Aaron Burgess has played for eight seasons with Para Vista, and recently penned his memories of Saturday afternoons with his Goat Herder mates.
Some of the happiest days of my life were spent under the tall gums of Salisbury Heights. In the truest sense of that old phrase, it was my “hunting ground”. I’d roam the streets and parks with a footy in winter and a cricket bag in summer. Down the road, at the local primary school, a cricket club would train on the odd Thursday evening, and I would find myself joining in. Most of the lads were happy to toss me the oldest corky in the bucket and let me run in at their batsmen, who would generally smash my looping inswingers over cow corner. To a young lad, those batsmen almost possessed that brilliance I admired in test cricketers. Mum would turn on the only air-conditioner in the house during long summers, and we’d sit in the “good room” watching Border, Waugh, Boon and co. begin Australia’s era of cricketing dominance. I’d always wanted to be a gun cricketer.
One bloke that took the time to try and help me make that happen during those training sessions at the local primary school was a stocky, bespectacled little chap with a tucked-in polo shirt named Dave Schreiber. I was unsure of Dave’s ability to coach a cricketer, but he’d always stay back in the dying summer sun, after all his team-mates had long gone home, to ensure that I got a bat like everyone else. I still remember like yesterday, Schreiby grunting as he flung the ball in my direction, then urging to get onto the front foot fast, and get it as far as possible outside the line of off-stump.
Fast forward a couple of years to an early spring evening, when I sat drinking scotch and coke until I would fall asleep in an arm-chair – an activity that had become customary in the weeks before. I had undergone a period of immense personal upheaval, where the things for which I had once dreamt about turned out to be far less satisfying than I had imagined. I dyed my hair black, got stuck into those whom I thought were friends and got stuck further into the bottle. Anyways, on this evening, my phone buzzed with an unfamiliar number and I picked up. It was Marc Cossens from Para Vista Lutheran Cricket Club. It would seem that, at some point, Schreiby had written down my details and his new club was looking for players for the first match of the season. His president, and club champion Marc, took the punt and called me up. The game was down the road, I had no friends and nothing better to do, so I shrugged my shoulders and agreed.
The next morning, a trip to Big W had furnished me with a set of whites, which I still wear to this day. Then, I headed to Terama Reserve to find myself an hour early and just a little too keen, waiting in nervous anticipation until a slightly older and awkward chap wearing a cap without the brim bent, introduced himself as the B-Grade captain – and hence would begin a friendship I will treasure until my dying days. That man was Ronny Rathjen and just as curiously as I viewed him, he must have viewed me with my strange haircut – as did the remainder of the team when they arrived for the match. I quickly earnt the nickname “Skunk” and a few pay-outs, but it was all fairly jovial. To a man, they were decent blokes, and even better cricketers. We fielded first and I stood at mid-off and watched in disbelief as Josh Vines charged in to open the bowling with a cast on his broken bowling arm, the ball firmly wedged in his plaster-hampered fingers. An argument from the Enfield captain that the cast had granted Josh an unfair advantage stirred a disdain for the Terama mob that I still hold firm today. With the bat, Para Vista easily eclipsed our target, led by Brett Tarca, whose strange batting stance (but sharp eye) sent countless loose balls to the boundary… but anything could have happened that afternoon: I would have been hooked regardless.
I had no hesitation in turning up to training on the following Thursday night, where, for the first time I met the A-Graders. They all seemed an impressive mob, tall and athletic. The likes of Matty Wiles, Andrew Bevan, Shannon Aistrope and Richie Marshall would stand in the mulch at the end of the bowler’s run-ups, dissecting the events of the weekend and talking general rubbish. They were so cool and I wanted to be just like them. My first net session was one to forget: Richie Marshall hit me in the ribcage with his first ball, and all of a sudden, I longed to be facing up in the C-Grade net instead, where a funny lad named Nigel Kraft seemed to always be arguing with another bloke who bowled china-man in that net, a stuttering, zinc-cream abusing Matthew Woidt.
I kept a spot in the B’s, but the season was fairly ugly. We were smashed from pillar to post, week in, week out. On a postage stamp in Ridgehaven, some mob called Eastside hit 300 off us in one hot afternoon – I’m pretty sure Dylan Goedecke, Jason O’Regan and Aaron Timm hit the Jim Beam and Cokes before our chase had even started. The season after started in a similar vein, and only got worse. In round two or three, we hosted Enfield at Grand North, and it was only then that I was beginning to receive a couple of decent spells of bowling in the B’s. I took four wickets on the first afternoon (owing the fourth to Timmsy – I dismissed the batsmen who hit me a catch that I dropped off his bowling) and I was just beginning to settle into life as a Goat Herder for the first time – but there was trouble brewing. The week after, only eight of us showed up for a match and the side was dismissed cheaply. I was the last wicket to fall. Marc (in his only B-Grade captaincy appearance) reversed the order and sent me into bat again, and I nicked to the keeper first ball, becoming probably the only Para Vista player to be dismissed in consecutive balls by the same bowler! The rest of the team didn’t fare much better, and upon hearing that our C’s had been dismissed for a grand total of 6 runs in their match, the club decided to cancel the B-Grade.
I was only a newish player at the time, so I suppose I was immune to the club’s issues – our B’s and C’s were struggling to field teams, and the A’s had been defeated in four or five grand finals on the trot. I can only imagine how much some of the club’s greatest servants were hurting at the time, but it didn’t phase me, I’d found a place to call home.
I played the rest of that season out in the C-Grade under the captaincy of Steve Vines and what a captain he was! Steve could marshal men like no-one I’d ever met (nor met since). He knew the strong points of each of his players and was canny enough to inject them into games when the time was right, time and time again. The stories of his genius were too good to go unheralded and regularly filled the pages of the club newsletter, which I found myself writing primarily for his enjoyment after every game. It was around this time that my love for the scorebook and the scoreboard developed, and it's probably the only cricket thing at which I'm fairly talented!
In the seasons that ensued, it became my great privilege to witness Steve, Dylan, Jason, Ronny and Nick Maxted all make tremendous centuries. All of these guys had their own styles – Steve would smash all his runs in the air over cow corner, Ronny would take all day to nudge and grind his out, Dylan drew on an array of silky shots all around the ground, whilst Jason and Nick simply hit the cover off it! The best batsman I’ve ever seen, however, is my great mate Jonny Smith.
Soon after starting a new job shortly before season 2008-09, I found that my co-worker Jon possessed some sort of an interest in cricket. I asked him to fill-in for one match, and neither of us got a bat or a bowl because the team was fairly dominant at the time, but Jonny was happy to fill-in for the next game as well. Again, Jon seemed to watch from the fringes, and when I asked if he could play a third time he was a little concerned that he wouldn’t get a bat or bowl again, but he agreed. His situation was relayed to Steve, and the captain duly asked if he’d open the batting on the first morning. Jon borrowed my bat and proceeded to occupy the crease all day with Dylan Goedecke, returning to the clubrooms at half-past five 162 runs richer. Dylan had come back with a ton as well, the pair plundering 100 runs from the last ten overs of the match. It was magnificent to watch. Needless to say, Jon spent the rest of the season in the A-Grade, leading the side to a premiership with a century during a triple-century stand with Richie Marshall against North Eastern Knights in the grand final.
I played in the first of my premierships that season too – for the B’s against Magill-Morialta. Jason O'Regan, Dan Hassloff and Dan Frick did much of the damage with the ball, skittling our opposition for eighty-odd, which Ron Rathjen, Steve Vines and Stuart Headland easily chased on the first day. The victory was sort of carthartic for me (I’d been the last wicket to fall in a one-run loss against the Metho’s earlier in the minor round), but full satisfaction wasn’t felt until a couple of years later when I was able to help the team out of a tight tussle with bat and ball against the same side in another close match.
The A’s were able to continue winning premierships from that point onwards – five in a row in fact, whilst the B’s continued to at least challenge for the flag each season. I had the honour of witnessing some magic moments during these days. Nigel Kraft took three wickets in an A-Grade match, and Ronny Braakhuis took seven in a B-Grade match. I even grabbed a five wicket haul for myself against the Knights one rainy December afternoon, and then watched Aaron Timm better it with 6/13 in the next game. In another match, Matty Wiles snared a club record 9/18 (annoyingly for Matt, I was the only other wicket-taker). It was always a pleasure to watch the fearsome sight of Jason O’Regan, Scott Brown and Brenton Starke thunder in week after week, but it was the brilliant efforts with the ball from unlikely heroes that excited me the most.
In 2010-11, the club won the most recent of our premierships - it was a double whammy. Both the A's and B's finished on top, the A's thrashed Fitzroy and B's did the same to Adelaide Lutheran. I was only available for the first week due to a family commitment, which isn't something I'll regret; my absence in the second week allowed for a young player to come into the side and play his part in a first premiership win, but I did miss much of the celebrations with those I almost consider family afterwards (my best mates in the world), which is something that I was keen to remedy in future seasons.
The next season, it almost happened - both teams made the Grand Final, but sadly, both teams were knocked off, and since then, the best we've been able to muster is a couple of semi-finals appearances. I've spent much of those seasons drifting between the A's and B's as the club tries to battle back to the dominance I was lucky to experience early in my tenure as a Goat Herder. Funnily enough, though, I've always found myself in the best spot when a milestone match unfolds.
In 2012-13, I was honoured to be bowling from the other end at the time that Jason O'Regan took six wickets in eight balls, including a double hat-trick. I was even more honoured to unexpectedly find myself batting with Mark Weinert in his A-Grade comeback match, where an eighth wicket partnership of only 26 runs proved the difference in a hard-fought match against Fitzroy. I've seen Tim Hodson hit balls into the jail, Simon Wilson take seven-wicket hauls and Josh Vines win matches with bat and ball. I also was privileged enough to recently play in Mark Weinert's 100th match, making a few runs and taking a few wickets - one of which was an edge that flew to the great man in the slips. I've seen great players hang up their whites, and new club champions arrive in Greg Kells, Anthony Donnon, Phillip Atkins, Simon and Tim Wilson, and Jarrad and Luke McLeod.
For me, last season came at another time of personal upheaval. Shortly before the season began, I married the love of my life, and shortly before that, my grandfather passed away. Pop used to underarm tennis balls to me when I was little tacker, fired my love of cricket throughout my childhood and teenage years, and then would often appear at Para Vista matches. Stepping out on the sods of EJ Smith Reserve was just what I needed after a chaotic and emotion-charged time in my life - sure, it wasn't the same looking over to the sidelines and not seeing my grandfather feeding lollies to the kids, but being with the boys on Saturday is the best place to be.
Para Vista Lutheran Cricket Club has provided friendship and acceptance to me when I needed it the most. What a great club!
Words: Aaron Burgess. Photos courtesy Mark Weinert and Scott Brown.