Sunday, March 18, 2012

Don Bradman’s 1932 New Zealand visit and poems

Last year, I was reading Alan Eason's A to Z of Bradman and found a humorous entry on Bradman’s disappointing visit to Wellington in 1932.
As the story goes, the Australian team was on their way back from a tour of Canada and the United States and stopped by Wellington where an exhibition match at the Basin Reserve was scheduled. Bad weather, “a wash out”, saw their game cancelled, and so the next morning Bradman was up early to go sightseeing in the Wairarapa with his wife. Rooming away from his team meant Bradman didn’t realise that their match had been hastily rescheduled for later that day () before their ship was due to sail.
Unable to contact Bradman or Fleetwood-Smith the Aussie “googly” bowler (no cell phones back then), thousands of fans turned up at the Basin to catch a glimpse of Bradman only to find their hopes cruelly dashed.
Wellington made 43/1 in their limited half hour’s play with Jack Lamason (who later toured England in 1937) getting most of their runs: 26 not out. The rest of the time was for a display of aggressive batting from the Australians (Nutt, Tolhurst, McCabe, Kippax, the stylist, Richardson and Rofe). All-rounder Stan McCabe prior to this match had already broken a woman spectator’s leg on tour with a powerful hit, so expectations must’ve been high for some big hitting.
The Australians certainly entertained the crowd despite Bradman’s non-appearance and they made 155/4 in their 78 minutes with McCabe carrying his bat for 78; Lambert taking 3-72 for Wellington (from The Evening Post report and scorecard, 20 September 1932).
Bradman returned later that day, miffed and most apologetic for missing the match. He later tried to make amends and made plans to bring a team of young Australian players for an exhibition match the following season but that idea seems to have been ruled out due to player restrictions by the Australian Board of Control. They advised Bradman to take medical rest at the close of the season, and so Bradman never did light up New Zealand cricket grounds or please his fans across the Tasman.1
A. Varney of the Wellington Cricket Association had expressed enthusiasm for Bradman’s idea of bringing a team of young players over and A. T. Donnelly of the New Zealand Cricket Council had made further approaches to the Australian Board of Control (The Evening Post 30 December 1932). Due to Bradman’s fatigue of “too much cricket”, however, the idea did not eventuate.2
I decided to look up Bradman’s unfortunate Wellington visit further in the National Library of New Zealand’s Papers Past digital archive. There I uncovered, in Percy Flage’s popular column “Postscripts” (The Evening Post, 17 & 21 September 1932), a barrage of remarks and verses in response to his visit and his perceived no show at the Basin.
On 17 September, Flage publishes a poem before the Bradman game (mentioning popular Wellington player Herb McGirr):


Would it please you, oh my brother, if, before he had a smack,
Don was skittled for a "blob" – or would you want your money back?

And if Herb. McGirr clumped Mailey twice or thrice into the stand,
Would you take it hard, or would you shout and howl to beat the band?

Then on 21 September, Flage prints a vivid display of disappointment from local cricket fans after the match:


Miniature flood of metaphorical brick-bats for Bradman, who did not appear at the Basin yesterday. However, it is reported that it was no discourtesy on Don’s part; his absence was due to a misunderstanding.

Dear Percy,—Can you tell me a use for the ancient eggs I took down to the wharf for Don Bradman?

“Spy Glass”—

Enter cricket ground at .
Hero, Mr. Bradman.
Exit ground at ,
Zero d—n that Bad-man.

“Allured’s” comprehensive curse—

May the pangs of mal der mer disturb him right across the Tasman.
May his mother-in-law come to stay with him for three years.
Whence he puts his cricket boots on may his corns hurt so he becomes as slow as a tuatara with the sciatica.
When he misses one of Larwood’s fast ones, may the wind blow his bails off.
When he is waiting to catch a ball in the outfield may his trousers commence to fall down.
May he be as cold all through the summer, as I felt about to-day.

From L.D.A.—

Absent Bradman Certainly Debarred Enthusiasts From Going Home Infectiously Jovial; Keen Loyalty Made Nine-tenths Of People Querulous; Recriminative Spectators Think Unutterable Vituperation When ‘Xtirpating Yesterday’s Zest.
And I was one of ‘em, Percy.

“Rosie Neath” returns his gold brick—

We went to the Basin
Celebrity chasin’
Not fearin’ a trick.
We found we were “had,” man—
“No appearance of Bradman.”
Now we look for the bad man
Who sold that gold brick.

“Mac” passes on a note from: youthful “Flannelled Fool,” with this explanation:—Yesterday my boss’s son, called at the office and complained bitterly that he had been lured to the Basin under false pretences. Jokingly I suggested that he should write to “the papers” about it. This morning he brought the enclosed note to me with the request that I should see that it went to the right quarters.
And here’s “F.F.’s” wistful plaint— nearly all the boys of our school, that is Wellington College went to the Basin to see Mr. Bradman play, as we were granted time-off. I bought a new autograph book to get Mr. Bradman to sign. We were very disappointed when we found out Mr Bradman was not there, and it was in the paper he would be—I think the Cricket people might have told us so that we would not have been disappointed. Please, excuse my writing, but my autograph book cost 5s, and I am cross that I did not get Don’s name in it.

As can be seen in the responses above, Bradman’s visit seems to have unwittingly occasioned New Zealand cricket verse on the matter. “Rosie Neath” and “Spy Glass” as far as I can tell were regular contributors to the column in searches for their names on Papers Past. “L.D.A” is L. D. Austin.
Niel Wright informs me that Percy Flage was in fact journalist and editor, C. A. Marris, who edited among other things the Best New Zealand Poems series of the 1930s and ’40s. Ruth Gilbert (who had poems included in “Postscripts”) told Wright that Flage was Marris.

1 Bradman when interviewed for the ABC series, The Don Declares, said his not playing in New Zealand was ‘an extraordinary thing’. He wasn’t picked in 1928, did not play in 1932 (thought this visit isn’t mentioned), and did not tour in 1946 for health reasons. The 1946 visit was an attempt to get cricket started again after World War Two. He would've loved to have played in New Zealand and pleased his fans.
2 This would’ve been near the time of the Bodyline series 1932/33 in Australia so it’s understandable as he suffered ill health for a year or two after this.


As a postscript to the Bradman visit, I’ve uncovered a further poem on Bradman also in the “Postscripts” column (The Evening Post, 3 February 1932) in relation to his status prior to the Wellington visit. It’s a celebration of popular Wellington cricketer and all-rounder Herb McGirr:


This rhyme is Isidore McFlage’s way of protesting against the continual adulation bestowed on Don Bradman while that bane of bowlers has yet to meet Herb. McGirr. Precisely. Gangway for Izzy.

This chap Bradman must we all
Toss our derbies up, and bawl
Every time he lands a score
Of three figures, say, or more?
No doubt he is pretty good
When he’s laying on the wood,
But I want to warn you, sir,
Wait until he meets McGirr!

Don has slammed the Springboks well—
Quinn, McMillan, Vincent, Bell;
Pasted Larwood, Voce, and Tate
At a most prodigious rate.
While his critics bowed the head,
And would not be comforted.
Still … I think there’ll be a stir
When he takes on Herb McGirr!

If one man his dash can curb
You can bet your life it’s Herb.
He is game to take all on—
Hobbs and Duleep, Woodfull, Don.
Let them play the rock, or hit,
Mc. just doesn’t care a bit.
“Wizard with the willow”… brrr!
Wait until he meets McGirr!

I’m unable to find out who Isidore McFlage is. He was a regular contributor to “Postscripts”, had an interest in politics, verse, sport and gardening, and lived in “the Glen, Kelburn”. Flage also refers to him as his “cousin McFlage” but that is no more helpful. Marris did live in Ngaio Road, Kelburn, in the Glen so it could be him writing under another pseudonym.
A further cricket poem by McFlage (also in “Postscripts”, The Evening Post, 14 September 1932) pokes fun at the Australian Ashes team, naming 12 players of the period, and includes Bradman:


Isidore McFlage, in dear dead day beyond recall our sister Camou’s “steady,” spins this “wrong un” of his at those terrifying English cricket critics.

Bradman’s trembling at the hocks,
Woodfull’s far from cheerful,
Grimmett, the unorthodox,
Grows a trifle fearful,
Stan McCabe is thinking hard,
Fleetwood-Smith moans pensively
Kippax in his own back yard
Practises intensively,
Darkling doubts assail Ken Rigg,
Also Ironmonger,
Richardson feels not so big,
Wishing he were younger,
Oldfield’s lost his savoir faire,
Ponsford’s got the “willies,”
Wall is nearly in despair—
Aren’t they all sillies?

Article © Mark Pirie 2011

(Sources: The Evening Post [1932] from Papers Past, National Library of New Zealand digital archive; and the A to Z of Bradman by Alan Eason; foreword by Gideon Haigh (Scribe, Melbourne, 2008))

This article was first published in Poetry Notes (Poetry Archive of New Zealand Aotearoa Newsletter), Vol. 2, No. 4, Summer 2012; and republished as a booklet by Cultural and Political Booklets, Wellington, New Zealand, 2012.

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