Home Australia The barefoot band of bush kids on a mission to start a cricket team

The barefoot band of bush kids on a mission to start a cricket team

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A boy in a cricket costume holds a hand drawn sign.

Don Bradman was a cricket obsessive even as a child, spending hours every day hitting a golf ball against an old water tank with a cricket stump.

Almost a century later, a boy from Cunnamulla could give The Boy from Bowral a run for his money on the stakes.

Eleven-year-old Henry Land makes a 400 kilometer round trip every weekend to play cricket in Charleville, south-west Queensland.

He has been desperate to set up a junior team closer to home and, after posting hand-drawn leaflets around the city, has rallied a dozen teammates to the cause.

Henry put up hand-drawn posters around Cunnamulla calling on children to join his cricket team.(ABC News: Peter Quattrocelli)

“We decided to go down to the nets every few days and hit the ball,” he said.

“They love it. They’re very dedicated to the game, like me.”

Cunnamulla has not had a junior cricket team for decades and it is something Henry wants to put right.

He’s become the unofficial coach of a group of barefoot boundary destroyers, and with the help of his community and some of the sport’s top administrators, his dream team could soon take the field.

A group of young children joined their hands in a circle, ready to sing as a team.

The Cunnamulligrubs, or Cunnamulla Emus as they will become known, are convinced they will get a youth competition off the ground.(ABC News: Peter Quattrocelli)

Get up and shine

It’s still dark when Henry gets out of bed every Saturday during the cricket season to begin the two-hour journey to the nearest town with a youth team.

His mother, Marsha Bolitho, nudges him awake at five in the morning sharp and they hit the road before the rooster has cleared his throat.

Henry falls asleep in the back seat for most of the trip, so he feels refreshed when he stops in Charleville to toss the coin.

There is no such respite for his very committed mother.

“Sometimes it’s exhausting, but he’s really, really excited,” she laughs.


The Cunnamulligrubs take to the cricket nets for their unofficial training sessions most days after school.(Supplied: Marsha Bolitho)

Young Henry’s enthusiasm for the gentleman’s game might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for a short video from local publican Peieta Mills.

He put out a call on social media for anyone who has “ideas on how Henry can start a Cunnamulla team”.

That led to an interview on ABC Radio with Henry and his mother, who said their son was desperate to get a proper training clinic in their town.

“That would be his dream,” he said.

“The other day he came home and said, ‘I’ve been teaching them how to play with their feet, Mom.’

“To have someone with a little more knowledge than an 11-year-old teaching all these kids how to play cricket would be incredible.”

A hand drawn sign says "Cricket: Come down every Monday, Wednesday and Friday... PS Follow the rules!"

The hand-drawn posters proved to be an effective way for Henry to spread the word.(ABC News: Peter Quattrocelli)

Cricket boss realizes

Listeners nicknamed the team “Cunnamulligrubs”.

Within a couple of days the Bush telegraph was in full swing and news of the Cunnamulligrubs story reached Queensland Country Cricket president Kev Maher.

The name Maher and the cricket go together like the leather of the willow.

Kev played for Queensland Country in the 1970s and is now one of the sport’s top executives.

His nephew, Jimmy Maher, represented Australia in two one-day internationals and, playing for Queensland, became the first batsman to reach 1,000 runs in a single domestic Test season.

Two boys in school green brief, cricket pads, helmets and with a bat hug each other in cricket nets.

Henry (left) has been spearheading the campaign to get Cunnamulla a youth cricket team.(Supplied: Marsha Bolitho)

“I got a phone call from an old teammate who heard the interview,” Kev explained.

“I’m absolutely amazed by the work they’re doing. It’s great to know.”

Maher has contacted Brisbane-based Wanderers cricket club and says an invitation will be extended for the Cunnamulligrubs to attend training clinics hosted in Charleville in August.

“Let’s organize some equipment to give to Henry and his teammates: some cricket balls for their training, plus some [Brisbane] Heat team,” he said.

The Queensland cricket stalwart also had some words of encouragement.

“Henry, my nephew is Jimmy Maher, he came from the little town of Babinda and became captain of Queensland,” he said.

“If you’re enthusiastic enough and want to try hard enough, you’ll make the grade too, buddy.”

There was more to come.

A pile of cricket groin protector boxes stacked on the floor.

Very important protective equipment has arrived for children, although very few had heard of the “boxes”.(Supplied: Marsha Bolitho)

Six and inside

Michael Lloyd might be Australia’s most traveled sports coach.

Based in Longreach, he coaches cricket, tennis, AFL and hockey in a stretch of outback Queensland stretching from Morven to Corfield, a small town between Winton and Hughenden.

“There’s about 750 kilometers between the two, about the size of Victoria,” he says.

A guy with glasses and a "Coach Lloydy" Bucket hat stands in front of a rusty Qld metal sculpture with the word Muttaburra

Michael Lloyd is a long-distance outback sports coach across western Queensland.(Supplied)

Coach Lloyd heard Henry’s story on the radio and felt compelled to get in touch.

“Hearing that story I thought, ‘I have to help this kid somehow,'” he said.

He ended up hosting the Cunnamulla team’s first proper training clinic over the Easter holidays.

They trained for seven hours in 90-degree heat, while the local pub and grocery store offered them free snacks to keep them energized.

A group of children, some in cricket gear, gather to take a photo at some wire cricket nets.

The group of Cunnamulla boys are desperate to get a youth cricket team in their hometown.(ABC News: Peter Quattrocelli)

Coach Lloyd was also able to share advice on setting up a new junior cricket club.

“When we hear stories like Henry’s, we jump to it,” he said.

“At some point we were those kids with a little drive and we just needed someone to help us.”

A boy in cricket gear and a mother in a jacket, red cap and reading glasses.

Henry and his mother Marsha Bolitho, who drives him 400 kilometers to Charleville and returns to play cricket at weekends.(ABC News: Peter Quattrocelli)

Moving towards the fold

Cunnamulla Junior Cricket is now in the early stages of becoming a registered club.

Meanwhile, these boys and girls continue their training sessions barefoot, sharing worn-out bats and torn pads and using their discarded shoes to mark the batting crease.

A group of children in green school uniforms sit on the grass and eat apples.

Henry (back) and his teammates prepare for a short apple break before returning to training.(Supplied: Marsha Bolitho)

Henry’s mother isn’t sure where her son’s enthusiasm comes from, but cricket is in his blood.

Bolitho says Henry’s great-grandfather died of a suspected brain aneurysm more than 70 years ago, just a couple of days after being hit on the head by a cricket ball while playing for the South Australian national team.

“It’s all we talk about, cricket,” he said.

“He’s decided he wants an automatic bowling machine for his birthday.”

A broken cricket bat and a broken leather ball.

Casualties are inevitable when an entire team shares equipment.(Supplied: Marsha Bolitho)

If this Cunnamulla competition takes off it will be a dream come true for Henry.

“To date, there are no sports clubs here for children once they finish under-12 youth rugby league,” Ms Bolitho said.

“Children need mentors, coaches and role models, especially in their teens, to keep them on track and help shape them.

“If you can achieve this, it will give everyone the opportunity to participate in a sport that has no weight or age restrictions. And all children with different abilities, genders, etc., can participate.

“It will be a victory for many more children in our community.”

As for the name, the days of the Cunnamulligrubs may be numbered, with children currently leaning towards the Cunnamulla Emus as a more distinguished alternative.

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