A beer and a Weppa-burger please

These days, when I return to Brisbane, I always make my way out along Coro Drive, past those great watering holes, the Regatta and the RE, down Sir Fred Schonell Drive, to the university.

I like to do a lap of the beautiful grounds, just as I. Lamb (Australia) and I did in my Morris 1100 all those years ago. Over thirty years ago, now. The Morry was dying, and finally came to rest outside Emmanuel College not far from where balls struck from the bowling of Tim Magoffin and Craig Courtney would land, if they were lucky enough to catch a limb of the massive eucalypts at that southern end.

This Christmas I travelled that lap of the uni with my wife and our young children. As The Wiggles cranked out a happy tune, we cruised down College Road past the forever-magnificent No. 1, past the old No. 2 and along to the pool and No. 4, home of Fourth Grade, where during my first game of footy for the Red Lions my opponent, an aged Victorian with a smart mouth and a criminal record, had more possessions than I made runs for the Varsity in the following season.

No. 4 is now a carpark and the Rec Club has long gone.

But my mind is still taken back to those days when all was before us, and we thought we would make a mark on the cricket world. And I think of what might have been.

I arrived at the university in the summer of 1980, and took up residence at Union College. I had somehow managed to cobble together a TE score that got me a spot in the Science faculty.

I was still playing cricket in Toowoomba and travelling each Saturday, but returning to play College cricket on Sundays. Toowoomba cricket seemed to me to be of a fine standard and it could be tough. In my first A Grade game I recall being reminded that the bloke bowling had killed a man.

Fortunately I was just a boy.

There was a fair bit of lip out there at Gold Park and 7SD, picket-fenced grounds so attractive it was a delight to fail on them. I recall the English quick Alan Ward, by then bowling darty offies, storming down the track after my defensive prod to silly mid-off was seen by an umpire as a bump ball, and growling, “Ye won’t be getting leg o’er tonight, lad.”

Living at Union College, the No. 1 oval was our backyard. It was just perfect. I reckon Australian Cricket magazine voted the facilities best in Australia around that time.

During those first weeks of semester the Uni hosted the QCA first grade final. I’m not sure of the combatants but I remember it was a cracker of a match, which went down to the wire. I remember Big Carl bowling at a squillion miles an hour and John Bell standing halfway back to the sight-screen. And a bloke whom I suspect was Monty Lynch hooking them off his nose (pre-helmet) into the practice nets. I thought, crikey, if this is top club cricket, I’m never going to be able to play at this level.

What a good judge I was.

In those college games, the Union team included a couple of older students who were introduced to me as Martin (I wasn’t sure if this was his Christian name or surname) and McNeil. They said I should go to Uni training.

The following summer I made my way down to training, in preparation for the 1980-81 season. Things were cranking up. I’m not sure who was in charge but someone nodded towards a clip-board lying on the ground and suggested I write my name down. Which I did. There were no spare balls and nothing which could be identified as fielding practice.

So I just stood there.

Some time passed until an arthritic bloke wearing reading glasses on a half-chain, half-string invention came towards me. He seemed to rattle as he walked and as he got closer I realised it was because he was carrying keys, various files and newspapers, pieces of cricket equipment, the float from the till, a copy of The Road Ahead, and the clip-board.

He pointed at my neatly printed name. “You?”

“Me,” I said, “John Harms.” And held out my hand.

He was too distracted to shake it.

“Studying here?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“First year?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Where’d you go to school?” he asked.

“Oakey High,” I said, innocently.

“Where?” he said in a voice not unlike The Penguin’s from Get Smart.

“Oakey,” I said. “On the Downs.”

He didn’t look up. “Over there,” he said, pointing towards a net of misfit uni yobs from Hendra, Gympie and the mean streets of Townsville.

I noted that Martin and McNeil weren’t at practice. I now know that they didn’t attend practice for the decade I was at the club.

I had seen them play. Martin impressed me. He didn’t speak. Actually, that’s not true: he didn’t speak audibly. And he appeared to be the most unflappable creature I had ever encountered. I later came to understand this was in fact because he appeared in the Deloitte’s laziness rankings. In the first Union College match he hooked the opening delivery of the innings over mid-wicket, one bounce, onto the slope at No. 2. Later he took a catch at slip and put the ball in his pocket.

It seemed McNeil could also play (or he said he could), although there was not a lot of evidence of it that College season. He told me he was a `keeper who’d played A Grade in Sydney and was once hit on the thigh pad by Gary Gilmour. (That was nothing, I’d once been hit in the gut by Wilbur Wright on the nut grass at Mt Lofty) At 6 foot 7 and with a giraffic gait, I thought McNeil was having me on. But he was a gloveman, and was in his final year of Medicine. He had given up the gloves to concentrate on his seamers.

I continued playing in Toowoomba for a while, until at dinner one night at college Martin gave me a piece of paper with a telephone number on it and told me to ring a bloke called Gary Lanham. They were one short. They? C Grade.

These were the days of pay phones, so off I went.

“Lanham,” the voice said, a voice not unlike WEP’s.

“Hello, Mr Lanham,” I said. “It’s John Ha…”

“I know. I know. You right for Saturday?” Mr Lanham said.

“Yes.”

I was in. Into a side which was harder to get into than the Australian side.

I don’t remember too much of that season, because I would have only played a couple of matches.

But I do remember the seasons that followed.

Mr Lanham was indeed the skipper and I was introduced to an unlikely band of cricketers, a combination of those on the way out, and those on the rise.

I didn’t know much about Lanham but he immediately struck me as a loyal team man and captain. I suspected I was a chance at maintaining my spot for a while. In one of my first nights back at the clubhouse, worse for the rum, I stood on the bar while singing the national anthem, and was cleaned up by a ceiling fans. Lanham was irate. He left the room swearing and shaking his head. I assumed he would never pick such a careless, mindless pisspot again. When he returned he was carrying a broom, and proceeded to belt the bejesus out of the fan. “Bad fan! Bad fan!” he shouted.

That was the sort of support I looked for in a skipper.

P.C. Martin was outstanding as an opener or at No. 3. In those days he was a Maths teacher at Craigslea High School and claimed to have taught Stuart Law. (When many years later I interviewed Stuart Law the Queensland skipper didn’t strike me as a bloke you could teach anything.) Martin was a dasher. Always resplendent in crumpled fawnish whites, he would thrash, and for a bloke of slight build could give the ball a fair hoick.

At first his opening partner was Mark Gray, who always seemed old, because he was, but not as old as Lanham. Mark worked for Treasury in one of those roles which I could never understand, and I always hoped that he would be the official appointed to do Gold Lotto which was always mandatory viewing back at the clubhouse.

In later years, Vincent Van Geiger opened. Vince spent the entire 1980s with a lacerated and swollen lip because the natural trajectory of his pull shot was over first slip. Unfortunately the ball’s natural path tended to be interrupted by Vince’s head.

The middle order included Brad Thompson. From cover I would look over to him in the slips and wonder where I’d seen him before. Until one day at Bottomley I realised he was a dead ringer for one of those cherubic boys, who are the centre-piece of fountains found in the gardens of Ascot and Hamilton.

Raven Raj and Paul Davis also played from time to time – both very nice players who provided Lanham with one of his greatest challenges: to keep them in fourth grade. He eventually failed.

Lanham had many tactics and the contract I signed back in ’81 precludes me from divulging what they were. One of them was to give his side two names. For a while I didn’t realise that Fourth Grade and C grade were the same side: a reasonable assumption I would have thought. But as I came to understand the University CC’s selection processes I realised it allowed Mr Lanham to select 22 blokes, 11 of whom would be diseased and infirmed or at a wedding that Saturday.

One bloke was always selected: a gloomy creature who came out of the suburbs each Saturday claiming to be a GP. He was known as Jenko and he didn’t really bowl, he shot-putted the Kookaburra in a way which made it slide past the lower-grade batsman’s outside edge. History will remember him as an off-spinner. I remember him as certifiably manic, mad-eyed, and very successful.

Then there were the real bowlers. I didn’t play much with Tony Yeates and the late Geoff McDonald but I do remember they both did something that linked me to a past I continue to remember fondly: they both hitched their strides. I suspect they’d learnt their cricket from Movie-Tone; from the Millers and Davidsons, Lindwalls and Truemans, who delivered, scowled, hitched, and put the single paw up to demand the ball immediately. Yeates had qualified for the Uni club by completing six weeks of the first year primary teaching course at Kelvin Grove, back in the days of Scholarship (there was no record of him having attained it) and The Queensland Reade. He was a well-tummied man, and he didn’t wear under as he did during his day-job of selling used cars at John Anthony Motors. Which meant he had to hitch. Yatso sold me a car when I first started teaching, a mustard-coloured, automatic ’74 Corona, which went through three engines in the first six months. That’s another story; one which gained prominence in the national press and ended in a very long lunch at Tatts one day.

Geoffrey Mac was a fine cricketer, and a hell of a bloke too, as I got to know over a few games of golf at Indooroopilly in the years which followed.

I played more often with their partner in crime, Bruce Humphrys. Or just Bruce. Bruce hated batsmen, bowlers, fieldsmen, umpires, poor afternoon teas, and most of his team-mates. He was angry in the car park. He was angry during the toss. He was angry marking out his run-up. He was a few years older than me so he was at his most impressionable when Dennis Lillee was on fire. He thought D.K. was a little bit soft.

I thought Bruce’s anger was a theatrical representation of the competitive spirit which resided within him; an affectation which helped him rise to the occasion. Until I played Eighth Grade basketball with him at the Auchendome on a Sunday night. (“Jeesuz Darky, I think I’m going to have to kill that fuckin’ No. 5 prick.”)

We were playing basketball because McNeil was an A Grade basketballer for Uni and there was a move to suggest that if McNeil could play A Grade anyone could. So Bruce put together the Harlem Pig-Trotters (served very well by McNeil and a bloke called Otis Goldsworthy). We won the trophy. We were always going to with Bruce in the side.

McNeil was also a handy bowler, especially on the grassy Brisbane wickets. And he is part of an amazing stat which occurred at Souths (near the Taubman’s sign?) on a day when you could reach up and touch the grey sky. He took the new ball. I was at cover. He bowled a full bunger which was swatted to me. I caught it. 1/0 and the ball hadn’t touched the ground. I like to say the game was called off after that. But I think, if the truth be known, the skies opened after three deliveries.

In the 1982-83 season, the boys were coming off a premiership and, it’s fair to say, may have lost a little desire. So much so that, to make the semis, we needed to win the last game outright and get quite a few batting points as well. I think we made 500, and won by an innings and 300, and missed out by 0.04 points.

That generation of C Grade side went their separate ways.

I played thirds in the mid-80s having returned from a year studying Dip Ed in South Australia. I reckon I was skipper for a while of a side which was going great guns based on an attack of the Stoodley brothers and my brother Peter: well enough to lure a few old-timers out of retirement. One of them was Brian Sully, a far more mature and capable player than myself. I remember trying to defend a modest total of 170 at Wynnum and our bowlers were superb. We held our catches and saved every run we could. Good talk. Plenty of clap-encouragement. The pressure on. They got to 8/155 and there was a stalemate: they weren’t scoring and we couldn’t dislodge them. Brian came over to me and said it was timely to introduce a leg-spinner. Like himself. I bowed to his experience, he marked out his run-up, and set his own field. I think they had them by the fifth ball.

I was a good judge. Peter Goggin played his first-ever game for Uni under my captaincy: I batted him at No. 9. I think Bomber Bowers played a game or two on the way through as well.

 

 

Eventually injury and school coaching commitments made cricket difficult, and I opted for golf at Indooroopilly.

I did make a brief comeback in December 1992 when Vince Van Geiger, short of players during exam time, asked if I’d have a run. I made 0,0,0 and 0). The fourth knock lasted a single delivery from a left-arm quick which, as I shouldered arms, cannoned into the top of my middle stump. I clearly had no idea where my off-stump was.

These days I call the Mrs the off-stump, because it’s handy to know where she is as well. But I also play occasionally for The Eccentrics here in Melbourne, and for The Almanac XI which plays the sides of left-wing literary journals like Overland.

I am reminded often of the University of Queensland Cricket Club. Recently I spent time in Canberra where Martin has lived for years and is now the Australian Government’s actuary. I think he is in charge of maintaining The Future Fund (so we’ve got that going for us). McNeil runs the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Mr Lanham is a respectable city solicitor.

I am also reminded of the club because I often wear the UQCC tie (to the races and on the Melbourne lunch circuit – one of the better circuits in international lunching) and I still play golf wearing my 1981 UQ cap. My cap makes S.R. Waugh’s look pristine. I once lost it – in a storm at Indooroopilly. I was sitting in the spike bar an hour later when I noticed it floating in the three-foot deep river the eighteenth fairway had become. I waded in and retrieved it.

I am forever the amateur anthropologist, completing most of my research in pubs and on the terraces of sporting venues, and these two artefacts I know are significant. They remind me of returning to the clubhouse on hot Brisbane evenings for those first few beers and a Wepper burger, hanging out for the piss off the back balcony, and then playing cards and drinking rum until the sun came up. Of chatting to cricketers capable, and cricketers who just loved the game.

Lots of cricketers: B.A. Courtice who surely was the basis for the character of Lord Lindsay in Chariots of Fire, Lloyd Nash upon whom the bowling machine was based, Bomber Bowers who helped engineer three AFL premierships, Tony Cameron whom I see at the races here in Melbourne, John Buchanan who helped find the inner-grump in S.K. Warne. And many more. S. Carty, who might have just stepped off the boat from Cork and his Fanta-pants mates D. Grogan and G. Keating; Baz Mullins who sadly, who sadly may be the chief administrator in Heaven these days; Beetle Lillie; Ian Elks; the great Charlie Mengel; Bruce Abernethy who learnt his cricket on the Downs and moved to Otago to ensure he could add first-class cricket to his impressive resume; and Ian Greig, who never spilled the beans on how he went on the punt in those Tests against Pakistan. And WEP, whom you could not invent.

They were good days.

My oldest lad, Theo, is four, and already I can see in him the Harms traits. He’ll ask to bat at six, and may take five if pushed. He’ll be OK if the track is flat, the sky blue, and the opening bowler does a groin in his first spell. He’ll consider bowling. But probably won’t.

But hopefully he’ll play his cricket on grounds as beautiful as those at St Lucia, and at a club which is just as memorable.

 

…The University of Queensland CC Centenary Dinner is on Saturday Feb 4. Details here.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. Vince Geiger says:

    It is just as I remember it – except I think you have over rated my pull shot.

    Vince

  2. Peter Flynn says:

    G’day Vince,

    I’ve heard about this pull shot of yours.

    Yours in Maths Ed,

    Peter Flynn

  3. John

    What a fantastic article – it was a great way to start the day. I really loved reminiscing about Marto, Tank, Gazza, Yeatsy, Jenko, Weppa (of course) and everyone else. It seems so long ago and so distant, with me now living in Melbourne.

    There’s rarely a day goes by when I don’t look at the cap from “that” premiership. Against Souths (I think), at Graceville. Four days of non-stop sledging and a result that came right down to the wire. I don’t remember the exact result, but reckon it was by a couple of wickets. And I’m sure Gazza Lanham’s ears are still ring from the rocket I put up him after he played a stupid shot when the game was there to be won.

    I can’t be at the Centenary Dinner on Saturday – it will be a great night. Please pass on my regards to everyone.

  4. JTH – really terrific read. Made me want to make a comeback. Not that I ever played much cricket in the first place.

    What I would’ve given as a youngster to be able to do a hook or pull shot with elegance and skill. That’s one of the reasons I still love watching Ponting bat at his best.

  5. I laughed and laughed (out loud) numerous times reading this. Lovely. Thank you.

  6. Gerry Palm says:

    Dear John’
    You write so well .Your article reminds me fondly of two cricket scenes you are familiar with .Firstly with Mets. in the Toowoomba comp. with whom I played for about 13 years .Like you I travelled distance (in my case from Dalby ) and secondly, my one brief and glorious ( ??? ) year in 1951 in Lord Mayor Clem’s C grade team .As you alluded to we all believed it was a team second only to Ken Archer’s First Grade .We probably exaggerated our status but ther was a belief that if you could sneak past Clem’s omnipotence it was possible to get a run with Ken.
    Oh, and the memory of Wep’s ” diner ” brings juices to my mouth.
    Good stuff, John Gerry Palm

  7. Skip of Skipton says:

    Great stories again, John. What’s a Wepper burger? I have a good pound of mince in the fridge and might like to emulate one for tonights tea.

  8. JTH – a great recollection ..very nostalgic…..i can smell the grass of the playing fields.

  9. Gerry Palm says:

    31st January, 2012
    Dear John,
    You write so well. Your article reminds me fondly of two cricket scenes you are familiar with. Firstly with Mets in the Toowoomba comp with whom I played for about 13 years. Like you, I travelled distance (in my case from Dalby) and secondly, my one brief and glorious (??) year in 1951 in Lord Mayor Clem’s C grade team. As you alluded to we all believed it was a team second only to Ken Archer’s First Grade. We probably exaggerated our status but there was a belief that if you could sneak past Clem’s omnipotence it was possible to get a run with Ken. Oh, and the memory of Wep’s “diner” brings juices to my mouth.
    Good stuff, John. Gerry Palm

  10. Thanks for the memories Darky. Excellent !
    Hustler

  11. peter martin says:

    JTH – as a batsman you were always neat and precise – borderline elegant at times but, generally, unsubstantial. Your writing, however, is something else – imaginative, surprising, accessible and joyous.

    A great article.

    Incidentally, although this year marks the centenary celebration for UQCC, it also marks the 30th anniversary of the magnificent c gde premiership that you alluded to.

    Looking forward to discussing that this weekend.

    Martin

  12. @Marto – and what a magnificent premiership it was.

  13. John Harms says:

    Working backwards on these comments, some of which need straightening out,

    Paul Daniel, sorry to leave the glove man out of the article. I remember a ripper day at Mayne when we put on 130 – you smashed it.

    Martin, you hogged the strike.

    Gerry, thanks for your kind words, and story. Maybe there’s a book in UQ C Grade.

    RR, I’ll never forget our first game of golf. Your golf swing was just as you swung the willow. Both had a hint of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum gin and tonic about them.

    S. Carty, how could I have forgotten the many other Fanta Pantsed – especially R. Traves – most of whom had learnt their cricket from nuns and brothers in the far flung regions of the Holy Empire and a long long way from Dublin.

    Skip, W.E.P. Harris was one of the great characters of Brisbane sport. A dentist, he ran Uni cricket. I’d ring him up and he’d go on and on and then hang up, so I’d have to ring hiim back about some selection issue. It was completely appropriate the clubhouse hamburger was named after him. It was the only item available, other than XXXX beer and Bundaberg rum.

    Richard, I started with good material: we had many, many characters.

    And Vince, I look forward to a viewing of the scars on Saturday night.

    PJF, I suspect you would have slotted straiight into UQCC life.

  14. Keith Jennings says:

    John

    I remember you & your brother from the early 1980’s at UQCC. I started in season 60/61 & have enjoyed Uni cricket alongside Uni rugby to its fullest, even now in 2012..

    My memorable moments about your writings include the great obituary in ‘The Australian’ following WEPs passing & your books including ‘Confessions of a Thirteenth Man’ and ‘Memoirs of a Mug Punter’.

    Keep up the good work & I look forward to catching up on Saturday night

  15. John Harms says:

    Martin, I’m not sure why you are using the past tense in relation to my batsmanship. Although you probably have good reason to. I do recall a couple of your classics. Once at Valleys when we were down the bottom in the stillness and humidity and we put on 120 of which I scored 27 (from memory) and you managed to lose a number of cricket balls by belting them into the six foot high grass (about a week’s growth for Brisbane back then). The following week at No. 4 we were at it again and I scored one by the time our partnership reached 30, at which point you walked up and said, “Dark, do you reckon you might get it off the square?” Within a few minutes that ratio had changed: I’d scored 3 out of 50. I was swishing the blade with magnificent flourishes yet the ball would trickle in the general direction of mid-off. At the end of the over you flicked your head at me, to call me for a mid-pitch conference: “Dark,” you said, “I reckon the best thing you can do is get yourself out.”

  16. John Harms says:

    G’day Keith

    Nice to hear from you. Sparrow (Peter) and I played quite a few games together, especially in the first half of that season before he went to Townsville to do his resident’s years. He bowled sharply and well on his day. One of my favourite days playing with him is when at 6/80 chasing 250 we put on nearly 100. I nicked one to slip first ball after tea. He made 58 batting at 8, and we just missed out.

    I’ll dig out the obituary for WEP – could take me a while.

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