Since historical times, sporting activities have played a significant role in human society. Games have been used for enjoyment purposes by the community. Sports have also been used to promote social cohesion since they serve as a platform for the community to come together and interact as they play or support their teams.
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Nations have also used sporting activities as a political tool. Through international sporting competitions, nations have cemented their bonds with each other or enhanced their international image. In the Nineteenth century, sports played a crucial role in Australian Society.
Specifically, Cricket, which grew to become the national sport, played a significant role in the Australia during the period of 1930s. Historians consider the early 1930s as the highest point in Australian cricket.
This is the period when Australian test cricket achieved some of its most remarkable through legendary players such as Don Bradman.
This paper will argue that cricket played a significant role in Australia during the 1930s. The paper will illustrate how the game influenced the social and political aspects of Australian society and played a role in the development of a national identity.
History of Cricket in Australia
Cricket was introduced to Australia in the eighteenth century by British settlers. This early introduction was greatly influenced by the popularity of the sport in the English motherland.
Macintyre (2004) observes that for the early British settler, playing cricket in the alien and seemingly hostile continent served as a way of creating “Englishness” in the Antipodes and establishing some sense of normalcy (Molony, 2005).
The impact of Britain in Australia’s early cricket can be seen from the fact that the first cricket clubs in Australia adopted English names and the constitutions used by these clubs were copied word for word from the English cricket constitutions.
The rules of the game were also similar to those of England and the early players were primarily Anglo Saxon. Cricket was promoted in Australia as a superior game because of its English associations (Harte, 1993).
The sport was presented as a manly game that assisted in building character. It also expressed the deep bonds of empire between Australia and Britain.
While originally considered the most “English of English Games” by Australians, Cricket evolved into a national and distinctively Australian game by the 1930s. The Australians were able to embrace the game and give it a local taste (Harte, 1993).
Unlike in England where the game was mostly played by middle class gentlemen, Australian cricket was open to all members of the society (Connell & Irving, 1980).
The game became an obsession for many Australians who played the game in their towns and villages and followed the matches of their national team religiously. In spite of the evolution of a uniquely Australian cricket in the country, the mark of imperialism and Anglo dominance remained.
Role of Cricket in the 1930s
Cricket was by far the most popular sport in Australia during the period of 1930s. The sport was used as a pastime activity by many individuals and cricket clubs emerged throughout the colony. The national team was in its best form and it held many high profile matches with teams from other countries.
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Australians citizens followed the progress of their national team and took great pride in its achievements. Due to this prominence of cricket, it influenced a number of areas in Australia Society.
Cricket in the 1930s served as the lens through which the changing relationship between Australia and its mother country Britain was viewed. As a British colony, Australia had traditionally played a secondary role to Britain. However, the 1930s were characterized by rising nationalistic sentiments among the Australians.
Australian politicians wanted to establish an international image that was divorced from their Britain dependence. Cricket provided a potent means for achieving this and demonstrating Australian sovereignty. In the 1930s, Australia had not yet existed officially as a nation.
Twomey (2011) reveals that Australia was a British colony until sometime after 1931 when the country became an independent nation. The politicians in the country constantly used cricket to announce to the world that Australia was an independent and successful country.
Wagg (2005) documents that using the figures of cricket stars such as Victor Trumper, Bradman, Keith Miller, and Alan Border; the political elite were able to create the vision of a glorious history and a unified and triumphant nation.
Cricket affected the diplomatic relations between England and Australia in the early 1930s. The game led to the development of bitter disputes between Australia and England. This dispute led to a brief deterioration in the relationship between Australia and England.
The dispute surrounded the use of highly dangerous tactics by the English cricket team in their attempt to defeat the world’s greatest batman, Australia’s Donald Bradman (Cathcart, 1988). The England captain, Douglas Jardine devised a tactic to deal with the threat of the Australian superior batting.
This tactic, referred to as bodyline, engaged the issuing of fast, short-pitched deliveries directly on a line with the batsman’s body. This tactic was meant to put at risk the safety of the Australian batsman, and therefore prompt him to defend himself and hopefully deflect the ball via bat or glove.
The method was highly effective and the visiting English team achieved success in the 1932 match against Australia. However, the method led to the serious injury of the Australian wicketkeeper, Bert Oldfield who was struck on the head by a ball leading to a fractured skull.
The controversy over the bodyline technique upset the friendly relations that existed between the two countries as Australians protested against the unsportsmanlike conduct of the English team.
Cricket influenced the political scenes of the 1930s by bringing together political antagonists. By the 1930s, Australian cricket had become recognisably Australian and it was regarded as the national sport.
The sport had supporters from all sections of Australian society. Cricket had powerful supporters in the political field with the dominant Labour Party leader John Curtin and the Leader of the Opposition, Dr. Evatt being strong supporters of the sport.
Cricket assisted in the mending of relationships between politicians who were great antagonists. Stoddart and Sandiford (1998) declare that the deep involvement in cricket by rival politicians helped them establish a common ground and cultivate a good relationship in spite of their differing political perspectives.
The unifying action of cricket therefore contributed to the amicable relationship enjoyed by some of Australia’s politicians in the 1930s.
Cricket played a role in Australia’s quest to challenge Britain’s global supremacy. Throughout the eighteenth century and much of the nineteenth century, Britain acted as the global power exerting her influence on a global scale.
Australia had been a British Colony and Imperial tendencies were strong in the relationship between the two nations. The British motherland acted as the authority in politics, military, and economics. Her value system was regarded as the standard for the modern world.
Bateman (2013) records that the post World War I Australian Test victories were problematic for the British establishment, which was anxious that the Empire and its value system should retain hegemony in a global context (Armstrong, &Thompson, 2005).
The British Empire had long used athleticism as an expression of its superiority and power in a global context.
The humiliating home defeat suffered by England at the hands of Australia in 1930 led to an embattlement of the British establishment’s value system. Cricket helped Australia to assert her growing dominance in worldwide affairs.
Cricket helped to enhance the social cohesion of Australians in the 1930s. At this point in time, the global community was experiencing the effects of the great depression. Many Australians had suffered from severe loss of investments while many more had lost their sources of livelihood.
Bateman (2013) documents that at the height of the Depression, Australia was suffering over 30% unemployment and widespread and intense social deprivation. Cricket served as a source of hope and inspiration for Australians at a time of great economic difficulty.
Ward (2009) documents that for many Australians, the woes of the Depression could be forgotten for a while as they cheered their team during the Melbourne Cup or talked about their sporting hero Don Bradman (Blackman & Chapman, 2004).
Stories of the extraordinary performances of the Australian team at Test series’ against major cricket nations such as England inspired thousands of Australians.
Due to the heartening role that cricket played, some historians go as far as to credit the game with helping to prevent social unrest during the 1930s (Bateman, 2013).
Cricket served a great moral purpose for the Australian society during the 1930s. As has been noted, the early 1930s were plagued by financial difficulties. The late 1930s witnessed the outbreak of the devastating Second World War. In this tumultuous decade, cricket made a significant contribution to the happiness of Australians.
When talking about the great contribution by cricket to Australian society, the politician and great cricket enthusiast Dr. H.V. Evatt declared that “cricket has no equal in its sustained contribution to the happiness of our countrymen.
In the bleakest months memories of the great Test and the great cricketers were often a solace, always holding out a sure and certain hope for the future” (Evatt, 1949, p. 1).
Cricket served to create a sense of equality in the Australian nation. In Britain, cricket was a sport for the middle and upper class gentlemen and few lower class Britons were involved in the sport. This class restriction was shattered in Australian cricket.
From its early days, Australian cricket was egalitarian in nature and it was played in cities as well as the countryside. The sport attracted men of different social standings; from gentlemen in society to mean of trade.
The game attracted male players from a variety of social backgrounds and regions therefore presenting an image of equality in Australia.
The impressive Cricket performance by Australian teams in the 1930s promoted the widespread development of mass media in Australia. While mass media means such as newspapers were already established in Australia by the 1930s, the reach of these outlets was not very expansive.
Cricket created a demand for news as Australians wanted to follow the exploits of their national team. Newspapers provided people with extensive coverage of the game and numerous commentaries were published on the sport.
Mandle (1973) reveals that local newspapers printed commentaries written by Britain commentators to the British audience. These commentaries often derided the achievements of the Australian team. The new technology of radio also emerged as an efficient means of disseminating news of cricket.
Households invested in radios in order to listen to live commentaries of the games featuring the Australian teams.
Cricket was used to demonstrate the superiority of new technological and industrial processes. Sports have always been characterized by the probability of human error. Players are expected to make mistakes during their games and this unreliability contributes to the unpredictability of game results.
In the 1930s, the Australian cricket legend, Donald Bradman demonstrated the greater efficiency of routine and mechanical playing. The renowned newspaper columnist Neville Cardus asserted that “Bradman was the summing-up of the Efficient Age which succeeded the Golden Age” (Cardus, 1940, p.42).
Bradman’s flawless technique represented a new age of machine efficiency and he therefore became a signifier of the contemporary dominance of new technology and industry in Australia.
Cricket played a major role in reaffirming the racial equality of the White Australians to the whites in the Britain motherland. In the 19th century, there was fear that the Australian environment had an effect on the Whites.
Specifically, there was a feeling that White Australians were inferior to Britons due to their long isolation from the motherland.
Cricket played an integral role in reassuring the national psyche of their “British-ness” (Mandle, 1973). Colonial cricketing victories reinforced the notion that British blood still flowed strong in the white Australian’s veins.
Contests against England held great significance as deep nationalism sentiments developed in Australia. The country was attempting to define its identity as a nation and the game of cricket presented a means through which this could be achieved.
Many Australians regarded a victory by their national team against England as proof that Australia was a greater force than the older country, Britain (Mallett, 2000). Cricket victory was synonymous with political, military, and even artistic superiority to England.
The superb performance of the Australian teams throughout the 1930s was seen as a demonstration of Australian excellence by countrymen and politicians.
The 1930s was a period of great growth and achievement for Australian cricket. The brilliance of individual cricketers such as Bradman, Gregory, and McDonald led to many successes by the Australian team (Evatt, 1949).
Cricket in the 1930s served as a vehicle for an emerging Australian inter-colonial unity. The sport served to diminish the inter-colonial jealousies that had plagued Australia at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Stoddart and Sandiford (1998) assert that the success of the Australian team against the motherland provided a “symbol of what national co-operation could achieve – the best example of Federation yet” (p. 44).
By being able to match and beat the best English teams, Australia was able to demonstrate to its citizens and the international community the positive results of national cooperation.
The 1930s marked the best times in Australian Cricket and the decade was marked by momentous achievements of the Australian national team. This led to a cementing of cricket as the national sport. Over the decades, cricket has established itself as the cornerstone sport in Australian culture.
Australians revere this sport with the past victories being remembered and celebrated. However, the significance of cricket in the country has not grown through the decades. Wagg (2005) laments that in spite of being the national sport, cricket has failed to attract new communities in present day Australia.
Majority of the sport’s enthusiasts are Anglo-Saxon and the participation rates in the sport have been declining through the decade.
This paper set out to discuss the role that cricket played in Australia during the 1930s. The paper began by articulating the importance of sporting activities in modern society. It then proceeded to offer a historical overview of the conditions of Cricket in Australia.
The paper has discussed how Australia was able to take up the English sport cricket, and develop it into a national and distinctively Australian game. It then highlighted how the 1930s were a special time for Australia cricketing.
The paper demonstrated that during this period, the sport had gained enormous popularity and Australia had one of the strongest teams in the world. A discussion of the significant political influence that the game had in this period has been offered.
The paper has also highlighted the huge social influence exerted by the sport. However, the sport has faced a decline in popularity over the decades and it no longer holds the sway it did in the 1930s.
Given this trend, it is hard to envision cricket regaining the prominence it had in the 1930s and having as huge a social and political influence as it had in that decade.
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