It's Not Just Cricket
STORY & PICTURES BY RICHARD CORNISH
On the side of a steep valley a short drive out of Hepburn Springs at Shepherd’s Flat is a cricket pitch carved into the side of hill. In the paddocks next to it are planted willow trees from which are made cricket bats. Surrounding the pitch are pavilion-like buildings in which is displayed a huge collection of some of Australia’s best cricket and sporting memorabilia. Along the back wall are handmade bats ready for sale.
“This is only place in the world you can follow the production of cricket bats from bud to bat,” says Trish Tinetti. Her husband Ian nods. They run this intriguing sports history tourism set up called Cricket Willow. “Yep. We grow some of the best cricket willow in the world here,” he says. He explains that in 1902 the Captain of the touring English team, Archie MacLaren, got into conversation with umpire Robert Crockett at the MCG. MacLaren expressed his dismay to Crockett, a Shepherd’s Flat man, that Australia didn’t grow cricket willows. “So when McLaren got back to England he sent back some cuttings in a Thermos,” says Ian. The cuttings sent from England were grafted onto creek willows. As the trees grew more cuttings were taken and planted until, by the end of WWI, there were thousands of cricket willows around Shepherd’s Flat.
Crockett began to make bats on his Shepherd’s Flat property. In the 1920s he moved operations to Footscray but the bat making skills stayed in the valley. Willows were planted on the Tinetti farm in the late 1960s and bats were made after
the trees were mature enough to harvest some twenty years later. Ian Tinetti learned to carve bats from his father. He also learned how to grow and care for the willow trees, making them perfectly straight to make the perfect bat. He learned how to harvest the trees, cut the ‘billets’ out of the trunk using an axe and how to season the timber, a process that can take years. In a room overlooking the cricket pitch he takes a sharped tool he slowly carves out the shape of the bat, taking time to mould the ‘scoop’ at the back of the bat. “One of our bats, if properly oiled and looked after,” says Ian, “it will last you forever.”
Ian seems keen to get the cricket talk over. We walk up the hill to the old milking shed. It is room after room of displays and artefacts showing how bats were made but also celebrating the Swiss Italians of the area. Tinetti is just one of hundreds of names of families who immigrated to the Daylesford region during the gold rush. With that Ian points out one of Sir Donald Bradman’s bats before cooing over his prized possession – a ball once used by Sam Morris. “He was our region’s only test cricketer,” explains Ian. Born in Australia to West Indian parents he played for Australia in 1886. “Sir Garfield Sobers knows who Sam Morris is,” says Ian. “But not many locals have heard his name.”