Boy from Bowral
by Preeti Verma Lal
Leaning on a myrtle outside 20, Glebe Street, I missed a heartbeat. I was standing outside the house of a man I swoon over. No, he was not there. But the air was laden with his memories – he wore the flannels, laced his boots and hit the red twine ball in the oval green across the street; he pushed the dowels into the wooden planks as his father hunched over to build this house; on a glum day, he’d clank the piano keys; on sunny days, he watered the roses...
The man I swoon over was not there, but the thicket fence is still painted a bright burgundy, the old eucalyptus lends shade, the lavender shrub bestows fragrance, the cacti machismo and a steel nameplate its identity: “20, Glebe Street. Bradman lived in this house from 1924 to 1928”. I was in Bowral (a two-hour drive from Sydney) on a Cricket Legends Tour to meet the man who lent this sleepy town its cherished fame - Sir Donald Bradman. And it was here that I missed a heartbeat.
20, Glebe Street, however, was not the first home for the Boy from Bowral. One fateful day in 1911, George and Emily Bradman sold their farm in Yeo Yeo, Cootamundra, and decided to settle in 52, Shepherd Street , Bowral. George came with his carpentry tools and in Emily’s arms was a little boy called Donald Bradman. Then, Bowral was admiringly quiet and for the monied and the mighty, an exclusive getaway. From the modest house in Shepherd Street , Bradman walked to Bowral Public School .
It was in 52, Shepherd Street that Bradman practiced the tank tap – he’d tap a golf ball with a cricket stump against a curved course of bricks supporting the family’s water tank. The tank taps sure worked magic – at 12, in the second game of school cricket against Mittagong Public School , he took 8 wickets and scored 115 not out. Years later, in the oval green (now called The Bradman Oval), he hit 234 against the Wingello team that included the fiery Bill O’Reilly. Reilly later described his encounter with Bradman, “he approached the wicket with what seemed like a diffident gait of a stop-gap performer…”
I walked past The Bradman Oval and stepped into International Cricket Hall of Fame, a modern, high-tech Museum with interactive touch screens where Shannon O’Connor, Tourism Development Manager, was waiting with mounds of information about cricket’s greatest ever. Originally, the Bradman Museum, the Hall aims to not preserve cricketing history and artifacts but also to expand Bradman’s wish that “cricket should continue to flourish and spread its wings. The world can only be richer for it.”
But in the Hall, I was not thinking cricket, I was thinking Bradman. Only Bradman. Nothing else. And then I saw him. A wall full of him. Framed in black and white, sepia and colour. Looking dapper in a fedora and trench; standing by a shrub wearing suspenders; in a huddle with his cricketing mates; lazily holding a tennis racquet; posing outside a brick house, not in white flannel, but a dark pin-striped suit. Bradman seemed to be peeping from every corner, but it was Photograph numbered 67 that had me intrigued. On a bench sat a child in a frock with lace trimming, the unruly hair held with a clip and wearing a smile that has not broken yet. “Bradman’s sister?” I threw a question at O’Connor. “No, this is Bradman at 18 months,” he answered knowingly. Bradman in a frock? I grinned.
There was so much of Bradman on the walls. I, however, was getting greedy. I wanted to see/know more. I noticed ‘Don’ signed in black ink on a typed letter on which the ink has faded. It is dated 20.8.63 and begins with, “Dear Gubby, Your letter of 1 st August has only just reached me…” Behind the glass pane, lay another letter, with Don in slanted hand. Dated 18.4.86 and bearing the address 2, Holden Street, Keningston Park, South Australia, this letter is addressed to Bob: “Your (sic) should have no qualms about asking me to sign a bat at leisure for some worthwhile cause. I do not mind it all, especially when I think of people who have no regard for my personal feelings or time such as the fellow who called at my front door at 9.30 pm on Xmas Eve (after I had gone to bed) seeking a signature on a bat for his son for a Xmas present…” Locked in another cupboard was an old newspaper advertisement of Don Bradman Special Cricket Boot. Another clipping was by B Warsop & Sons, Cricket Bat Manufacturers, Sole Makers and Patentees of Conqueror Spring Handle bat as “used by principal players of England and Colonies…”
Over the glass pane, I ran my hand on the slanted ‘Don’. I walked back to the house where he lived and wondered whether he’d peep from behind the white curtain. I hit a twine ball in The Bradman Oval and imagined him standing there laughing at my awfully terrible attempt at playing cricket.
The man I swoon over is no more. His ash lies scattered near his house on 20, Glebe Street . But, in Bowral, Sir Donald Bradman was everywhere. Even in my missed heartbeat.
The Crest Edition, 2012