Bowral's most famous son is undoubtedly cricket legend Sir Donald Bradman, one of the greatest batsman ever to play. An outline of his years spent locally follows here, along with a history of Bowral's Bradman Oval that perpetuates his fame.
On October 14, 1989, almost 30 years ago, the Bradman Pavilion was opened by John Fahey MP in the presence of Sir Donald and Lady Bradman. The new building, to house club rooms and a cricket museum, was an initiative of the Bradman Trust, a community-based organisation led by local lawyer Garry Barnsley. Today the now-titled Bradman Foundation runs the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame.
Bradman Oval is on land that formed part of Governor Brisbane's grant in 1823 of 2,400 acres to John Oxley, the surveyor, explorer and businessman, which was passed on to the Oxley family with further portions. In 1859 Oxley's son, John Norton Oxley, subdivided 200 acres for a township at Bowral and granted a 43-acre portion to the Bishop of Sydney for the use of the United Church of England and Ireland. This area, being church land, was noted as a 'Glebe'.
The Glebe was first associated with cricket on September 26, 1891, when, as advised in the Bowral Free Press, "a match will be played on the Association wicket in the Glebe paddock". The Bowral team played Marulan.
In 1909, Bowral Council leased 24 acres of the Glebe from the church for a public sport and recreation park. Mayor HM Oxley officially opened Glebe Park on February 26, preceded by a cricket match 'Aldermen v Town' which caused much amusement. In 1922, assisted by the town's football and cricket clubs, the council undertook improvements to Glebe Park, including tree removal and the laying of a concrete cricket pitch. Nearby lived the young Don Bradman.
Donald Bradman was born at Cootamundra in 1908, the youngest son of George and Emily Bradman, who raised two sons and three daughters. Don was just two and a half years old when, in 1911, his parents moved from their farm to Bowral, taking up residence at 52 Shepherd Street, a cottage just one street from the Glebe.
In her book 'Pictorial History Southern Highlands', Linda Emery writes that Don's father worked as a carpenter and fencing contractor for Alf Stephens, the foremost builder in the Southern Highlands. Alf was also captain of the Bowral Cricket Club. George Bradman soon became a member of the team. Don's older brother Victor and two uncles also played for the team, so from an early age Don was immersed in the game.
Don attended Bowral Public School, just a short walk from the family home. At the age of 12 he was chosen to play in the senior school cricket team. A natural sportsman, Don played rugby, tennis and cricket and participated in competition athletics. It was at this time that he met Jessie Menzies who had come to board at the Bradman home so she could attend school. Don apparently decided that this was the girl for him, and 10 years later they were married. In 1924 the family moved to a new brick house built by George in Glebe Street, directly across from the Glebe.
At his Shepherd Street home, as noted on the Bradman Foundation website, Don developed a solitary game where he would repeatedly hit a golf ball with a cricket stump against the curved brick base of the family water tank. Using the house wall as one boundary he managed to construct 'Test' matches in his head where he as the batsman would pit himself against unpredictable balls 'delivered' by the tank stand.
The Berrima District Historical Society's collection includes written anecdotal recollections of residents who lived near Glebe Park at the time. One states that the young Don played cricket on a vacant block behind the family's Shepherd Street home and also played with other youngsters on paths that crossed the Glebe paddock. Once in his teens, Don was more often seen at Centennial Oval, it being the home ground for Bowral School's senior cricket team.
Recollections provided by Alf Stephens include that in 1920 the Bowral Cricket Club sent the 12 year-old Don in to bat when left short a player. A bat was cut down in the Stephens' joinery shop to suit the lad's size and he continued with the club until joining Sydney's St George Club in the mid-1920s.
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