As the summer of cricket gets underway and the England cricket team return to our shores in their quest to retain The Ashes, Escape Southern Highlands takes a fascinating tour of the boyhood home of Sir Don Bradman, the greatest batsman the world has ever seen.
It was apparently Aristotle who said, ‘Show me the child at seven, and I’ll show you the man.’ It’s a thought that comes to mind standing in the hallway of 52 Shepherd Street in Bowral, the childhood home of Don Bradman.
‘A happy man starts with a happy childhood, and what we are trying to tell here really is the story of a family at the turn of the century, and where it all began for Don,’ says Andrew Leeming, cricket buff and the house’s owner, custodian and restorer.
‘He had a very happy upbringing and that is important to know because who Don Bradman the man became is in fact far more interesting than simply Don Bradman the cricketer.’
Young Don Bradman lived here during his formative years, from three to 15. His parents, George and Emily, moved to the 1890 Victorian house from a farm near Cootamundra in 1911. They had five children: Victor, Lilian, Islet, Elizabeth May and Donald, the youngest.
Their home, says Leeming, was a noisy, industrious and happy one where learning, music, patience and concentration were valued above cricket.
Don was taught to play the piano in this house by Lilian. He started at Bowral Public School in 1913, and was later described by his headmaster as being especially good at mathematics and French. Learning was much encouraged in this house, and later in life Don became a gifted pianist, businessman and a man of letters. George and Emily were also always supportive of Bradman’s cricket.
‘At 12, Don scored his first century while living here,’ says Leeming, leading the way to the bedroom Don shared with Victor. A cricket bag with bat and pads of the period, rests against a wall. George extended the house from its original four rooms to accommodate his large brood.
‘Every afternoon, Don would arrive home from school, run through the front door, say hello to his mother, throw his satchel down in the hall and head out to the tank stand to play with his golf ball and stump,’ says Andrew.
‘Records show that often Emily would stop what she was doing and bowl to him in the backyard.’
It was also here as a 12-year-old boy that Don met Jessie Menzies, who was to become his wife of 65 years. He’d just come off his bike and was covered in blood, says Andrew. And of course, it was out here against the tank stand that Don honed his reflexes with a golf ball; skills that saw him become the greatest batsman with an average of 99.94.
Leeming, a businessman, bought 52 Shepherd Street in 2008. Its association with Don Bradman had been rediscovered in 1998, and the house, although in reasonable condition needed repair works. Leeming set about a three-year renovation that returned the house to its condition during the Bradman occupancy. Its exterior and interior fabric were restored or replicated from materials of the day. There are original photographs, and an original 1917 musical theory book belonging Lilian’s sits on the piano, a replica from the age, harking back to singalongs the family had on Saturday nights with friends and neighbours. Tours of the house, are held on Thursdays and Sundays, and include a cup of tea and biscuit, and are accompanied by an audio soundscape that takes you back to life when Don lived there. The visitor centre outside contains a touch screen with more than 3000 images from the late 19th century as well as catalogues, ephemera, magazines, articles, artwork and cricketing memorabilia Leeming has collected over 35 years. Private and group bookings are available, and even if cricket is not your thing, 52 Shepherd Street is a fascinating insight into the social and cultural history of the early 20th century, and of the boy who went onto to become an international hero and superstar. The property is also winner of The National Trust and Wingecarribee Shire awards for Conservation and Heritage, and a fascinating window into Don the boy.
‘Don was a polymath who excelled at a whole set of things during his life, and I think we need people like him to inspire and motivate us,’ says Leeming. ‘He inspired a generation during the Depression, and still today his popularity transcends gender and age.’