Photos by Ben Liney www.benliney.com (all rights reserved)
For my last birthday, family and friends chipped in for an experience of learning how to make my own cricket bat with Lachlan Fisher at his Williamstown Road workshop in Footscray.
Not only is Lachlan a master bat maker but he stands in a unique tradition as a grower of Australian willow.
The best quality cricket bats have traditionally been made only of top grade willow grown in England’s ideal climate and conditions. For a period from the early 1900’s however, RM Crockett & Sons grew willow on Shepherds Flat in Daylesford, Victoria from which they made bats at a factory in Charles Street, Seddon; just around the corner from where Fisher is now based.
These Australian bats were used by players of the stature of Linsday Hassett, Peter Burge and Norm O’Neil, who promoted the ubiquitous ‘Dynamaster’ of the late 1950’s-60’s.
In 2003-4, Gideon Haigh wrote of the rise and eventual fall of the Daylesford plantation and of the family business through corporate takeover which saw an end to cricket bat production from Australian willow. He concluded…
“…But thirty years after Crockett’s felling, shoots are emerging from the undergrowth. When independent bat manafacturer Lachlan Fisher set out his stall in 1989 after working for Maddocks Sports, his interest in the Crockett story was kindled by meeting Harry Preston, a veteran of the old firm and a staunch advocate of the merits of Australian willow. Like all Australian batmakers, Fisher is reliant on imported raw materials; Preston inspired him to open a nursery in Dayelsford selling willow cuttings to farmers, with the intent of buying back the trees when they matured. ‘In the South of Victoria, the dormancy period and growing season of the trees are very similar to those in England’ he says. ‘And the weight, the performance, the grain of the bats are little different.’
Preston never saw his dream come true. He died in January 2003 of emphysema from a lifetime of inhaling cane dust while turning bat handles. But Fisher will soon begin harvesting willow from a host of small plots around Victoria, mostly in Gippsland: Each tree yields about twenty five clefts. It may not be too long before traditional Australian steel is again reinforced by non traditional Australian wood.” (ABC Cricket Book 2003-4)
Even since this was written, much has changed in our world and in cricket.
As we worked on the bat it was fascinating to be able to talk about what had happened to particular plantations since that time, given the variable climate and its effect upon the quality of the wood. Beyond weather, the climate has of course been variable in many other ways; with the unprecedented high value of the Australian dollar; the rise and rise of the Indian economy (and cricket); and the shrinking of local demand, providing many challenges for the production of a truly Australian cricket bat.
Learning about such things made the experience of spending time with Lachlan all the more precious. One becomes aware that there is a lot more behind any given ‘stick’ that one picks up when going out to bat.
Learning how to work the old tools (like the draw knife and spoke shaves) in order to make something ‘new’ works as a good description of what ‘Good Cricket All-round’s’ work of ‘re-creating the commons’ is all about.
Thanks to Rachael, Chris and Katherine for enabling some ‘beautiful connections’ through cricket and to Ben Liney for the beautiful pictures.