January 1933 – The Empire Strikes Back

About 15 years ago I started a series exploring the journalism of key periods in history, trying to glean what I could about the society and politics of the time by the respective treatment of “real news” and sport in the papers of record of the time. Hopefully without trivialising the terrible events of history, more trying to show how the gravity of moments can not always be perceived at the time.

As with most of my series, it petered out after one installment.

I reckon it might suit the Almanac now, as a theme… contributors choose a key moment in history – possibly one that resonated on them – and go and research what was happening, and how it was covered, in that time. They could access the archive of their local city paper, now or of where they lived at the time, if relevant.

I was planning on covering the 1989 Berlin Wall (Tawriffic), and would update to include 9/11 (footy); the moon landing, the Dismissal, the outbreak of WW1, the Russian Revolution.

Anyway, just a thought… in the meantime, this is the 1933 piece, pretty much verbatim. Jan 1933, a reasonably significant time in both sport and history. Bear in mind it was written in ’99 when Sydney had just been smashed by that hailstorm and we couldn’t drink the water. Enjoy the ride..

JANUARY 1933 WAS A THIRD OF THE WAY through the last century of the 2nd
Millennium. A fitful 14 years had elapsed since the Great War ground to its
muddy conclusion.

January 1933 was a time when the oppressed, the downtrodden, and the losers
stood up. Fought back. Took what historically had been theirs. They
developed new tactics, which were not acceptable to everyone. They found a
shrewd, unprincipled, leader. He pulled together a team of ruthless
henchmen, and they set out to right past wrongs, to reclaim the glory of
their once great empire.

Meanwhile, in Germany, nobody knew anything about Bodyline, or “leg theory”
as the polite denizens of the press termed it. They had their own problems.
A certain spinner named Hitler was clamouring for selection, but he wanted
to captain the team, open the batting and the bowling, and pick the team as
well. Chief selector Von Hindenburg wrung his hands and stalled for time.

Yes, it was the worst of times, it was the worst of times, we were getting a
flogging in the cricket and the tennis, the Depression was just bottoming
out, the Fascists were on the march in Europe, Churchill moaned about the
Naval Estimates whilst America inspected its navel. And Phar Lap was dead.

But the Herald’s editor still managed to put on a brave face on New Year’s
Day, exhorting readers to look to dare to hope in 1933. Notions of Empire
dominated: “The New Year opens on a note of confidence, in Britain,
Australia and South Africa, at least…”

Over in the Soviet Union, at one minute past midnight, Stalin’s second
5-Year Plan kicked into action. Mrs Stachanov would have already have had
the kettle on the boil, rousing her vigilant husband from his brief nap.
Maybe he, like many in the Outback, dreamed of the Bourke-Darwin railway,
slated to open up vast tracts of country for cotton and other crops. Proving
that Australia has had more than one fine cotton fiasco.

Vishinsky would have us believe that this was the period Trotsky spent in
Norway, plotting the assassinations of Lenin, Kirov, Stalin, Kennedy, Mrs
Gandhi, Lord Lucan, Lennon and god knows who else. Somehow he found the time
to publish his seminal History of the Russian Revolution on January 9.

But these weighty issues were not uppermost in the minds of the Herald
readers of the time. It was time for David Jones’ Clearance Sale. No
manipulative price jigging here, DJ’s was open enough to admit the stock was
“the mistakes of 1932”.

The first cricket Test had been played in Sydney in December, with McCabe’s
Kim Hughes-like 187 not out unable to stop Jardine’s merry men taking a 1-0
lead. Strangely, in the lead-up to the 2nd Test in Melbourne, there was
little talk of Bodyline and lots of the so-called player-writer sanction.
The Australian Board of Control invoked this law to stop players from
writing or broadcasting on the game. Bradman seriously considered standing
down from the team. He played, and we latter-day readers lament the decline
of this noble statute.

Racing was booming, there being no shortage of punters. Or meetings. Sydney
was a city of racetracks… Randwick on the Saturday, Rosebery on Tuesdays,
Kensington on Wednesdays and Moorefields the next Saturday. The latter three
are now housing estates and a school, but don’t expect the anti-golf lobby
to care.

Tennis was huge as well. Australia and the USA WERE the Davis Cup, they WERE
tennis, so the Yanks sent a team out here to play a series of tests. Our
boys included the legends Harry Hopman, Adrian Quist and Jack Crawford. They
flogged us.

Back to the cricket. The Australian team was a beauty – the courageous Bill
Woodfull to open and captain; Gentleman Jack Fingleton; lefty Leo O’Brien; a
chap named Bradman; that man McCabe; Victor Richardson; Bertie Oldfield;
genius spinner Clarrie Grimmett; Teddie 10-for Wall; the one and only Tiger
Bill O’Reilly; and the 50-year-old Dainty Ironmonger. The Poms weren’t
hopeless either – the barnacle Sutcliffe opened with Wyatt, Pataudi and
Leyland followed, the incomparable Wally Hammond came next, Jardine, the
keeper Ames, and that feared bowling line-up of Allen, Larwood, Voce and
Bowes bristled with venom. And much skill.

Australia batted first and made a measly 228, Fingleton contributing a vital
83. England replied with a meagre 161, O’Reilly and Wall wrecking the
innings with 4 wickets each. This was what the English readers wanted to
know about, not that storm in a teacup that was Bodyline; why, the Herald
reported, one local newspaper had even thought it necessary to interview
Bowes’ mother. at Welsh was born at that exact moment.

Let’s leave the cricket for a minute and check on the English soccer scores.
Results of matches played overnight in Division 1… Arsenal 3, Birmingham 0;
Aston Villa 3, Middlesboro 1; Blackburn 1, Chelsea 3; Blackpool 3, Sheffield
Wednesday 4; Derby 5, Leeds 1; Everton 1, West Bromwich Albion 2. Enough.
Everton, with the great Dixie Dean leading the way, could not follow-up
their championship win of the previous year, but they won the Cup in May
1933. Suffice it to say that Sunderland, Sheffield United and Wolves were in
Division 1, and Southampton, West Ham, Spurs and Manchester U-Shited were
all in Division 2. Great days for soccer. If you love the North.

Back to the cricket. Australia made 191 in their second dig, Bradman doing a
Slater and slashing his way to 103 not out. England never looked likely and
folded for 139, O’Reilly opening the bowling and taking 5.

This obscured some troublesome developments – Japanese fighting in
Manchuria, the dissolution of the Dail in the Irish Free State, and Marlene
Dietrich being sued by Paramount for breach of contract. Alas, there was no
Alec Baldwin to ride in on his white charger with the 40,000 pounds.

The forces of darkness had not silenced Sydney’s trams. Not yet. 200 new
trams were ordered, some to run over the fantastic bridge that had been
opened the year before. This was farsighted government indeed, even the
abolition of the NSW Upper House was on the agenda. The birthrate was the
lowest on record. Papers discussed the British Issue – what relationship
Australia should have with the mother of all countries.

And proving once and for that things haven’t changed, the Royal Alfred Hotel
in Missenden Road Newtown was robbed at 2am, the loot including whiskey, gin
and 20 pounds.

A bunch of young men couldn’t have cared. The Metropolitan Colts beat
Combined Country, and a certain A. McGilvray proved the game is indeed not
the same by opening both the batting and the bowling for the Colts. Walter
Lindrum filled the halls in Britain and the sculling world waited to see if
Booby Pearce would turn pro.

The purges began in Moscow. They started with the big fry. Two former
tradesmen, Odrinsky and Ragozin, were sentenced to death for “posing as
Antarctic explorers, in addition to playing many practical jokes at the
expense of official vanity and credibility”.

Calvin Coolidge was so shocked, he died. No one could tell. Anarchists rioted
in Catalonia. In Melbourne, the Tigers were still celebrating their win over
Carlton in October’s Grand Final. Heady days.

The French were worried. They could feel the throb of the re-arming Germans.
Naval Minister M. Leygues commissioned the battlecruiser Dunquerque in

Then Australian hero aviator Bert Hinkler went missing somewhere between
London and Sydney. They narrowed it down a bit in the afternoon edition – he
was somewhere in northern Italy.

The World Economic Conference on Disarmament in Geneva focused on the future
of the gold standard. Liquid gold caught the attention back home, too, as
Tooth, Tooheys and Reschs united to take on the wowsers with the classic slogan
“drink beer regularly – it’s good for you”.

There were reports of funny happenings on the Southern Highlands. Scientists
pondered Lake George’s disappearing water. The next day, Gordon Bryant,
possibly the future Cabinet Minister but then aged 12, of Windellame (near
Goulburn), reported that he had killed an 8-foot brown snake, which had a
head like an iguana and, four inches below its head, a protruding leg like a
lizard.” Nobody in Moscow was fooled, they knew the work of Odrinsky and
Ragozin when they saw it.

The 3rd Test in Adelaide was THE Bodyline Test. 800 extra police attended,
the crowd was awash with rumours that the Australian-born Gubby Allen had
mutinied and refused to bowl Bodyline. Jardine responded by opening the
batting and facing down the baying crowd. They made an honest 341, Wall
taking another bag of 5. Then came one of the most memorable innings of all
time. Jardine set an orthodox field and Fingleton was bowled for 1. Woodfull
stood up to the thunderbolts from Larwood but was struck a brutal blow above
the heart. Jardine then had the presence of mind to order a Bodyline field
for the very next ball, leaving a distressed Woodfull facing 6 short-legs,
two square legs and a mid-wicket. The crowd went wild and threatened to rip
Jardine in half.

Woodfull struggled on for 22, Bradman got 8, and at stumps Australia was in
deep shit at 4-109. Woodfull was in the dressing room having his bruises
attended to when MCC manager Plum Warner came to offer his sympathy.
Woodfull issued the mother of all backhanders:

“I don’t want to see you, Mr Warner. There are two teams out there. One is
trying to play the game and the other is not. The game is too good to be
spoilt. It is time some people got out of it.”

Woodfull was ropable when his comments were widely reported the next day. It
was hanging day, the sky was overcast and black. Cricket lay covered up,
killed by a penknife in the back. Australia were vanquished for 222. The
recalled Ponsford and his ample backside made a sterling 85. Oldfield, all
38 years of him, retired hurt for 41, his skull fractured by Larwood. In
Larwood’s defence, Oldfield slipped, the ball was too short to pull, and an
orthodox field was set. But the damage was done. Australia went on to lose
by 338 runs, the amazing Woodfull carrying his bat for 73 in the second dig,
taking many deliveries on the chest rather than risk getting caught in the leg-trap.

At the same time, the Nazis were complaining of a lack of funds. They had
debts of 500,000 pounds, and bankers wouldn’t touch them until Herr Hitler
promised there would not be more elections. Chancellor Von Schleicher
planned to include Nazis in his Ministry. Meanwhile, he re-introduced
conscription. We kissed goodnight to the Treaty of Versailles. The French
responded with a call for Austria to be designated permanently neutral.

None of this was given much attention back home. All news was of the battle
of the cables…

“Bodyline bowling has assumed such proportions as to menace the best
interests of the game, making protection of the body by the batsman the main
consideration. This is causing intensely bitter feeling between the players,
as well as injury. In our opinion it is unsportsmanlike. Unless stopped at
once it likely to upset the friendly relations existing between Australia
and England.”

Thus spoke the Australian Board of Control to the men of the MCC. Many
pressmen thought the wording tactless, and that the touring English
hierarchy should have been given the chance to view a draft first. The MCC
replied in spades five days later:

“We… deplore your cable. We deprecate your opinion that there has been
unsportsmanlike play. We have fullest confidence in captain, team and
managers… We have no evidence that our confidence has been misplaced… If the
Australian Board of Control wishes to propose a new law or rule, it shall
receive our careful consideration in due course…”

A more cutting rejoinder was offered by the “inventor” of Bodyline, Fred
Root, who advised the Australians to learn how to play this new form of
bowling, or stick to playing with tennis balls. Thus was born the wonderful
insult, “Get Rooted!”

Proving that politics and sport have always been a potent cocktail, the
Board agreed to withdraw the word “unsportsmanlike”, allegedly because the
Australian Government was concerned that Britain would not renew loans
necessary to kickstart the economy.

On January 19 the Herald ran a story on the proposed Bondi Park Amusement
Scheme, which was subject to a government inquiry. The Scheme included a
cataract gorge, waterfalls, a magic cave and an aquarium. No beach
volleyball stadium, no underground railway, but enough for the good people
of Bondi to whinge about.

Other news that day included the escalation of the Sino-Japanese
conflagration; the search for Hinkler; Gandhi’s continued incarceration as
thousands rioted in Calcutta; the Conference on World Economic Disarmament;
and Maurice Chevalier’s divorce.

But the Bodyline story continued to dominate the pages. Eddie Gilbert, the
fastest bowler in Australia, and, coincidentally, an Aborigine and,
allegedly, a chucker, warned the Poms that he too would bowl Bodyline when
Queensland played them in early February. Given that Bradman rated Gilbert
the fastest bowler he ever faced, this was no idle threat.

The 21st dawned to the news that a new expedition had set out for Mount
Everest. The British Navy had its own Everest to climb. The Report of the
Estimates found that the Powers’ relative sea strengths had altered greatly
to the disadvantage of Britain. Everton showed that the balance of power had
tipped their way, by disposing of Sunderland 6-2. And as the pre-conditions
for the next war moved inexorably into place, diplomats were pre-occupied
with finding an equitable solution to the debts from the last one.

It won’t surprise readers to know that Sydney had a water crisis. Sir Thomas
Henley criticised the Water Board’s “wild-cat engineering”, suggesting
Warragamba was little more than a huge septic tank, into which drained all
the sewage and stormwater from the Blue Mountains. As Marx said, the first
time is tragedy, the second time farce.

Whilst readers digested that scary thought, they also read predictions of
dictatorship in Germany. President Von Hindenburg postponed the assembly of
the Reichstag and dispensed with planned elections. Franz Von Papen was
behind the scenes, trying to convince the President to accept Hitler as the
only viable option as Chancellor. 10,000 Nazis clashed with Communists in a
sign of things to come.

Meanwhile, jockey J W Tucker was disqualified for 5 years after a battery
was found in his riding boot. And then NSW was pounded by massive
hailstorms, with Narrabri and Medlow Bath the worst hit. Whether this was
God’s judgement on the illicit weekenders at the Hydro Majestic was unclear.
The puritans did have a win, however, with the banning of Huxley’s Brave New

That day, De Valera easily won the elections in the Irish Free State, and
the search for Hinkler was abandoned. Bill O’Reilly went back to Moss Vale
for a local function, and claimed that the effects of Bodlyine had been
exaggerated. Whether it was hindsight, the passage of time or whether the
Herald got it wrong in 1933, O’Reilly had certainly changed his mind by the
time he wrote his memoirs in 1985. He denounced Bodyline, and modern
intimidatory bowling, as a scourge on the game.

That week, the International Labour Organisation adopted the 40-hour week as
its standard. Meanwhile, in Berlin on January 26, Hitler was reported to
have abandoned his “all or nothing” position, under which he had demanded
the Chancellorship as the price for Nazi cooperation in the Cabinet. The
wire reported that a Cabinet of the Right under Von Papen was expected. Two
days later Von Schleicher hinted that Germany should return to the
Disarmament Conference. He was clearly desperate. It was no surprise that
the next day he resigned, the papers again predicting the ascension of
Hitler to the Chancellorship.

In Paris, M. Boncour stood down as Prime Minister. He had been in the job
for a month. Jack Lang resisted the drift to the Right. He announced the NSW
ALP’s policy for the next election, including the socialisation of credit
and the abolition of the States.

The only sporting news that fateful day was that champion sprinter-miler
Chatham would contest the Newmarket at Flemington that autumn.

On January 30 came the announcement that readers expected, but dreaded…

“Our latest cable announces that Herr Hitler has been appointed Chancellor,
and the whole kaleidoscope seems to have received a turn which may give
unexpected colours and combinations.”

10,000 stormtroopers marched down the lovely Willhemstrasse to proclaim
Hitler, singing “Adolf in the sky with diamonds.” The controller of Prussian
Police, a certain Captain Goering, waved them on. Hitler moved to dissolve
the Reichstag and call new elections.

Back in Sydney, Professor Roberts from Sydney University’s Modern History
Faculty proclaimed that Hitler had the Chancellor’s office, but not the
power. Nice call, Professor. The general view of the papers was that the
German situation was so bad Hitler should be given a go.

And there ends our account of that turbulent month. For the record, England
won the test series 4-1. We remember the last two tests of the Bodyline
series for Eddie Paynter’s heroic 83, made after he rushed from his hospital
bed to save England’s first innings. And Larwood’s 98 in the last test,
caught by the fielding illiterate Ironmonger. To their credit, the crowd
cheered Larwood off. Jardine was clearly Public Enemy No. 1. Until he was
resurrected by some goons from Bexley, who christened their park team the
Douglas Jardine Memorial XI. We thought they were cool and post-modernist,
until they started bowling beamers at a myopic friend of ours who batted
number 11. Fucking arseholes.

Larwood never played another test. England did not find another match-winning fast
bowler until Alec Bedser. Bradman, Woodfull, Ponsford, McCabe, Oldfield,
O’Reilly and Grimmett all played major parts in Australia’s 2-1 win in 1934
in England.

The fortunes of Herr Hitler and Europe are well-known. Roosevelt replaced
Hoover as US President in early 1933 and instituted the New Deal. Sydney
still has a dodgy water supply. Jack Lang never regained the Premiership.
Neither have South Melbourne, who were to flog Richmond in the Grand Final
later that year. Australia stumbled through the rest of the 30s trying to
shake off the Depression, patriarch Joe Lyons giving Tasmanians a bad name.
Stalin was soon to put all of the Old Bolsheviks to the sword.

But of all the images from that troubled month, the one that lingers longest
in the memory is of those two intrepid Russians, Odrinsky and Ragozin,
braving the chill waters of Loch Ness in that silly saurian costume. Like
many of their contemporaries they were clowns to the bitter end.

(Author’s note: the key primary source for this article is the Sydney Morning Herald, January 1 – 31, 1933)

Footnote: I like the story this way with South Melbourne still flag-less.

About Peter Warrington

Richmond fan; Kim Hughes tragic; geographer; kids' book author; Evertonian; Manikato; Harold Park trots 1980; father of two; cat lover, dancer with dogs; wannabe PJ HArvey backing vocalist; delusional...


  1. Indeed a mighty effort Peter and I loved the way you spun the SMH’s spin on events. I did VCE Australian history (WWI>WWII) and I think how much more kids would bother learning if their reference books were injected with your cattle prod.

    Please sir, may we have some more?

  2. Thanks Jeff!

    Next time I get a redundancy…

    Part of the romance back then was sifting through the microfiche in Fisher, lost in a lost land. Probably all digitised now.

    But I reckon the moon shot could be great, a dual Tigers year and the team getting ready to tour India and SA. Gorton still in his honeymoon, and the great Gough. Vietnam, maybe forgotten for a week. The wash-up of events in Eastern Europe from 68. Music music music and revolutionary fillum (too early for Hair?). etc etc etc

    I may get there in another 15 years… or someone else can have a crack.

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Fantastic Peter. I love reading about this era, cricket especially but the world in general also.

    I bet that ‘certain spinner named Hitler’ bowled at more than 15 degrees. Where was Darrel Hair in those pre WWII days??

  4. Pete
    In the words of Sgt Schultz “Very interesting…”
    What a read, and a concept…

  5. Thanks Luke. Yep, bowler, umpire, TV umpire. Probably wanted to bat as well at the same time.

    Smokie, thanks, give it a crack. Put your hand up. An infinity of history waiting to be re-interpreted. Athens 1896 might be worth a revisit, Federation here copping some Flack (:P)

  6. My old man was born on Friday the 13th of January, 1933. In the middle of all this action and chaos. He’s never been spooked by the Friday the 13th thing.

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