Gone with the wind ... the end of an era
The TCA ground might not have satisfied everyone as a first-class venue in recent years, but there must be an element of regret among members that a 105-year occupation of a small piece of the Queen's Domain is about to end, as far as inter-State and international cricket is concerned.
The ground has had a fascinating history, and it seems appropriate to reflect on some of the events that it has witnessed in its time. As the Annual Report for 1981-82 revealed, the ground was opened in 1882 after the best part of ten years intermittent development. A game against a Melbourne Cricket Club Eleven was arranged to commemorate the event, the match ending in a particularly heavy defeat for the local Association. Tasmania, of course, has learned to live with such reverses over the years, and in a similar way, local administrators have had to accept the fact that the finances of the Association have not always allowed the development of the ground to proceed in a satisfactory way; many of the Annual Reports often bemoaned the fact that various projects designed to improve the ground, even as basic as painting and general maintenance, were not possible to implement because of the lack of funds.
One of the early problems was the surface of the ground itself. Unsympathetically dry weather in those first few years resulted in the ground cutting up badly, allowing on one occasion EH Butler to take 6 for 1 for the South against the North. Allied to the this problem, which was only partially solved by importing many yards of topsoil, was the one concerning the supply of water to the ground. Initially, a windmill was tried, but this was found wanting, which might come as a surprise to the members of the 1979-80 English team, who had one day's play abandoned because of a Force 10 gale in their match against Tasmania. In the 1885-86 season, the windmill was replaced by a hand-forced pump system, which by definition seems to have been a rather labour-intensive device. Nevertheless no further complaints of the water supply reached the Annual Reports until after World War One, when a total prohibition of the use of water for non-essential purposes resulted in the death of most of the ground's grass. Reference was made in 1947 to an improvement in the water supply to the ground, but even so, the water pressure has never been considered really satisfactory.
The provision of suitable accommomdation for members and the paying public has exercised the minds of many committees over the years, and in its time, the ground has seen the coming and going of many forms of seating. Curiously, two of the original stands have withstood the rigours of the elements and time, and survive to the present day, albeit in modified form. The original members' stand was in place when the ground was opened in 1882, and in 1906, at a total cost of 1066/18/1, was pushed back to allow the construction of the brick structure at the front which is familiar to all today as the HC Smith Stand. Gas was laid on at the same time as a concession to modernity;in 1926 electricity was installed, the committee of the day expressing the hope that this would lead to sufficient lighting to allow "evening training". In 1940, the two ends of the stand were glassed in, but unfortunately the designers of this were inhibited by either a lack of funds or imagination and failed to glass in the side where it was really needed, namely, the front. In 1946, the outside stairway on the southern side of the stand first gave access to the top deck, and in 1950, the players' viewing areas in the front of the dressing rooms were provided. The press, originally accommodated under the old scoreboard (which was built in 1907), were relocated on the top deck of the stand in 1977, the year of Tasmania's admission to the Sheffield Shield.
The Ladies Stand was originally located on the southern side of the Members' Stand, and was a slightly more grandiose affair than it is now. In 1946, it was proposed to move it to its present location, a scheme whose execution was accelerated by the intervention of the elements: a series of gales in May and June, 1947 unroofed the structure, thus forcing the committee's hand somewhat. A new cantilever roof was designed, but the non-arrival of some of the materials meant that it was not completed until the 1948-49 season. The two concrete stands that are now sited in its place were completed for the 1954-55 season, along with the entrance gates, turnstile houses and ticket boxes. The original turnstiles were acquired in 1885, more as a status symbol than anything else, since the committee was moved to write in its Annual Report that "we have imported from England two of Norton's self-registering turnstiles, similar to those in use on the Sydney Cricket Ground"! The suggested motivation for the purchase is confirmed by the fact that they were not installed for use for another five years.
Up to World War One, the ground was more than just a cricket ground. Two tennis courts (one grass, one asphalt) were opened with the ground in 1882, and for many years, a members championship was contested and faithfully reported in the Annual Report. In 1887, the old pavilion that had been sited on the original ground further down the hill, was dragged up to its present position and converted into a Skittle Alley for the members' pleasure. The novelty of this sport was evidently shortlived, for in 1898, it was then converted into changerooms for a cycling club. The latter group was originally catered for in 1891, when the committee were moved to report the expenditure of 46/14/0 on a new bicycle track, but added their "regret that they have not met with the good faith they expected from the Ramblers' Bicycle Club at whose request the work was undertaken - only three members of the Club have joined the Association of the 15 who undertook the responsibility when negotiating with your committee. "
Football was tolerated at an early stage, despite this sport being the reason why the cricketers were keen to escape from the Lower Ground in the first place. By the 1890s, winter Saturday afternoons were taken up with baseball, and the 1896 Annual Report announced that the "quoit pitch has been well patronised on Wednesdays and Saturdays". The ground even witnessed a "Japanese Sports Day" in 1902, on the occasion of the visit of two Japanese warships to Hobart. The gathering at the ground were treated to the "novelty of Japanese wrestling, single-stick execises (?) and other feats which proved very interesting to the public". This was a year after, incidentally, the Association's acquistion of a stone roller and a horse "with a view to economic labour and making the work on the ground easier for the curator". Bowls was the fad in the first decade of this century, and a considerable amount was spent on the bowling green and pavilion which were opened in November, 1911. The impending war, however, seemed to put a stop to all this frenetic activity and things were never quite the same afterwards. In 1932 the by-now disused bowling green was converted into the present practice-wicket area. The only other major sporting liaison since those far-off times has been with the Hobart Speed Coursing Club, which in 1935 commenced a long and harmonious relationship with the cricketing fraternity. The greyhounds disappeared a few years ago, however, and now first class cricket is to follow suit. It is the Association's hope that the ground can be retained for club games, but nonetheless, 1987 marks the end of an era for cricket in Hobart.