Launch: An Adelaide trip with a few twists

By Bob Utber

With the Copenhagen climate summit in full swing as I wandered down from Mildura to Adelaide last week, I could not help but notice the way in which country clubs in South Australia and Victoria look after their sporting ovals.  Indeed some of the finest grounds are along the highway between Mildura and Adelaide.

The two that stood out to this climate-change sceptic were the ovals and tennis courts at Lake Cullulleraine and the oval at the border town of Paringa. Just a fleeting glance was enough to provoke dreams of younger days as a “future champion”.  The “future champion” never eventuated but the love of sport and sporting facilities has lingered on and sporting ovals and rectangles are prime tourist spots when travelling overseas.

The grounds at Lake Cullulleraine (population 72) are amazing when you consider the town is situated 58 miles from Renmark one way and 58 miles to Mildura the other.  There are eight grass courts and two football ovals and are all of the highest qualities.  When you consider the terrain contiguous to the reserve it is really breathtaking when you turn the corner on the Sturt Highway and view this lush area like a billiard table in front of you. I am always immediately transposed to a village green in England.

Likewise Paringa, which has a wonderful oval adjacent to one of the Murray’s tributaries, the Mundic Creek. Both sporting reserves are a credit to their respective curators.

The purpose of the drive was to attend the launch of the 2009 Footy Almanac at the Adelaide Lutheran Footy Club rooms on North Terrace in Adelaide and take in the Test match against the West Indies. Being an Almanacker, I knew that there would be all types there and I wasn’t disappointed: ABC types, former footballers cum vets, leading pregnant morning radio hosts (female that is!), and the surprise of all, the man chosen to launch the book, former Power (74 games)  and Essendon (85 games) player Che Cockatoo-Collins.

Cockatoo-Collins was a revelation with a wicked sense of humour and the natural shyness of his race laced with very interesting comments. As his interlocutor John Harms said: “Here is a natural leader whom we have not heard the last off.”

Wise words from one off the most respected sports writers in the country and words that we will keep note for in the future. After all, Che’s father Les was a key activist and member of the Australian chapter of the Black Panther movement.  One could certainly see the work of mentors Kevin Sheedy (coach) and Bev Knight (Essendon director) coming through in the way he spoke. He was most entertaining, and foreman material if ever I saw it.

I have for years attended the Adelaide Test; the Adelaide Oval is quite the most beautiful Test ground I have ever been to. But the attraction of watching my grandson train with the Crows on the Friday morning got the better of me and I missed the start of the cricket. Amid agitation about the improvements to the Adelaide Oval, it was interesting to visit the new facilities of the Crows at Football Park. With $20 million spent on new facilities, I was expecting some grandiose new fangled training rooms with the latest whizbang widgets. What have we got?  Some widgets but mainly opulent areas for the corporates to indulge themselves in. Toyota even has their own room as part of the building. The player facilities are excellent but they could have done more on that side.

Talking of facilities, it was a shock to see the state of the Adelaide Oval infrastructure.  Mostyn Evans, George Giffen and Sir Edwin Evans would have been astonished to see their beloved stands no more. Were they not listed as historic sites by Adelaide Heritage people? I always loved walking through the members’ area and thinking about the era when the players entered the arena within touching distance of you. Even that will disappear in the new mausoleum.

The old stands are being replaced by the stereotype concrete  (mind you, in the early stages)  edifices that seem to make up most sporting grounds. It will be interesting to see whether it maintains its reputation as one of the most picturesque grounds in the world.  The SANFL, SACA and AFL have some grand plans beyond the developments taking place at the moment.  The Mount Lofty Ranges will no more be an excuse to turn away from the game at hand and the trees at the scoreboard end of the ground could also be in danger.

I have always enjoy walking around the ground and sitting on the hill to watch a game. It has always been the place for some delightful humour that is  missing from the members’ stand.  I wonder why that is? Maybe it is because members take the game much more seriously than the general public.

Despite all that was written about the Test match beforehand, it turned out to be a fine match and a game typical of an Adelaide Test; in recent times the Adelaide Oval has given us some of the best Test cricket around.  Sure the game finished in a draw, but wasn’t the most famous drawn test of all played at the same ground in 1960-61?

Remember the most famous Adealide Test of all, the Bodyline Test (January 1933) that threatened to end in a war between the authorities in England and Australia.  Just to mention two of the famous games played on the ground.

Curator Les Burdett knows his work and he did it again. Windies captain “The Iceman” Chris Gayle batted magnificently and the visitors’ most genuine throwback to the old days, Dwayne Bravo, turned in a Gary Sobers-like performance with bat, ball and in the field.  Bravo should have been man of the match; he was always looking the most dangerous. The Australians let themselves down again with some injudicious batting.  There is an air among our team that victory will come and we don’t have to graft hard for it; it’s an approach most unlike Australian Test teams.

There were tents and there was music and there was fine wine and  food, but somehow I missed those wonderful vines growing on the stands before you went out for food and to watch the players warm up.  But then again nothing will ever be the same again, will it?

About Bob Utber

At 80 years of age Citrus Bob is doing what he wanted to do as a 14 year-old living on the farm at Lang Lang. Talking, writing, watching sport. Now into his third book on sports history he lives in Mildura with his very considerate wife (Jenny ) and a groodle named "Chloe On Flinders". How good is that.


  1. Bob

    I too will miss the old Adelaide Oval.

    Great to see you at the launch. It was a ripper night.


  2. Michael Lucas says

    Stumbled over this article- I grew up on the Ovals and Tennis courts of Lake Cullulleraine. Was a surprise to see your name attached!!

    Trust all is well with you- Am living in China now have been here for 8 years married with a couple of kids!!

    Cheers and hope to hear from you;

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