30 March 2017

Sir Don Bradman:The Boy From Bowral and Australia's best ever sportsman

Donald Bradman (1908-2001) must have been the most famous sportsman in Australia, in any decade and in any sport. But he grew up mod­est­ly. In the early C20th, Bowral was a service town for dairying and beef cattle production. It was here that Bradman’s parents and children mov­ed in 1911 after selling their Cootamundra farm.

The Bradmans purchased a weather-board house at 52 Shepherd St (see photo) where young Don loved country living. Despite WW1 tragedies, he led a carefree existence at school, playing with his siblings and becoming involved in sport. Apart from a later weatherboard extension at the rear of the house, Shepherd St remains essentially unchanged, true to its external 1911 façade.

Don Bradman, an elegant stroke maker

The timing was perfect. Back in 1909 the Bowral Council had leased 24 acres from the Church for sport, and declared the new Glebe Park open. The con­crete wicket was later replaced with turf, sightscreens were erected in 1946 and the ground was formally re-named Bradman Oval in 1947.

While the Bradmans were residing in Shepherd St, school girl Jessie Menzies (1909-1997) came to live with the family in 1921 as a weekly boarder because there was no transport to Bowral from the Menzies’ family farm. A firm friendship developed between Don and Jessie, as we’ll see.

Just around the corner in Glebe St and across the road from Glebe Park/Bradman Oval, George Bradman built a brick Calif­or­n­ian Bungalow’ style home into which the family moved in 1924. 

52 Shepherd St, 1911
The first Bradman home in Bowral

Don Bradman had been taught the piano by his elder sister Lilian, herself later to become a professional piano teacher. Later, the piano gave Don release from the intensity of constant crick­et touring. On the long sea voyages to the UK or during extended stays at hotels, he relaxed at the piano.

During the 1925-26 season playing for the Bowral Cricket Club, Don Bradman was a short 16 year-old who was batting well. At the end of that season Bradman hit a district record score of 300 runs in the final played between Bowral & Moss Vale. Soon the State selectors were paying attention.

In Oct 1926 he had been invited to join Parramatta Club. However Parramatta failed to agree to pay Bradman’s expenses arising from his loss of income attending Sydney matches, and negotiations stopped. Sydney club St George recruited the young star, agreeing to pay his expenses. In Nov 1926 Bradman played for St George.

To attend to his Sydney grade-cricket commitments Bradman left Glebe St every Saturday to catch the 5am train to Sydney and not return to Bowral until midnight. After he was selected for the NSW state team in the 1927-28 season, the routine was exhausting. So in Sept 1928 he chose to leave Bowral per­manently and moved to Sydney.

Back in Glebe St, Don’s parents George and Emily watched his brilliant career with great pride. As did all of Bowral.

Romance between Don Bradman and Jessie Menzies led to their marriage in St Paul’s Church in Sydney in 1932. On their honeymoon, the couple joined former Test cricketer/sports journalist Arthur Mailey’s cricket tour of North America and visited every city from Vancouver to New York.

“Bodyline” was first used in Australia during the England cricket tour in 1932-33. Essentially it was an English tactic used by fast bowlers to take wickets by terrifying batsmen with the ball. The quicks bowled short, rising deliveries aimed at the batsmen’s bodies and the batsmen fended the ball off defensively to a packed, close, leg-side field who snapped up any catches.

Bradman Oval and Pavilion, Bowral 

England was widely expected to easily beat Australia but Bradman’s great Test scores saw Australia win the series 2-1. The 1932-33 England Captain Douglas Jardine instructed his open­ing bowler Harold Larwood to bowl Bodyline regularly. Australian batsmen, especially the openers Jack Fingle­ton and Bill Ponsford, were struck many painful blows. Bradman spent much of his time av­oiding the ball, instead of making runs. The tactic worked; Australian crowds were angry.

In the Third Test in Adelaide in January 1933, Australian Captain Bill Woodfull was struck a painful blow by Larwood over the heart. His wicket-keeper was also hit in the head by Larwood, fracturing his skull. The angry crowd threat­ened to invade the pitch; mounted police arrived. The depth of ill-feeling led the Australian Cricket Board to write by cable to its English equival­ent, the Mary­lebone Cricket Club in Jan 1933: Unless stopped at once likely to upset friendly relations ex­isting between Australia and England.

In the end, England won the series and blunted Bradman’s Test series average. But subsequent actions indicated England recognised its culpability. Douglas Jardine never again captained England against Australia, and Bodyline was banned. In the 1934 Australian tour to England, relations between the two teams quickly healed.

Bradman loved an offer from South Australian cricket administrator and stockbroker, Harry Hodgett, for a six-year business contract. Australia was barely out of the grip of the Great Depression and Bradman was anxious to secure his future. The Bradmans arrived in Adelaide in April 1935 where the new financial stability allowed Bradman to continue to play state cricket for South Australia.

Don Bradman captained Australia for the first time in the first Test in Brisbane in December 1936. 1937 was a busy and happy time for The Don. Harry Hodgett's business was booming and he was enjoying his career. He took up squash, winning the South Australian State Championship, and wrote his second book, My Cricketing Life, which was published in July 1938.

The outbreak of WW2 in 1939 led to the indefinite postponement of all cricket tours, and suspension of the states’ Sheffield Shield competition. In 1940 Bradman was given an officer’s rank and was posted to the Army School of Physical Training at Frankston in Victoria. He was the army’s divisional supervisor of physical training for two years, discharged because of fibrositis.

The Fifth Test of the 1948 Ashes series was held at The Oval in London between Australia and England. Australia easily won the match, and the series, and it was the last Test in the career of Donald Bradman. He was knighted in the 1949 New Year Honours.

Wisden Almanack proved that Bradman had been the greatest phenomenon in the history of cricket, indeed in the history of all ball games. So it was appropriate that in 1985, Bradman was the first inductee into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.

Bradman Museum, Bowral

The Bradman Trail defines Bradman and links him with the social history of the day. It high­light­s the historic sites and cultural facilities associated with his three main homes: 1] Bradman Birth­place Museum in Cootamundra, 2] Bradman Museum of Cricket in Bowral and 3] the Bradman Collection, State Library of South Australia.

The Bradman Museum was opened in 1989 at the Bradman Oval in Bowral. And in March 1989 they built the Bradman Pavilion. Appropriately the Bradmans’ ashes were scattered in the grounds adjacent to The Bradman Museum of Cricket and on Bradman Oval, in 2001.

Readers may enjoy The Boy from Bowral, written and illustrated by Robert Ingpen (Palazzo, 2008).

25 March 2017

spectacular Anglo Saxon warrior art treasures

The Staffordshire Hoard was discovered in 2009 near the village of Hammerwich, near Lichfield, Staffordshire by a local farmer and his metal detectorist mate. At the time of the hoard's deposition, the location was in the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia. So now the hoard is of considerable importance in Anglo-Saxon archaeology, in both historical content and in quality.

A research and conservation programme was launched and continued for years, conducted by Barbican Research Associates on behalf of the owners and of Historic England, who fund the project. In 2010, the Art Fund led the campaign to acquire the treasure for Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, raising £3.3m.

The archaeologists concluded that the Staffordshire Hoard is the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork ever found any­where in the world. The 3,500+ items, that are nearly all warlike in character, total 5.1 kilos of gold, 1.4 kilos of silver and 3,500 cloisonné garnets.

So the Hoard almost certainly represents the spoils of C7th or C8th war, fought in the Kingdom of Mercia. But that begs the question - what were these beautiful objects doing, at a time when warfare between England’s many competing regional kingdoms was frequent?
sword pommel

Historians have theorised about why the hoard was deposited where it was, and whether it was Christians or pagans who left the treasure. They know only that the hoard was dis­covered near Watling St. One of the major thoroughfares of Roman Britain, it ran for 400k from Dover past Wroxeter, and was probably still in use when the hoard was buried.

The quality of the workmanship is very high, especially remarkable in view of the large number of individual objects, such as swords or helmets, from which the elements in the hoard came. The hoard contains mainly military items, including sword pommel caps i.e. the tip of the hilt of a sword that anchors the hilt fittings to the sword blade. Single pommel caps from this period are rare archaeological finds, and to find this many together is unprecedented.

The experts also noted the extra­ord­inary quantity of weapon hilt fittings. These decorative items from the handles of swords and knives feature beautiful garnet inlays or animals in elaborate filigree. Some of the gold in the pieces from the original Staffordshire Hoard could be traced to Istanbul in modern-day Turkey, and the beautiful red garnets were imported from India and Eastern Europe, showing the Anglo-Saxons to be accomplished traders.

There are hundreds of pieces of silver foil in the hoard, which are thought to come from one or more helmets. A biblical inscription from an item in the hoard is written in Latin and is misspelled in two places, and reads ‘Rise up, O Lord, and may they enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.’

The most similar archaeological finds are the artefacts from Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, discovered in 1939. A large mound was found to contain a 90’ long wooden ship complete with a central burial chamber. This chamber was once furnished with text­iles and contained the dead ruler’s possessions, including magnifi­cent gold and garnet weapon fittings and a striking panelled helmet.

One comparison between the Staffordshire Hoard and the East Anglian Sutton Hoo collection is fascinating. Sutton Hoo gold objects were made for Anglo-Saxon royals; thus they used high karat material (21-23 karats) which did not need to be subjected to any surface enrichment trick. Gold objects made for the nobility or important military figures, as in Staffordshire, were mostly made from 12-18 karat gold.

pectoral cross

The Tour
The treasure is owned by Birmingham City Council and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, and cared for on their behalf by Birmingham Museums Trust and The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Permanent displays of the Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metalwork will still continue in Bir­m­ingham and Stoke-on-Trent and at other venues in the West Midlands. And now (2016-17) there is the opportunity for the hoard to reach new audiences across the UK.

Warrior Treasures: Saxon Gold from the Stafford­shire Hoard travelled first to the Royal Armouries, Leeds in 2016, and then to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until late April 2017. The touring exhibition has 100 items of gold, silver and semi-precious gems from Anglo-Saxon weaponry i.e the fittings from weapons. These fittings were stripped from swords and single-edged fighting knives, and probably represent the equipment of defeated armies from unknown battles during the C7th. The fittings are decorated with gold, silver and blood red garnets, and represent the finest quality Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship.

They shed light on a turbulent time in history and give an insight into the possessions of an elite warrior class. Of course the sword was more than just a weapon – it signified a war­r­ior’s status, wealth, family and even religious beliefs.

In Nov 2012 more artefacts were found in the same Hammerwich area, following a ploughing of the field. Archaeolog­ists working on behalf of Staffordshire County Council and English Heritage used metal detectors to find the items buried just below the surface! The extra artefacts includes a possible helmet cheek guard, a cross-shaped mount and an eagle-shaped figure.

I, Helen, a passionate collector of gold and silver art, live in the wrong country!

The research on the Hoard has shed light on the Dark Ages and brings to life the famous Saxon poem Beowulf, in which great kings with hoards of gold bestow precious gifts upon loyal heroes. Beowulf contains lines that may describe circums­tan­ces similar to the burial of the hoard: ‘One warrior stripped the other, looted Ongen­theow’s iron mail-coat, his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too, and carried graith to King Hygelac; he accepted the prize, promised fairly that reward would come, and kept his word. They let the ground keep that ancestral treasure, gold under gravel, gone to earth, as useless to men now as it ever was.’

21 March 2017

Barcelona's very special art nouveau/art deco Hotel Fuster

The old structures along Barcelona’s Passeig de Garcia were made of wood since they were under the con­stant threat of demolition by government ord­er. A military law was in force that prohibited any struct­ure from being built out­side the city within a cannon shot of its walls, a distance of 1,250 ms.

Barcelona’s aristocracy and bourgeoisie already knew Passeig de Garcia well because they strolled and amused themselves there. Be­fore the start-up of The Cerdà Plan for the Expansion of Barc­el­ona (1859-61), the Eixample district had pleasure gardens (including Prado Catalán, Camps Elisis, Jardí de la Nimfa, Criadero, Tívoli and Español) leading off from the road, with restaurants and theatres. Once the Cerdà Plan put an end to the old restrictions, a new age of building fever started. Now the most prominent families of Barcelona left the narrow Old Town behind them, moving their mansions to this new and more spacious and prestigious area. And the most exclusive stores progressively moved from Carrer Ferran and the Rambla to the new avenue, in the wake of their wealthy clientele.

Hotel Casa Fuster
opened in 2004

The rediscovery of Catalan Modernisme/Art Nouveau heritage turned Passeig de Garcia, and the whole suburb of Eixample, into a favourite part of Barcelona. Originally these architectural masterpieces were not app­reciated by everyone because they looked fussy and contrived. The French prime minister Georges Clemenceau (1841–1929) visited Passeig de Garcia and was offended by the excessive colours and ornament­ation on the façades.

Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923) was in charge of a project that started in 1901. The Hospital de Sant Pau/Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul complex was the most relevant public building of Catalan Art Nouveau. But not all Art Nouveau was the same. Lluis Domènech i Montaner was far more restrained than his Cat­alan contemp­or­ary, Antonio Gaudi (1852–1926). In 1912 Gaudi’s newly finished Casa Mila was derogatorily known as La Pedera/stone quarry.

Mr Mariano Fuster i Fuster, an older, cashed-up businessman from Mallorca, met and adored Ms Consuelo Fabra i Puig, the daughter of the Mar­quis of Alella, in Barcelona. Fuster saw Domènech’s architecture, loved it and put him in charge of a new and ambitious project – a family home at the top of the very elegant Passeig de Gracia. The new casa was to be a gift from Señor Fuster to his beloved wife, with the added (ambitious) goal of making the city of Barcelona more beautiful! Domènech was to design and built the house, under the supervision of Mrs Fuster. In fact Mariano Fuster put the house in his wife’s name.

Passeig de Gracia

Domenech worked on the building from 1908 to 1911, together with his son Pere Domenech i Roure  (1881-1962) , another architect. By the time it was built, Casa Fuster was considered the most expensive house in Barc­elona. Other citizens noticed that the vast facade of the house was the entirely made with high quality white marble! Other feat­ures of the building were pink columns, trilobate windows and classic floral motifs across the casa’s three facades. The building, topped with a mansard French style, was a dignified masterpiece, the symbol of the greatest period of splendour and prosperity in Barcelona. Inside, the five storeys of designer luxury included the ornate ground-floor salon, used for grand society receptions.

Domènech was influential in the Catalan Art Nouveau movement, yet Casa Fuster also had neo-Gothic elements. Its white marble undoubted­ly gleamed in the sunshine of the Passeig de Gracia, but did the styles harmonise together?

In 1911 the Fuster i Fabra Family moved into their casa. But due to the fearfully expensive construction of the casa, and to the high maintenance costs, the family lived there only briefly .. until the early 20s. This might have been a financial lesson to other ambitious families.

After the family left, their huge lounge room became Café Vienes and other small businesses took over smaller spaces eg a barber shop. Event­ual­ly Cafe Vienes became the favourite place for Catalan bohemians, artists and writers to meet each other. (I have written a lot of posts about Barcelona, but they all concentrate on two things: the arts and the drinks). A dance hall known as El Danubio Azul became very popular in the 1950s, but eventually the building was showing its age.

In 1962, the ENHER electrical company bought the house with the intention of demolishing it and building a sky-scraper. The people of Barcelona were completely against it and thanks to many protests and newspaper articles, the crisis was averted. So between 1962 and 1974 ENHER had to renovate Casa Fuster, at least minimally.


the hotel's Cafe Viennes 

the hotel's events room,
now called the Domènech i Montaner hall

In 1999, the casa was put on sale and the Hoteles Center chain bought it a year later. Casa Fuster was completely restored in 2004 and turned into a grand hotel. Since standard rooms at the hotel begin at €270 a night and suites from €369, spouse and I stayed in Barcelona’s lovely B and Bs instead. But I have examined all the public spaces in the hotel carefully.

The original decorations were not destroyed, in order that the hotel could preserve some of its history. But the 75 rooms and 21 suites are now furnished in Art Deco style with warm tones and elegant materials. The hotel lobby's Art Nouveau shell of black mosaic floor and fluted pillars have been updated with post-modern flourishes, as is the lounge. The hotel’s ten salons have been adapted for seminars and business conferences. Now the sumptuous Café Vienés, which I first saw in Woody Allen's 2008 movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona, hosts a jazz performance every Thursday night. The Galaxó restaurant is splendid.

The hotel is representative of the most prosperous and splendid period of Barcelona. And it is also blessed by its neighbourhood. In easy walking distance are some of Barcelona’s main attractions eg two of Gaudi's major works, the Casa Mila apartment block and the Casa Batllo town house. Visitors can travel east from Casa Fuster, down the narrow side streets, and find the Eixample neigh­bourhood, filled with bars, designer shops and restaurants.

The original architect's son Pere Domènech i Roura went on to design the façade of the Olympic Stadium at Montjuïc, the Casa de la Premsa/Press Hall for the World Fair of 1929 and the Cooperatives Agrícoles at l'Espluga de Francolí and Serral. But the father was more famous. Domènech Senior’s Hospital de Sant Pau and Palau de la Musica Catalana were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

Senior Suite, totally Deco