How bull ants helped win the Ashes

It was in December 1936 and England had just beaten Australia by 322 runs in the first test at the Brisbane Cricket Ground. This was the first series in Australia since Bodyline and England would take a seemingly unassailable 2-0 lead – until a Queensland experience intervened, and oh, Bradman scored double centuries in consecutive matches. I told a version of this story on Ipswich’s West Bremer Radio.

Three days after the Brisbane test, the England team went to Ipswich for a two-day match at the showgrounds against a Queensland combined country team.

The England team was captained by Walter Robins who was the England Ashes vice-captain and who in the third test against Australia was fated to drop Bradman. He would apologise to his captain Gubby Allen who is said to have replied, “Don’t give it a thought, Walter. You’ve probably cost us the Ashes.”

Also in the England team in Ipswich was Wally Hammond. He was a future England captain, and one of the best ever England batsmen and world’s best slips fielders.

The Queensland country team was to include that great fast bowler Murgon’s Eddie Gilbert. Five years earlier while playing for Queensland against New South Wales, Gilbert had dismissed Bradman for a duck and afterwards Bradman always maintained that Gilbert was the fastest bowler that he’d ever seen.

Members of the Queensland combined country team as originally selected

Three Ipswich players were selected to play on their home ground including Malcolm Biggs who had previously played in six first-class matches for Queensland.

There was Reg Whittle who was the captain of Gatton and was in fine form having scored a century just weeks before the England match to have a season average of 133.

And then there was Stan Faulkner who was one of the best Ipswich bowlers never to have played for Queensland. He took a hat-trick for East Ipswich just weeks before playing against England.

Unfortunately, Gilbert was declared unavailable on the morning of the game, but still the match was memorable for a number of reasons.

One was that Ipswich’s Faulkner took 4 wickets for 82 runs which was the best bowling figures of the match.

Another was that the country team captain Toowoomba’s Tommy Allen scored 118 runs which was a new record score by a Queenslander against an England team.

And England’s Wally Hammond refused to run – taking mostly only fours and sixes for a nonchalant 109 runs.

But that didn’t stop the England team – with the willing support of the Sydney and Melbourne press – complaining about having to play the match in Ipswich at all.

They whinged about the change rooms and even the scenery not being up to standard – the most conspicuous feature of the landscape was the Ipswich cemetery which the ground overlooked.

They complained about the crowd, saying that only about 1,000 people turned up on day one, and that this included forty inmates from the nearby mental hospital who, it was said, were marched all too conspicuously into a the small reserve just as play was about to resume after lunch.

It should be noted that the low official attendance was due to the ingenuity of the Ipswich people – at least thirty percent more got in for free through a hole in the fence. The fence was fixed for the second day which resulted in the early attendance being noticeably lower.

And the biggest complaint of all it was about Ipswich’s bull ants. England bowler ‘Bodyline’ Bill Voce hit five sixes off six balls when he was batting. While he was fielding, he complained about bull ants half the size of his finger. It seemed that wherever he stood they went after him, especially whenever he tried to stand in slips.

Bodyline Bill Voce had no complaints about batting at Ipswich

Wally Hammond, who of course was also in slips, provided a particularly strange sight as he took two reefs in his trouser legs and shuffled his feet while trying to watch the ball and the ants at the same time.  

In any case, the Ipswich match ended in a draw. But the Ipswich bull ants won because Australia came back to win the test series 3-2, and the England team – even today eighty-five years later – remain destined never to return to the Queensland city.


Photo credits:
Bull ant – University of Queensland
Queensland Combined Country players 1936 – collage from Queensland Times Ipswich and Telegraph Brisbane
Voce hits six – Courier-Mail Brisbane, 15th December 1936, page 12

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