Those miners must have really loved their cricket.
Either that or they wanted to get as far away from being underground as possible.
What better way to do it than to build a cricket ground on top of a mountain 200 metres above the Walhalla township?
The pioneers of the late 1800s, who sliced the rugged mountain with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, were surely looking down with pride last month, beaming that their little old ground was still being used all those years later.
Not only has the ground lived on, so too has Walhalla Cricket Club.
Walhalla Cricket Club commemorated its 150th anniversary on Sunday, February 5 welcoming Melbourne Cricket Club, just as it had for a centenary match in 2007.
As legend has it, former Australian captain Warwick Armstrong wagered he could hit a ball from the oval onto the roof of the Star Hotel down below in 1907.
Current day traversers of the Walhalla Cricket Ground can read all about Armstrong’s exploits, as well as other sporting asides that took place, thanks to a number of information boards posted on the track up the hill.
The track itself zigzags its way to the cricket ground, and takes about 20 minutes one way.
A number of players, wanting to take in the true Walhalla cricket experience, made the trek up the hill on Sunday – it’s just something you ‘have to do’ if you’re playing a game at Walhalla.
Players were given some assistance, as their kit bags were transported up by car – the mode of transport replacing the horse and cart mainly used to get to the Walhalla ground in the early part of the 20th century.
Without stating the obvious, one can’t imagine Walhalla cricketers back then would have arrived with much more than the clothes on their back to get a game of cricket going.
Upon arrival to the ground, all was in readiness for the first ball of two twenty20 games to be bowled.
An old chalk scoreboard, thought to be from the 1960s, had been resurrected for the occasion, while tree trunks marked the oval’s perimeter.
Standing in the centre, with the clouds feeling as though they were within touching distance, notions of how hustling this place must have been during the town’s peak years when the population swelled around 4000 rang true.
To the present day, those who had the distinction of playing cricket at possibly the highest altitude ever began to take the field.
Up first was Blackbridge Cricket Club (a team of Gippslanders that compete in winter cricket) up against the Melbourne Cricket Club XXIX Club (‘The 29ers’).
Blackbridge decided to bowl, and restricted their opponents to under 100.
The Gippsland side chased the total with little fuss, paving the way for the main event: Walhalla vs Melbourne.
The Walhalla team contained Trafalgar Cricket Club two-time premiership player Klay Butler. The team was put together through various connections to the club and township (Butler has family who reside in Walhalla).
The home side, (who had never played together), batted first and put up a good fight against a strong MCC which contained state and Victorian Premier Cricket players.
Regardless of the result, cricket was the real winner, and showcased the potential for the Walhalla ground as a marquee venue for future matches.
The club, which is affiliated with Traralgon District Cricket Association, has plans to host even more matches into the future, and hopefully one day, build clubrooms overlooking the arena.
If Sunday was anything to go by, the Walhalla Cricket Club has a very active and enthusiastic committee, determined to preserve the proud history of cricket in the area.
Walhalla has produced a Test cricketer after all.
Membership is available to the Walhalla Cricket Club.
Those interested can get in touch with committee member Dale Potter OAM via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trafalgar cricketer Liam Durkin played in one of the games at Walhalla on Sunday.
Here, he provides a few insights
State of the ground
Considering it is hardly used, and what it has been through in recent years, (flood, bushfire) the ground is in decent condition.
You can certainly play ‘a’ game of cricket there without any issue.
Respectfully however, I would not deem it fit to play a proper match for competition points in its current state just yet.
Like a golf course, there are exposed tree roots in sections along the boundary, and rocks coming through the surface.
These were painted white on Sunday to warn players, who certainly weren’t putting their bodies on the line.
At one stage I chased a ball from backward square to the fine leg boundary. Ordinarily, I would have dived to stop the ball crossing the fence, but seeing only rocks beneath me, thought it would have been quite a long and painful trip to LRH if I had one side of my body ripped to pieces.
Before the game, we agreed that any six would simply go down as a dot ball.
The square boundaries would not be much bigger than 40 metres, so there would have been countless lost balls if guys started teeing off.
One player instinctively flicked a ball off his pads over square leg for a maximum, and promptly put his hand up in apology as if to say ‘I didn’t mean that’.
Looking at how small the ground was, I couldn’t help but think how big scores would have been when football was played there.
You could literally kick a goal from the centre.
The poor centre half forward back then wouldn’t have been needed at all.
Journey up and back
Strangely enough, it is quicker to walk up the hill than it is to drive.
The walk takes about 20 minutes, while the drive takes you on a windy dirt track for 10 or so kilometres.
The drive goes some distance out of town, before turning right off the main road and then heading back toward the ground.
In a word, the road to the cricket ground is ‘rough’.
It is only one lane for most of the journey, and with a number of hairpin turns and cliff faces, certainly makes for a bumpy ride.
Needing to drive up to get my bag after the game, I spent part of the journey thinking ‘I really hope someone isn’t coming the other way’.
Most of the journey however was spent wondering if the little old work car would actually make it up the hill.
Happy to report we got out in one piece.
So, if a Hyandai i45 can make it up the Walhalla cricket hill, most cars should be able to.
The sight of an orange Mustang in the cricket ground carpark gave me some confidence I was going to be safe.
Granted it was a social game and we weren’t playing for sheep stations, (or should I say, for gold) it was still a great time playing in a unique location.
All in all, it was a bit of fun mixing with fellow cricket lovers.
The astro pitch took some getting use to as the synthetic actually ended at the return crease (where the stumps are).
This meant, when you bowled, your back foot landed on the turf and your front on the concrete. Ordinarily, the concrete extends a few metres further.
That being said, the day was filled with positives, and hopefully Walhalla can get more games up and running.
The ground has hosted a match for premiership points in the TDCA before, and speaking to president Keiran Watson, they are hoping to get a women’s competition going in the near future.
Appropriately taking on the nickname ‘The Miners’, the club has some great merchandise, including a very stylish baggy green cap.
Thinking a bit outside the square here, but with Brian Taylor having a holiday house in Walhalla, could there be scope to get him involved?
Imagine BT commentating cricket games up at Walhalla.
Boy oh boy.
Surely we could hear a bit of “that was out of bounds” whenever a ball gets lost.
In terms of unique cricket grounds, Walhalla would surely take some beating.
Wes Pump Oval in Callignee, which has one side lined by forest, offers some sort of comparison locally from a layout sense.
With obvious apologies, some other picturesque grounds in Gippsland are Toongabbie, Yallourn North and Jindivick.
Toongabbie’s ground will be a photographers dream once the white picket fence goes all the way around, while it is quite a nice sight playing at Yallourn North, facing north and seeing the mountains in the background.
Jindivick’s ground is well worth a visit, as less than a metre separates part of the boundary’s edge from the valley below, with views into Warragul.
Further afield, the Hume and Hovel Cricket Ground in central Victoria is a popular destination.
The ground is located in Strath Creek, and is actually a replica of Lords – it has the same slope gradient and number of pickets around the fence.
With more exposure set to come, who knows, Walhalla might even get a turf wicket one day.
They wouldn’t be the only club in Baw Baw hoping to see that happen.
- Cricket underway in Walhalla.
- One of the quirks of playing on a mountaintop is that balls often end up in the bush.
- Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
- The Walhalla Cricket Club team, featuring former Trafalgar Cricket Club player Klay Butler (front row, second from left).
- Trafalgar cricketer Liam Durkin (front row, left) played in one of the matches up at Walhalla.
- Players must hike up a 200 metre hill to get to the ground.