Norman, standing at the forefront proudly, is that his principled gesture went beyond the confines of sport. Norman was acting on his Salvation Army beliefs –freedom was a universal right; we are all God’s children, black, white and everything in between: ‘I believe in supporting humanity in every way we can to make this a better world.’ Norman’s stance led John Carlos to declare this Australian a man of heart and conscience ‘and a hell of an athlete’ (The John Carlos Story, Haymarket Books, 2011).
As Dr. Charlie Teo said in his 2012 Australia Day speech, ‘demonstrating a higher level of kindness’ is equivalent to giving others a fair go. Today in the United States, San Jose State University has honoured Norman’s gesture by erecting a statue of the same podium, with Smith and Carlos in their respective spots, and an empty silver-medallist’s spot where onlookers can put themselves in Peter Norman’s shoes. Everyone is invited ‘to take a stand’. We should be thankful we have this hero in our collective memory.
Sunlight hit the mural, illuminating John Carlos from his torso up; passengers on trains to Redfern might see this image in passing. Peter Norman was positioned much lower due to the photographer’s angle. When the sun dipped behind the barricade, Norman was again put in the shade. We should heed John Carlos’ simple but moving words: ‘Go tell your kids the story of Peter Norman.’ This mural is today under threat of demolition to make way for a rail tunnel. Railcorp shows no signs of complying with a proposed Heritage listing, and intends to resume the terraces along Leamington Lane. There is still time ‘to take a stand’.
PETER’S BMW RACED down the M5. We stopped at Mittagong and I knew I was getting older. The shops I remember selling ‘FURNITURE’ had replaced their signs with ‘ANTIQUES’. We passed the Renwick Boys home, now a valued estate eyed by Landcom, spiralled down Mt. Gibraltar ‘the Gib’ like we once did in Peter’s Torana, and entered ‘this beautiful town’ of Bowral, as the Don declared it in his Farewell to Cricket (1950).
The Empire Cinema is still as dominant in the centre of town as it was in 1930 when the first ‘talkies’ appeared, and where Bradman was given a send-off before touring England and scoring 2,960 runs at 98.66 average (how Peter’s dad must wince at ever having sold this money-spinner, with its arcade of shops at street level). The locals are no match for the Don in archival photos depicting a young man with cravat, vest and fob watch too. In Bowral the rent is as high as anything you’d find in Double Bay, frequented by newcomers: Neutral Bay retirees. Lebanese diners and a Cuban waitress are all here. Numerous bookshops have sprouted with signed copies by local artist John Olsen. Along with Peter Garrett and Ita Buttrose and even Cootamundra-born Bradman, Bowral, to its eternal credit, has embraced all these outsiders. The country ambience is preserved in the CWA halls, who still meet ‘every second Tuesday of the month’, and remnants of the Tulip festival at Corbett Gardens.
Peter insisted we pay respect to Bradman’s house on Shepherd Street, with ongoing renovations financed by a Boston fanatic. Bradman’s ashes were scattered on Bradman Oval nearby. Slight changes have occurred since Bill O’Reilly strode in to bowl to the Don in 1925. Immaculate lawns have done away with the coir mats as pitch. The sheds are no longer tin shacks. And the trees spread greater shadows.
The Oval acts as an omphalos, or centre of the universe, for Peter, myself, and our many Greek cousins. Our first view of the world beyond Bowral Hospital contained a cricket pitch, the centre of Bradman Oval. Consequently over the years my hometown allegiance has expanded from Mittagong to include all of the Southern Highlands, even, God forbid, Bowral. ‘Braddles’, the local boy made good, has acquired my respect, conveniently bypassing what he stood for: Masons, the Monarchy and Menzies (who lent his Bowral farm to Bradman while he recuperated in 1935). Howard’s appropriation of Bradman underpinned his vision of white-picket-fence Australia, but he did know the importance of harnessing tradition, something progressives should remember. Cultural traditions sustain and embolden communities. The Southern Highlands is proud of its traditions, whether it is Bradman, Mary Poppins, or its abundant wineries. These traditions consolidate its identity, and shouldn’t be the preserve of ideological warriors like Howard who shamelessly harnessed this local mythology into a conservative narrative. Sometimes the left should do the unthinkable and act like born-again Christians: why let the devil possess the best tunes?
The Bradman Museum has been pompously renamed ‘The International Cricket Hall of Fame’, and Howard made sure he was at the 2010 opening. Highlights include the Don’s frayed baggy greens, typed letters, interactive screens, and the recreation of Bradman’s past: the Trilby, St. George Cricket blazers, wireless radio and the sturdy Bakelite phone.
Grainy films in the cinémathèque were screening Keith Miller circa 1948, all style to Bradman’s perfunctory perfection. Even the Don admitted, ‘There could be no doubting the charm of Miller’s batting.’ Miller’s humanity is evident in the tales of his refusal to bowl at the head of an English batsman who courageously survived the war, at Bradman’s request (‘grind them into the dust’ were the Don’s words). And the tale of Miller turning up to play a Test match still in his dinner jacket from the previous night is absolutely endearing. The Don is quoted: ‘Cricket is needed to keep other matters in proper perspective.’ I imagine Miller, who flew planes in the war, showed him that. Howard’s choice of Bradman is predictable and conservative, but there is always someone like Miller, part Adonis, part scallywag to puncture devotion to the official legend.
The hero’s flaws are more illuminating than their successes, according to George Orwell, because they tell you more about their character. Peter Norman said he was ‘not perfect, not all good, but not all bad’, a fine self-assessment given he had reason to brood over his sporting exile. Peter, the childhood hero, had flaws too. When I got into my first fight with an Italian neighbour (who deserved the flurry of fists I imagine he copped), rather than stop the brawl outside Mittagong Library, Peter urged me to ‘finish him off’. One often forgets childhood’s air of violence, especially in small country towns.
I went in search of records of Peter’s exploits that I still remember. I entered the wooden building of The Southern Highland News, first published in 1883, with its by-line: ‘The Home of Sir Don Bradman’. Having requested the archives, the receptionist directed me to Bowral Library, adjacent to the sandstone Court House. I located reels of microfiche dating to early 1970 and began my search. Would I find any evidence of Peter’s exploits on the cricket field? Part of me said I wouldn’t, consolidating my thesis of exclusion from a privileged club. But if evidence was found, would it temper my ancient outrage? I might then rescind my fatwa towards the local paper.
The headlines recreated an era: ‘CHEVALIER COLLEGE AWARDS’; ‘BISHOP ON PERMISSIVE SOCIETY’; and the mysteriously titled ‘PLAYERS FIGHT THROUGH FOG,’ reporting on a Squash tournament! Scrolling through the archives recreated a family album. I spotted uncles and aunts as proud owners of Charlie’s Cafe; Peter catching tadpoles by Lake Alexandra; ‘Little Petro’ photographed on his new dragster. Peter’s sister Mairi won the prize for best school essay of 1977: ‘The UN gives us hope, in a world that needs it much.’ But there was a photo of a freckle-faced girl erroneously in her place. Did I mix this slip-up with Peter’s perceived omission? In my entire argument I neglected to ask the obvious: where were the women in cricket lore? Where are the women in the forging of national myths? Were they neglected heroes too? It may sound trite, but Bradman admitted his more than fifty-year marriage was his best innings. His sporting achievements would not have happened if not for the support of Jessie, his wife – who, may I add, was from Mittagong.
A trauma revisited me as the reel unfurled. There I was, a chubby 10-year-old, pictured in Mittagong’s Under-11 footy team. We, the undefeated Premiers, thrashed Bowral in the Grand Final at Loseby Park, a few streets from the library. Mittagong Hotel offered our team a slab of beer as a prize, but our parents politely declined. These were golden days, were it not for darker currents. My mother was quoted on the 1974 murder of Michelle Allport, roller-skating queen and our 13-year-old waitress, her body retrieved in bushes by the lake.
As for Peter’s exploits defeating the opposition single-handedly? As in trips down memory lane, memory can often surprise. Peter was true to his word. His 9 wicket haul for 57 runs against Sutton Forest was commended. A few words describing ‘this up-and-coming local’ were all that was needed. With the passage of time, childhood grudges can be forgiven, especially when corrected by microfiche. What impressed me more was not this one-off bowling feat. Peter’s form was consistent, the reason why Mittagong Hotel won the comp in 1979-80. 4 for 42 versus Moss Vale, 3 for 27 versus Robertson-Burrawang and the pleasing 5 for 48 against the combined Bowral Blues. He was a handy all rounder too: 23, 27 not out, 30 not out.
In 2012, Peter celebrated his 50 not out. A well earned half century to a good sport. Surrounded by family, cousins and friends at his birthday party, I passed over to ‘Big Petro’ the Southern Highlands News clipping, photocopied and enlarged. Peter’s look of bemusement at his strong bowling figures suggested embarrassment. He shrugged his shoulders and made little fuss over my discovery, retrieved from the vaults. From what I had read, it was the same gesture the Don displayed in 1949, when a telegram with news of a Knighthood arrived from King George VI.
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