A change of pace that might take you away from floodlit pajama cricket, powerplays, slogs, Spidercam, Duckworth-Lewis rules and all the shebang T20 cricket throws at you lies a sleepy town 120km south of Sydney. It is called Bowral. Don Bradman still lives here.
A quaint habitat of around 12,000 people living in brick and timber houses with deep yards and barbecues, with roads wide enough to play an afternoon game of cricket, Bowral in 2022 is not much different from 1922. Even changing trains. — from a modern double-decker interurban to a steam-powered two-coach version — is like a trip back in time to Bradman’s childhood.
Nature sang alongside the railroad as it wound its way over hills, through rivers and streams, through tunnels, past horse factories, race tracks, and cities large and small. Bowral is not a village either. Featuring a Town Hall, several churches, and late 19th-century federal houses, it has attracted several high-end restaurant businesses and entrepreneurs who are redeveloping the area around the small train station into a small business district.
To connect with Bradman, you have to leave that glow behind and find your way through the winding paths towards the hill. Fifteen minutes from the station, around St. Jude’s Street, you’ll see the greenery. You have reached the Bradman Oval. Around this imposing white-walled center are two of Bradman’s houses.
At 52 Shepherd Street, Bradman’s House was located from 1911 to 1924. The other, at 20 Glebe Street, is the house Bradman helped his father build and lived in between 1924 and 1928 before moving to Sydney. Overlooking Bradman Oval, this residence evokes memories of CLR James’ home in Tuna Puna and the window from which his first memories of cricket in the Caribbean emerged. Standing on the gravel road, you can imagine Bradman leaving his house, crossing the road and entering what used to be Glebe Park.
Bordered by massive trees, grassy banks, benches and a small picket gate, the Oval takes you back in time. A small pavilion that opens onto a stand for about 50 spectators blends easily with the ground. It is no exaggeration to call the oval picture perfect. Behind it is the Bradman Museum and the International Cricket Hall of Fame. For a cricket nut, the halls, the Ashes and the man himself take a long time to explain the indigenous roots of cricket in Australia. The uninitiated, well-curated galleries and videos provide a good insight into the origins of cricket, its current status and the significance of the Kerry Packer series.
The Bradman Walk takes you through this loop around the Oval to museums, galleries and paths to his homes. The halls detailing Bradman’s life and work contain some of the most amazing memorabilia. Black-and-white footage of Bradman’s interviews, clips of “How I Play Cricket” — one of the Bradman documentaries — are looped on old televisions and screens from thoughtful sources. Another highlights the Bodyline drama and how it affected Bradman’s Test average. From the walls, Jardine, Ranjitsinhji, V.G. Grace and Victor Trumper stare at you as the mind tries to record Bradman’s correspondence, his first bat, his Buggy Green and his tattered gloves.
At 52 Shepherd Street, Bradman hit a golf ball from a cricket stump into the bottom of a tank. The museum also has a replica of that putt and golf ball. But the most striking work is the corner of the dressing room, where the cricketer sits, tired and dejected, burying his face in his hands. You immediately remember how Steve Smith was photographed sitting next to this man. Hats and coats, if you sit on this chair, hang on the hooks installed on the head, and you can see the boots sticking out from underneath. Nothing will take you back in time more than these lifetime memories.
Bowral, however, is not just about the museum, the memorabilia or the Bradman Walk. History speaks to you, silently telling the story of a boy who made his first hundred years here at the age of 10 before sailing the seas and conquering different frontiers. The ground, its houses and museum, the sculpture called ‘The Last Salute’ installed in the entrance pavilion after his death, all serve as reminders that this is Bradman ground. He lives here now and forever.