I finally got around to seeing the excellent documentary “Fire In Bablyon” about the West Indian cricket team that consisted of champions like Viv Richards, Michael Holding, Clive Lloyd and many, many more. It is one of the best documentaries I’ve seen even if it did have me cringing at the racism that was still prevalent in our country back in the 70’s. This is the type of documentary I feel should be shown in our schools. We’re very good in this country at sweeping our racism under the carpet, always falling back on the “Come on mate, we’re all mates, right?” attitude that attempts to sell us as “good blokes”. I think we’re inherently good people but we’re never going to be the best people we can be until we confront the ugly side of our history. Only then will be able to reinvent us for the new millennium where racism should be consigned to the history books.
On a personal note I remembered the fear I felt towards these “blokesy” men when I was young. Coming from a single mum background I found the men who surrounded me were either alcoholics or the type of guys who took great pride in their ignorance of the rest of the world. Apart from my third cousin Greg who was a bit older than me, the male role models I had were non-existent. I was a big fan of the West Indies because I found them to be not only entertaining but also less threatening even if they were bowling thunder bolts at the Australians or battering balls into the car parks. It is interesting to look back and discover that I still find the type of Australian who played in that era (typified by Lillee, Marsh and Chappell) as repugnant. I would like to think most of the team wasn’t like that but back then that threesome was the image we proudly embraced, as representative of what a man was all about and it is something I recoiled from even back then. Who knows what they were like behind locked doors and in their quiet moments? Maybe they were softer and more politically aware then they appeared? To do so they would have to have been in direct contrast to their public images and this is unfortunately all I have to go by.
I am not here to bury the Australian team but sing the praises of the West Indies. I managed to score the autographs of most of my heroes from that era: Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Gus Logie etc but the one I cherished the most was from Viv Richards. Mum took me to see him play in a one-day match and he was bowled for a first ball duck. This did little to dampen my enthusiasm for hanging around after to try to meet him. Mum was uncertain it was a good idea since he’d obviously had a bad day at the office. Still we hung around for a long time at the gates of Adelaide Oval and when Viv finally appeared I burst into a run to grab his autograph. As I ran towards him a bunch of Aussie blokes all started quacking at Viv, making fun of his golden duck in the game. Someone yelled something that was uncalled for and racist. In that moment Mum was terrified that Viv would give me short shrift. Since he was copping some schtick Mum was prepared for what might come next.
I ran up and asked for his autograph. Viv stopped, apologised for not putting on a better show for me, signed my autograph book and put his arm around me as he walked back to Mum. According to Mum he looked over once at the guys and smiled and then returned his attention to me. We talked about my favourite players or which I told him he was the best. When I returned to Mum he said, “You have a very fine lad” and walked off with the cool demeanour that characterised the man.
That was nearly 30 years ago. I still have the autograph but more importantly I still remember how he carried himself, an important lesson for a young boy and a moment of faith repaid for a single mother.
22nd of January, 2011