Monday, December 19, 2011

Bill O’Reilly’s 1946 NZ cricket poem

Recently I was doing key word searches on “cricket” and “poetry” in the National Library of New Zealand catalogue for a bibliography of New Zealand cricket fiction and poetry that I posted on this blog and have since published in a new edition of Michael O’Leary’s cricket novel Out of It (2012). Interestingly, I picked up a cricket reference in a book of “sporting rhymes” by worker poet Bill O’Reilly (1898-1959).
In 2010, Bill’s daughter, Pauline O’Reilly Leverton, published a wonderful biography of O’Reilly, Commo Bill: ‘People’s Poet’, that includes a large number of his poems as well as his life story in words and pictures.
O’Reilly was a committed member of the Communist Party of New Zealand that he joined in 1929. Best remembered for his work during the Great Depression when he was a leader of unemployed workers, O’Reilly was also involved in the Waterfront Lockout of ’51 when he championed his fellow waterside workers and stood loyal through tough times. By 1955, O’Reilly’s popularity with workers and their interests voted him in as Mayor of Thorndon, “the first Communist Mayor in New Zealand” (Bill's words); he also did charity work for blind children under the auspices of the popular "Mayor of Thorndon Blind Children's Appeal".
As a poet, he wrote dozens of verses, mainly Acrostics, and was interested in a wide variety of sports, including football, league, rugby, cricket, boxing, wrestling, racing and trotting. He also wrote pub poems and poems about places, verses for his family and friends, and wrote in response to political ideologues he disagreed with from his Marxist viewpoint. The pamphlet Sporting Rhymes (printed when he was a Thorndon Mayoral candidate to help raise funds for the blind children's appeal) includes one cricket poem.
The poem by O’Reilly, ‘King Cricket’, is of particular interest as it welcomes the Australian team to New Zealand in the 1945-46 season for their one-off Test played at the Basin Reserve, Wellington, on 29-30 March 1946.
This was a significant visit because it was the last time New Zealand would meet Australia in a Test match for some time. Walter Hadlee’s New Zealand team was humiliated inside two days of the 4-day match (all out for 42 and 54), despite Jack Cowie picking up his best Test figures for New Zealand of 6-40 in the Australian innings of 199-8 declared. In the future Australia would send a B-team and played only unofficial tests here until the early 1970s.
The 1946 Australian team was strong and included Keith Miller, the great all-rounder, and bowler Ray Lindwall who were making their Test debuts. Bill Brown, the opening batsman, captained it and the vice-captain was bowler Bill O’Reilly, the exact namesake of the poet.
O’Reilly’s poem is heartfelt and generous and indicates a time when friendship and camaraderie were at a high particularly following the end of the Second World War where Australians and New Zealanders fought side by side as ANZACs.
Here is O’Reilly’s poem for the Australian team:


King Cricket


(Written in welcome to the Australian Cricketers
     Capt. Brown, V-Capt. O’Reilly.)

Kindred from across the Tasman, wielders of the willow blade,
It’s a joy to give you greeting may your glories never fade.
Northwards far the wide-flung coastline of the land that you hold dear
Grieve not tho’ my bold Australians still you’ll find your boundaries here.

Captain, Vice, Official Teams men we salute you one and all
Recognising in your person artists of both bat and ball.
In the pre-war days who gave us after little rest
Cos we sat around the wireless listening to the flaming test.
Kindred from across the Tasman, home of Dave and home of Dad.
Every sport in God’s Own Country will be feeling mighty glad
That despite your great achievements you would still pay us a call
 Just to show our lads some pointers with the bat and with the ball.

Poem © Bill O’Reilly, 1955

(From Sporting Rhymes, The Standard Press, Wellington, 1955, courtesy of The Hocken Library, Dunedin)

Article © Mark Pirie 2011

(Sources: Commo Bill: ‘People’s Poet’: A Biography of William Daniel O’Reilly 1898-1959 by Pauline O’Reilly Leverton (Wellington: One Off Press, 2010); Sporting Rhymes: racing, trotting, boxing, football, cricket and other verses by Bill O’Reilly (Wellington: Standard Press, 1955); and Cricket Archive)

Sporting Rhymes and Other Verses by Bill O'Reilly
(Wellington: Standard Press, 1955)

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