Almanac Cricket – Speeches given on the occasion of Betty Wilson being inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame
On Monday, at the Allan Border Medal night, Betty Wilson was inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame. This follows her induction to the ICC Hall of Fame in 2016. Betty died in 2010. Her award was accepted by her nephew Ken – my Dad.
Following is the text of two speeches given for Betty. Former player Mel Jones was followed on the night by Ken Wilson.
Mel Jones (Australian Test cricketer 1998-2003)
Firstly, Betty will be looking down on us from somewhere, listening. To Betty: I know you’re going to love this and hate this at exactly the same time, so please just bear with me.
I’m up here tonight on behalf of Betty’s extended cricket family; from her former players all the way through to the current members of the Southern Stars team, and everyone in between. Everyone who has been touched by either her playing career, by her humour, or by her legacy.
For me, I’m not a big one on playing comparisons, but I think sometimes it does give some good context. For Betty, her on-field feats often had her being reminded that she was the Bradman of our game. Our 25th Test player, she was exceptionally talented, she was fiercely competitive, and she had an unwavering desire to be the very best.
Sir Alec Bedser said to her on meeting her: “Betty, it’s lovely to meet you. Do you know that your statistics are better than mine?” And he was right. In just eleven Tests, she amassed 862 runs at a wonderful average of 57.47 and in that time she took 68 wickets at a ridiculous 11.81.
If she was Bradman on the field, she was definitely Keith Miller off the field. In 1951 she went on a tour of England and she put her engagement on hold and she was over there for two years. And in that time she became a household name. When she returned, she picked up a few other loves in her life until her passing in 2010. She loved her lawn bowls, she loved a flutter, and she definitely loved a chardy – and it probably wasn’t in that order, either.
She also loved coming down when she could, in Melbourne, to watch the Vic Spirit or the Australians play. She would sit in the stands and she would hold court. All the people of different eras would sit down and just hang on every word.
Stories like her historic Test match where she became the first ever player; male or female; to take 10 wickets in a match, including a hat-trick (the first time a female had done it), and also score a century as well. Other stories she would tell us were of her father, who was a boot maker, who would hand-make her cricket spikes. And in between all these stories she would keep a little watchful eye on players out in the middle.
No one was immune to a cheeky Betty technique spray. One day sitting there, watching the cricket, we had this little debate about playing spinners. And Betty was all about footwork. And she turned to me and she said: “Mel, I would have got you out in six balls.”
I said: “Oh, six balls, Betty?”
And she said: “Well, even I have my off days.”
Betty was our link to the pioneers, she was our very own personal historian and story-teller. But I think the best part about Betty, her best delivery, was her character. And she always did remind us and I think she always will remind us to uphold the values and tradition and spirit of our great game.
Betty’s induction to the Hall of Fame tonight, for me, cements her truly as one of our greatest ever. It is my great pleasure now to introduce Ken Wilson, Betty’s nephew, to speak on behalf of her family.
Ken Wilson (nephew of Betty Wilson)
Firstly, thank you Mel for that very evocative presentation. I could certainly “see” Betty as I was listening to your words.
I’d like to thank Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association for recognising Betty’s achievements through her induction into the Hall of Fame, and also to congratulate Matthew (Hayden) and David (Boon) for their induction also tonight.
If Betty had been here I’m sure she would have been incredibly humbled and certainly greatly honoured with her induction into the Hall of Fame. Betty saw no greater honour than playing cricket for Australia. And she set the whole probably first 30, 40 years of her life towards that goal; to playing cricket for Australia.
To be recognised by her peers and by the governing body for that sport in Australia would have been the icing on her cake.
Betty couldn’t have achieved all this, of course, without her family’s support. Betty grew up in the 1920s and 30s in inner suburban Collingwood, in Melbourne, which was a fairly rough area; not much money around. And cricket in those days was purely an expense.
And when Betty started to play cricket and started to go on representative teams, then the family had to find a way to afford that. And so the family became fund-raisers. And they also took to making things; as Mel referred to Betty’s Dad making her boots, and her aunts and mother made her clothes, and so on. So it was a team effort to get her over the line, and to allow her to play cricket for Australia for as long as she could.
Betty retired from Test cricket 58 years ago, now. And she’s the second woman into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, after Belinda Clarke. I guess Betty would have been absolutely delighted to see the increase in support for and opportunity given to women in cricket in Australia now. And I’m sure she’s looking forward to more female company in the Cricket Hall of Fame over time.
It’s sort of interesting that we’re here tonight at the Allan Border medal presentation, or A.B., I guess, as Allan is known. Because A.B. was also the nickname we gave to Betty in our family. And our kids call her G.A.B. for “Great Aunty Betty.” And I guess any of those of you who actually had a chance to talk to Betty about cricket and analyse cricket would probably agree that G.A.B. or ‘gab’, was another skill she might have had.
Betty made some major decisions quite early in her life, that had the effect of giving herself to cricket. Basically, forsaking all others and giving herself to cricket, and to play for as long as she could at as a high a level as she could. And those decisions had ramifications right through her life. I guess this induction perhaps is a recognition that the decisions she made in those times have had an impact on Australia and on cricket; and I would really like to thank, on behalf of Betty and the family, the Australian cricket community for recognising her achievements. Thank you.