Social-Conservatism, Australian Politics and Cricket: The Triumvirate of Prime Minister John Howard, Sir Robert Menzies and Sir Donald Bradman

Article excerpt

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. …