Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 3 No. 1, May 1985

Cashman's Cricket

Brian Stoddart

Richard Cashman, Ave A Go, Yer Mug! Australian Cricket Crowds from Larrikin to Ocker. Sydney: Collins, 1984, 192 pp., illustrated, endnotes, $14.95.

My friend and colleague, Richard Cashman, has produced the first historical account of crowd evolution for any specific sport and for any specific cultural setting. Given the importance of the subject and the lack of models from which to proceed, it is not surprising that he makes only modest claims for the book by isolating themes such as barracking, crowd control, humour, city/country differences, and the impact upon crowds of developing media technology. Cashman weaves these themes, and one or two others, into a chronological account of Australian cricket crowd growth with the periodisation fairly predictable: pre-1890, 1890-1918, interwar, 1945-1970, the 1970s, then World Series Cricket (the Packer revolution) and beyond.

There are many worthy features to be found within this framework. Drawing from both primary and secondary sources, Cashman establishes a clear statistical account of the rise, fall and rise of cricket crowds in Australia (though more tables would have conveyed the in formation more clearly). He pays close attention to the relationship first between radio and cricket, then television and cricket. While exploiting the nostalgia of 1930s' synthetic cricket (the radio dramatisation of test cricket being played in England), Cashman also suggests its implications for the composition of crowds at the grounds them selves. In connection with television, he provides at least tenuous relationships between that medium, the game, and phenomena such as streaking and banners. Cashman is also concerned throughout the book to point up the place of women in the crowds, an aspect disregarded almost entirely hitherto. To all these and other matters Richard Cashman brings an eye for detail, such as the evocative description of players' lunches at various grounds (75). Numerous crowd incidents are revisited; famous characters like Yabba (the Sydney Cricket Ground barracker) are highlighted; significant cricket his tory phases, like the 1970s' Western Australian rise to power, are con textualised; and there are speculations about the differing nature of


crowds in various centres (Adelaide, for example, is referred to consistently as the most conservative).

The book's production is imaginative, the larger than normal size allowing space for illustrations, which generally add to an under standing of the points being made, and for marginal notations. Some errors went undetected by editors, but do not detract from the overall impression. Some points of detail are arguable. Regular visitors to the WACA ground in Perth, for example, might question the precision of Cashman's location of that venue's 'outer' crowd (143). My own extensive fieldwork there, frequently participant observations, would suggest that crowd's epicentre to be a little further around from where Richard puts it. In a strange way, the nicety of that point leads to my reflections not so much upon the book itself as upon two of its major consequences for the intellectual field of which it is part. Those consequences might be termed broadly the historiographical and the analytical and they are, of course, interrelated.

On the historiographical aspect Richard Cashman has here con fronted the problem of audience common to many of us in the sports history field. Any work on sport in its Australian cultural setting is potentially a bestseller (though publishers would not always agree) because the activity has long been accorded major social status; indeed, sport is one of the most sacred of Australian cows. Apart from the fact that everyone is an expert on the subject by definition, that sacred nature of sport makes life difficult for any would-be analyst who will have to present unpalatable social facts about a sport to its adoring, unquestioning public. One decision to be made, then, concerns the choice between myth-breaking and myth-keeping. English historian Tony Mangan puts it neatly—there is, he points out, a vast distance between 'sports history', which basically recounts the story of the activity's growth, and the 'social history of sport', which explores the ramifications of such activity for the social context within which it is located.

'Ave A Go, Yer Mug! is instructive here. As a 'sports history' it will please many cricket buffs, and rightly so because it is many cuts, hooks and pulls above the average cricket book. It will not always be new to those readers. Given that barracking is the distinguishing feature of Australian crowds, some will be surprised that there are not all that many barracking stories here and that few of those were unknown previously. But, on the whole, the army of cricket fanatics will find much detail and colour to absorb them and, for them, the book probably will constitute the final work on the subject; it is a good sports history.


But Richard Cashman is also a social historian of sport as well as cricket raconteur; and for his colleagues the book will probably rep resent the beginning of a venture rather than its conclusion. For myself, the book's material confirms a number of areas which I believe social historians of sport must explore deeply to demonstrate the full range of sport's social power in Australia. At the same time, it also confirms the need to utilise skills developed in other disciplines—that is the analytical consequence to which I have referred. These allied points are of direct relevance to some of the book's major concerns.

Take the question of class, for example, which runs throughout the book, mostly in an indirect way. The first two sections, for in stance, are labelled 'patricians' and 'plebeians'. Richard Cashman is absolutely right to target this class dimension as a key to understanding the nature of crowds. A night on the Sydney Cricket Ground's Hill is simple testimony to that, although the denizens of that area would not refer to it so much as 'class' as 'those wankers in the Members'. To develop this line of analysis two aspects need to be followed: more work in the general definition and application of the class concept; and a sophisticated unlayering of class in its sport-specific locations such as on the Hill. Richard Cashman's book demonstrates clearly that yet another book is waiting to be done on this subject. When it is done it will benefit from reference to the increasing amount of sociological work on the nature of gatherings like English soccer crowds, and to the general sociological (more specifically social psychological) analysis of mass behaviour. Without such works as a reference point, the crowd profile and internal complications will remain at too general a level.

The class implications in Richard Cashman's sub-title point to yet another important area where much work remains to be done—language. 'Larrikin' and 'Ocker', of course, are culturally specific and by unravelling their nuances and connotations there is a good deal to be learned about sport's contribution to Australian class relations, as well as about the cultural precepts upon which that sport activity is based. In racing, for example, all jockeys irrespective of age are known as 'boys' and remain caught in the most primitive of industrial conditions. The language is part of their subjugation. For the most part, terms like 'larrikin' and 'ocker' are assumed to have agreed meanings when, in fact, a discussion of their origins would be helpful. For example, many current observers would fail to see a difference between the Hill crowd which invaded the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1879 and the one which showered plastic cup carriers into its midst early in 1984; after all, there were injuries at both. Richard


Cashman would very correctly dispute such an argument; but my point is that further work on aspects such as language would help elaborate the dissimilarity between, say, 1879 and 1984 which he would like to see but which is asserted rather than demonstrated here.

A simple illustration of this comes from the internal dynamics of crowds which were expressed almost exclusively once in barracking, now with the addition of banners. Any study devoted just to those areas would find a rich source of material which would benefit considerably from the application of principles from fields such as semiotics. For example, Richard Cashman identifies 'Go Home To Mother' as a favourite pre-1914 barracker's cry (55). Given the broad scope of his book, he did not have the space to develop the point, but several layers are clear. In its purest form it was undoubtedly directed at touring English cricketers, 'Mother = England'; that would have had a love/hate dimension to it, given the evolving nature of an Australian national culture. At its most localised level, however, the saying referred more to the manly virtues supposedly learned by playing cricket, thereby raising implications within the language for the power relations of sex. The 'reading' of modern banners, too, would be repaid handsomely. Early in 1983 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when Australia played New Zealand, the sign which read 'We're All Kiwis Maori Or Pakeha' said more about New Zealand's worsening race relations than it did about uniting in the face of the common Australian enemy.

What the proliferation of banners has underlined is the fact that cricket crowds, and sports crowds generally, constitute civic rituals and/or social dramas. Researchers like John J. MacAloon are using the concepts developed by anthropologists such as Victor Turner, Clifford Geertz and Max Gluckmann, among others, to push beyond the superficial assumptions and assertions about crowds. MacAloon, for example, is now using the concept of cultural performance to decode the behaviour patterns and rituals created within the Olympic Games movement. Cricket is highly ritualised, as has been pointed out many times, but not nearly enough work has been done to under stand the dimensions of that ritual within the crowds. One potential investigation is into the nature of banners as social resistance. Many banners, for example, parody the foibles of commentators and make very clear the disapproval of those commentators by the manufacturers of the signs. And just occasionally the full dramatic nature of the crowd becomes apparent. At one Sydney day-night match a New Zealand supporter who antagonised Australian Hill patrons for some time was finally escorted from the ground by the Police. On his slow parade past the Hill he was accompanied by a protagonist carrying


an elaborately executed sign bearing the message, 'He's Gone!'

So this book, then, is important in two major respects. First, it outlines the growth of Australian cricket crowds and some of the influences at work within them. Second, and probably most significant, Richard Cashman's 'Ave A Go, Yer Mug! indicates a number of areas where social historians of cricket in particular and of sport in general might direct their attention profitably.

Brian Stoddart teaches at Canberra College of Advanced Education.

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