Miss Schumack, my Year 6 teacher at Bowral Primary School, was my favourite teacher of all time. I used to hang off her every word. Actually that should be nearly every word, for between 12.50pm and 1pm I'd often tune-out while mentally counting down the minutes until the bell rang for lunch.
For me it wasn't the prospect of a Sunny-Boy iced drink (why were they tetrahedral-shaped?) or a packet of Samboy Salt and Vinegar chips from the tuck shop. No, as soon as the bell sounded, I'd grab my Gray-Nicolls cricket bat stashed under my chair and run across the road to the paddock behind the Church of England.
Sure our school had a playground, but the headmaster had an arrangement with the church whereby Year 6 kids could play (under teacher supervision) in the church grounds, where there was much more open space and most importantly for your then 12-year-old columnist and his cricket-mad mates, a concrete pitch.
Now this wasn't any old cricket pitch. It was laid way back in 1892 and according to local folklore Sir Donald Bradman, the "Boy from Bowral", played on it when at school in the 1910s. Back in The Don's day, once you were in, you batted until you got out. Needless to say stories abound of young Donald batting through every lunch for a whole term before being dismissed. Either that or the bowlers simply gave up.
I recently made a pilgrimage back to Bowral, to check the status of the 129-year-old concrete strip, which although closed to the public (and school) since 2014, is still there, albeit hidden among long grass. Gee, talk about a slow outfield.
Last year it almost succumbed to a residential development proposal, which was knocked back due to drainage issues. But in handing down his decision, the commissioner for the NSW Land and Environment Court also highlighted the "historical significance" of the pitch. Phew!
While a cricket pitch where the world's best honed his trade is an extreme example, it's surprising that for a nation that prides itself on sporting achievements, just how many of our fields have disappeared over time. Some due to ever-encroaching development, others simply forgotten.
Along with cricket fields, in the late 19th and early 20th century, tennis courts were the corner-stone of Australian bush communities. They weren't only a place for serves and volleys, but were also a cherished venue for social gatherings.
Among Canberra's many "ghost courts" are the remnants of a tennis court on the Birrigai Time Trail at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve. The court's hey-day was between the two world wars. Today after decades of neglect, but for an interpretative sign, you'd never guess it was once a popular social sporting and meeting place.
Meanwhile, one of our region's more visible sporting "ruins" can be glimpsed on the drive to Sydney. Near the intersection of Collector Road and the Federal Highway is the Bushranger Reserve, which contains relics of the Collector Racecourse and sportsfield dating back to the mid-late 1800s. The dilapidated remains of the wooden canteen-cum-clubhouse are the most conspicuous, but if you look closely you can also spot the old wooden grandstands.
Are there sporting ruins in your suburb?
Howzat for a trophy!
Last year, your cricket-crazed columnist pre-empted the opening of Fooling Around in Flannels: Cricket on the Limestone Plains at the Hall School Museum & Heritage Centre (Howzat for a surprising find, July 4)
COVID-19 restrictions have delayed the official opening of the exhibition until next week (April 11), but I was lucky to have a sneak peek a few days ago.
While there is much on display to entice both the history buff and cricket aficionado, two exhibits really caught my eye. One is a captivating photo of a Tharwa women's team of 1899 and the other a most unusual trophy.
Many think of the emergence of women's cricket alongside the men in the past decade or two, not to mention the national team, winning the T20 World Cup in Melbourne last year. However, women's cricket was popular well over a century ago. Sure the rules were initially modified radically from standard cricket (such as tennis balls were used instead of six stitchers and a run awarded for just making contact with the ball), but one form of the game that began in Rockley near Bathurst involved several competitive teams from the present-day Canberra region.
"Built around the De Salis girls of Cuppacumbalong, Tharwa was the team to beat," reports Nick Swain who co-curated the exhibition with Allen Mawer. "This variant of the game eventually faded in our region, but was still being played in some parts of NSW in the 1940s."
Now to that trophy. Take a close look at the photo of the McDougal Cup, the prize for a 1940s Canberra inter-departmental cricket competition. At first glance it looks like a fairly standard trophy. Now, look more closely at the shape of the "cup".
Yes, that's right, it's actually a chamber pot dressed-up with some fancy wire and engravings.
According to Nick, "the cup was named after T.E. Spencer's poem How McDougall topped the score. McDougall, batting no. 11, went to the wicket with 50 to win. He ran 50 when his dog ran off with the ball before the fieldsmen could retrieve it."
I wonder if the winners drank a victory toast from it?
The exhibition will be on show 9am-noon on Thursdays and noon-4pm on Sundays from April 11 until October 31 (entry by donation).
More information has come to light regarding the infamous fresh water spring at Rock Flat near Cooma.
While best known for Koomah Spa branded mineral water, which was shipped around Australia and the world in the early 1900s, it's no surprise that the spring was a special place for the first people of the area. Erosion from floods in 1991 exposed two burials dated to at least 7000 years ago.
"It was definitely an important place for the Aboriginal people," reports award-winning author John Blay who in his recent book Wild Nature: Walking Australia's South East Forests (NewSouth Publishing, 2020), describes how the Aboriginal elder Guboo Ted Thomas (1909-2002) of the Wallaga Lake Gumleaf Band (the first to ceremonially cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge) used to walk along the traditional route of their ancestors from the south coast to Cooma to play at the Cooma Show.
"When performing in Cooma, Ted told me they only ever stayed at Rock Flat as was traditional custom, and walked into Cooma each day," John says.
It also turns out that Rock Flat isn't the only spring in the area. An article in The World's News of April 30, 1955, mentions another nearby spring on the Numeralla River, where there was "a natural soda spring which was popular with the few people who knew of its existence".
"Not only was the mineral water that flowed from this spring delightful to drink ... but many cattle and native animals come to this spring to lick the mass of soda on the rock. Some of the settlers and passing swagmen gathered quantities of the soda and used it for making damper and johnny cakes."
Meanwhile, The Sydney Morning Herald of December 20 1952 reports that there was yet "another similar spring at Cambalong near Bombala, but this is well off the beaten track and few people sample it."
Has anyone got an original Koomah Spa bottle? I wonder what they're worth.
WHERE IN THE REGION
Clue: Supposedly haunted
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Peter Harris, of Latham, who was the first reader to correctly identify last week's photo as the Captains Flat Railway Station (closed in 1968). Peter just beat Ross Hiew, of Forrest, Ian McKenzie, of Fisher, and Chris Ryan, of Kirrawee, to the prize. "The curved island platform with separately sited building is a quite unusual identifying aspect," reports Roger Shelton, of Spence.
Meanwhile, Maggie Shanahan of "The Flat", attests "it's a great place for Sunday walks with various grandchildren in tow".
"The entire area including the turntable and the weigh bridge is fascinating. The amenities at the station were clearly pretty basic and sadly the place has deteriorated over the last few years," she adds.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to email@example.com The first email sent after 10am, Saturday April 3, 2021, wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema.
One of best aspects of exploring our region in autumn is the poplar trees, which stand out among native vegetation like giant yellow exclamation marks in the landscape. If you've recently noticed some stands aren't exhibiting their normal early autumn splendour, you are not alone.
According to Ken Helm, of Murrumbateman, the reason for the colour-challenged trees is that some are infected with a type of pathogen fungus known as poplar rust (Melampsora sp).
"The last time I saw it was back in the 1980s when I was at CSIRO," Ken reports. "The rust was accidentally introduced from Europe in the 1970s."
Ken attributes the outbreak in rust to the wet and humid weather, but is quick to add, "thankfully it won't kill the trees".
Did you know: A rust outbreak in a poplar plantation in Tumut in the late 1970s sent many smokers into a spin. "The plantation was used to produce matches and people were worried the trees would die and as a result they would be unable able to light their stoves, pipes and cigarettes," Ken recalls.