THEY say regional Victoria is either in flood or drought – with, naturally, a fire in between.
That’s pretty much life outside Melbourne and those who last on the land learn to deal with it.
Cricket came to Gippsland, a fertile farming and later mining region east of Melbourne, in the 1840s with Angus McMillan and his men.
Although it was doubtful McMillan, a Scot with an upbringing of hardship and deprivation, had the disposition for the sport of gentlemen.
Since then from Nar Nar Goon to Mallacoota, Briagolong to Yarram and everywhere in between, has enjoyed 150 years of amateur – but highly competitive – cricket.
Cameron White, out of Wy Yung, broke the long drought in October 2008 when he became the first Gippsland cricket product to wear a Baggy Green. The floods came next Test when Peter Siddle – White’s younger Victorian team-mate – became the second Gippslander in more than a century to take the field for his country in a Test match.
Both debuted against India in India and both snared Sachin Tendulkar – the man with the most runs in international cricket – with their first wickets.
White and Siddle, from Latrobe Cricket Club in Morwell, had traveled the well-worn path from up the Princes Freeway to Melbourne club cricket then first-class honours for their state.
They weren’t the first Gippslanders to do it, all-rounder Ian Harvey (Wonthaggi), batsman Bob Baldry (Warragul) and bowler Ian Wigglesworth (Bundalaguah) were just some who’d done it before them.
While Siddle has formed an integral part of the Australian attack in the longer form of the game, White has blossomed into a fine leader of men and one of the best middle-order batsmen in one-day and Twenty20 cricket.
Travis Birt – this week picked in Australia’s Twenty20 squad to play Pakistan – could easily be a forgotten Gippslander. He flew the coop early after Tasmania recognised his talent and lured him to the Apple Isle as a teenager. At 28 he’s taken a little longer to mature, but the punishing left-hand batsman has earned his selection.
In his second summer of first-class cricket, 2005/6, he scored 850 at 50 and earned a place for Australia A. He scored 736 runs for the Tigers in the summer as the state won its first Sheffield Shield title a year later.
He virtually single-handedly delivered a one-day domestic title for Tasmania two summers ago with a brilliant knock chasing the Bushrangers total in a rain-affected match at Bellerive Oval. His innings signaled a return to top form after he’d spent some time back with his club South Hobart/Sandy Bay.
A star against adults in his early teens, he was, along with White and Lake Entrance’s Michael Allen, the dominant schoolboy cricketer of his time in Gippsland.
I know this first hand as I played against them.
From the tiny hamlet of Bundalaguah, near Sale, Birt always seemed destined for greatness.
While he hasn’t earned higher honour so far in his career, Brad Knowles (Morwell Tigers/Yinnar Raiders) is the fourth Gippslander on the first-class scene presently, having started his career with White at Victoria before he was last summer wooed to Western Australia.
Knowles, like Birt, has embraced his new state and while he is the oldest of the four, he has proved he has plenty of top-level cricket in him.
Knowles, Birt, White all played regular representative cricket against each other as teenagers but it was Allen, a year or so older that that trio, who was tipped to beat them all to first-class glory.
He played in Victorian youth teams for four successive years – captaining the under 17 team – and enjoyed success with Northcote and later Carlton in Premier cricket. But despite an outstanding year in 2005/06 where he tied for the Jack Ryder Medal, the other three have surpassed him.
Siddle, the youngest of the lot at 25 and with 17 Test appearances to his name, appears destined for the most fulfilled international career.
But while this time will one day be regarded as the golden era of Gippsland cricket, it is perhaps fitting to mention just why White is known as the first Gippsland cricket product to wear a Baggy Green, and not the first born in Gippsland.
William “Barlow” Carkeek can lay that claim. Born in the gold mining town of Walhalla on October 17, 1878, Carkeek, a blacksmith by trade, was a genuine renaissance man.
Little is known about his junior cricket, but according to records he grew up in Richmond before becoming a wicketkeeper/batsman for Victoria. Described as “sound, but not brilliant” he toured England with the Australians in 1909 as a back-up keeper behind Sammy Carter.
Tensions between the players and the Board of Control that had simmered since 1909 came to a head in 1911-12 with the ‘Big Six’, Victor Trumper, Clem Hill, Warwick Armstrong, Vernon Ransford, ‘Tibby’ Cotter and ‘Sammy’ Carter declining invitations to tour England in 1912.
Carkeek replaced Carter and played all six Tests – three against England and three against South Africa.
Carkeek was one of three players named in the Tour manager’s report to the Board and the Board appointed a sub-committee to investigate the allegations. Ultimately the sub-committee found that the players had no case to answer and that any misbehaviour was outside the Board’s jurisdiction.
He made a name for himself as an Australian rules footballer for VFL club Essendon and then in the VFA with Richmond.
A relative of “Barlow’s” once told me the story how his great-great uncle was renowned as a hopeless drunk and that his heavy drinking affected his sport and, in the end, his personal life. In fact, many of his 95 first-class matches for the Vics were affected by booze. He’d drink during the game and often go out to bat under the influence.
Carkeek was killed when he was struck by a car in on Nepean Highway in East Brighton or Point Nepean Rd as it was known as in 1937. He died later at the Alfred Hospital in Prahran.
He had been attending a junior cricket match and despite his alcoholism was involved in umpiring junior matches such was his love for the game.
Ian Harvey hailed from Wonthaggi and holds the record for the most one-day internationals for Australia (73) without playing a Test match, so too Shield winning captain and skilful gloveman Darren Berry. But Morris Sievers, born in Powlett River in South Gippsland, can also lay claim to being an early trail-blazer. Like Carkeek he left the country for the city while still at school and played three Test matches for Australia in 1936/37 – England’s return series Down Under after the infamous Bodyline four years earlier.
He died of a heart attack in 1968 at the age of 56 and his Wisden obituary reads:
He played as a fast-medium bowler and useful batsman for Victoria from 1934 to 1941. He took 92 wickets for the State at a cost of 35.81 runs each and hit 1,540 runs, average 28.00. In 1936-37 he played in three Test matches for Australia against G. O [Gubby] Allen’s England side, heading his country’s averages with nine wickets for 17.88 runs apiece. He achieved his best performance in his third Test when, on a glue-pot pitch at Melbourne, he dismissed five batsmen for 21 runs in the first innings. Australia won the game by 365 runs and as they also triumphed in the next two Tests, retained The Ashes after losing the first two fixtures of the series.
A handful of cricketers have gone on from Gippsland to represent their state since and from “Barlow” to Birt, Gippsland’s cricket history is much like life on its land – it’s either a flood or a drought.