The Evolution of Australian Cricket Literature: With Emphasis on the Period Up until 1900

By Cardwell, R. L. | M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia, April 2005 | Go to article overview
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The Evolution of Australian Cricket Literature: With Emphasis on the Period Up until 1900


Cardwell, R. L., M A R G I N: life & letters in early Australia


Sir Robert Menzies, the former Australian Prime Minister and avid cricket enthusiast once said 'cricket is a summer game for the player and the observer, but a winter game for the reader and thinker who sits by his fireside and evokes unperishable memories'.

For the cricket purist, one can play the game and should one have an all inspiring passion, collect the game in the form of 'cricket literature' and 'cricket memorabilia'.

According to Whitehead (in Science and the Modern World, Cambridge, 1929, pages 93-94):

   It is literature that the concrete outlook of a country receives its
   expression. Accordingly it is to literature that we must look ... if
   we are to discover the inward thoughts of a generation.

Even though we are talking about literature in the 'pure' sense we can by looking at the development of cricket in Australia gain an insight into the development of literature, even though it is bordering on the primitive. There is no record in the annals of Australian literature or writings as to whether cricket was a game pursued by the early settlers immediately after the arrival of the First Fleet; however we do have recorded details of a cricket match from the Sydney Gazette on January 8 1804, where it is written:

   The late intense weather has been favourable to the amateurs of
   Cricket, who have scarcely lost a day for the last month. The
   frequent immoderate heats might have been considered inimical to the
   amusement, but were productive of very opposite consequences, as the
   state of the atmosphere might always regulate the position of
   exercise necessary to the ends of this laborious diversion was
   originally intended to answer.

This record in the official publication of the Colony of New South Wales is the first reference to the game in Australia and hence has the distinction of being the first piece of Australian cricket literature.

The first books that can be considered Australian, that is books that arose out of the beginnings of settlement were those of the chroniclers and analysts. The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay which was printed in England in 1789 is considered the first Australian book. On the other hand the first locally published book as distinct from documents did not appear until the 14th year after settlement and this was The New South Wales General Standing Orders, selected from the general orders issued by former Governors, which was published in 1802 in Sydney, two years prior to the first reference of cricket in the young colony.

As for the sporting prowess of the early colonists, one can only guess that such pursuits as punting, running and ball games ensued as pastimes for the oppressed convicts and settlers who toiled on the land which in the infant days of the colony was often barren to say the least

Having recognised that the first settlement of Australia commenced on the 26 January 1788, one uses that as the commencement date in the record of the start, albeit unrecorded, of cricket. The Hambleton Club, which had been founded in 1767 in England was the principal driving force for cricket at that time. Amongst its players were those that had natural skill and others who sought to play the game for pleasure but as well for financial benefit, hence the large wages and purses which were then played for.

Having earlier made mention of the first record of cricket in Australia one has set a backdrop for a sport which has perhaps had more books written on it and about it let alone the players who have participated than any other sporting activity in Australia. Unfortunately we have no record of any further cricket or for that matter sport in the early colony until the Sydney Gazette of 28 April 1810 mentioned a further match played at St. Georges Fields. Cricket is mentioned in various forms and in various ways subsequent to that date culminating in a letter dated 22 August 1821 which records details pertaining to cricket bats and balls.

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