Spend a day at the world renowned Bradman Museum as it turns 30 and get some insight into the wonders of the beautiful game, the famous man and his favourite game.
WORDS ALEX SPEED IMAGE ELISE HASSEY
IT’S fitting the gift for a 30 year anniversary is pearl because you don’t get more jewel in the Southern Highlands’ crown than the Bradman Museum & International Cricket Hall of Fame.
Big claim. Especially by a non-cricket tragic like me. And it’s one I probably wouldn’t make if I hadn’t spent time recently on a tour through the interactive museum in Bowral. Until I did, I confess I didn’t really appreciate what an extraordinary sportsman Don Bradman was, and why there is a multimillion dollar museum here dedicated to his name.
My guide, curator David Wells, enlightens me. He tells me Don Bradman is still recognised as the greatest batsman of all time with a never beaten test batting average of 99.94. He also has the highest rate of centuries per innings of any test cricketer. And he was one of our first global celebrities. Up there with Aussie superstar aviators of the day, Charles Kingsford Smith and Amy Johnson.
‘Such was the level of his celebrity,’ explains David, ‘that in 1932, when Don married his sweetheart Jessie Menzies in Sydney’s Burwood, the crowds outside the church broke through the barriers.’
David continues as we set off through the $11.2 million state of the art interactive museum: ‘The adulation of him was truly amazing. From the 1930s onwards, Bradman put Australia on the world stage in the sporting arena. And he did it through cricket, England’s game.’
Don Bradman was born in 1908 in Cootamundra, in the NSW Riverina. When he was two years old, his family moved to Bowral to be close to his mother Emily’s family. She was part of the Whatman clan, well known in the Highlands to this day.
The young Don grew up at 52 Shepherd Street in Bowral. Today it is a beautifully restored museum to his youth (52shepherdst.com). Here his older sister Lillian taught him to play the piano by ear, and Don’s hours of hitting a golf ball with a cricket stump onto a tin water tank became part of cricketing folklore. One of Bowral Public School’s most famous old boys, Don made his first batting century playing against Mittagong Public. He scored 115 runs not out. He was 12 years old.
Nearly a century on, more than 26,000 people visit the Bradman Museum every year. It is a weekday morning when I visit, and the museum and the cafe next door are already busy.
The museum has more than 15,000 artefacts in the collection, many of which are on show. There are also more than 30,000 vintage Press photos and photograms of the Australian Cricket Series from 1920 to 1975, obtained from the extensive Fairfax-Holman Collection.
David takes me to one of the most precious items in the entire collection, and his favourite. The Don’s first bat. Standing in a prime spot within the interactive museum, which has many touch screens and historical footage showreels on loop, the bat was given to Don by the men of the Bowral cricket side in 1920.
‘Don was already deeply involved in the local game then,’ explains David, who has worked at Bradman Museum for 17 years and was head curator for 15 years.
‘Both his parents loved cricket and George, his father, umpired local games while Don scored for the Bowral team.
‘Don was about 12 when he was first invited to come out and bat for the side. In his first innings he made 37 not out. The following week the team asked him to open the batting and he made 29 not out, and was then presented with a raggedy old bat. His father, who was a skilled carpenter, repaired it at home.’
Bradman used the bat for the next five seasons, including hitting 234 runs, his first grade century against famed Bill O’Reilly of Wingello Cricket Club in January 1926, and 300 against Moss Vale in May 1926. By then he had well and truly caught the eye of the State selectors and representative cricket beckoned. He joined the Australian Test side in the 1928/1929 season.
On October 14 the Bradman Museum celebrates its 30th birthday with a Museum After Dark event, kids’ cricket clinics, a disability fun day and the Southern Highlands Food and Wine Festival at the oval and more. Then on November 13 the Bradman Gala Dinner at the Sydney Cricket Ground will celebrate Pakistan’s Waqar Younis as the 2019 Bradman Honouree.
Last month the Bradman Museum, under the stewardship of former NSW player and executive director Rina Hore (see our profile on page 103), launches a global online museum with Google Arts & Culture’s. Great Sporting Land features Bradman Museum alongside 30 other renowned Australian sporting institutions and use, objects and immersive birds-eye views from the museum and its collection to reach a global audience.
The Bradman Museum was opened by Sir Don and Lady Jessie Bradman on October 14, 1989, with the international Hall of Cricketing Fame added later and opened in November 2010. Operated by the Bradman Foundation, the museum is committed to developing, conserving and interpreting the history of cricket. It provides educational opportunities for local children, running Coverdrive, a program for high school students with disabilities. It also hosts ongoing annual events on the oval, such as local district and school cricket fixtures, international matches, kids’ clinics and the much loved Bowral Family Carols, December 5.
At the Don’s specific request before his death in 2001, The Bradman Foundation also supports two young players with two Australian university scholarships annually. And it is a lovely and fitting tribute to their cricketing lives, and 65 year love story, that the ashes of Sir Don and Lady Bradman are buried together outside in the Bradman Rose Garden, just behind the life sized statue of The Don. But it’s worth remembering, the museum is more than a tribute to one man’s incredible career, says David. Its ongoing success is testament to the spirit of cricket and throughout tells countless remarkable stories of the men and women who have worn the baggy green for Australia.
‘When Don Bradman talked about the ongoing development of the museum,’ explains David, ‘he always said it mustn’t just be about him. It must be about the game, and why it’s such a good game.
‘He always said that to appeal to everyone, you must demystify all the shots and deliveries and strategies that go with cricket. So that everybody can enjoy the story, rather than just having tragics coming through here. So, that’s what we’ve tried to do.’
You’ve hit ’em for six, Bradman Museum. Happy 30th birthday.
Bradman 30th Celebrations Oct 5-13 including Food&Wine Festival Oct 5-6
St Jude Street, Bowral.
Bradman museum open 7 days, 10am-5pm. Closed Good Friday and Christmas
bradman.com.au @bradmanmuseumbowral artsandculture.google.com