‘The artistic spinner…’ by KB Hill

My Dad was no slouch as an off-spinner in WDCA cricket……..

 

He took hundreds of wickets, in a thirty-year-plus career, with a combination of variety, cunning and competitiveness.

 

But, long after his retirement, when we’d throw up the names of the competition’s spin-bowling greats, he was adamant.

 

None of them, he said, could hold a candle to Jock Thomlinson……..

 

I was just a whippersnapper when I first saw Jock mesmerising local batsmen. Standing about 6’4”, he would compulsively hitch his cream cricket strides above the waist, lick his fingers, take a leisurely 6-7 paces to the crease, and wheel down his orthodox left-arm spinners with an effortless action.

 

He was a larger-than-life character who made a huge impact on local sport – and life in general – during his 14 years in Wangaratta.

 

 

***

 

Joseph Richard Thomlinson was Jock’s full ‘handle’. He was born and bred in Bendigo and displayed no real fascination for sport as a young fellah.

 

Somewhat against his wishes, and having never played cricket, he fronted up to a school match with Gravel Hill Primary, and was asked what he did: “I open the batting and bowling and field in slips,” was the chirpy reply.

 

Thus, on the strength of a couple of good deliveries which managed to hit the pitch and turn, duly impressing those in charge, a career was launched.

 

He also gravitated to baseball whilst completing his secondary education at the Mines School in Bendigo. Because there was no organised football competition during the war years, the nearby American Army Base provided the opportunity to play the game that the Yanks boast ‘was made in heaven’…..

 

When he moved to Melbourne to further his studies he was invited to play cricket and baseball with the M.C.C., but wasn’t totally enamoured with the ‘elitist’ atmosphere at the famous old club.

 

He once recalled: “I wore a light blue tie. The fellows would come up to introduce themselves, and say: ‘Oh, Geelong Grammar ?’ I would shake their hands and reply: ‘No, Bendigo Tech……How are you?’ “

 

After three years, during which he’d graduated from the Thirds to the Second XI, he had come to the conclusion that the MCC wasn’t really his ‘cup of tea’.

 

He was teaching at Maryborough when North Melbourne Cricket Club invited him to try out. In the meantime, fortuitously, he was transferred to South Melbourne Tech……….

 

***

 

Jock found playing and training in the shadow of the Old Gasometer much more ‘up his alley’. He spent a touch over three years (playing 33 First XI games) as the Kangaroos’ frontline spinner and, with his outgoing nature, cultivated friendships which lasted a lifetime.

 

He’d moved to Wang in late 1951, when he received a teaching promotion to the local Technical College, but had continued to travel back to play with North for the best part of another season.

 

His love for the game had prospered and he was now a well-rounded player. He quickly immersed himself into life in his new home town.

 

His arrival coincided with that of a young Art teacher, Stuart Devlin, who was later to achieve fame as the designer of Australia’s first decimal coinage – and coins for nations around the world.

 

 


Jock Thomlinson & Stuart Devlin, prior to a Tech School Teachers v Students football match.

 

The pair became firm friends and, together, mapped out the Tertiary Art Courses which would complement Wang Tech’s existing program. Both possessed an individualistic flair which resonated with their students.

 

Not only that, they became team-mates at Glenrowan Football Club (it is said that Jock’s lanky, graceless frame was rarely airborn), played in the same basketball side, and were key components of leading baseball club, Dodgers.

 

Thomlinson, who utilised the same gift that he did in cricket – of being able to make the ball ‘talk’ – was the team’s pitcher; Devlin was his catcher.

 

Baseball was a popular sport in Wangaratta in the fifties, and Jock’s importance to Dodgers was emphasised when he mentioned, before one season, that he’d probably have to rule himself out. He had too much work in front of him, he stressed, on the house he and his wife Gloria were building in Medowra Avenue.

 

Still unsure whether they were being ‘conned’, his team-mates rolled up to several week-end working-bees – at the culmination of which their star pitcher agreed that he’d be right to play…….

 

***

 

Jock began his WDCA career with Rovers, spent a couple of years with Wangaratta (whom he helped to a Premiership in 1956/57), then was a key figure in the formation of new club, Combined Schools the following season.

 


Thomlinson (back) with Wangaratta rep stars: Mac Holten, John Brady and Stan Trebilcock

 

Schools were a mix of Teachers and Students, and took no time to become a power in the competition.

 

Their debut also heralded a stand-out season for Thomlinson. He snared 120 wickets in all grades, including a North-East Cup record 17 in a match against Upper Murray, at Corryong.

 

His figures – 10/52 and 7/33 – remain a NEDCCC record.

 

If local followers needed any further convincing of his talent, they saw it when he weaved a web around the cream of South Australia’s Sheffield Shield batting talent in January 1958.

 

The Croweaters played a North-East XI at the Showgrounds, and included stroke-makers of the calibre of Colin Pinch (fresh from twin centuries against Victoria), Neil Dansie, Les Favell and Gavin Stevens in their line-up.

 

They were dismissed for 150, with Thomlinson (5/58) and Stan Trebilcock (3/55) sharing the spoils. The local side replied with 192, but much of the praise from the visitors was lavished on the athletically-challenged left-armer.

 

The following season, the visiting Englishmen, captained by Peter May, met a Victorian Country XI at the Showgrounds, eliciting much excitement and anticipation, preceded by the opening of a flash new Grandstand.

 

 

 

 

The Poms spoilt the party when they crashed through the locals for a paltry 31, with pacemen Peter Loader, Freddie Trueman and spinner Jim Laker doing the damage.

 

Amidst the batting carnage that followed, Thomlinson was able to maintain his equilibrium, with figures of 3/60, including the scalps of left-hander Willie Watson, Raman Subba Row and Trueman.

 

Jock was a regular ‘50-wicket a year’ man in Club matches, and a two-time winner of the bowling average, but his ‘dream-season’ came in 1960/61.

 

Earlier, he had played against a Victorian XI at Wangaratta, and enjoyed a fruitful time in North-East Cup matches, including one haul of 8/69 against Wang’s arch rivals, Benalla.

 

He also guided Combined Schools into their first WDCA Grand Final, in what was to prove a memorable encounter.

 

They collapsed for 72 in their first innings, with only Gerry Rowe (44) providing any resistance to Magpies’ leg-spinner John Mulrooney. When the Pies replied with 139 the flag was within their grasp.

 

But Schools, with Rowe contributing another 60, raced to 7/234 in their second ‘dig’, setting Magpies a target of 166 to clinch the game.

 

It proved a dramatic finale, under leaden skies, with time entering into the equation. A young left-arm speedster Robin Kneebone piloted Schools to victory. His 4/41 gave him 10 ‘scalps’ for the game and ensured that they got home by 13 runs.

 

Amidst the premiership celebrations, Thomlinson remained the most sober member of the Schools’ camp. He’d been coping with a painful health condition during the game, which necessitated him spending long absences from the field.

 

But it had been a significant achievement to lead his side to their first title after four years in the competition…………

 

The following season they were unbeaten – 10 points clear – going into the finals, but bowed out to new team United in the Semi-Final.

 

***

 

In 1961/62, 14 year-old Greg Rosser was one of a batch of talented kids to make their way into the Schools line-up under the watchful eye of Thomlinson and his senior team-mates.

 

“Jock was a great leader, good cricket thinker, and always up and about……” Greg recalls. “He caused problems with his flight and drift. One delivery might come through without deviating…….the next would turn sharply……His height enabled him to get deceptive bounce….It was an education to see him work a batsman over…..”

 

“He was bowling to a kid (about 17…..his name slips me at the moment) who had the impudence to drive him through the covers off three successive balls……..Jock sidled up to me, with a smile creasing on his face: ‘Greg, will you go up and tell this young fellah who I am !’…….”

 

 


Jock Thomlinson and Manager Neil McConchie with a crop of youngsters, prior to Bendigo Country Week.

 

Thomlinson enthusiastically embraced the concept of the WDCA electing to send a team to Bendigo for the first time in January 1962. It comprised a smattering of ‘old heads’, with the remainder of the side made up of youngsters.

 

It provided the opportunity to blood promising kids under Country Week conditions. Jock captained the side for the first two years.

 

In his final WDCA game – the 1964/65 Semi-Final – he captured 6/89 against eventual premiers United. His departure to take over as Principal of Bairnsdale Technical School left a hole in local cricket……..Within three years Combined Schools, the team he had helped form eight years prior, were forced into recess……..

 

***

 

One of the stories that best illustrates Jock Thomlinson, the sportsman and educator, pertains to Lorna Chick, a Wangandary resident and farmer’s wife, whose interest in an Art appreciation course had been piqued after she’d originally studied book-keeping and jam-making at Dookie College. This led to her two sons, Marcus and Louis, entertaining a desire to follow suit.

 

The only place in the area that ran an Art course was the Wangaratta Tech School. Lorna later recounted that, as she sat in her car whilst her boys were being taught, Jock came out and invited her to come inside and participate, an idea she hadn’t considered.

 

He did little more than show Lorna how to mix and apply paint to canvas but later wrote of her ‘unique perception and understanding of her compositions, which were underpinned by a strong determination and interest in technique.’

 

Her work, which largely depicts the agricultural landscape of the North-East, led to her international standing as an ‘iconic naive painter.’

 

The paintings of Lorna Chick (who passed away in 2007) now hang in the National Gallery and appear in the Worldwide Encyclopaedia of Art………

 

***

 

After spending three years at Bairnsdale, Jock was appointed Principal of Shepparton South Tech School. It was said that his foresight helped turn it into a leading light in the Arts and Media Education field, before he retired in 1986.

 

He then continued his passion for Art as his hobby, which resulted in a solo exhibition in Shepparton in 1994 which featured 32 of his favourite works.

 

Jock Thomlinson passed away in 2014……

 

 

 

 

With assistance from Lesley Preston: Voices from Technical Education (Shepparton South Technical School)

 

This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources unless otherwise acknowledged.

 

To read more of KB Hill’s great stories on the Almanac, click HERE.

 

We’ll do our best to publish two books in the lead-up to Christmas 2021. The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 and the 2021 edition to celebrate the Dees’ magnificent premiership season(title is up for discussion at the moment!). These books will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers and Demons season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from these two Covid winters. Enquiries HERE.

 

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Comments

  1. Ross Treverton says

    Another terrific read KB. Enjoy your work very much…

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