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The diggers' doctor

One of few non-cricketers to share a bond with Sir Don Bradman was a South Australian doctor, Donald Beard

Ashley Mallett

July 11, 2014

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Don Bradman was known to get excited about his performances in sports other than cricket © Getty Images

At the launch of The Bradman Albums at Adelaide Oval, Bradman mentioned there were only two people in his lifetime of cricket that he knew who had taken more wickets than had made runs.

One of them was an Englishman, the other was Don Beard. Apart from Bradman, who led the 1948 Australian team to England, there were a number of Invincibles on the marquee that evening, including the left arm fast-medium bowler Ernie Toshack and leg-spinner Doug Ring.

Sir Donald had agreed to a launch of The Bradman Albums on the condition that the lion's share of proceeds for the evening went to the Crippled Children's Association, a charity for which both Sir Donald and Lady Bradman were great supporters. Don Beard will never forget what happened that night.

"Early on at the dinner Ernie Toshack rushed up to me and said, 'come quick Doc, Doug's gone!'"

"I ran up to the table and sure enough there's Doug lying on the ground. He had no pulse. I felt his heart, he had no heart beat. He was unconscious, not breathing. So he'd obviously had a cardiac arrest (heart attack). I started to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and as I was pumping his heart I said, 'quick, I want someone to come here and pump his chest while I'm breathing him.'

"A newspaper reporter volunteered (it happened to be the celebrated Advertiser columnist Des Colquhoun) and I said, 'I want you to give him four to one.' (Four pumps of the chest to one breathing). We kept going. After about 10 or 15 minutes as I was breathing into him I felt the slight resistance. Up until that point there was no resistance at all.

"And I called out, 'we've got him, we've got him!' And at that moment Doug brought up the contents of his dinner, because I'd been filling his chest with air, but a lot of it was also going down into the stomach. He vomited straight into my faceā€¦ and then all down my dinner suit."

"Fortunately it was early in the dinner and he'd only had a white wine, he hadn't had any red. He came good; I found a pulse.

"I called out to Johnny Selth (the SACA caterer), 'get an ambulance, we've got to get Doug to hospital.' Now the table was over towards the edge of the marquee. They brought the ambulance to the back of the marquee. We lifted the flap, and smuggled Doug out, under the flap of the marquee and into the ambulance and off to hospital."

Geoff Jones, senior journalist with The News knew a front-page story when he saw one. So there on the front page of The News on Tuesday, October 6, 1987 appeared Jones' story under the banner: Winning Team Helps Doug Beat the odds - Geoff Jones On The Spot:

Former Australian Test cricketer Doug Ring had odds of 250-1 stacked against his life at Adelaide Oval last night. And he beat them, thanks to a winning, if not unusual team. Mr Ring, 68, had collapsed with cardiac arrest during the gala banquet to launch The Bradman Albums. He made a good recovery overnight and today was out of intensive care and resting comfortably in a ward at Royal Adelaide Hospital. But it was a very different story last night when he started to feel ill in the brief interval between the speeches by Australian Rugby Union coach Alan Jones and the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke. And that's when the winning team stepped in. The line-up read: Adelaide surgeon, deputy chairman of the Road Safety Advisory Council and former Sturt fast bowler, Dr Donald Beard; Advertiser columnist Des Colquhoun; Adelaide stockbroker Bill Whiting; sports commentator Ken Cunningham and Adelaide Oval caterer John Selth. Dr Beard agreed to speak to me about the incident only on the condition that I highlight the need to learn mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

"Doug had lapsed into semi-consciousness and then stopped breathing altogether. I think he stopped breathing for about two minutes. I was conscious of someone standing behind me and I just shouted, 'whoever you are start pumping his chest.' After it was all over I realised it was Des Colquhoun. Well done, Des. (MC) Ken (Cunningham) did a wonderful job calming everyone down and continuing on with the show. And while all this was going on John Selth had quickly got an ambulance and alerted the hospital."

Were you the only doctor present?

"I think so."

Would you agree that only one person in 250 knows how to administer mouth-to-mouth?

"That would be about right. It is simple and easy to learn and there are courses readily available. Two that come to mind are conducted at the Modbury Hospital by Dr Robert Edwards and by St John Ambulance.

"Two things stand out about last night. Bill Whiting's quick recognition of the extent of Doug's illness and his immediate reaction and the fact that there was someone there who knew how to give mouth-to-mouth.

"First aid and mouth-to-mouth should be a prerequisite to gaining a driver's licence.

"The Road Safety Advisory Council has already recommended this to the State Government and at our last meeting we discussed it again and decided to make a further recommendation. It would save many lives."

I'm not finished with coincidences yet.

While this drama was being played out at Adelaide Oval last night, at nearby Channel Seven, St John Ambulance were releasing a feature film, "You've Probably Saved His Life", featuring Judy Morris and Ivar Kants, which concentrates entirely on mouth-to-mouth. (Geoff Jones, The News, October 6, 1987 Page 1)

 
 
"Thommo said, 'If Bradman's batting, I'm bowling.' They went from the nets together, arm in arm. Thommo was proud of the fact that he was the last man to bowl against Bradman" Don Beard remembers events from the rest day of a Test match at Adelaide Oval
 

Dr Beard was delighted over the team working brilliantly to help save Doug Ring's life. Ring lived another 14 years. Cricket and caring for the injured and the sick was intricately weaved into the pattern of an amazing tapestry that details his life journey. While the doctor fought to save Doug Ring's life, Sir Donald Bradman was sitting at a table at the other side of the marquee, and, like most people at the launch, was enjoying the speeches, oblivious to the real-life drama being played out little more than the lengths of a cricket pitch under the same roof of the marquee.

Once when playing for Sturt at Hawthorn Oval, Don [Beard] was padded up ready to go into bat as the number eleven, "the hope of the side", when a cry rang out from the bowling club next door. A man had collapsed on the bowling green. Don, still wearing his batting pads, raced to the man's aid. He cleared the little fence next to the pavilion and set about reviving the man, who, like Ring, had suffered a cardiac arrest.

"I think it was one of the Walshe brothers, a licensee of the Oriental Hotel. I got to work on him, but I soon realised as soon as I stopped breathing into him, he stopped, so I hadn't got him going 100 per cent, so I went in the hospital with him in the ambulance. I delivered him to the RAH alive, but unfortunately a week later he had another cardiac arrest and that time they couldn't save him. I raced back to Hawthorn Oval and they were just coming off the field and I called out, 'I'm back, I'm back!'

'Too late,' they said. 'That was the ninth wicket that fell, and the game is finished and you've lost' "

Don [Beard] said Bradman would get excited about such things as a chance to win the B grade golf championship at Kooyonga.

"One Sunday morning I called on him and asked about his golf. He replied, 'I looked at the Sunday Mail to see the results because I won the championship, but I forgot to put in my card, so I lost.' Such was the man who in England had his name in foot-high capitals on the newspaper hoardings, but here he was searching for his name among the results of a B grade golf championship printed in tiny figures in the Sunday newspaper.

He would talk about his accomplishments in squash. In 1938 Bradman won the SA squash championship by beating Don Talbot, a Davis Cup tennis champion. World champion billiards player Walter Lindrum enjoyed many a visit to the Bradman home in Holden Street, Kensington Park, to partake of a glass of sherry with him and then the two would play a keen game of billiards.

"I once had a meal in London with Joe Davis, the world-famous snooker player," Dr Beard said, "and Davis confessed that he only took up snooker 'because I could never beat Lindrum at billiards.'"

As Don [Beard] got to know Bradman better, they went to one another's homes for dinner. At other times they met up for a small and very private gathering of mutual friends.

There was, of course, the famous occasion when Bradman agreed to have a hit in the Beard family backyard pitch, facing the Doc's two sons, Matthew and Alastair, and Jeff Thomson, Australia's fearsome opening bowler, arguably the fastest bowler to draw breath, on the rest day of a Test match against India at the Adelaide Oval.

"Thommo said, 'If Bradman's batting, I'm bowling.' They went from the nets together, arm in arm. Thommo was proud of the fact that he was the last man to bowl against Bradman. Indian spinner Bishen Bedi was late and missed it all."

Another time Don and Margaret prepared for a guest list of twenty people.

"I went next door to borrow some chairs," he recalled, "And my next-door neighbour said, 'You can have these chairs Don, but don't let Dennis Lillee sit in one.'

"I think Mrs Brumitt didn't like Dennis, or she didn't like the fact that he was so fast and often hit the opposition batsmen."

That particular party went down a treat, but for the peculiar behaviour of one of the guests, the eccentric Alan Knott, England's brilliant wicket-keeper.

"Knott picked on every course on the menu. 'What's in this?' he asked Margaret, who had carefully prepared the meal. 'What is this? Did you cook it properly?'

"It was extraordinary stuff and the gathering was made even more uncomfortable when Knott, in between courses, got down on the polished floor in the dining room, and proceeded to exercise - push-ups, sit-ups you name it. Eventually Knott had so embarrassed our English guests they left taking Knott with them.

"Dennis Lillee was a great guest, so too Len Pascoe. Next day after Len dined with us, Margaret took delivery of a lovely bunch of flowers from the big fast bowler. I think that was the only time she ever received flowers from a cricketer who shared a meal with us."


Don Bradman chats with a guest at a party, January 1, 1960
Bradman: the toast of many a get-together © AFP
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While Don says he was blessed by the wonderful dinners and chance to get to know a wide diversity of people, there were times when the odd guest over-stepped the mark. Once Frances Edmonds, author of Not Another Bloody Tour, and wife of Phil Edmonds, the England left-arm spinner, took exception to Phil talking to one of the guests, the wife of a Supreme Court judge, both good friends of the Beard family.

Mrs Edmonds apparently thought her husband was doing a line with the lady. Suddenly, out of the blue, from across the room, she threw her glass full of champagne at him. Phil ducked in nonchalant fashion, the missile missing his head by inches, then shattering against the wall, champagne spilling onto the carpet. He carried on as though his wife's tantrums were an everyday event and she left the house immediately.

Thankfully such incidents were all too rare. Once a visiting surgeon from Edinburgh said to Don [Beard], after their subject of conversation turned to the exploits of Don Bradman, "'Oh, Don, if I could just get to see Bradman from a distance, at the end of the street, anywhere, I could go back to the UK and tell my friends that I saw him.'"

Typically Don Beard went the extra mile for a friend. He arranged for his friend to come to dinner and he sat him right next to Sir Donald.

As the years wore on Don and Sir Donald met frequently and the conversation sometimes turned to health issues. And Bradman made what people today might consider an amazing confession. At the age of 18, Don Bradman, the brilliant emerging champion batsman, had six teeth extracted.

And he told his friend of his ordeal in part of a letter he wrote him dated February 28, 1986:

The dentist who started all my trouble was Mick Bardsley, brother of Warren. I went to him for treatment and he said I had Pyorrhoea and must lose one of my double back teeth.

Always trusting my medical advisors I said 'okay, take it out.' But before I left the chair he had removed six, three on each side. I was then boarding with Frank Cush. I went home but Mrs Cush was out, so laid down with a bowl beside me and when Mrs Cush returned the bowl had so much blood in it that she became alarmed and rang the doctor. He came round and plugged my gums to arrest the bleeding.

That was on a Friday evening and the doctor said he didn't think I should play in the grade match due to start the next day. However, I was captain, didn't want to let the side down, so I disregarded his advice. So I played. Won the toss and sent the opposition in because I felt weak and not up to batting.

For the same reason I put myself at first slip. Much to the annoyance of the crowd, who knew I was the best cover fieldsman and wasn't any good in the slips. You guessed it. I put down two catches in the first 10 minutes. But worse was to follow.

We bowled them out by 4.30pm and we had to bat. I dropped myself down the batting order, hoping our early batsmen would stay in. But they didn't. By ten to six we had lost eight wickets and I could not any longer refuse to bat. So I walked out to be roundly hooted by the spectators (the only time I can remember) who knew nothing of the drama being enacted behind the scenes.

By stumps we were still eight wickets down and about 40 runs behind, with Frank Ward my not out partner. The following Saturday I had recovered. Frank and I put up a record 9th wicket partnership, my share 116 not out, then bowled Marrickville out again and won by an innings. I went from villain to a hero.

Interesting that the young Bradman's dentist. Mick Bardsley was a right-handed batsman who played 11 first-class matches for NSW, hitting a highest score of 87 and averaging 31. His more famous brother, opening batsman Warren Bardsley played 41 Test matches, hitting a highest score of 193 not out and finishing with an average of 40.47. Frank Ward was a St George teammate of Bradman's in Sydney and in the 1935-36 season Ward joined Bradman in the South Australian team.

Ward, a leg-spinner, was controversially selected ahead of Clarrie Grimmett for Australia's tour of England in 1938. Dr Beard spoke of how abdominal pain was often associated with the teeth: "In those days whenever people had abdominal pain or tonsillitis they often believed that the pain emanated from an infection of the teeth or the gums. People in the 1920s and beyond had what is called a 'clearance'. They had all their teeth out to avoid infection, to prevent the onset of peritonitis. Some young people had a 'clearance' as a 21st birthday celebration. If that didn't work the adenoids and then the appendix were removed.

"Don Bradman was a man like no-one else. I think he was great. He wouldn't have got where he did without the support and love of Lady Bradman. She was a wonderful woman."

It is said that Lady Bradman's influence brought about their only son, John, to change his name back from "Bradsen" to Bradman. Initially there were those who thought it strange that if John Bradman was going to change his surname by deed poll, he would not make the new name so much like the surname he inherited.

"It was a strange thing, to make the name Bradsen. Sort of half a change," Don [Beard] said. "Sir Donald talked a good deal about it. He was disappointed that John changed the name, but he said he completely understood why he had felt the need to do so."

Don Bradman was very much a prisoner of fame and anyone with the name Bradman was going to be under the spotlight, purely by association.

The above is excerpted from The Diggers' Doctor by Ashley Mallett, published by Wakefield Press, Adelaide

Ashley Mallett took 132 wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. He has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell among other books

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