The ground that made Perth proud: a fond obituary for the WACA

In the first of two articles about the WACA as it prepares to stage its final Test, Jeremy Henderson, a Perth resident since arriving there as a 19-year-old in 1970, looks back on the good and bad about the ground.

The Waca: never cut out to be a real stadium – and that was its charm

I’ve been lucky, really lucky. I have seen some fantastic cricket at the WACA.

I saw Greg Chappell, in his first Test, and Perth’s first Test, score a scintillating century against an England attack that included one of my boyhood idols, John Snow.

I witnessed the last 31 runs of an extraordinary innings of 356 by Barry Richards for South Australia against a Western Australian attack that included McKenzie, Lillee and Tony Lock.

I saw Dennis Lillee take a breathtaking eight for 29 off 7.1 overs for Australia against the World XI in 1971. Surely no other single haul could boast as exalted a collection of scalps as Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Sunil Gavaskar, Tony Greig and Farokh Engineer.

I was on my feet when Doug Walters smashed a six in the last over of the day to bring up 103, and his century in the final session against England in 1974.

I winced when a pasty-faced 41-year-old Michael Colin Cowdrey, rushed out from the English winter, was bombarded by Lillee and Thomson at their most ferocious.

I was in awe as Roy Fredericks and Clive Lloyd pulverised Lillee, Thomson and Max Walker for 300 between them before Andy Roberts destroyed Australia with seven for 54.

I saw another 41-year-old, Bobby Simpson, graft 176 to help Australia to a pulsating two- wicket victory against India, with 22 balls to spare.

I watched as Botham took 11 wickets in a losing cause in the match where Lillee had his silliest moment, with the aluminium bat.

I even got to see some great football matches there, when the West Coast Eagles used it. It was a great place for watching football, but I guess it didn’t hold enough spectators, and God knows what the curator thought of the way they ploughed up the square. I even saw a very ordinary Rolling Stones gig there in 1973 – NOT a good concert venue!

Queens Gardens

Queens Gardens: a beautifully tranquil approach to the Waca

In the beginning

Perth was SO proud of itself when it got its first Test in 1970. With a population of just 750,000 (now two million), Perth has sometimes been described as a city with a well-balanced approach to life – having an equally large chip on both shoulders. Here, though, was a chance to prove that it was the equal of any other Australian city.

Around $400,000 was raised, partly by public subscription, to improve facilities, and they constructed, not very well, the “Test Stand”, later to be renamed after John Inverarity. It was basically a concrete edifice, where many of the seats were still in the sun for much of the day.

There was something of a carnival atmosphere around this special occasion, and Perth went on an orgy of self-congratulation. Crowds totalled 84,142, almost twice that in Brisbane, and gate receipts were three times those of Brisbane at $106,748. (that’s an average of $1.27 per head, or $14 in today’s terms!) And everyone was extraordinarily pleased with themselves. Never mind that the pitch was dead, leading to a predictable draw – it at least enabled the celebration to last a full six days (remember the good old rest days?)

For all the new-fangled development, though, the WACA retained a very real character and charm. Those of us coming from the city would approach (and still do) through the beautiful tranquility of Queens Gardens, and enter into an arena where the predominant colour was green. There were plenty of grassy banks, and the terraced benches were on grass rather than concrete. Between what is now the Lillee-Marsh Stand and the scoreboard, there were plenty of terraced wooden benches under corrugated iron roofing, which provided a great view and plenty of shade on a hot day – at an excellent price.

On many a day I recall my young children happily playing in the dirt, consuming the sandwiches and cordial we took in, with the occasional ice cream. A good cheap day out it was. The beer prices were affordable, perhaps too affordable, judging by the state of some of the barrackers, but there was always a friendly, good-natured atmosphere about it all. I LOVED those days, before work and family responsibilities dragged me away and left it all a distant memory.

And in the end

Perth has changed. Cricket has changed. WE have changed. And, by God, how the WACA has changed!

Apart from the historic scoreboard, and the badly-aligned Inverarity Stand, not much remains of the “old” WACA, least of all its friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Despite a few token patches of grass, it’s basically a concrete and plastic heat sink. Gone is the charm and easy-going mood, and the cheap shaded seats.

Yes, there’s been plenty of redevelopment in the last 47 years, but what’s there now for me, the ordinary fan? From my perspective, it seems as if the great bulk of the comfort and shade is there for members, corporate sponsors and those with deep pockets. There is a very important word in there: SHADE. If you haven’t come to Perth, let me tell you something about it. It gets HOT, very hot, 40-degree hot.

Meanwhile, we are getting increasingly addicted to our own comfort. In 1970, air conditioned cars were a rarity. The same in homes. Generally, the heat is not something we are forced to endure any more, especially without shade, unless you go to the outer at the WACA. For some unknown reason, the authorities have failed to spend even a modest amount to provide shade for us plebs.

That pitch

Many have bemoaned the loss of the “famous” WACAa wicket, but like so much in life, memories can be somewhat selective about what the “good old days” actually gave us!

That very first Test, 45 years ago, saw 1,224 runs for the loss of 29 wickets.In 1971, I remember, with considerable discomfort, the sight of Bill Lawry taking over seven hours to grind out 116 against a Western Australia attack of Lillee, McKenzie and Massie.

Regrettably, that was the day I had chosen to introduce my new wife to the joys of Shield cricket – she managed to read seven chapters of her book, and never returned! In 1978, a dour Geoff Boycott managed just 63 runs in a full day’s play. In 1985, five days yielded just 925 runs at 2.1 runs per over. And finally, of course, there was the road produced for the NZ match two years ago, which was always destined to produce a draw.

So, it’s not so much a matter of the WACA wicket not being what it used to be, but rather it not being what it sometimes used to be.

So in saying farewell to the WACA, I’m not so much sad as appreciative of what it offered before it tried, rather unsuccessfully, to grow up, become a “real” stadium. It’s just not cut out for that, so I just say thanks for the chance to experience something that I will always remember with fondness.

And one last thing

Please Western Australian Cricket Association, I would ask you not to retain the WACA as a boutique venue holding the “smaller” Tests. Once the new stadium is available, stage all the Tests there. I would go to the new stadium, but not back to the WACA.