The Old and the New: In Memoriam, David Hookes

Michael Roberts,  from the Baggy Green, by Bernard Whimpress, 2016,

Comment: On 25 March 2001 a public memorial service paid homage to Sir Donald Bradman after a full lifetime innings capping his monumental record as batsman and captain on the cricket field. On 27 January 2004 a public memorial service honoured David Hookes’ memory after his cameo innings in life was prematurely terminated before a half-century was reached. Bradman’s memoriam marked the passing of the old century, the twentieth century. Hookes and his memoriam signalled the new, the twenty-first century.

125b Hookes125a Adelaide Oval &Hookes David Hookes’ bat and his Redbacks Cap marked his last hurrah in home ground

The generational contrast was also inscribed in the style of each memorial moment. The public service to Bradman was a traditional Christian service held in St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral abutting the Adelaide Oval and almost part of it (to cricket fans). The cathedral’s spatial limits decreed that it was open to invitees alone, so that the public could only participate at one-step removed through simultaneous telecast shown on big screen and audio at the Oval. The service was in the late evening. Cathedral and time of day rendered the atmosphere sombre. So did the gods, the weather gods. Heavy rain fell late that day.

The memoriam to Hookes was a striking contrast. Held in the open at Adelaide Oval the service was open to all and sundry, notables as well ordinary Joe’s from all walks of life. Though laced with traditional Christian moments it was as innovative as its open setting. And the sun shone as only the Australian sun can shine bright and lucid – scheduled as the memoriam was for the late morning. One could not have asked for a better milieu to celebrate a flamboyant batsmen and chirpy spirit.

Bradman and Hookes were generations apart. But Hookes also straddled the two eras. Speaking to Mike Coward in 2001 for an ABC interview that was only aired in full on that memorial day Hookes observed that rookie players who broke into the South Australian or Australian cricket elevens in the 1970s were expected to jump in at the deep end. Seniors did not offer unsolicited advice or take on the role of mentors. In contrast modern coaches and sides actively guide the new ‘kids’ who join any squad. And it was as coach and mentor that Hookes was serving the Victorian state squad, the Bushrangers, in his last years and taking them towards old heights.

Bradman and Hookes, of course, were poles apart as batsmen. For all his dashing and pulverising power Hookes could not match Bradman. No one can. His defence was surely not as granite-safe. As a front foot player he was highly vulnerable in an era when the West Indians had a battery of fast bowlers to pepper him with short-pitched stuff. And his career record is way below the Don’s – 1306 runs at an average of 34.36 in 41 Test innings. Hookes himself would dismiss the very thought of any comparison with Bradman as an outrageous idea.

When asked about his relatively mediocre Test record, Hookes was typically blunt: ‘I was not good enough,’ that is to say, not consistent enough. This was the virtue of Hookes the man and cricketer: honest, straightforward and capable of self-analysis. This frankness, especially in later years, could occasionally be startling and thoughtless, over the top at times when pronounced so definitively as broadcaster or coach.

To others, then, what you saw was what you got. The eulogies on paper, on air and everywhere mark out this trait among others. That there were so many tales and so much hype arises in part from the fact that young Hookes emerged in the 1970s from a working class background in the Thebarton area of West Adelaide. Hookes represents the quintessential ‘working class hero’. And in rising thus to a position of influence and fame among the notables of his land, Hookes revealed a capacity to mix with the Establishment without losing touch with roots and mates. ‘A lovable larrikin’ was, and remains, the cliché that so many have repeated, a turn of phrase that captures both the roots and the manners of the man Hookes, and Hookesy as he was to both his pals and countless unknown admirers.

Typically, too, it is said that Hookes did not take a backward step. That is, he was a battler who stood by his opinions and stood by his mates. In short, he was feisty. Growing up in the Aussie cricket world of the 1970s-and-beyond, this meant that he played hardball cricket. For a fielder to smile at an opponent, as he explicitly advocated on one occasion, was bad policy. The whole focus of a fielding side was to give the batsmen grief. This could include verbal intimidation dressed up in the euphemism ‘sledging’ and more recently as ‘mental disintegration’. And this was where he and Bradman were on different planes. I speak here from the generational values of Bradman’s era, but in inserting this confrontational theme into this review I adopt Hookesy’s spirit of ‘contrariness’ as his friend, and fellow South Australian captain, Bob Zadow explained in his eulogy.

In the same contrary spirit let me pick up the theme developed by Amanda Blair in her comment on Australia’s ‘macho culture’ in Adelaide’s Sunday Mail of 25 January. Most Aussie cricketers engage in cultural practices that embody a hearty, feisty, male-centred world. Horseplay and beer go with their sweat and toil. It’s a macho world that they share with footballers, the pub and disco scenes, the bouncers’ world and working men from all classes who toil on land, landscape, house or business. In this world one is not expected to take a backward step. Badinage, four-letter obscenities and verbal barbs are bread and butter in an arena of interpersonal exchanges – and its occasional confrontations. In this sort of scene too, as the grapevine has it, Hookes was not one to take a backward step and was equipped with a witty and even acid tongue.

The horrible incident that led to Hookes’ death, then, arose from circumstances that are hardly ‘insane’. That is to say, it is not all that unusual. True, few stoushes in and around bars end in death, but flying fists always carry this potential; and cannot be separated from the verbal barbs that interlace any such clash. Macho power, drink and such barbs make a deadly cocktail.

The Rite of Passage: They came from far and wide, to pay their respects to David Hookes. Ten thousand people according to some estimates. As that final sad moment approached, these people saw before them that famous scoreboard that had marked so many of Hookes’ centuries on his home-ground, saying

David Hookes



And out there on the famous square were three of the stumps used in Hookes’ last game (courtesy of an idea of Les Burdett) with Hookes’ bright red South Australian cap hanging from one and his battered old bat leaning ever so gently on these icons of history. By the stumps lay a small sprig of bright yellow flowers. Appropriately, the bails were on the ground, respectfully ‘clasping’ each other.

At 11.00am the silver grey hearse bearing the coffin entered the grounds through the historic Victor Richardson Gates and passed between the rose pink cupolas of the two Chappell stands – new monuments which lend a festive air to the Oval and which, on this occasion, enhanced the sunniness of this celebratory, yet sad, grieving sad, occasion.

After the coffin bearing the remains of Hookes was on its pedestal with a symbolic bat underlining the cricketing aura, the memorial service moved through the Welcoming Address by the Dean of St. Peter’s Cathedral, an opening prayer, a hymn, the several eulogies, two more brief addresses, another prayer and then the participatory Lord’s Prayer followed by a lovely rendering of Ave Maria prior to the final parting.

We learnt much about David Hookes the person from the brief eulogies, gems all: Rev. Ogden followed by Terry Cranage (Hookes’ elder half-brother), Caprice and Kristofer Gellman (Hookes’ step-children), Robert Zadow, Ian Chappell, Wayne Phillips and Leonie Zadow. Bob Zadow told us that Hookes was ‘an intense person’, a passionate man who showed ‘powerful loyalties’, a characteristic that surely meshed with the fact that he was so energetic in all his endeavours, ‘totally non-stop’ as Caprice observed.

His was a ‘life of love and achievement’ (Cranage). He adhered to his own advice to people to ‘get on with it’ (Caprice) − that is, not to sulk and to face one’s shortcomings and misfortunes foursquare. Surely, then, Hookes was the quintessential Australian in his stress on self-reliance and autonomous egalitarianism: for he insisted that ‘everyone stood on his (her) own playing field’ (Kristofer). And as we stood on the western side of the playing field of Adelaide Oval, Ian Chappell reminded us that the picket fences on that side from backward point to extra cover would have borne the scars of Hookes’ blistering strokes.

His larrikinism, of course, meant elements of ‘quirkiness’ (Caprice). How many parents would teach their children about the labours of childbirth by placing a teddy bear inside his jumper [at appropriate spot], lying on the floor and moaning and groaning – all the while with a beer clutched in one hand (Caprice)? Indeed, he was so zany that he was affectionately nicknamed ‘Forrest’ within family circles – after the movie character Forrest Gump.

His homeliness was also displayed in his love of dogs. On his travels he heard the sad news about the death of the old family dog Jessie back in Adelaide where she was residing with one of the families grandparents. And he took the time to write a short note of commiseration to his son that ended so tellingly: ‘You never know what may happen’ (Kristofer).

The sudden happened.

In marking the moment and grieving the loss, those who choreographed the memorial, let me assure Robyn Hookes, got it right. The ceremony, this ritual of passage, was not over the top. It was a balanced composition, merging sadness with relieving witticisms and celebratory statements. In sum and in part, the rite des passage was a beautiful composition.

A Subjective ‘Intermission: As a Sri Lankan I’m familiar with funerals and their expressive patterns. But I also dislike funerals intensely. They are gut-wrenching and draining. Unless one concerns a good friend, or is associated with my circle of acquaintances, I avoid them. This mood is the more likely when an event gathers unto itself public monumentalism of the sort that is likely to make a funeral into a tamasha.

One dimension of funerals, especially the Christianised ones, is the music. Such pieces as the Last Post, Ode die Freude, Amazing Grace and We Shall Overcome pack such emotional power. Even at mundane moments, in the familiar confines of my home, such strands of music can move me to tears.

For this reason and in a particular mood, I did not attend the memorial for Sir Donald Bradman at the Adelaide Oval, historic though it was. On this occasion, however, the anthropologist in me overcame my idiosyncratic reservations and I joined the throng at the memorial for Hookes. I am glad I did.

Reflections Subjective: For one, the first hymn guided by a haunting bagpipe was Amazing Grace and so tears moved. For another, poignancy of moment and music also encouraged reflections. It showed me that there were many sides to David Hookes the person and confirmed that old adage: there are many sides to most tragedies. And yet again, a little detail in the scenario before me captured my attention. As we sang Amazing Grace an Auslan interpreter signed the words to a deaf lady who was part of the circle dear to the Hookes family. This was especially poignant and gave a humane touch to a grieving occasion. It would hardly have occurred in Bradman’s heyday. In this meaningful detail, then, the memoriam to Hookes truly rang in the new millennium.

Requiscat: ... and so, as the cortege bearing the mortal remains of David William Hookes moved slowly around the boundary ropes lined by his cricket colleagues and mates, we the people, all and sundry, stood and clapped him.

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