It was 1865 and James was home from boarding school at Scotch College in Melbourne. He wasn’t looking forward to another boring school holiday – it was shearing time at Pine Hills station and everyone was busy.
Pine Hills station was a squatters run in Western Victoria. A vast 30,000 acres; it ran sheep to grow wool. Pine Hills station played cricket against neighbouring stations at Mullagh Station, Longlands, Clunie, Miga Lake, Lake Wallace, Mount Talbot, Chetwynd and Bringalbert.
James, son of a prominent squatter family, is expecting his holidays to be boring as everyone is busy with shearing. But this holiday, he discovers, will be anything but boring. Playing cricket with the shearers when work is done for the day, he meets Unaarrimin of the Jardwadjali people (known as Johnny). Johnny is an amazing fielder with the ability to throw long distances. James invites Johnny to join their game, and teaches him batting and bowling techniques. As James tells the story of Johnny’s first game, text boxes on each opening offer information about Johnny’s international career as a cricketer. There is also information about the aboriginal cricket team, beginning with the game they played against the MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) at the MCG in 1866. Illustrations are naïve and depict a sun-drenched Western District grazing property and landscape. Final pages include a drawing and biography of Johnny, a summary of the positions on a cricket field and a bibliography.
Knockabout Cricket introduces early days of Australian cricket as well as squatter life in the 1860s. The dual texts have their own pace: the fictional narrative text takes place during a single cricket game, although the game continues long into the late afternoon. The text boxes cover a much broader and longer story about Johnny and Aboriginal cricketers and cricket in general. Young cricketers will enjoy the cricketing language throughout. There’s also the opportunity to learn a little about life on the land in the 1800s, and the history of cricket. The mix of fact and fiction allow ‘Knockabout Cricket’ to be accessible to a wide range of young readers. Recommended for early to mid-primary readers and beyond.
Knockabout Cricket: A Story of sporting legend – Johnny Mullagh, Neridah McMullin ill Ainsley Walters One Tree Hill 2015 ISBN: 9780992439736
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller