My tour of Australia earlier this year covering the Indian team’s eventful trip was nearing an end and a sense of dissatisfaction was getting stronger with each passing day. I was not getting any time to visit Bowral, the place synonymous with Don Bradman. I was too consumed by cricket and the drama around it.
Before coming to Australia, I knew Bradman was a huge figure and after landing there, saw many signs of that. Yet, I didn’t know that he wasn’t exactly a god and that the air of reverence had thinned with time. People say though famous, he wasn’t a popular man and that his frequent complaints over noise from children at a nearby school made him an unfriendly neighbour. It was distinctly different from India, where I am used to seeing men of big stature being deified.
This made my urge to visit Bowral stronger and the mounting excitement didn’t let me sleep the previous night. It’s about 125 km from Sydney by road and I and a few other journalists decided to leave early in the morning.
Caught in a time warp
Bowral was an unbelievable change after jetting across the metros. Having lived a hotel-stadium-hotel life for about 50 days amid high-rises and flyovers, this hamlet full of trees, open space and empty roads was a paradigm shift. The history attached to it made the feeling different. It was quiet, with no building jutting into the skyline, and it seemed in Bowral time stood still, cast in the early 20th century mould.
Bradman’s parents came here in 1911. The ownership of the house they lived in for 13 years has changed, not its structure. Like most constructions in this sleepy town, this is a single-storeyed house partly under the shadow of an oak tree. His subsequent residence in this place, his school, the Bowral Oval now named after him where he scored his early runs and the museum are all in the immediate vicinity.
The ‘Boy from Bowral’ is more than a legend here. It’s because of him that despite being a small town it occupies a special place on the world’s cricket map; the economy of this place is boosted by tourists, who number up to 50,000 per year; cricket’s biggest name is part of its past, present and future.
The Bradman Museum was built in 1996, well before his death. You may feel disappointed if you are looking only for objects used by the little big man. The State Library in Adelaide has a collection on display including the bat used during his first Test century, many more bats, pads, gloves, caps, blazers, jumpers and other things like his typewriter, cassette recorder etc.
A sense of the Don
That way, you don’t see as many things used by Bradman in Bowral, but in an intangible way, this place is about him. This doesn’t have to be said or heard. It’s just that you feel it, specially if you are walking by the Bradman Oval or standing by the Sir Donald and Lady Bradman Garden. Sitting on one of the wooden benches and staring at the ground, you can feel this sense getting stronger.
Bradman met Jessie in Bowral when both were below 10. When she passed away in 1997, she was cremated and her ashes scattered over the ground. Four years later, the same thing happened to Bradman. United again after death, this love story completes the trip to a place where cricket’s most talked about journey began. Bowral is not just about a museum and objects confined within its walls. You have to soak in that Bradman atmosphere as you make your way through the houses he lived in, the roads he walked on, the ground he played in, the air he breathes. Then you realise that the whole place is a museum. Bradman didn’t live here. He lives here.