Finding Sir Don Bradman in his hometown, Bowral
As Sir Don Bradman would have turned 109 years old today, we visit his hometown in Australia.
I always thought cricket was, well, all about a wooden bat, a red twine ball, a few gentlemen, a run between the wickets, a swing of the arm, a mound of grit, a hint of glamour... But that’s not quite all of it. In Bowral, New South Wales, Australia, there’s more to it. It all began at 20, Glebe Street. At the house that lay beyond a manicured garden. On the verandah sat a rattan chair, wanton cacti were clinging to the red brick wall and two aged eucalyptus lent shadow to the tiled roof. No, I had not driven two hours from Sydney to ogle at a house. This is no ordinary house. It belonged to the greatest ever. A man with a near-impossible batting average of 99.94. The one who hit 29 centuries in 52 matches. A cricketer like no other.
A town’s destiny
In this house lived Sir Donald George Bradman. Facts were etched on a steel nameplate: “20, Glebe Street. Bradman lived in this house from 1924 to 1928”. I was in Bowral on a Cricket Legends Tour to meet the cricketer who lent this squat town (at the last count its population was 12,946) its cherished fame. For long, Bowral was the getaway for the empty nesters. But one fateful day in 1911, the tony town’s destiny was to change.
George and Emily Bradman sold their farm in Yeo Yeo, Coota-mundra and decided to settle in Bowral. George came with his carpentry tools and in Emily’s arms was the little boy who later came to be known as the Boy from Bowral. From the modest house in Shepherd Street, Bradman walked to Bowral Public School. It was in this house that he practiced the tank tap – he’d tap a golf ball with a cricket stump against a curved course of bricks supporting the family’s water tank.
The tank taps sure worked magic — at 12, in the second game of school cricket against Mittagong Public School, he took 8 wickets and scored 115 not out. Bowral is so much about Bradman. About Jessie, the woman he loved and married (he met her in Bowral). About his house in 20, Glebe Street, where he pushed the dowels into the wooden planks as his father hunched over to build this house; of glum days, when Bradman clanked the piano keys; of sunny days, when he watered the roses… Of his ashes that lie scattered near the Bradman Oval.
Sir Don everywhere
However, it is in the International Cricket Hall of Fame where all things Bradman come under one roof. There’s a wall full of him. Framed in black and white, sepia and colour. Looking dapper in a fedora and trench; standing by a shrub wearing suspenders; in a huddle with his cricketing mates; lazily holding a tennis racquet; posing outside a brick house, not in white flannel, but a dark pin-striped suit. Bradman seemed to be peeping from every corner. I noticed ‘Don’ signed in black ink on a typed letter on which the ink has faded. It is dated 20.8.63 and begins with, “Dear Gubby, Your letter of 1st August has only just reached me…” Behind the glass pane, lay another letter, with Don in slanted hand. Dated 18.4.86 and bearing the address 2, Holden Street, Keningston Park, South Australia. The letter addressed to Bob reads: “Your (sic) should have no qualms about asking me to sign a bat at leisure for some worthwhile cause. I do not mind it all...”
Locked in another cupboard is an old newspaper advertisement of Don Bradman Special Cricket Boot; another is an ad by B Warsop & Sons, Cricket Bat Manufacturers, Sole Makers and Patentees of Conqueror Spring Handle bat as “used by principal players of England and Colonies…”
In Bowral, Sir Donald Bradman is everywhere. August 27 is his birthday. I stood outside 20, Glebe Street. A flower in hand. The gate was locked. I leaned on the myrtle. Waiting. Suddenly, I heard feet shuffling. Was it him? In white flannels, his boots laced, a wooden bat in hand… I left the flower at the gate. And walked towards the Bradman Oval. Merely to walk on the grass that Donald George Bradman, the Boy from Bowral, once walked on.