Revisiting the home of young Don Bradman

Andrew Leeming has painstakingly recreated the childhood home in Bowral of Australia’s most famous cricketer.

N. Ram (left), Suresh Menon (middle) and Andrew Leeming, in Bengaluru.   -  K. Murali Kumar

It has taken Andrew Leeming the better part of a decade to restore and furnish Sir Donald Bradman’s childhood home. It is not hard to understand why. From the colour of the glass on the front door to the precise dimensions of the picket fence with its rounded rails (a key element in the young boy's fielding and catching drills), every detail of 52 Shepherd Street in Bowral, New South Wales, has been painstakingly recreated to restore the feel of a century ago.

“If the Don were to return today,” feels Leeming, “he'd say, ‘Yes, this is my house.’”

On Monday, at an event organized by The Hindu in association with the Press Club of Bangalore, Leeming took the gathering on a virtual tour of the house, offering various insights into the shaping of a young Bradman's personality and the development of his cricketing skills. “You can start to appreciate how his character was formed,” he said.

“This is the story of seven people in a normal house in Bowral, the story of how a young boy with a golf ball and a stump became the most famous person in the British Empire.”

N. Ram, Chairman, Kasturi & Sons Ltd., welcomed the audience. “There is a message in this restoration for Indian sport,” he said. “The BCCI was considering a museum in Mumbai but nothing has come of it.”

Suresh Menon, cricket writer and a columnist with The Hindu, hosted the evening's event, speaking of Bradman's relationship with India. Also present on the occasion were Ramachandra Guha, historian and author; the former India batsman W.V. Raman; and KSCA President Sanjay Desai.

More than a museum

Leeming, a passionate lover of history and cricket who has spent much of his life in the investment banking industry, bought the house – where Bradman lived between the ages of three and 16 – in 2007 after chancing upon an advertisement. He then embarked on its restoration, treating it, as Ram put it, “like a heritage site; or indeed, a world heritage site.”

Central to the Bradman story, of course, is the water tank with its rounded stand. Bradman said he developed his batting skills as a young boy by throwing a golf ball repeatedly against the base of this tank-stand and practising hitting the rebound with a stump. When Leeming acquired the property, the tank was gone, having been demolished some time in the 1930s by former occupants of the house. The old flooring, though, had remained, and Leeming and his team of experts zeroed in on the exact spot where the tank had stood.

Visitors to the house today are encouraged to test their skills at the tank-stand, with equipment matching specifications of a hundred years ago (a narrower stump and a smaller golf ball), and marvel at the immense hand-eye coordination the exercise requires. “It is so hard. We've had Test cricketers come and try it,” said Leeming. “Simon Katich managed only one hit.”

Researching and furnishing the interior of the house, with period pieces, took four years. There is now a library, and an extensive digital archive of Australian history. The idea is to offer an immersive cricketing and social history experience. “This is not a museum,” said Leeming. “There's a lot here you can touch and feel.”

A hidden acoustic system recreates various household sounds: from the kitchen, of the Don's sisters playing the piano, of George Bradman chopping wood outside, and of a boy hurling a golf ball against a tank-stand. “Perhaps his ability to concentrate came from the fact that this was a very noisy house,” Leeming noted. “It's just another fragment of the mosaic.”

As a not-for-profit venture, it is important to 52 Shepherd Street that it generates public interest. Among the visitors so far have been “a hardened first-grade cricketer who burst into tears” and Sunil Gavaskar, who Leeming revealed had stood in silence in front of the tank before saying: ‘Thank you. I can die happy now.’ “This is not a shrine,” Leeming remarked, “but a place to give people pause.”

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