The cricket pitch was mowed on a part of our property, because we had the largest place in the area. My brother and I would mow the back part of the property by hand, and the 22 yards in the middle just a little bit closer to the ground than the other grass.
The boundaries would be the fence along the creek on the off-side, the blackberry brambles on the on side, and the back-street fence which was long over the bowler’s head. The “wickey” was the fence behind the batter’s end. This barrier fenced off either a vegetable garden, or a duck yard. It changed as we grew up. If you nicked it and it went on the full into the fence, you were out. The creek side fence was six and out, the other two sides were not out, but you had to help find the ball if it got lost.
The back streets made up of two cross cul-de-sac streets which were a new development after the Fergusons sold their paddocks and the houses built. Immigrants were amongst the people who occupied the new houses there. The kids of the neighbourhood were diverse in nationalities which included Scottish, Maltese, and Sri Lankan.
Cricket in our back yard was one which united the kids of the neighbourhood. It didn’t matter where you came from, or how old you were, as long as you could catch a ball or hold a bat, you were welcome. On a Sunday afternoon, the men of the neighbourhood would put down their beers and join us. Being a little under the weather, they were the source of laughter and mirth as one father would try to bowl, with a cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth falling as he released the ball, which then went bouncing in the general direction of the wickets. It was great to be in bat at that time, as the balls were dispatched to various corners of the ground. The challenge was to lose the ball long enough for the men to regather their beers and retire to one or other of the garages, leaving us kids to get on with our game.
Derek was a good batsman. He was built like David Boon; very solid with wide shoulders. He and his brother Clifford who was lanky and thin, were Sri Lankan and always envied for their skills with the bat or ball. Jamie was the eldest of the Scottish kids. He was the same age as my younger brother and came with his own pads in Summer, or with his own football during the Winter when the pitch was transformed to a footy pitch of many codes. Jamie was fearless and would not hesitate to jump the fence to follow the ball down the creek, or chase it into the blackberries, not fearing the thorns as they scratched his legs.
The game was often called off after someone looking for the ball amongst the blackberries came across a snake, or the blackberries were in season, and we all decided to eat them rather than slog a cherry ball all around the yard. The game was ended for the day when the lights came on in the back streets, which meant that all the kids were due inside. Last over would be called and the one in bat was declared the winner for the day, regardless of the scores kept by Clifford, the mathematician in our midst.
Girls were allowed to play too; as long as they didn’t play like girls. No such thing as being politically correct or inclusive back then. Tanya could bat but really couldn’t throw and Mellissa could play like a boy until she turned around fourteen then lost interest in cricket, choosing the swimming pool instead. Little kids of all ages and sexes dotted the infield, and it was up to the bigger kids to look out for them. We would pick them up if they got knocked over, wipe their noses, and wash off their apples, but if they cried, the game would be postponed as they would be taken home.
Cricket was not the only thing that united the families. There were bar b ques for everyone’s birthdays. These would be a feast of the nations, with the best Pastizzies, curries and baked goods and salads. It was at one such BBQ that marinates for meat and flavoured sausages were introduced. My father, an Englishman, who claimed Aussie heritage, was shocked when someone suggested marinating meat, until he tasted it.
Bonfire night was an annual event also held in our backyard. For weeks beforehand, nothing got burnt in the incinerator, or thrown in the garbage, or taken to the tip without the scrutiny of the neighbourhood kids. We deemed that anything being thrown out was suitable to go onto the bonfire on the corner of our soccer pitch. It would grow as wood of all sizes from a plank to a stump were piled on. The pile kept together by discarded sheets; we would burrow into the bottom of it to make our cubby house until that cold night in June when we could light the fire. The blaze would light up the yard for the night, enough for us to see when lighting our Catherine wheels or rockets, and adults sat in garden chairs swigging beer, supervising the little kids, keeping them far enough back to not get burned.
Each family would celebrate Christmas apart, but afterwards we would compare presents and have turns at using each other’s gifts. Then New Years Eve would provide another excuse for the adults to get together for a booze-up. At midnight we would all be gathered at the Scottish family’s house and after Auld Lang Syne, the sing song was led by the scots and their friends, while we kids would go around the back streets banging on saucepans.
People move on. Brad and his family moved up the hill, beyond the Czech cucumber farm where I worked after school and during the summer. I would get five dollars for an afternoon’s work, plus a cucumber in my pocket for my mum and one in my hand to eat on the way home. When I had turtles, I used to take them to the Chinaman’s market garden to show them and get a lot of worms to feed them with. It was the Chinamen who taught us how to catch carp from the creek, in a more efficient way than a bobby-pin on a string.
After Brad moved, there were a number of sales in the back streets. High school being over, we older boys all got jobs and cars and the younger ones weren’t really into playing cricket. My father became an honourary Pop, Papa, and my mother a Nonna to many of thee little kids in the back streets. But with all of their own kids grown and moved on, it was time for my parents to subdivide the land and retire, moving to the south coast.
That was 40 years ago. I have never found such a bond between neighbours like my childhood home again. I miss the innocence of youth.