A window to Adelaide's rich past

At a ground steeped in tradition and in a city universally recognised for its intelligent planning, the Adelaide Oval's museum feels oddly out of place. Tucked unobtrusively into the back of the Bradman Stand and little larger than your lounge room, the SACA's memorial to days gone by does not resemble a good idea so much as an afterthought.

Colonel William Light's vision can be seen from its tinted windows, but it is difficult to imagine Adelaide's designer approving of the museum's distinct lack of space - in terms of layout it has more in common with the jumbled, convict era construction of the Rocks in Sydney than the broad, clean streets of the Adelaide CBD.

The museum's collection features everything from the quirky - Joel `Big Bird' Garner's gigantic South Australian limited overs kit shares pride of place with "dead bird", a stuffed sparrow struck down by a cricket ball in 1969 - to the downright haunting. A Browning 12-gauge automatic shotgun used to guard the pitch during the third Test in the 1932-33 Bodyline series provides a reminder that the Bradman-centred war minus the shooting was an ace away from erupting into bona fide hostilities.

The venerable gun's presence underlines the value of the museum as a reminder that the ground is more than just a pretty face. Adelaide has hosted more than 550 first-class matches, including the Bodyline game mentioned above, the only one-run victory in Tests (Australia v West Indies in 1993) and the third-highest successful fourth innings chase in first class cricket (South Australia's 6 for 506 to defeat Queensland in 1992).

But the exhibits share an unfortunate similarity to international programming in the modern age: things are packed in so tightly that the appreciation of one moment is lessened by the fact that another follows so closely. It would be impossible to mime a cover-drive with one of the museum's many significant cricket bats without breaking a glass case, downing a picture or felling a visitor.

Bernard Whimpress, the SACA historian and museum curator, says the cramped interior has created several problems, not least of which is the inability to display a significant proportion of the items in his keeping. "I've got that same amount again of material that I can't display," he says "A lot of people like the museum's cluttered state because it feels like a curiosity shop, but in terms of items like pictures and paintings we are short of space. The other thing is that at the moment there's no area to display our South Australian football items, and anyone who grew up recently would have little idea how big a part Australian Rules has played at the ground."

Fortunately, plans are afoot to change all this. A new and improved museum featuring more items and, more importantly, more space, is in the planning stage. Still housed in the Bradman Stand, the new museum would be built in the rear at ground level, with the entrance being visible from the Phil Ridings Gates at the Oval's southern end.

This proposed "renovation rescue" has been around for some time, but like Adelaide's much-debated light towers and newly completed press box, it may yet take a little while to materialise. Meanwhile the present museum will continue to provide a window, however small, on Adelaide Oval's rich past.

Daniel Brettig is a writer based in Adelaide