Apr 23, 2018
On a childhood visit to the State Library of Victoria, the author’s love of books and passion for cricket were melded for life.
Geelong to Melbourne
When I was 11, I went to The Library. Of course, in my home town of Geelong, I had long been going to libraries. I was also a librarian’s son. But I aspired to The Library – Victoria’s State Library – by which I had brushed on family visits to the Melbourne Museum, whose building it shared.
I was a bookish boy. I also loved cricket. I had saved up for my first copy of the game’s great annual, Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack – the 113th edition, for 1976. But what of the other 112? What of the periodicals I knew of but could not find, especially those concerned with the early 20th century, with which I was growingly obsessed? So one day, with my clipboard and a cut lunch, I boarded a train, one of Victoria’s old and well-loved red rattlers, for Melbourne.
It occurs to me now that it may have been the first time I’d ever gone alone to another town. I was certainly faintly disorientated, so naïve that I stood for some time on the wrong side of the road wondering why all the trams were going the opposite way to which I wanted to go. But I soon found myself at the biggest card catalogue I had ever seen – it seemed the length of a bus – and yanking on the drawer “Ci-Cr”.
I still remember that mighty drawer. Yes, there was a card tabbed “Cricket”. But there were all manner of sub-tabs disaggregating the subject into its subsidiary elements – tours, biographies, literature, history – then the tours, for example, were broken up by team, season, destination, on and on. To my further astonishment, the subject spilled over into a second drawer, “Cr-Cz”.
Those who simply slot keywords into Google will never share the sense of revelation I experienced in that moment about how knowledge is arranged, how parts of a subject relate to one another. Today, when I prepare to research, it’s in unconscious mimicry of that drawer that I pare down a subject, classifying, distributing and linking its bits, as much librarian as journalist.
In those days, you filled out little forms to make your book orders. While the State Library has gone electronic, forms are still occasionally required for rare material and, in me, occasion waves of nostalgia. A big screen advised of your book’s arrival. Soon, I was seated beneath The Library’s vast dome among piles of Wisdens and boxes of a pre-World War I magazine called Cricket: A Weekly Record of the Game. For hours I followed Australia’s 1902 tour of England, copying its scores, digesting its news, searching for mentions of Victor Trumper, about whom, 40 years later, I would write a book.
The Wisdens were bricks of things; the copies of Cricket, pages flaking, bindings loose, were poorly preserved. I experienced a sense of the permanence of records and their perishability. About research I still feel a curious chivalry, a yen to rescue the past from obscurity and neglect, rekindling emotions first felt that day. Was this what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? By the time I returned home, it was certainly one of the things. It still is. ￼