‘THE THREE-RING CIRCUS……..’

“They called him Yabba. He was as much a part of the game at the Sydney Cricket Ground between the wars as the players themselves.”

“As the SCG Hill’s own expert cricket commentator he added to the excitement, relieved the tension and was also the unofficial coach and mentor to the players.”

“A rabbit-hawker, he arrived at the game with his lunch and a couple of bottles of beer, but seldom drank more than that.”

“It was rare for him to miss a major match and he was a regular follower of Grade cricket. He knew the game intimately……..”

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For more than forty years Arthur Welch was Wangaratta’s ‘Yabba’.

He usually held court in the Hogan Stand at the Findlay Oval – home ground of his team, Rovers-United. He had been a fervent United man before a controversial merge in 1989/90, and joked that he ‘reluctantly’ took on the Rovers as part of the accompanying baggage.

He had time for all cricketers – provided they weren’t over-pretentious. The moment someone looked like they were getting a bit ahead of themselves, he felt compelled to bring them down to size with his acerbic tongue.

While Yabba hawked rabbits for a living, Arthur spent a fair bit of his working life flogging bread. His love affair with cricket began in his early days at Gapsted where he was, reportedly, a handy medium-pace trundler and a fair bat.

He was self-deprecating in his assessment of his ability, though, claiming that he often got a game because he was reliable and the selectors knew he would turn up.

His family was steeped in cricketing tradition and he passed it on to his two sons. The Welch’s Scott Street residence became a meeting-place for the neighbourhood kids, who would regularly indulge in fair-dinkum games on a makeshift pitch in the backyard.

Arthur saw his boys blossom into outstanding players.

Both appeared in District cricket – John with Fitzroy and Geoff at North Melbourne – and became local legends. Three of his grandsons, Darren, Mark and Shane had the distinction of scoring District centuries.

Shane was just making his way in the WDCA when I penned an observation of his pa’s week-end ritual:

 

“………..With grandson Shane opening the batting, he was an early arrival at the City Oval. Two balls into the innings he went for his first stroll around the bank.”

A quarter of an hour later and having (with Shane) survived those testing early overs, he is willing to confer with a few spectators who dot the grassy surrounds.

But his concentration does not waver. A sit down and a yarn with someone else, then a quick check with the scorers is followed by another semi-circuit of the ground.

Early in the season Shane played what Arthur reckoned was his best innings – a solid 126 against Rutherglen – and it pleased him no end.

He ‘s been in the habit of dipping into his pocket and giving the lad a little ‘bonus’ for 50’s and what have you, but joked it would probably have to stop.

“He’ll break me if he keeps this up,” he said, and then followed his trademark belly-laugh………..

 

You’d never hear Arthur spruiking about the boys, even though he followed them through thick and thin and was secretly proud of their successes.

However, if he overheard an outsider utter a negative jibe about one of his clan – or indeed anyone from Rovers-United – his temperature levels would rise and you knew that a barbed retort was on its way.

He probably mellowed as he entered his seventies and was not quite as vociferous as he had been in bygone days. But his comments could be just as sharp when the occasion demanded.

Like the day a supporter shiacked his grandson for dropping a catch, suggesting he should get a bag: “If I had a bag big enough, I’d shove it over your bloody img_2763head……….” was the Welch response.

It gave him particular pleasure to see any youngster doing well. Additionally, he could find all sorts of reasons to explain away a young fellah’s run of bad luck.

Provided they were boring in and trying their best, he would stick up for them and demand that their progress not be stifled by some old bloke who wouldn’t step aside.

Arthur delighted in taking the ‘mickey’ out of people, particularly those who tended to treat things a little too seriously.

Just when someone was about to take offence, he’d burst into laughter. Those around him couldn’t help but share in the good-natured humour that he engendered.

He thrived on the cricket environment and enjoyed a chin-wag with anyone. It might have been a pompous official about to be cut down to size, one of his old mates copping a ‘stir’, or a young kid with whom he shared a joke, as the lad asked him to mend his bat:

“See the crack at the bottom of the blade, Arthur, what do you think ?”

“I’ll have a look at it for you, but I can’t promise anything,”………… But he never failed.

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In latter years he linked up with a couple of side-kicks – Joe Pilkington and Ken Stewart – who formed an unlikely triumvirate that followed local and rep matches everywhere.

Each was opiniated and outspoken – but knew their cricket and in the course of an afternoon, tended to dissect every aspect of the game.img_2762

They usually cracked their first can after the opening overs had been negotiated and, with three or four VB’s under their belt, their tonsils were sufficiently lubricated to launch into an array of topics.

They provided a  side-show of sorts for those nearby, as the conversations would diverge to the poor form of the Test team, the ineptness of the local Council, politics, why more players didn’t make themselves available for Country Week, the latest footy rumours, and disputing the facts of Joe’s latest story.

The three were the best of friends, but Arthur and Joe mercilessly ripped into one another.img_2760

Arthur once said: ” According to Joe, he was an outright champion at most things. He liked to mix with the hierarchy and he let you know about it. He attended Xavier College and boasted he knew everyone who was worth knowing. We were all a wake up to him and caught him out a few times….”

If Joe drifted off to yap to an unknown newcomer, the sledge upon his return would be : “……Found someone more important than us to talk to, did ya ?”

Ken, a retired cockie, renowned swing bowler and Tarrawingee legend, was the straight-man and would be often taken to task for his tardiness in arriving at matches.

They often claimed he would ‘go to the opening of an envelope’.img_2764

“Where’s the old bastard today. Probably taken Ivy to the Daffodil Show,” was one such theory.

 

But when he did front, he’d be advised that it was his ‘shout’, which he promptly did, then proceed to engage in the conversation as if he hadn’t missed a beat……….

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‘Wheat and Woolies’, as  Ken was nicknamed, was the first of the trio to depart the scene. “He’ll be chewing someone’s ear up there….” Arthur muttered to his mate at the send-off.

Joe was next to go. And when Arthur passed away three or four years later, Wangaratta cricket had lost the remaining member of its ‘Three-Ring-Circus’……

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