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Australia – a correction!!

John Ray identifies a teeny little error in my Anglo-Australian cricket piece that can’t be left to correct itself only in comment number 8 on that:

Dear Me!
Somebody has their history skew-whiff!
Australia ruled by the Poms in Bradman’s day?
Australia became independent in 1901.

Clang. Sadly for me, and happily for Australia, John is of course right. First it was Shane Warne not bowling very many googlies, and now this. I feel like an England batsman, again.

My misremembering of Australian history is based on a misremembering of a Bradman biography (Bradman by Charles Williams – Little Brown, 1996) that I read some years ago, and in particular, I believe, a misremembering of the following paragraphs, from Williams’ Prologue, which I quote here at some length because it’s good stuff:

The task of Australians after the First World War, as the British Empire struggled to recover from wounds which were eventually to prove fatal, was to discover some unifying force which could propel them into what was clearly going to be a post-colonial era, and was therefore one of great difficulty. Some returned for comfort to suck at the drying teats of the mother country, adopting even more ‘British’ attitudes than they had before the War. But most felt instinctively that it was time to move on, and to find some way of expressing their rising nationality Without offending the majority who were still loosely, but umbilically, attached to the ‘old country’.

In the end, it was as much a matter of elimination as anything else. Everybody was tired of war; party politics varied from State to State, were frequently sectarian and in many instances corrupt; and revolution could only be against the British, and was, therefore, unthinkable. It was thus that Australia turned to spectator sport as the prime vehicle for the aspirations to national identity which the War had produced. In retrospect, it was an obvious – if unconscious – move. It suited the temperament of the people, the climate of the country and the social disposition: the climate in the inhabited areas was ideal for outdoor sports both in summer and in winter; and it was on the playing field that class and religious antagonisms could be most successfully resolved.

Sport in Australia thus became an integral part of politics. (Of course, it was politics in the wider sense – the binding together of the polity rather than another manifestation of the parochial squabbles of the political parties. But it was politics nonetheless.) Sport allowed Australia to stand up in her own right. It both encouraged and disciplined the egalitarian individualism that was emerging as an identifiable Australian characteristic. It was to be Australia’s way of showing the rest of the world that the continent was not just an appendage of the British Empire but a real and living nation.

There was a clear consequence. It followed naturally that the sporting hero achieved in Australia a status several ranks above sporting champions of other countries. He was treated, and to some extent still is treated, with a reverence, or hysterical enthusiasm, depending on the age and character of the hero, reserved in other countries for royalty or successful military commanders. But whereas after the Second World War there was a variety of sports in which Australians excelled, after the First World War there was only one sport of any consequence – cricket. Cricket was the means whereby the adolescent Australia could prove its worth. Cricketing heroes were its Davids and the British Empire was Goliath.

Of these there is no doubt that Don Bradman was the greatest… He was, in his day, a world figure… it comes as little surprise to hear that Nelson Mandela, when released from his long period in prison, wanted to know whether Bradman was still alive…

So I was not totally wrong in the overall thrust of what I said. I merely got Australian self-government wrong by the small matter of half a century.

As beleaguered England cricket captain Nasser Hussain is probably saying about now, perhaps in an Australian radio studio, you can’t win them all.

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3 comments to Australia – a correction!!