The Union owes its origin to a small group of clergymen and laymen who at the turn on the twentieth century were determined that churches engage in a cricket competition. Ten churches in the Marrickville area came together in 1901 formed the Western Suburbs Churches Cricket Union and the competition which began in 1902 was dedicated to achieving better understanding amongst the differing denominations. Cricket and religion were very close in the Victorian era and cricket was regarded as a moral and pure game, encouraged by the denominations as healthy activity and as a way of creating better understanding among the churches.
Cricket had been played in Australia since 1803 and a match was recorded as having been played around 1846 involving St Marks Darling Point. The church cemetery in George Street was used by children to play in the afternoons with the tombstones serving as the wicket. Complaints appeared in the local paper because visitors to the cemetery always found the tombstones in different places and were unsure about where their relatives had been laid to rest.
Four of the churches represented at the first meeting were St Clements Marrickville, Dulwich Hill Congregational, Christ Church Enmore and Tempe Park Methodist. The Rector of St Clements, Rev A. E. Bellingham was appointed President and G.R.Gee a fellow parishioner and brother of the NSW player, D.A. Gee was the Secretary. The A Grade winner in the first season was Dulwich Hill Congregational with St Clements Marrickville winner of the B Grade trophy. In the following season the winner in both grades was St Clements.
The confidence and enthusiasm of the leadership was such that the Union committed itself to the purchase of land in Wardell Road, Dulwich Hill for 1000 pounds in 1904. The following season three pitches were being used for competition but as time passed the number of teams increased and additional playing fields were acquired in 1910 and 1922. By 1913-14 the Union had 45 teams playing in three grades.
By the Second World War there were more than 90 churches playing regularly. During the war years the Union struggled to field teams so that no competition in any grade was conducted. As a result to meet outstanding council rates and repayments, the Union was forced to sell off some of the land it had acquired. In 1947 the NSW Public Works Department reclaimed the playing fields at Wardell Road for the diversion of the Cooks River. After years of protracted negotiations the land was resumed and in 1965 the Union was paid compensation of $186,000. Trustees invested the money and used the income to subsidise cricket, ensuring fees over the years have been kept as low as possible.
In 1945-46 season, the Union changed its name to the New South Wales Churches Cricket Union and became incorporated in the 1980s. In recent years the Union modernised its name to become ChurchCricket NSW and has established a website on the My Cricket site for receiving results, giving information to players including about the rules under which the teams’ play and maintaining player statistics and competition ladders.
In 1908 the Western Suburbs Churches Cricket Union joined the NSW Junior Cricket Union and this association continued until the 1948-49 season. Cricket experienced much growth following the war years across the city and local government authorities experienced difficulties in the allocation of playing fields. Church cricket which was located in many local government areas decided to work independently of other associations in hiring wickets. In recent seasons however the connection to the NSW Junior Cricket Union has been renewed and the Churches now participate in the Martin and Telegraph Shield competitions. Positive and co-operative relationships among Associations and the NSW Cricket authorities is now a feature of cricket administration in NSW.
The Union’s boundaries have extended from the Central Coast to Camden, from Randwick to Sutherland but it has a strong base in the western suburbs and especially in The Hills – Parramatta. Prominent people in industry and government service have played cricket in the Union during their youth. The former Australian Prime Minister, The Honourable John Howard played cricket as a young person with the Earlwood Methodist Club.
In the early years the NSW player George Garnsey played for St Clements Marrickville before joining the Burwood Cricket Club. His father was the Rector at Christ Church in Sydney. A. White, Redfern and Harry Alderton continued playing with the Union for over twenty years after their grade careers had ended. Prominent players who commenced with the Union were Sam Everett (St Clements Marrickville), Bert Oldfield (Newtown Methodist), Sid Barnes (St Augustine’s Stanmore), Charlie Price who played in the 1945 Services team, Bob Simpson (St Clements Marrickville), John Benaud (All Saints Parramatta) and Greg Mail (St Pauls Castle Hill). Jack Scott who played for NSW and SA and who stood in 10 tests as an umpire also played in the Union. Ted Wykes who was for a long period one of the Union’s Vice-Presidents and a senior member of the NSW Umpires Association played for Ashfield Baptist and umpired one test against England. Numerous players such as Bill Knowles of Lidcombe Congregational have moved from cricket with the Union into senior grade cricket.
Sid Barnes was a controversial Test Cricketer and even as a youth he stirred controversy. On One occasion he played for both his club’s A and B grade teams on the same afternoon and scored a century in both fixtures. It was fortunate that they were playing alongside each other but this was considered irregular and a rule was introduced to prevent this occurrence happening again.
The standard of cricket in A Grade is considered to be very high and representative teams have been prominent in the Biennial Inter-State Church Cricket Competition and have performed well in the Martin Shield against other Junior Associations and in fixtures against other associations. One of the factors contributing to the Union’s consistency has been the desire of the Executive to foster interest in the game at different levels of ability so there are additional fixtures for leading players as well as competitions for players who are in a more developmental stage in their careers. Whatever the skill level the Union has ensured that players subscribe to the principles of fair play that are based upon Christian values and sportsmanship.
To ensure players had the opportunity to play without the pressure of always umpiring in their games the Union set up The Umpires League in 1928. Many former players continued their involvement in the game as umpires and continued to give strong and valued support to the Union. The Umpires’ Association of ChurchCricket NSW is now affiliated with the NSW Umpire’ Association ensuring that the umpires receive continuing training in applying the Laws of Cricket and are kept up-to-date on rule changes and interpretations.
Unfortunately the Union records were destroyed in a fire in 1963. However the names of many of the Union’s founders were identified and details about the early years have survived through research. Many of the founders were recognised as Life Members and those who contributed in succeeding years both as players and administrators have been added to the list. Today records are maintained technologically but a hard copy of the Annual Report is kept in the records of the NSW Mitchell Library.
A player who epitomises what Churches Cricket is about has been Clem Dawes who commenced playing as a 16 year old by attending games with his father. His first year was 1936-37 and his last 1976-77. He scored 21,540 runs, including 42 centuries and took 900 wickets. He served on the Executive Committee of the Union and upon retiring took up umpiring. He was given Life Membership of the Union in 1980 and it was said of him “his service to the union has been of particular value because cricket and the love of the game became part and parcel of the quality of his life.”
An influential administrator whose name and record are synonymous with the Churches Cricket is Stacy Atkin OBE, BEc. His record will never be broken – Hon. Secretary, 1937-1982, Hon. Treasurer, 1927-1984. He was awarded an OBE in recognition of his energy, expertise and Christian testimony, for services to the Church and to cricket. He served his church in many capacities until his death in 1985. He was a fine cricketer playing with St Augustine’s Stanmore in his youth and with St Albans Epping for many years. His contribution to all aspects of the Union’s activities was of major importance to the continuing growth and success of the Union over much of the past century.
In 1961-62 when the Union experienced its highest team registration, Stacy Atkin wrote the following in the Annual Report, ”We expect our teams to be as efficient and as well managed as it is possible to be, with players giving of their best and captains seeking for every tactical advantage that presents itself. On the other hand we would pray that the spirit of ruthlessness will never become part of cricket as played in this Union. St Paul reminds us that all things that are lawful are not expedient and Jesus taught that the merciful are blessed. We ask our affiliated clubs and more particularly team leaders to not seek to take advantage of one another, but rather ensure that we observe the spirit, as well as the laws of the game.”
From an article written by Ronald Cardwell