He [Bradman] is the greatest living Australian without any argument.(1)
Australian Prime Minister John Howard
In 1995, John Howard nominated two Australians; Sir Donald Bradman, and former Australian prime minister and Liberal party founder, Sir Robert Menzies, as his Australian heroes.(2) Howard's pleasure in hosting the annual prime minister's XI cricket match at Manuka Oval in Canberra is apparent given that he can sit in either the Bradman or Menzies pavilions. Perhaps he remembers attending the Kippax-Oldfield testimonial match in 1949 and witnessing, from the Sydney Cricket Ground hill, Bradman scoring 53 runs.(3) Almost half a century later, in 1996, Howard opened a new stage of the Bradman Museum in Bowral, New South Wales. Two years later, he led the singing of `happy birthday' to Bradman for his 90th on national television.(4)
As a `self-confessed cricket devotee', or `cricket tragic' as some have labelled him, Howard's admiration for Bradman and passion for the men's game go beyond the common phenomenon of politicians seeking to associate themselves with sporting heroes for political capital.(5) In the 1950s, at the height of the Menzies era, Howard lived in Earlwood, Sydney, a strongly middle-class, Anglo-Saxon suburb, and played enthusiastically but with limited skill in the Canterbury Boys High School second XI.(6) At the time, cricket represented Anglo-Australian imperial ideals and loyalty to the British Empire.(7) It was a world that Howard says he was very comfortable in, one in which he believed `that everybody was about the same',(8) and in which a limited cultural and social experience insulated him from the sometimes bitter religious and communist/anti-communist divisions of the 1940s and 1950s.(9) Howard's nostalgia for this time in his life has arguably helped shape his faith in social-conservative values and tradition. In the context of Australian social-conservatism, particularly within the Liberal party, this entails beliefs in free enterprise, individual responsibility, anti-collectivism, family values and the monarchy. These values also help to explain Howard's ambivalence towards multiculturalism and Aboriginal rights, his opposition to republicanism, and his dislike of feminism.(10) As social commentator and former Howard political adviser, Gerard Henderson, explains:
It's not that John Howard is intent on returning Australia to the 1950s. He knows that this would be impossible. It's just that Howard feels more comfortable with the Australia of the 1950s -- and with its predominant views on monarchy, family life and the like -- and the absence of public discussion on homosexuality, euthanasia, Aboriginal reconciliation or heroin trials. For John Howard is a genuine social conservative.(11)
The case put in this article is that Howard's public affection for men's cricket and its history, and his hero-worship of Bradman, represent more than the construction of a public image for political gain. There is an ideological sub-text to Howard's effusion about Bradman, and acts such as letting his views be known on the national side's selection, speaking on the Channel Nine or ABC radio cricket coverage, publicly wishing the team well before a game, sending messages of support and congratulations to the players, expressing his disappointment at a cricket scandal, or reflecting on a player's contribution to the sport on the eve of their retirement. The meaning of Howard's cricket romance runs deeper than the publicity associated with these actions, extending into an attempted reinvigoration of a social-conservative political tradition that he believes reached its zenith under Menzies. This tradition is underpinned by nostalgia for middle-class values consistent with a British-derived, Anglo-Saxon, pro-imperial Australian past in which Bradman was the national hero, and Menzies the indomitable leader.
This article makes no suggestion that Howard is a `carbon copy' of Bradman or Menzies. Conservatism is aligned differently in the twenty-first century than it was in the 1950s, with the difference being most obvious in the area of economic policy. Whereas Menzies extolled the virtues of protectionism, Australia under Howard is envisioned as an independent player on the `level playing field' of international trade, the free market and economic rationalism. Howard's political career has been spent trying to wed Menzies-style social-conservatism with economic liberalism and reform influenced by the Thatcher and Reagan `revolutions'.(12) So, at one level, we have Howard declaring that he is `the most conservative ever Liberal leader', while simultaneously presenting himself as a forward thinking, liberal economic reformer. Attempting to negotiate the tension between these agendas and sell them to the Australian electorate has been Howard's career-long challenge.
The adjustment and flexibility required to negotiate contemporary political, economic, social and cultural conditions prevent Howard from directly drawing on the Menzies era in his promotion of social-conservative values. Rather, Howard has appropriated the heroic symbolism of `The Don'. Bradman `is the greatest living Australian' not just because cricket is Australia's national sport, but also because cricket's cultural image, and many of Bradman's public utterances and biographical disclosures, are reasonably consistent with Howard's social and cultural agenda. Quite possibly, Bradman and Howard are at odds on many issues, but Bradman rarely enters into public debate, and this allows Howard to incorporate his heroism into a social-conservative cultural and political vision. This article first examines the ways in which the symbolism associated with Bradman and cricket has been used by Menzies and then by Howard, then provides a brief genealogy of cricket and social-conservative politics with regard to republicanism, race, multiculturalism, women and South Africa. The key theme binding analysis throughout is how cricket as a cultural form is used to reinforce a social-conservative tradition in Australia.
Historically, cricket has not been exclusively an interest and pastime of the right wing. Many politicians from the left, including former Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and John Curtin, and former Labor leader (and Menzies rival), Herbert Vere Evatt, have played cricket and/or been high profile spectators. Like Howard, these leaders extended their appreciation of the game from their personal into their public lives, and thus garnered political appeal among voters. Howard's love of cricket, however, is of greater consequence than simple political popularity. He uses cricket to express and consolidate a conservative way of life in Australia.
Politics and Sir Donald Bradman
Bradman has received offers to join both sides of parliament.(13) These offers were made despite his minimal or non-existent public political comment throughout his career. His media stance perpetuated the principle that sport and politics should not mix, a view that Menzies also held.(14) Yet heroes have a political character with or without their consent.(15) Beneath Bradman's lack of public political comment, there is some conjunction with Howard's social-conservatism. Commitments to conservative politics, protestantism, the monarchy and business feature in both men's personal …