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U3A Writing: Winning Isn't Everything - But It Sure Beats The Alternative

...The Major asked Horrie if he would like to bowl, and Horrie (who, you will recall had played a bit at school), agreed. He went back about thirty yards and charged in. The first ball removed a piece of skin about the size of a sixpence from the lobe of Frank’s left ear...

Jim Graham tells of a grudge cricket match.

As a callow youth I worked as a jackeroo on a one million acre property in western Queensland owned by Goldsborough Mort and Company: there were five other jackeroos and we lived in separate quarters, along with an elderly irascible bachelor book-keeper named Clarrie who had left the employ of one of the major banks under somewhat inauspicious circumstances, but who was quite alright out there as he couldn’t sign any company cheques. We had our own dining room away from that of the ringers, as station hands were known, although we shared the same cook.

The Manager was an ex British Army Officer who, out of earshot was always referred to as the “Galloping Major”, because of his habit of wearing a pith helmet, carrying a swagger stick and running everywhere. He was a cricket tragic and insisted on an annual grudge match between the Homestead staff, (comprising an overseer, jackaroos, mechanic, gardener, cowboy and cook), and the Stock camp.

. The Stock camp comprised about a dozen men under the control of a Head stockman, Frank: a particularly nasty piece of work who had got where he was by dint of being the roughest and toughest of a pretty ordinary bunch of ringers. We jackeroos were rostered two at a time to camp for a month at a time. Frank particularly disliked jackeroos as, in those days they came from more privileged backgrounds, were the product of private schools and were seen as trainee overseers and managers, apart from the odd one who was merely gaining experience before returning to the family property. He tormented all jackeroos. He would put them on horses they had no hope of riding, made them do the most menial of tasks and was not beyond delivering a few punches to reinforce his point.

One of the jackeroos was a young Englishman named Horace who had been sent to the Colonies as a punishment for some misdemeanour concerning a housemaid at his family estate in Essex. Frank took an instant dislike to him, christened him “Horrie the Pommie Bastard”, and made his life hell in every way. Horrie took this persecution well, apart from asking Frank one day if his parents had ever married: that went (in cricket parlance) straight over Frank’s head and through to the keeper.

The match was always played on a rock hard malthoid pitch over which coir matting was tied: it was always really fast and bouncy. The stakes for the match were high - a coveted trophy, bragging rights and a nine gallon keg of beer for the winners, paid for by the company; the losing team also had to shout drinks at a station picnic held at Christmas time.

The time for the match arrived, the homestead team captained by the “Galloping Major” batted first. As in all such matches there was a compulsory retirement score of 35, and a “six and out” rule applied to prevent anyone from monopolising the crease. Horrie, who admitted to having played a bit of cricket at school made a stylish 34 before hitting Frank’s bowling for six and out he went. The rest batted reasonably and the final score was 154 all out.

After an extended lunch break, during which beer flowed in copious quantities, the Camp commenced their innings and again runs came steadily and wickets fell regularly until at the fall of the fourth wicket Frank came out to bat. He thought he was too tough to wear any protective gear and scorned even to wear a box.

The Major asked Horrie if he would like to bowl, and Horrie (who, you will recall had played a bit at school), agreed. He went back about thirty yards and charged in. The first ball removed a piece of skin about the size of a sixpence from the lobe of Frank’s left ear. Fortunately the umpire, a friend of the Major’s, also happened to be a doctor, and after some repairs Frank was ready to continue.

Horrie’s next ball struck Frank in what the cultured BBC commentators like to euphemistically refer to as “the groin area”. Frank went down rapidly and rolled around for some minutes, much to the amusement of everyone except himself.

Again Frank took guard, this time with a box fitted and wearing gloves and pads. Horrie shifted his aim and raised a bruise on Frank’s forehead which would have made Muhammed Ali proud.

To give him his due, Frank was tough and after more running repairs faced up to his nemesis again. Horrie went back about ten yards further and like the Gods of Wrath hurtled in and bowled, striking Frank a fearsome blow amidships again.

Down he went, like a poll axed bullock. He rolled around, clutching at his nether regions. Tears were streaming down his face and a rasping noise similar to a strangled crow was emanating from his throat.

It was some time before Frank could be carried from the field on an old door someone had found. The umpire thought he should inspect the damage and as Frank lay in a haze of pain he croaked at the medico – “never mind lookin’at ‘em Doc; just count the bastards.”

As Frank obviously needed time to recover the umpire ruled he could retire hurt and the match continued; against Horries bowling, wickets fell regularly.

The second last batsman for the Camp was their cook and like most camp cooks he was more a bait layer than a chef. He had a fondness for Vanilla Essence which is about 45% proof alcohol and had no claims to be a batsman. All he had to do was to hold up one end whilst the other, more accomplished and sober batsman made the five runs needed to win. This should have been simple as the bowler was a young girl the Major and his wife employed as a housemaid and who had agreed to make up the numbers for the Homestead team; but as she came in to bowl, underarm, the cook staggered and fell over, face down, allowing the ball to trickle past him and into the stumps.

Up went the umpire’s finger as he ruled cookie out PFO; when asked what that was he explained “pissed and fell over”.

Now it was that Frank, heroically, claimed his right to resume his innings. Pale faced, he gingerly faced up to the housemaid’s last delivery ; somehow his bat made contact and the ball sped to the boundary for four.

Last over; the Major threw the ball to Horrie who carefully measured his run up again, flew in and a magnificent yorker sent the middle stump flying; victory was ours and Frank was left “Not Out”.

Frank’s attitude to Horrie changed and they became mates – at the end of the year Horrie went home to England where he played County Cricket for Essex and was eventually selected to play in the English Test Team.

I kept in infrequent contact with Frank over the next few years until one evening, completely out of the blue I received a phone call from him.

“Jim” he said “ do you remember the young Pommie jackeroo, Horrie, who played in that cricket match on the Goldsbrough Mort place at Aramac, the one who took all those wickets but couldn’t get me out?”

I replied in the affirmative, gleefully recalling Horrie’s working over of the bully which had never dawned on Frank.

“He’s here in Australia playing for the Poms in the First Test in Brisbane next week. Can you make it to Brisbane to watch the match with me?”
Horrie was the very epitome of Sir Henry Newbolt’s schoolboy character in his poem Vitae Lampada in which he wrote:

“There’s a breathless hush in the close tonight
Ten to make and a match to win.
A bumping pitch and a blinding light
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat
Or the selfish hope of a seasons fame
But his captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
Play up, play up and play the game”


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