The Life and Times of the Immortal Victor Trumper

Victor Trumper was Australia’s most loved cricketer; He died on June the 29th, 1915 and twenty thousand people attended his funeral. This is a tribute that requires no more elucidation.  On Friday the 28th  of June 2015, Claire, Australia’s most loved wife, and I travelled north, into that den of iniquity, the city of Sydney, for a weekend: the Victor Trumper weekend, three days that detailed, dissected, and discussed the life of this extraordinary Australian.

 

It was a weekend full of cricket’s heavy lifters. All the best Australian cricket writers were featured (except for Haigh who had decamped for an inconsequential cricket series played somewhere in the northern hemisphere). The venues were the Harbour View Hotel, the SCG, many of the cricket grounds that Victor had played at, two sites of the houses he had lived at, and the weekend finished at the Waverley Cemetery where Trumper was laid to rest.

 

Weekends like these are not about the spectacular views of the Harbour, the lovely old stands of the SCG, or the most picturesque cemetery in the world: the Waverley Cemetery. It is about people, both the living and the dead. When I first heard about this weekend I assiduously set about booking the weekend, firing up the computer to book flights and accommodation.  Of course, I completely forgot to register for the actual conference. I received a good deal from the hotel group that I frequent and my brother in law works for Jet Star so flights were a walk in the park. I thought I had it all covered.

 

Luckily there are people in the chain, cricket people, people who look after old blokes like me. Ron Cardwell, the doyen of Sydney cricket, was talking to Roger Page, my most loved cricket book dealer here in Melbourne. “Roger, young Phil has not yet registered for the Victor Trumper weekend. Could you ring his wife and get the weekend in order?” advised the Sydney doyen. Roger rang and alerted my wife to my errors.

 

I have read somewhere that if you give your hand to cricket, both on and off the field, you will have a wonderful journey. All reading this will know the truth of these words. Those of us in Melbourne have the redoubtable Ken Piesse, the effervescent President of the Victorian based branch of the Australian Cricket Association, while Sydney have their Ron Cardwell. To compare the two is to compare Bradman and Ponsford in 1934. They are both magnificent but different. This weekend in Sydney, which I will eventually get to talking about, could not have eventuated without Ron Cardwell while the recent dinner in Melbourne, under the Cricket Society banner, would not have been held without our Ken Piesse.

 

Neville Turner has described the last twenty years as being a ‘Golden Age’ of Australian cricket writing. I wonder if I could suggest that this is a Golden Age of Australian Cricket ‘Fandom’, made so by the two gentleman named above.

 

Claire and I flew into Sydney on Friday afternoon and caught a taxi to our hotel in North Sydney. We were staying just up the road from the Harbour View Hotel where the Friday night dinner was being held. Claire suggested that it was silly not to walk down to the Harbour View Hotel and see who was around. At the door we bumped into Ron Cardwell, fussing around with final details, and we were directed to the bar where cricket people were starting to gather. I was in seventh heaven.

 

Dennis Coom, the cricket book and memorabilia collector, was chatting to a few fellow enthusiasts about the South African part of Warwick Armstrong team of 1921. I was so excited. All these people knew far more than me than this famous cricket team. What a night that could unfold when one is surrounded by these sorts of cricket people?

 

Stev Waugh popularised the expression ‘cricket tragics’. The word tragedy refers to a work of literature, elevated prose or poetry that has an unhappy ending, usually due to the main characters personal failings. In cricket terms ‘tragic’ would describe Mark Waugh being out LBW first ball playing across the line. However, one could not have expected a ‘Waugh’ to have any knowledge of the proper use of the word. I like the work ‘obsessive’ to describe the sort of person who regards the 1921 tour as being an important issue, particularly the South African part of the journey.

Claire and I were ushered to our table which contained the usual lot of cricket devotees: some veteran cricketers, some cricket tourists (going to that Northern place soon) and a woman, who had an ear phone stuck in her ear, listening to the Swans Richmond game. The usual introductory speeches were made and Ashley Mallett rose to give the main speech. The Swans were in front and everyone on my table were enjoying themselves.

There is a splendid book, given to all the attendees, that has all the papers given throughout the conference. I would recommend it to all reading. I would particularly recommend reading Mallett’s paper because on the night he spun his paper out into a speech that lasted over an hour, which was a tad too long for a dinner presentation. However by the time he sat down, it was half time at the SCG and the Swans were well in front.

Greg Dyer proposed the votes of thanks and then David Wells arose and spoke on ‘Victor Trumper and the Bradman Museum’. The Tigers were mounting a challenge and Miss Ear Piece was looking worried.

Glen Gibson was next up. Glen is the fellow that collects film of early cricket. We saw the only footage of Trumper batting that exists today. All the dinner guests were transfixed as we watched Joe Darling leading his team out onto an English cricket field and the Tigers started their comeback. The Swans supporter, with the ear piece, was getting agitated. Having seen quite a bit of Glen’s marvellous collection of film over the last few years one thing in particular leaps out of the screen. The players of yesterday are a different shape when compared to today’s players.

Today all footy fans boo Adam Goodes. Left wing commentators say that this is more evidence of the inherent racism of all Australians. The cricket community is worried about the development of cricket bats. It seems every time I turn on the tele or look up cricinfo someone is complaining about the ease with which the modern player hits sixes. All blame the bats. Now the boundary ropes have come in and the bats are better today than even the bats used in the nineties. However, something not discussed is the physique of the modern batsman. Dave Warner would have stood out like a sore thumb in the Golden Age as his body shape shows the ‘no neck’ only seen in the modern professional athlete.

It has been well over forty years since an AFL footballer has looked like someone in the crowd. These modern footballers are unmistakable, physically. They stand out in a crowd, but this phenomenon, of an enormous increase in muscle mass and therefore power, has slipped past us cricket people.  Today’s players hit sixes because they are so much stronger. An example is Steve Smith hitting a spinner over mid-off with STRAIGHT ARMS. He does not need the extra speed that the whip of a bent, and then straightening elbow, needs. By the time Glen was thanked, and the redoubtable Mike Coward, another caught England bowled Australia gentleman, finished up the night it was a case of

 

“We’re from Tigerland, a fighting fury,

We’re from Tigerland,

You will see us with a grin, risking head and shin……..’

The action shifted to the old Members Stand at the SCG. There were thirteen papers given. The topics ranged from some speculation on who was his father, his business career, his cricket and his cricket style. Dr Bernard Whimpress was at his intellectual best, while Professor David Tiller gave a paper on the probable cause of Trumper’s terminal kidney disease. I do not intend to describe all the papers but two stood out for me.

 

The last paper was a heartfelt tribute by Rod Cavalier who is a Trumper obsessive but I was worried about Roger Page, who had the task to speak on ‘Trumper in Print’. The preceding speakers were using copious quotes from the different authors that have written on Trumper. I could not see that they had left anything for Roger to say.

But Roger has deft footwork, much like Trumper himself. Roger asked us to wonder how Trumper would be treated in the media, if Trumper played today, Ken Piesse would release a cheerful collection of Trumper stories around Christmas time. Roland Perry would be writing the sort of book that Roland Perry writes, an unauthorized biography. Gideon Haigh would write the definitive biography while a ghosted autobiography would come out every few years with titles like ‘Trumped, by Trumper’, or My Life in Cricket’.

 

Sunday was my favourite day. It started under the Trumper Stand at Chatswood Oval, where the Gordon DCC play. We visited two sites where Trumper lived, one in Chatswood and one in Paddington. An amusing story was recounted outside Trumper’s Paddington home. Some time ago, two of the participants of this seminar found out who lived at Trumper’s Paddington address. They rang the house, purporting to be the President and Secretary of the Victor Trumper Society. Not only did they get an invite to have a look around the house but they scored lunch as well.

 

We went to the Paddington Oval, an attractive ground, which nestles into a hill but the jewel in our weekend was our visit to the Waverley cemetery, the most picturesque cemetery I have seen. Trumper’s grave has been tended by a Cricket Society member for thirty years. Photos were taken and Rod Cavalier spoke a few words from the heart.

 

It had been such a wonderful weekend that no one wanted to leave but eventually it was back to North Sydney and a ferry ride around the harbour with Claire, before a plane trip Melbourne. The flight was made enjoyable by reading the “Life and Times of the Immortal Victor Trumper’, edited by Ron Cardwell.

 

Ring Ken Piesse or Roger Page to order your copy today.

 

Comments

  1. Dr Rocket says

    Great piece. I can find no mention of a visit to Trumper Park in Paddington…
    home of the University ot Technology footy team, but previously for many years, East Sydney.

    Trumper Park was the venue for many Sydney AFL grand finals, back in the day.

    Victor Trumper was one of the men behind the reformation of AFL in Sydney in 1903, and then the establishment of rugby league in 1907.

  2. E.regnans says

    Great stuff Phil.
    Victor Trumper’s name conjures mystique and daring and exquisite skill in my mind.
    I’d love to know more.

    Melbourne band The Lucksmiths included ‘Victor Trumper’ as a song title a while back. My kids sing along, and so his name lives on in song.
    Lyrics:
    I am bowling to Victor Trumper and the sun is shining
    And my shirt is white..,
    And this is the best day of my life…”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQBCeaCO7GM

  3. Phil Hill says

    The rugby part of Trumper’s life was covered during the seminar but in a short article it is hard to know what to include and what to leave out.

  4. Phil Hill says

    Trumper was also a very good Australian rules footballer

  5. Phil Hill says

    I have only just realised that the above is a link dooby thingo to the actual song. I would like to send it to a few people, the link thingo that is. How do I do it?

  6. E.regnans says

    G’day Phil –
    To send the YouTube link, click on the song title there “The Lucksmiths – Victor Trumper.”
    That will open up another page with a YouTube address. The page on which that song is stored.
    Copy the address of that page & paste it in your email.
    Should work.

    Ripper little song.
    “I feel like a boy who killed a dove…”

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