Australia Day, cricket?


This day we call Australia Day, when is its actual date?  The date of what we call Australia Day has moved around quite a bit over time.


In my youth I recall the Australia Day long weekend. It often coincided with tests in Adelaide.  To gain an understanding of how it was recognised then I’ll defer to the words of Frank Tyson:


The South Australia Test always coincides with the Australia Day week-end. Without fail the South Australian Cricket Association celebrates January 27 with a stirring flag-raising ceremony before the start of play. The flag-pole before the member’s enclosure is erected and both teams, together with the officials and umpires, troop out to form a guard of honour on each flank of the President of the Cricket Association as he raises the flag. To a man, and woman, the crowd rise to their feet to sing the national song…the men placing their hats and hands over their hearts. Equally there was no doubting the sincere determination of the Australian team as they took the field with their caps set in a resolute angle over their eyes.

Frank Tyson[1]



This was written about the Fifth Test of the 1974-75 Ashes series. I remember watching the Test on TV. After the opening day was lost to rain, Australia struggled against Derek Underwood before a late-order fightback.  Then the fun started. Before too long the Australian bowlers swept through the feeble English batting.  There was limited resistance with only a few defying the bowlers for long, Alan Knott the best, scoring a sterling ton in their second innings. It was during the rest day of this test Jeff Thomson injured his right shoulder playing a ‘relaxing’ game of tennis. On the third day they reported the 21 gun salute from the nearby barracks at 12 noon. This was meant to commemorate Australia Day; on a day/date following the day we’re now advised it’s meant for celebration. Hmmm.


The second day’s play in this Test was on Sunday January 26, the day that’s now officially deemed Australia Day. Monday January 27 was a public holiday, rounding out the long weekend; the Australia Day long weekend.


This January 26, 2019, Australia will be at the ‘Gabba’ in the middle of the first test of the series against Sri Lanka. You can imagine the patriotic fanfare and marketing from the relevant ‘powers’ re the specific day, being as it is in the middle of a day-night test.  We’ve already had the Federal Government making stern pronouncements to Councils about what should take place on January26, woe betide those not following their directive.  Anyhow here, I’m going back fifty years to the Fourth Test of the 1968-69 West Indies series. Coming into this Test, the home side led 2-1. Adelaide had seen a famous encounter during the Fourth Test on the previous West Indies tour, 1960-61, when the home side were saved by a heroic last wicket stand between Ken ‘Slasher’ Mackay and Lindsay Kline.


The 1968-69 test saw the West Indies captain Gary Sobers call correctly at the toss, choosing the first use of the crease. They now had batted first all four Tests in the series, though yet again, for the fourth time they would fail to reach 300.


The first day was Friday January 24.  Bushfires blazed in the Adelaide Hills, with smoke drifting on to the ground. Australia struck early, Alan Connolly dismissing Roy Fredericks with the score on 21. The fragility of the visitors batting was again noticeable. The Australian bowlers who had only conceded scores of 300 plus twice to that point in the series, were confident they’d again be in charge.


Gary Sobers came to the crease with his team in trouble at 4-107. He had previously played Sheffield Shield cricket with South Australia, being well enamoured to the ground. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. He took on the bowlers, with the ball being smote to, and over, the boundary. His half century came in 48 minutes, the ton in 117 minutes. When he departed with the score at 8-261, he’d contributed 110 of the 157 runs in that period. With 15 4s and 2 6s, he scored more than two thirds of his runs in boundaries.  The tail fell quickly, with Port Adelaide strongman Eric ‘Fritz’ Freeman claiming bowling honours with 4-52. One of his wickets was Sobers.


The Australian’s off to a flier were 0-37 at stumps.  21 came off Charlie Griffiths first over, who overstepped the bowling crease four times. This was the days of eight ball overs, this over lasting 12 deliveries.


Day two, Saturday January 25 was cooler, as the Australians set about compiling a big score.  With an opening stand of 89 those that followed to the crease had a pitch full of runs they could plunder. Doug Walters in sparkling touch brought up a century, his second of the series. The day’s run spree saw the home side go in at stumps with 6 wickets down, having 424 on the board. As they had in the previous two Tests a big first innings tally would give the bowlers the lead to hammer home the advantage.


The following day was Sunday January 26; as I’ve already said, it’s the day we’re now taught to accept is Australia Day. It wasn’t then, being a Sunday that was part of what we knew as the Australia Day long weekend. There was no play, no public fanfare to behold.


The third day, Monday January 27, was officially portrayed as Australia Day. Players of both sides filed out with Sir Donald Bradman amongst an entourage that raised the Australian flag. A military band provided music. At midday cannons fired out a 21-gun salute. That was that.


On the cricket field Australia continued on to big score. A consistent batting performance saw a tally of 533. Five of the top six specialist batsmen passed the half century mark, Ian Redpath with 45 the exception. Graham McKenzie coming in at 9 contributed a breezy 59.  Interestingly in a team tally of 533 there were no century stands. Australia had a lead of 257, surely it was enough for the home side to win; or was it?


The visitors weren’t succumbing easily this time as they wiped out the lead by stumps.  At 3-261 they had their noses marginally in front, though there was a long way to go.


The fourth day saw the visitors take the initiative. The graceful Basil Butcher with 118, supported by other handy contributions saw a big score compiled. Joey Carew, Rohan Kanhai, David Holford, with of course the latter’s cousin, Gary Sobers, all passed the half century mark.  What had been perceived as an easy Australian victory now was a tad more difficult. When stumps were drawn the West Indies were 9-614.


On a flattening pitch the Australian bowlers had struggled. Tamworth’s favourite cricketing son Johnny Gleeson suffered. Up until now he’d bamboozled the visitors, with 20 wickets in seven innings. However, here their batsmen turned the tables on him. Figures of 1-176 for the innings did not read well for Gleeson.  For the home side Alan Connolly did the yard hards with the ball. His 34 overs were rewarded with 5-122.


It did not take long for the last wicket to fall on the final day with Graham McKenzie skittling Lance Gibbs. A tally of 616 gave the visitors an unlikely chance of victory. Australia required 360 to clinch the series. How would it pan out?


The scoreboard moved quickly.  The home side settled in to lunch at 1-106. In the afternoon runs continued flowing, but controversy reared its head.   With the Australian score on 215 the non-striker Ian Redpath was run out for 9. Backing up too far he was out of his crease when Charlie Griffiths suddenly stopped in his run up, knocking over a stump. Redpath well out of his crease was ‘Mankaded’. Amidst the hooting and booing, Australia continued on with Ian Chappell and Doug Walters scoring at will.


Coming into the last hour Australia was well set. On 3-298, 62 runs needed off fifteen eight ball overs; it should have been easy-peasy. Ian Chappell fell, trapped in front for 96, no century for the home town fans. The score was now 4-304. In what seemed like a blink of the eye, Australia stumbled; badly. Three run outs, with the tail now exposed. The tail fell away.  Thus a certain victory seemed a potential defeat.


With 20 balls left Australia was 9-333. The Victorian pair, Paul Sheahan and Alan Connolly, was at the crease. Like another Victorian on this ground 8 years prior, Lindsay Kline, these two were determined to survive. In the second last over Sobers took the new ball but could not dislodge Connolly, as Sobers struggled to pitch it up. Only one over remained, with the arch-villain of the afternoon, Charlie Griffiths delivering it. I’ve mentioned in the past Paul Sheahan had been anointed by Australia’s previous Prime Minister ‘Pig Iron’ Bob Menzies. Sheahan never reached the heights expected, though he managed two Test centuries in his career.


In this final over he stood firm, not allowing Griffith any chance of dismissing him. Surely this was one of the finest knocks of his career. Yes it was brief, only managing 11 not out, but it saved his team. As the players left the field Australia was 9-339, the match ending in a thrilling draw. Scorecard HERE.


One Test remained to conclude the series, that being in Sydney.  That story is for another day, so I might return to the start of this story, the theme of it all.


This story started on the topic of when is what we’re told is Australia Day, January 26? Well is it? I will defer to the eminent British Historian EH Carr re the facts of this. He contended historians arbitrarily determine which facts are utilised according to their own agendas and biases. This seems a case in those calling January 26 Australia Day. We know the boats of the First Fleet sailed into what we now call Botany Bay on January 19 1788, but the site was deemed unsuitable. A few days were spent trying to choose the best site to settle, with Governor Arthur Phillip finally landing on January 25. The day after, January 26, the remainder of the First Fleet settled on shore.  On February 7 the colony of New South Wales was proclaimed. The east coast of Australia had already been declared for the British Empire by Captain James Cook back on August 22 1770.


Australia, as a nation state didn’t exist until Federation in January 1 1901. From the time of the First Fleet arriving, until then, this wide, brown land was a disparate combination of British colonies. It was not Australia as we’ve come to know it.


We know that during World War 1 Australia Day was held on different dates in July, as the actual Australia Day changed.  It was conducted firstly on July 30 in 1915, with the dates/days of July, 28, 27, then 26, rounding off Australia Day’s recognition in the war years. For the next 80 or so years the actual day, seemed secondary to the long weekend, the latter being more prominent in the public gaze.


It took until 1935 for all the states to agree on an actual Australia Day. Actually it’s only since 1994 that all Australian states/territories agreed January 26 is the official Australia Day, having a public holiday on that day. It’s a very recent event.


Do we really need an Australia Day? What did Brecht say:  Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes? Any how Australia Day isn’t just going away, so when is the best day to have it? Yes I know there are some who may want to do away with the day altogether, they being focused on the negatives of Australia’s history post 1788:  But one always divides into two, so rather than looking at the negative episodes in our history, let’s focus on the many fine events from our past, events worthy of commemorating, then maybe have an Australia Day celebrated around one of them.


Do we consider changing Australia Day to coincide with the actual date of Federation; January 1? Possibly May 27 recognising the 1967 referendum to remove clauses that discriminated against indigenous Australians.


We could have April 21, in recognition of the stonemason’s victory in Melbourne, them being the first workers in the world to win the 8 hour day. Some might suggest March 21, the date in 1895 when South Australian were the first women in Australia and amongst the first in the world to win the right to vote.


There may be people who suggest October 28, or December 20, the dates of the two plebiscites during World War 1 when Australia voted NO to conscription.


Anyhow, let’s have the conversation.





1/ Frank Tyson, Test of Nerves, Test Series 1974-75, Australia versus England; Manark Pty Ltd Melbourne 1975, P159


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  1. As a South Australian, and more so since the Adelaide Test is now a moving commission, January 26 is of no relevance. Why can’t Australia Day be Dec 28th? The date that the first free colony was founded.

  2. Andrew Starkie says

    Can of worms, Glen!

    Very complicated: some want to keep it, others want it gone, for different reasons. Could we change the name to Reconciliation Day? Change to date to 1/1, date of Federation?

    This is one of a number of issues we have to tackle, however we don’t seem to be able to debate anything in this country these days without opposing sides becoming rude and abusive.

  3. Glen
    As Andrew says, the debate about Australia Day is fraught with difficulties. I well remember watching the dramatic 1993 test that Australia lost by one run to the Windies amidst a bunch of very PC colleagues chuckling about how satisfying it was to see Australia lose in such a manner on “Invasion Day”.

    The simpler issue that you’ve identified in this piece is Adelaide’s loss of its “traditional” Australia Day test. This is another example of the fragmentation of the Australian cricket calendar that has reduced the summer schedule to a meaningless hotch-potch of unconnected fixtures, in which everything seems subordinate to the all-powerful BBL.



  5. Jesus Jason – just home from the pub?

  6. Luke Reynolds says

    Glen, leaving aside the debate as to what is the right date to have Australia Day (I have no clear answer but think the debate is worthy), I think Australian Cricket lost something special when it moved away from having a Test match in Adelaide over this holiday. So many great Australia Day Test memories from my youth- Deano’s double ton in 1988/89, Mark Waugh’s sublime ton on debut in 1990/91, the thrilling 1992/93 game with Tim May’s heroics with bat and ball in the heartbreaking loss, the hard fought Test against South Africa in 1993/94, Sanath Jayasuriya’s hard hitting second innings ton on his Test return in 1995/96.
    Here’s an idea- how about the Australia Day Test return to Adelaide as a Day/night fixture, followed by a D/N Hobart or Canberra Test and a Perth Test? Cricket Australia is keen to reclaim February (as they should be) from the football codes, let’s do it with Test cricket and not an expanded, bloated BBL.

    By the way, thoroughly enjoyed your recount of the 1968/69 Australia Day Test.

  7. Thanks for the comments folks. Australia has been colonised for well over two centuries now, we’re coming into the third decade of the 21st century.

    Instead of Prime Ministerial decrees about this must be only conducted on a certain date, lets be a mature nation, and have this debate. Only by open, nuanced discussion can we move ourselves forward into the contemporary world.


  8. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Time to rename it BAD (British Australia Day)
    Tests were good though and the World Series Cup in the mid to late 80s, when it meant something, had the place rocking.

  9. Well said Glen. There is quite a debate abut what is the best day for a national celebration. I was intrigued by the view of an Aboriginal woman interviewed in the media recently. She wanted February 14, that being the day the natives in Hawaii ate Captain Cook in 1779! (They did kill him first of course) Captain Cook started the whole issue in the first place with his declaration in 1770. January 26 is also Republic Day for Indians – it was on this day in 1930 when the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj) was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress as opposed to the Dominion status offered then on offer from the British Regime. We risk Virat Kohli et al thinking we are having a holiday in a couple of weeks specifically in honour of them!

  10. Interesting, Glen!
    No easy answer for most people.
    But for me it is easy: I cannot have Australia Day on Jan 26.

  11. george smith says

    I would like Australia Day to end up in the same wheelie bin as the Joh Bjelke Peterson regime, the Gordon below Franklin Dam, the Cronulla and Lambing Flat riots, the Vietnam war and Bronnie’s helicopter.

    It is one of those embarrassing things like “God save the King/Queen” and people who have never been there referring to England as “home”. We don’t need it, we don’t want it, apart from the holiday, which comes right at the end of the school holidays. Keep things that mean something, it’s too hot for anything much, outdoor concerts will only lead to sunburn and dehydration and celebrating nationalism will only lead to argy bargy…

    Let’s celebrate the long weekend in January and ignore it!

  12. Concur with above comment!

  13. Yes, Australia day was a weekend not at Day. I remember a cartoon from my youth of Capt Arthur Phillip coming into Sydney Cove on a boat with a flag for the big declaration and someone stopping him and saying, “no not yet it is not a Monday!”

  14. Glen,

    Several things. I don’t think there’s anything sinister in play being scheduled for the 27/01 in either 1975 or 1969, or whenever else. As for the historical specifics, Phillip officially hoisted the flag in Sydney Cove on 26/01/1788.

    I think it is terrific that we have this debate about the legitimacy of Australia Day. There will be one of two outcomes.

    1. After robust debate, 26/01 will be found to be on solid ground & will remain as the date for Australia’s foundation.

    2. After robust debate, 26/01 will be proven to be a flimsy excuse of a date, &/or someone else will put forward a much more authentic date for Australia Day.

    Whatever way it spins, hopefully a majority of Australians will get behind whichever outcome proves superior in argument.

    Personally, I like what Noel Pearson said, or at least, I think it was he who suggested it last year.

    Pearson said we should have two consecutive Australia Days on 25/01 & 26/01.

    25/01 would be Indigenous Australia Day, commemorating the last day of complete Indigenous ownership of Australia, for want of a better word.

    26/01 would be European Australia Day, commemorating the first day of European occupation, for better or worse.

    One thing I would like to say, is that we should understand & incorporate our Indigenous culture much more than we have to the present. Indigenous culture is much more refined than we Europeans appreciate.

    We can’t unchange the sins of our past, but we can always make for a better future.

  15. Andrew,

    Just on Federation Day being also Australia Day, aren’t we already being dudded?

    Federation Day is also New Year’s Day, but we should get another holiday for Federation Day.

    In true Australian tradition then, if New Year’s Day, Federation Day & Australia Day were to all fall on 01/01, then we should have 3 successive holidays on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd of January. And more if a full weekend is involved!

  16. Ta Sheek.

    I see nothing sinister about what ever day cricket takes place around Australia Day. However i’m cognisant of the big change of emphasis from what was a long weekend, to what’s now portrayed in some circles as along standing designated day.

    Let’s have the cricket, let’s have a nuanced debate, as we’re doing in the context of this posting.


  17. Michael Viljoen says

    Great taking us back to that ancient, forgotten period of the 1960s; eight ball overs, and booing bowlers for mankads.

    As for Australia Day, for me every year, it was a Monday public holiday. Sleep in, roll out of bed at 10am, turn on the tele and watch the Superbowl until 2pm. It was heaven on a stick for a gridiron fan.

    Then someone decided it shouldn’t necessarily be a Monday, which reduced the chances of it being Superbowl Monday to one in seven. Now the wise heads in America have put it back one week, so there’s no chance of a public holiday. If we want to watch the Rams v Patriots live on Monday, we’ll have to take a sicky. But even that’s more Australian than Australia Day.

    If January 26 doesn’t appeal, then just pick any day out of a hat, and call that Australia Day. I’m sure other countries do that. That’s what we do for the Queen’s birthday.

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