Sutherland District Cricket Club: Documenting the oral history of sport

Several years ago I stepped into the Sutherland District Cricket Club as one of many young players striving to work their way through the grades, eyes set on reaching the furthest heights of the sport. At that point Sutherland was just like any other club, we had our up and coming stars breaking onto the representative scene through state cricket and the Big Bash League, we had the more experienced players, captains in particular, that were passing down their experience, sharing their stories of that time they hit a ton or took a five wicket haul, and the young players, including myself, that were taking everything in. And all of that was normal. Today the situation at the club has drastically changed as we have been thrust into the media spotlight. This attention has come from the return of the ex-Australian cricket team captain Steve Smith, a Sutherland junior, to our club.
As a result of this the SDCC has stepped up its presence on social media, aligning with this explosion of media attention and interest following Smith’s return to the club and grade cricket in general. Having such a high profile player come to the club, alongside rising stars on the domestic cricket scene, and joining another former Australian team member in Shane Watson, has placed a massive amount of focus on the club at present, but not necessarily upon its past. With the club having a broader reach and impact on the public, particularly in the local community, there presented an opportunity to inject some history into the discussion and discourse surrounding the club, not to deduct attention from the present, but to give people an understanding of how we got to where we are today, an insight into the path the club has taken to this point. Enter HSTY3902 and the major project. The timing was impeccable. My project was that opportunity to spark conversation over the history of the club, to tell the stories, the wild tales, the memories of great victories, or even memorable losses, that shaped the past of the SDCC and that are often contained only within an oral tradition between players, in team talks in the sheds after a match, or over a beer at the clubhouse, none of which was ever documented to share within our community. What history was being lost? This was the main question that my project was striving to answer.
Anna Clark (2016) identified the unfortunate paradox of public history in Australia, that we all share an enthusiasm to look back at our past, but that we do not truly engage with or connect to any historical narrative; she questions whether the idea of the past within the discipline of history matters to the general public. This was a concern that arose quite early in the project; what is ‘history’ within this community, and what ‘history’ matters to the club? I could not take a solely academic approach to my work with the organisation, but aspects to the discipline would still be essential. In a sense I needed to change the way I thought about history to a perception more alike to Martha Sears’ (2013) notion of history as a dynamic, holistic ecosystem that breaks down the barriers of popular/public and academic histories, and instead looks at the discipline as interconnected ideas. What mattered to the club were the stories of hardship, teamwork, victory and loss that drives the deep club culture, thus my task is to bring together some of those stories and document them so that they are not lost.
The path of my project was clear. I wanted to document some of the oral history of the club, to take the oral tradition of telling our past, but adapt it to continue passing on the stories of the past to the new players of the club in the form of video interviews, considering how our current world relies so heavily upon social media platforms to communicate information. This process however was not simple or short in any aspect. Planning when to conduct the interviews proved a difficult task initially, schedules not aligning until only a few weeks before the project was due. However this did provide an opportunity for me to develop a better understanding of how to shape my interviews and what history to consider in them.
The lightbulb moment during this development phase came late in the semester when we had a guest speaker, Tamsin Pietch, come to the class and share her thoughts and processes regarding podcasts. Tamsin spoke of the concept of the “‘e’ loop” in how we develop a narrative within our interviews that acts to better our chance of engaging our audience in the history we are presenting. This concept follows that we begin our story somewhere in the middle before building some context back to this middle point, then travel onwards closer to the present. This made sense to me, and at a time where I was stuck on what questions I would ask my interviewees it was exactly what I needed to solidify my approach going into the final stages of the project. As a result the questions in my interview with Steve Rixon, one of the club’s former head coaches, followed the path below:
1. A memory that stands out to you on your time at the club, a match, or a season, or even a smaller moment in time.
2. How we get there, go back further, tracing how we got to that point, when your involvement with the club first started and your journey (and the club’s journey) to this memory.
3. Anything notable that happened after at the club while you were still coaching, and what you see for the future of the club with the current players and up and coming.
A late addition to the interview saw the club treasurer Tom Iceton come in to answer some questions more specifically regarding the beginnings of the club, its main oval and clubhouse, history that not many of the current player group had been told before. What I learnt from these interviews was more than I had predicted, the past of our club held its surprises as I hope it will for other young players at the club and members within our community when they get to watch and listen to some of the history of the SDCC contained in these short interviews which are to be shared on our various social media accounts over the coming weeks. There is much more left to explore, however I hope my project will spark some interest into the club’s past and its journey to where it is today.

What the scorecards don’t tell us: an oral history tradition

My club, the Sutherland District Cricket Club, the Sharks, started in 1965. In working with the club on this public history project, the first question that faced us was understanding what ‘history’ was in the context of the organisation, what the concept meant to the club, and how it could be used.
For most local and community-based sporting organisations there is an immensity of written history in scorecards and annual reports from game to game, season to season – but they are not the whole story. What is forgotten unless recorded in scorecards, team pictures, trophies or annual reports? And what is told around the club house, or in the sheds before and after a game, or at the pub over a few beers?
The deeper history of a sporting club lies within the memories and experiences of its players – the stories that are sometimes told, but often forgotten. What comes to form the culture of a club is a history passed down through stories from the older players to the new, of the game that got away, the century that won a match, the on-field banter and antics, the highs, and the lows, the losses and the victories. In a sense, the culture of a club is built on and continues through an oral tradition of history.
Our work is shaping around the documenting of these histories of the club, the stories of players and members of the community that have been around the club for significant parts of its over a half a century of history. In the coming weeks we will hopefully be conducting video interviews with several members of the club, asking them about their best memories playing, coaching or just generally being around the club, on and off the field. These videos will be used by the club across social media platforms for both the public and local community, as well as to carry on the stories amongst the current generation of players, continuing the oral history tradition.