Bradman – The Kensington Connection

 

“Bradmania in Adelaide”

Aaron Owen
Born August 27, 1908 in Cootamundra, New South Wales. Raised in Bowral. Hundred on first-class debut for NSW. Scores 18 and 1 on Australia Test match debut aged 20 at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground in 1928-29. Dropped. Reselected. Not dropped again. Plays 52 Tests; 80 innings, ten not-outs, 6996 runs, highest score 334 at Leeds in 1934, averaged 99.94 runs per innings… blah blah blah. Of course, I’m referring to Don Bradman.Bradman facts, stats and stories have so often been spouted, and are usually so well-worn, that now it might take bits of DGB trivia a little less-known to keep the interested cricket fan interested when it comes to the Don.

For instance, did you know he took two Test wickets bowling neat legbreaks – both of which were snared at Adelaide Oval? And did you know that from the mid-1930s until his death in 2001, Bradman made that same city of Adelaide – South Australia’s capital – his home?

And so cricketing pilgrims may well begin their Adelaide journey by heading along Sir Donald Bradman Drive from the airport to the city centre. And later, by travelling to the former Bradman residence at 2 Holden Street, Kensington Park.

Wandering along the Parade soon reveals local Kensington Oval, which Bradman called his home ground while playing district cricket for Kensington Cricket Club (KCC). Man, what a blast to be able to go to a local Adelaide suburban ground, free of charge, and watch Bradman bat.

The Bradman residence at Kensington Park © Aaron OwenAnd to think you’re now walking around streets and places where for so long the man described, in 1998 by then serving Australian Prime Minister John Howard (cricket tragic and awesome bowler), as “the greatest living Australian” lived.

While he may well have found bowling conditions favoured him here, it wasn’t because of ripping, legspin-aiding turn in the pitch, or even for the runs he could make on batting-friendly Adelaide Oval strips that inspired him to move from big Sydney, and playing Sheffield Shield cricket for New South Wales, to Adelaide. It was for work.

Today soccer players, for example, can command immense fees on transfer. So it’s remarkable to think that – even in the 1930s – an athlete of Bradman’s already proven freakish talent and massive fame could move to Adelaide without any trade (feeble though it could only have been) or without any financial compensation going New South Wales’ way. What a coup for the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA).

It was well before Kerry Packer’s well-funded World Series Cricket and its overdue addressing of proper player remuneration, and also long ahead of abundant endorsement opportunities (ask Michael “KFC” Clarke). Bradman played in an amateur era, and as brilliant as he surely was on the field, he was able to be enticed over the border by the lure of being able to learn the stockbroking trade with the backing of local Adelaide businessman and Australian Cricket Board of Control committee member Harry Hodgetts of Hodgetts & Co stockbrokers.

The Rex and Basil Sellers Stand © Aaron OwenIn 1934, Bradman and wife Jessie then made the move to South Australia, settling in the pleasant, shaded suburb of Kensington Park in Adelaide’s east. Local architect Philip Claridge designed the Bradmans’ new home. Claridge’s firm had long-term responsibility for maintenance work at Adelaide Oval and this connection led to his working on the Bradman house.

For the architecturally minded, the building is considered neo-Georgian, not modernist. Either way, the two-storied but simple and humble – considering his fame – Bradman home of 65 years or so, is easily located and can be viewed without invading privacy.

Claridge later designed a billiard room extension – perhaps (with tongue in cheek, I offer) an attempt of Bradman’s to practise for a challenge to contemporary Australian and also in a class all his own, world billiards champion – Walter Lindrum, after whom rules were changed in an effort to curb his dominance. Something akin to Douglas Jardine’s Bradman-restricting Bodyline tactics, perhaps.

Even if Bradman wasn’t pursuing elite billiards, his move to Adelaide saw the previously talented junior tennis player take up squash in 1934. And by 1939 he was a South Australian champion. Maybe no Jahangir Khan, but not too shabby.

Playing at nearby Kensington Oval with KCC, Bradman didn’t quite match his performances in bigger cricket – but really, would any recruiter today be sacked for snagging this: 3377 runs at 84 in the understandably paltry number of just 37 games between 1935-36 and 1948-49.

And perhaps his “form drop” in district cricket can be best illustrated with reference to the average number of innings he took per century. He peeled them off at better than one hundred every three innings in Test cricket, compared to 14 tons in 46 (one every 3.2) district cricket innings. Perhaps he was an early example of the big-game player?

Kensington Oval, originally known as Shipster’s Paddock, was once owned by a local private school, and for decades was used as an athletics track-and-field venue. It provides the viewer a choice of the quaint old-time sophistication of the Rex and Basil Sellers Stand, or perhaps the gentility of picnicking on the mounded and gum-tree-studded surrounds while spectating.

The view through the gum trees © Aaron OwenKCC are known as “The Browns” (the name creatively derived from their brown caps). And the caps might possibly and unsurprisingly be referred to by the players as a baggy brown? Similar to every second Australian team of any age or ability who baggify their caps (without milliner approval, mind you). But I wouldn’t know about the coveted down under baggy experience – I’m a collar-up, long-shirt-donning, wide-brimmed-hat wearer, you see.

KCC has been a club in its current form since the 1920s, and the delightful oval dates back even further to the 1870s – with a history of also hosting sports other than cricket, such as Australian Rules Football, soccer and high-level athletics.

KCC representatives who have played Test cricket include late bloomer Clarrie Grimmett (another brilliant steal from over the border, this time from New Zealand via NSW and Victoria), Terry Jenner (yet another import, this time from the west), and finally a couple of locals of more recent times: Greg Blewett and Tim May.

Coming to Adelaide can easily provide a Bradman-honouring discovery tour – from spying his residence (from a street view, albeit), to investigating Kensington Oval and its cricket club, and not forgetting the Bradman items on free display at both Adelaide Oval and the State Library. There’s enough for any Bradmaniac to get their teeth into in Adelaide.

Aaron Owen is a 37-year-old Sydney-born long-time Adelaide resident, writer and photographer