The Bear And The Hawk: Fifth Day Tales At The Test With The SACA Ground Staff



by David Southgate

It had been an enervating but invigorating five days in Adelaide.  Or at least four days and an hour for mopping up the last four Indian wickets.  An eclectic crew, led by its unofficial captain Happy and his first mate Bubbles, looked forward to a few hours “Out the Back” of the members’ stand to wrap up the tour, no doubt with happy memories of the final day of the 2002-03 Ashes Test.


Back then, it was a last rites job too, helped along by Glenn McGrath’s spectacular flying pigeon’s catch on the members’ boundary.  After that game, members and even players lingered and mingled for hours afterwards on the lush lawns (more on those later) that underpin arguably the best beer garden in the nation.  We looked forward to a repeat of that Pastoral Symphony-esque frolic, which after the peasants’ merry-making followed the script by adding rain.


But disappointment lay ahead; in a most unlike-SACA move, the bars were closed within a single round of drinks after the end of play.  That sort of policy is expected at the MCG, but usually an anathema when it comes to the Adelaide Oval.  So the Wellington Hotel it was for a final post-mortem, to debate issues such as Pharlap Siddle’s award for Man of the Match.  Like most Adelaide tours, the drinks and the conversations rarely stop for breath.


The Wellington has an imposing two-storey frontage on the Eastern edge of the elegant North Adelaide square from which it takes its name.  The indestructible giant Adam led a weary trudge up Montefiore Hill, through detours such as an underground car park that only a local would know about.  It would be overstating things however to say that the crew were licking their wounds, having survived tougher missions such as cricket in the West Indies where a number suffered the dreaded “Rum Bones”.  Only Loretta had retired hurt for day five, claiming a back massage was in order.


It turns out that The Wellington is also the usual venue for the SACA ground staff’s test wrap-up.  Little Alan, a native of Darwen Lancashire and just over half his mate Adam’s height, tagged along with one of his mates from the ground staff whose physique made his nickname of “Bear” as inevitable as an Indian batting collapse.  The publican distributed all SACA staff with green wristbands to signify they were to be provided with free drinks, which looked a highly dangerous and unprofitable move in the Bear’s presence.  And there the stories started, especially when Bear brought his workmate John Hawkins over to the table strewn with jugs, glasses and food.


Well hidden and just to the right of the southern entrance of the Adelaide Oval is the curator’s residence.  Built in the 1920s, it was first occupied by a former South Australian Sheffield Shield cricketer Albert Wright.  From the early 1950s through to 1980, legendary curator Arthur Lance took up tenancy; in Mike Brearley’s 1979 book “The Ashes Retained”, Lance was reported as paying a peppercorn rent of $9 a week including all facilities other than his telephone.


When Lance vacated the cottage in 1980, his successor the even more legendary Les Burdett decided to live elsewhere, so Hawkins and his family moved instead and have lived happily there ever since.  In two week’s time, however, it will be demolished along with the Clem Hill and Chappell stands to make room for the southern and eastern re-development.  Hawkins has the leanness of the mythical Australian bushman and looks ideally suited for work with the soil.


The Bear and the Hawk exchanged stories, such as Bear’s record low crowd of 32, that unsurprisingly still included a few punters under the old scoreboard.  They talked about the dressing room doormen who had been there for ever, and the intricacies of growing grass.


Hawk’s main role for many years at Adelaide was to look after the bowling greens.  When asked whether the Oval’s pristine surface could be used for any or all of cricket, lawn tennis, lawn bowls or croquet, Hawkins explained that the Santa Anna Couch was cut to 1-2mm for bowls, 8-10mm for tennis and 10mm or longer for cricket.  At which point Issy piped up and perceptively said, “They shouldn’t say the outfield looks like a bowling green then, it actually looks like a tennis court”.


Nathan Lyon’s former colleagues also reminisced about the Sheffield Shield match where Arthur Lance fell asleep, woke up during a tea interval and, seeing no players on the field, assumed there was a change of innings and roared at the ground staff to “get out there” with the roller even though the only change of innings was in his mind.


There were also vague references to playing golf from the hills on the ground and links with Government House including receiving each others’ mail.  But the pick of the stories was probably when Hawk decided to hold a pool party one Christmas, despite not having one in the curator’s residence.  He simply organised a ladder from the bowling green over the fence to the new fitness centre adjacent and it’s gleaming new pool.


Both men had clearly enjoyed their decades working at the Oval, Bear’s only complaint being that he found himself on his feet virtually all day and there were precious few opportunities to sit down.  A Hawthorn supporter, he looked forward to football on the pristine Oval surface, “provided the re-development still allows it to be a cricket ground”.


As the stories wound down, Bubbles finally surrendered, forsaking his beer for a mineral water and concentrating on the races being broadcast above the bar.  The additional drinks menu over the journey had included Pimms, Bacardi Breezer alcopops, and all varieties of wine and sparkling.  Young Ned recovered better than his father Tim and won the Kholi award for most improved after a horrid start to his tour, but without the aggro.  The fantasy Australian Test teams starting with G and with L were finally complete, even if the G’s had Jason Gillespie batting at 4 and a terribly long tail (eg Gannon, Gleeson, Gilbert, Grimmett).  Best of all, 2012 is guaranteed to be a great year, not least because there are two Adelaide Tests.



About David Southgate

Collins Street optometrist, Blues man and Adelaide Test aficionado, where most of his best work is done Out The Back. Modestly admits to authorship of probably the best book ever written on amateur football - "Play Harder", on the first 50 years of the Old Haileyburians' Amateur Football Club (published 2011).


  1. Ben Footner says

    Ah the Welly, watched the last session there from the comfort of the booths after my brother and I made an early declaration on Australia Day when the baking heat got too much for us. Great little unpretentious pub.

Leave a Comment