‘GREAT CRICKETER…………..ORDINARY SPORT……’

His portrait hangs in a position of prominence in Wangaratta’s cricket headquarters.

It’s the classic stance of a right-hand batsman – upright, comfortable, with a glint in his eye. The look of defiance is seemingly inviting the bowler to ”bring it on – if you’re good enough”.

He was the scourge of all opponents, this gnarled, crusty codger, who was an unforgettable character and a mainstay of local cricket for over 50 years.

Many adjectives were applied to Clem Fisher by opponents whom he rankled, including : ‘shocking sport’, ‘tough as nails’, ‘stubborn’ and ‘pig-headed’.

He knew, for instance, how to get under the skin of my father, who waged war with him on the field for a couple of decades. Dad once overheard him make a snide comment, something like – “they can’t handle the pressure, those Hills” – and never forgot it.

He would ‘up the ante’ when Clem strolled to the crease, and invariably grab the ball himself, in an endeavour to ‘get rid of the bastard’.

Yet, like everyone, he was full of admiration for the contribution that ‘Old Clem’ made to the game, and for the ‘father-figure’ he became to young players when he finally hung up his boots……….

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Clement Roberts William Fisher was born in 1905. His idol was his father, John, who once took 10 wickets in an innings for Whorouly, and played for 53 years.

The Fisher boys were tutored on a concrete wicket at the family property, ‘Glen’, at East Wangaratta. Clem played his early cricket with Tarrawingee, and later, with Everton-based Brookfield, alongside his cousins, the Kneebones.

With an enthusiastic old man and an uncle, Eugene Kneebone, who detested losing, it was no wonder the young bloke developed a competitive streak which was almost beyond compare.

Brookfield transferred from the O & K to the WDCA in 1926/27 and the three Fisher brothers combined with the Kneebone family to make up the team.

Clem was a noted all-rounder. He bowled with plenty of aggression and, with bat in hand, produced a resolute defence and a good range of shots.

In the style of a true opener, he loved taking up the challenge to the quickies, and it was in this role that he was to become renowned.

His first trip to Country Week produced successive knocks of 61 and 91. He relished the good Melbourne wickets and would become a key figure in the famous Wangaratta sides of the 1930’s.

The Fishers formed a new team, East Wangaratta, in 1928 and played their home games on a ground shaped on the family property.

They immediately became a power, partly because they recruited vigorously, with some of Wangaratta’s stars joining their ranks.

East Wang edged past Wangaratta to win an exciting Grand Final by one wicket, in 1928/29. They repeated the dose the following year, prompting Clem to boast that East was capable of defeating a team comprising the rest of Wangaratta.

The challenge, issued through the ‘Chronicle’ prompted an outcry from many cricket ‘officianados’, including his old antagonist, Tom Nolan, who despised the ‘arrogant’ tone of the letter.

Clem further fuelled the fires with another outburst, saying in part that: “…….the challenge was issued in friendly spirit. The Wang chaps are good cricketers as long as they are winning. But when they strike top opposition they drop their bundles……”

He had to eat his words, as East were well beaten in the keenly-anticipated match-up.

Widely regarded as the district’s best all-rounder, Clem guided his club to another flag in 1931/32.

In the semi-final the following year, he clubbed a dashing 127 before being run out. But, as the game wore on, Wangaratta gained the upper hand and needed a manageable 123 to win.

The ‘Chronicle’ reported that “……..they faced hard going against the bowling of Clem and Clyde Fisher. The former gave the batsmen little chance to score, most balls being of the Larwood variety, and bouncing over the heads of the ducking batsmen. Time was called with 4 down for 105.”

“Just how far players can go is a matter for cricket regulations. Spectators gave unceasing barracking to East Wangaratta. In two hours only 20 overs were bowled.”

Wangaratta protested and East Wang were suspended for the rest of the season.

The opening partnership that Fisher formed with Alec Fraser served Wangaratta admirably in representative cricket.

Although opposites in personality and batting technique, they melded perfectly at the crease and the runs usually came in a flood.

Their 304-run partnership against Yallourn-Traralgon in 1934 remains a Country Week record. On another occasion, in 1937, they flayed the Wimmera attack with an unbroken 250-run stand.

Wangaratta won three Country Week titles during the golden ’30’s, with a side which played hard and celebrated keenly – winning 30, drawing 3 and losing just 6 of its matches in the decade.

People were busily picking up the threads of day-to-day life at the cessation of World War II, and cricket was not a high priority. For Fisher, though, it was at the top of his list.

The WDCA was slow to start, and eventually cranked up in late 1946, with Clem at the helm.

His forthright manner no doubt alienated a few and he wouldn’t have been much of a help in patching up the testy WDCA – Social cricket relationship, which was simmering at the time.

But his love of the game was contagious and he was a hands-on President for four years. He was a valuable consultant to clubs who were installing turf pitches in the early 50’s and kept a watchful eye on their development.

Although Clem’s Country Week playing days had drawn to a close, he continued to make the trip as manager. As guardian of a playful group, he was bestowed with the nickname ‘Pimp’ for his vain efforts in trying to curb their nocturnal activities.

He did heaps of behind-the-scenes work to help secure the visit of Peter May’s Englishmen in 1959. Besides his sundry other duties he produced a ‘pearler’ of a wicket. It was no fault of his that the ‘Poms’ spoilt the party by routing the Country XI for just 32.

He resumed the WDCA presidency in 1964, succeeding Alf Kendall, a prim-and-proper Englishman, who liked to see cricket function according to the text-book.

Fisher was rough and ready, his bush upbringing prompting him to bend a few rules and call a ‘spade a bloody shovel’.

He had not long retired from playing, aged 57, and was still the Showgrounds curator, but for the next 10 years slipped easily into his role as the ‘elder statesman’ of local cricket and president of both the Wangaratta and North-East associations. He was a key figure in luring the West Indies to the Showgrounds in 1969.

But appreciated just as keenly was his attendance at the WDCA matches every Saturday.

Like clockwork, his green Chev would chug into the ground and Clem would alight, smoke in hand, to survey the proceedings.

He had excellent rapport with the younger players and would delight in conversing over a few beers after stumps. The boys joked that he would climb into the old ‘chariot’ late at night, turn it onto automatic pilot and it would miraculously find its way back home to East Wangaratta.

What wasn’t so funny was the unwitting part he played in the 1967 Provincial Country Week Final.

Wangaratta was chasing a formidable Euroa target and had got away to a reasonable start on duck-opening eve.

Clem was absorbed in the game, but was distracted by the shuddering realisation that he’d run out of cartridges.

What to do ? His first thought was to conscript lower-order batsman Billy Fitzgerald to chauffeur him into ‘town’ to pick up fresh supplies.

Delayed in heavy traffic, they arrived back much later than expected, to the news that the game was over. Wangaratta had lost a succession of quick wickets, and ‘Fitzy’ was also out – Absent (0) !

Clem Fisher died in 1978, but every so often his name crops up when old-timers yarn about the legends of the game.

The tales about Wangaratta’s ‘Mr.Cricket’ could fill a book………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FATHER-TIME NAILS ANOTHER SPORTING ICON.

Another local icon has been cast onto the sporting scrap-heap.

I called in to pay my last respects the other day. Just as you would stumble across the uncared-for funeral plot of a long-lost relative, it looked dishevelled and unloved ; hardly bearing testimony to the  good times it had enjoyed throughout its 69 years.

The Bruck Cricket Ground is no more. The kindest description of its demise would be that it’s a victim of progress.

You could hardly define the old girl as an Oval ; more like a gently sloping paddock with a ring of trees skirting its perimeter. In fact it was the trees, of various denominations, which gave the ground its character.

I looked across from the now-dilapidated pavilion and had visions of a scorching summer’s day, the last of the spring grass having dried, when a sedately-played shot, or a tentative nick, would scoot past the slips cordon and gather pace as it ran down the hill, towards the boundary……..

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Bruck Textiles set up in Wangaratta in 1946, just in time for the re-formation of the WDCA after the hostilities of war.IMG_0820

There were a couple of keen cricketers among the newcomers, including a suave, moustachioed, Managing Director, Stanley Messenger Arms, who agreed that it would be an excellent idea to have a team comprised of Bruck workers, playing in the local comp.

That’s when the real estate was set aside for a new ground.

Stan Arms was a cricketer of modest talent, but a man of influence, and had a genuine love of the game. In time he acceded to the Presidency of the Association and ensured that the town’s most prominent industry provide the funds to keep their cricket team viable.

The turf pitch was laid in 1952 and a state-of-the-art ride-on roller was on hand for the curator, who received a healthy stipend from the company.

And when the tidy little English village-style ‘dressing room /afternoon-tea room’ was installed, it was named the S.M.Arms Pavilion.

Alongside it was a small white construction on stilts, with louvred pull-down shutters, which housed the scorers.

This was the domain of Bruck’s scorer – Mrs.Beeby – who reigned supreme. Her lilting Pommie voice would lift a few decibels if the opposition scorer had the temerity to infer that her books mightn’t balance.

Come to think of it, scorers in those days provided something of a side-show to the action on the field. There were a few dominant personalities wielding the pen and they weren’t short of offering advice on field alterations and bowling changes, in robust language, to their team’s skipper.

Mrs. Beeby was no exception.

Her son Jack was naturally her favourite player. Short, and of stocky build, he worked up a decent head of steam and always operated from the Highway-end at Bruck. On a good day he could be quite fearsome.

Long strands ofIMG_0821 hair were combed over Jack’s balding pate. They would flop around as he charged in to the wicket and be re-arranged on the return to his bowling mark.

Max Bussell, who achieved hero status when he took 8/23 in a Country Week final against Shepparton in 1954, claimed that it was Beeby, operating from the other end, who set up the carnage.

He reckoned that Jack’s spell that day was the quickest he ever saw at Country Week.

Bob Hutchieson, now 91, was a member of the inaugural, post-war team and thinks he is the only survivor. He can remember the excitement when Bruck clinched  its first WDCA premiership in 1953/54. A capable all-rounder, Bob played his part, but says it was a masterful, unbeaten 135 from Mac Holten that guided them home.

Holten, Wangaratta’s highest-profile sportsman at the time, was appointed ‘Sporting Director’ by the textile company. The main specifics of that role would have been to coach the cricket team – and make plenty of runs.

He also kept an eye on Rayonaires, another Bruck team, which was  formed in 1954 but disbanded four years later. ( Incidentally, Rayonaires was also the name of the Mill baseball team that played at the ground for several years.)

Bruck had a few influential officials, who formed the power-base of local cricket in the fifties. Chief among these was Alf Kendall, a tall, statesman-like Englishman, who succeeded his boss Stan Arms as WDCA President.

Alf had been one of the originals of the Bruck team and was a starchy, conformist type who sometimes clashed with some of the more free-wheeling blokes from other teams.

He had a love-hate relationship with Wangaratta’s ‘Mr.Cricket’ Clem Fisher, and it came to a head when heavy rain fell over the Labour Day week-end of 1958.

The WDCA elected to transfer the second day’s play of the semi-finals to concrete pitches. Fisher accused Kendall of helping to engineer the venue-change so that Bruck wouldn’t lose the chance of entering the final.

Kendall and Secretary Bernie Morris ( also a Bruck man) were indignant, claiming that Fisher’s remarks were a ‘despicable insult’.

The club’s second flag came in 1962/63 under the coaching of Graeme Leydin, who had been poached from Rovers. Leydin, a former North Melbourne cricketer and Essendon footballer, enjoyed a memorable season with the bat.

But, as the years wore on there were to be more downs than ups, as player-interest dwindled and the input of the parent company lessened.

It led to their withdrawal from the WDCA for a while, and left the Bruck Sunday Association team as the sole occupier of the Ground.

After their re-formation in 1978/79 the club returned as a power in the eighties. They snavelled another flag in 1983/84, with players of the calibre of Russell Wood, Brian Fisher, Doug Cruickshank and Ian Dinsdale forming their nucleus.

‘Deano’ undoubtedly played more innings on the Bruck wicket than anyone else. A prolific accumulator of runs, with an almost impenetrable defence and a bat that sometimes resembled a barn door, he has spanned four decades and still soldiers on.

The modern era saw the club chalk up five flags in thirteen years and boasted an assembly-line of stars, such as Jon Hyde, Mark Higgs, Jeremy Wilson, Tim Wood, Craig Startin and the inimitable Darren Petersen.

The Bruck ground played host to just the one WDCA Final in its long history – the 1991/92 encounter between Corowa and College.

College, the underdog and sentimental favourite, did well to compile 284 on the first day. But that evening vandals scaled the high-wire fence and took to the wicket with hammers.

Despite misgivings about the state of the ‘track’, play eventually proceeded with minimal discomfort. In a match which produced 883 runs, the highlight was the twin knocks of 153 and 59* from Anthony ‘Psycho’ Carroll, who guided Corowa to their fifth straight flag.

Ah, the memories !……

I can recall play being halted for what seemed like five minutes ( but was probably only a minute and a half) every time a goods train would chuff past and interrupt the batsman’s eye-line……

And another indeterminate delay when you’d have to retrieve a ball which had been belted over the wire fence, into the pile of briquettes……

It could be a batsman’s paradise, as the stylist, Graeme Leydin, proved when he scored a double-century against Combined Schools in 1963…..

Or when Whorouly’s punishing right-hander Ian Nicoll ( later to play on a wing for Carlton ) scored 205* and helped put on 302 for the fifth-wicket with his uncle Lex, in the final round of 1964/65…..

I suppose if I was to portray a snapshot of cricket at Bruck through the ages it would be of that indefatigable, misIMG_0822erly medium-pacer Brian Fisher trundling up the mound from the Sisely Avenue end and attempting to penetrate the defence of the dour, the ‘unbowlable’ , Ian Dinsdale.

Would that be enough to stir the ghosts camped under the shade of the old peppercorn trees ?……….IMG_0823