30 March 2017

Sir Don Bradman:The Boy From Bowral and Australia's best ever sportsman

Donald Bradman (1908-2001) must have been the most famous sportsman in Australia, in any decade and in any sport. But he grew up mod­est­ly. In the early C20th, Bowral was a service town for dairying and beef cattle production. It was here that Bradman’s parents and children mov­ed in 1911 after selling their Cootamundra farm.

The Bradmans purchased a weather-board house at 52 Shepherd St (see photo) where young Don loved country living. Despite WW1 tragedies, he led a carefree existence at school, playing with his siblings and becoming involved in sport. Apart from a later weatherboard extension at the rear of the house, Shepherd St remains essentially unchanged, true to its external 1911 façade.

Don Bradman, an elegant stroke maker

The timing was perfect. Back in 1909 the Bowral Council had leased 24 acres from the Church for sport, and declared the new Glebe Park open. The con­crete wicket was later replaced with turf, sightscreens were erected in 1946 and the ground was formally re-named Bradman Oval in 1947.

While the Bradmans were residing in Shepherd St, school girl Jessie Menzies (1909-1997) came to live with the family in 1921 as a weekly boarder because there was no transport to Bowral from the Menzies’ family farm. A firm friendship developed between Don and Jessie, as we’ll see.

Just around the corner in Glebe St and across the road from Glebe Park/Bradman Oval, George Bradman built a brick Calif­or­n­ian Bungalow’ style home into which the family moved in 1924. 

52 Shepherd St, 1911
The first Bradman home in Bowral

Don Bradman had been taught the piano by his elder sister Lilian, herself later to become a professional piano teacher. Later, the piano gave Don release from the intensity of constant crick­et touring. On the long sea voyages to the UK or during extended stays at hotels, he relaxed at the piano.

During the 1925-26 season playing for the Bowral Cricket Club, Don Bradman was a short 16 year-old who was batting well. At the end of that season Bradman hit a district record score of 300 runs in the final played between Bowral & Moss Vale. Soon the State selectors were paying attention.

In Oct 1926 he had been invited to join Parramatta Club. However Parramatta failed to agree to pay Bradman’s expenses arising from his loss of income attending Sydney matches, and negotiations stopped. Sydney club St George recruited the young star, agreeing to pay his expenses. In Nov 1926 Bradman played for St George.

To attend to his Sydney grade-cricket commitments Bradman left Glebe St every Saturday to catch the 5am train to Sydney and not return to Bowral until midnight. After he was selected for the NSW state team in the 1927-28 season, the routine was exhausting. So in Sept 1928 he chose to leave Bowral per­manently and moved to Sydney.

Back in Glebe St, Don’s parents George and Emily watched his brilliant career with great pride. As did all of Bowral.

Romance between Don Bradman and Jessie Menzies led to their marriage in St Paul’s Church in Sydney in 1932. On their honeymoon, the couple joined former Test cricketer/sports journalist Arthur Mailey’s cricket tour of North America and visited every city from Vancouver to New York.

“Bodyline” was first used in Australia during the England cricket tour in 1932-33. Essentially it was an English tactic used by fast bowlers to take wickets by terrifying batsmen with the ball. The quicks bowled short, rising deliveries aimed at the batsmen’s bodies and the batsmen fended the ball off defensively to a packed, close, leg-side field who snapped up any catches.

Bradman Oval and Pavilion, Bowral 

England was widely expected to easily beat Australia but Bradman’s great Test scores saw Australia win the series 2-1. The 1932-33 England Captain Douglas Jardine instructed his open­ing bowler Harold Larwood to bowl Bodyline regularly. Australian batsmen, especially the openers Jack Fingle­ton and Bill Ponsford, were struck many painful blows. Bradman spent much of his time av­oiding the ball, instead of making runs. The tactic worked; Australian crowds were angry.

In the Third Test in Adelaide in January 1933, Australian Captain Bill Woodfull was struck a painful blow by Larwood over the heart. His wicket-keeper was also hit in the head by Larwood, fracturing his skull. The angry crowd threat­ened to invade the pitch; mounted police arrived. The depth of ill-feeling led the Australian Cricket Board to write by cable to its English equival­ent, the Mary­lebone Cricket Club in Jan 1933: Unless stopped at once likely to upset friendly relations ex­isting between Australia and England.

In the end, England won the series and blunted Bradman’s Test series average. But subsequent actions indicated England recognised its culpability. Douglas Jardine never again captained England against Australia, and Bodyline was banned. In the 1934 Australian tour to England, relations between the two teams quickly healed.

Bradman loved an offer from South Australian cricket administrator and stockbroker, Harry Hodgett, for a six-year business contract. Australia was barely out of the grip of the Great Depression and Bradman was anxious to secure his future. The Bradmans arrived in Adelaide in April 1935 where the new financial stability allowed Bradman to continue to play state cricket for South Australia.

Don Bradman captained Australia for the first time in the first Test in Brisbane in December 1936. 1937 was a busy and happy time for The Don. Harry Hodgett's business was booming and he was enjoying his career. He took up squash, winning the South Australian State Championship, and wrote his second book, My Cricketing Life, which was published in July 1938.

The outbreak of WW2 in 1939 led to the indefinite postponement of all cricket tours, and suspension of the states’ Sheffield Shield competition. In 1940 Bradman was given an officer’s rank and was posted to the Army School of Physical Training at Frankston in Victoria. He was the army’s divisional supervisor of physical training for two years, discharged because of fibrositis.

The Fifth Test of the 1948 Ashes series was held at The Oval in London between Australia and England. Australia easily won the match, and the series, and it was the last Test in the career of Donald Bradman. He was knighted in the 1949 New Year Honours.

Wisden Almanack proved that Bradman had been the greatest phenomenon in the history of cricket, indeed in the history of all ball games. So it was appropriate that in 1985, Bradman was the first inductee into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Bradman Museum, Bowral

The Bradman Trail defines Bradman and links him with the social history of the day. It high­light­s the historic sites and cultural facilities associated with his three main homes: 1] Bradman Birth­place Museum in Cootamundra, 2] Bradman Museum of Cricket in Bowral and 3] the Bradman Collection, State Library of South Australia.

The Bradman Museum was opened in 1989 at the Bradman Oval in Bowral. And in March 1989 they built the Bradman Pavilion. Appropriately the Bradmans’ ashes were scattered in the grounds adjacent to The Bradman Museum of Cricket and on Bradman Oval, in 2001.

Readers may enjoy The Boy from Bowral, written and illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Palazzo, 2008).


Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, Thank you for helping to prove a theory of mine: Let any British writer continue long enough, and eventually you will get detailed descriptions of cricket matches. Seriously, I am glad that such an exemplary athlete was appropriately honored and feted.

bazza said...

I think that Don Bradman is generally thought of as the best batsman that there ever was. He may be the greatest of all sportsmen - although that judgement will be subjective. As a teenage cricket fanatic I was really 'into' statistics and cricket is the perfect game for a statistician (see any Wisden!) I think the most stunning statistic is his Test Match batting average of 99.94 and a surprising fact is that he only ever hit 6 sixes in Test Cricket which is probably a pointer to his risk-aversion. He was a deep thinker and analyst of the game. I suppose he realised that the chances of getting caught when going for a six were too high to chance. Thanks for the interesting background to his life story.
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s fabulous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Body Line said...

For my father, the only Australian hero during the depression years was Don Bradman.

Hels said...


I am always cautious nowadays when hearing how important this tennis player is or how rich that golfer is. But back in a miserable time in world history, someone had to behave heroically. The 1930s and 1940s newspaper articles and radio programmes in the Bradman Museum suggest that Bradman rose to the challenge.

Hels said...


nod... he was a deep thinker, both on and off the pitch. After his last match, he became a very skilled administrator, selector and cricketing writer.

Hels said...

Body Line

oh agreed! My father actually had three heroes in the Depression years:
1. The boxer Les Darcy, who actually died years before dad was born. My father must have had a vivid imagination.
2. The brilliant horse Phar Lap who won everything, until he was poisoned by jealous competitors in 1932. And
3. The incomparable Don Bradman.

Andrew said...

I have heard that Bradman was not a particularly likeable person, but I cannot remember why or who said that.

Joseph said...

Jardine was a solicitor and a banker, but certainly not a gentleman.

Hels said...


from what I can find, it was mainly the children, nieces and nephews. They felt totally neglected.

The Australian players spent each Australian winter in the UK, India, Pakistan etc etc, and no family was allowed to accompany the men. In the Australian summer, Bradman was busy playing Shield cricket interstate or other cricketing commitments.

Hels said...


The tour that Jardine captained was highly controversial, brutal and very dangerous because of the Bodyline bowling tactics that were instigated _at Jardine's request_. Australian batsmen were bruised and broken, and sometimes lucky to survive head and chest injuries.

On the other hand, the Australian captain Bill Woodfull did not retaliate and really behaved like a gentleman.

Hels said...


Oops I made an error. The Don batted dozens of times times against England, the West Indies, South Africa and India, but Pakistan didn't become a separate country until 1947 and didn't play its first Test Cricket Match until 1952.

Susan McDonald said...
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