Mr Biggs, a UQCC life member, collected newspaper clippings and scorecards dating back to 1912, with his scrapbooks now digitally scanned by the UQ Library.
UQ Sport’s Ashley Hanger caught up with Mr Biggs to discuss the momentous project.
John, you’re one of UQ Cricket Club’s longest-serving officials, and a life member of the club. When did you first become involved?
I joined at the end of 1951, so I’ve been associated with the club for 65 years.
This undoubtedly is a significant project for the club – can you give us a quick snapshot of what you’ve been working on?
I started working on the Cricket Club's records because Wep Harris – a well-known cricket figure around Brisbane, who was also a University cricket player – his brother, John Harris, had compiled records from the club’s beginning (1912) to 1940, when the first of our annual reports were still there. So we had annual reports right through from ’40 to the present day, but nothing from 1912 to 1940. So John Harris loaned them out to a state selector who promptly died. He was a bachelor, so his sisters came and cleaned the house out, and our records went out to the dump – John was devastated. I was on the point of retiring and stepping down from my legal practice. I said to him, ‘never mind I’ll restore those documents’. So I restored them until 1940. Then I thought, I may as well keep going until I was playing, so I continued until the 1950s. By the time I had finished the ‘50s, I had been at it for ten years. I thought I might as well keep going, and do it as a century project. At this point it was 1988, and I just kept going. I managed to time the finish for the club’s 100 year celebration.
Did you highlight your own scores at all, and put yourself in the spotlight?
I did cut out a couple of newspaper reports where I had got some runs! I was selfish in that respect.
Your dedication to the cause is incredible! Was it more of a hobby than a job for you?
It was a hobby – I wasn’t paid. No one got paid in those days! I’ve always loved cricket, and the sport has always been my number one, with rugby as a close second.
How many man hours or years have gone into the project?
20 years went into it. I tended not to do it during the winter, so it was 20 summers I spent, mainly in the public library, pulling scores from newspapers. They were microfilmed, and pretty badly done. You can tell from the early pages in my records how poor the reproductions were, which was a shame.
Trawling through years of scorecards, and going over the club’s history, did you find anything that really surprised you? Any unique facts about the club, or mammoth scores you found?
There were some amazing scores – 242 not out from one of our very early batsman, Cecil Thompson. I’ve seen countless changes. For example, mid-to-late ‘50s, they started to cover the wickets to protect them from storms. Prior to that, you had to use what’s called ‘sticky wickets’, where the sun came out after the rain, so the ball would land on the still damp wicket, and create very unpredictable bounce. The other fascinating part was the domination of the club by the then Lord Mayor, Clem Jones. He played in the fourth grade, or C grade. When he got older in the club, he played until he was about 50, and then became captain. Other captains used to dread playing against him because he always used to pull things on them, and the result was he won quite a few premierships – these were the days when the University hardly won any premierships. The other thing about Clem Jones was that he would ensure his success by sitting at the selectors table, picking the teams, and because he’d say he was so busy with Brisbane affairs as Lord Mayor, he’d say his team had to be picked first. He simply dominated the other captains, and go after the better players. Having said that, the club owed a lot to Clem Jones financially. We’d run functions and we used to lose money. Clem would always pick up the difference, otherwise we would be going to the wall. He was integral in the continuation of the club. He knew people at the XXXX Brewery, so we would get kegs free of charge. It was a great club to be in, and I can see in the present time how much the members still enjoy it now.
Can you identify a period in the club’s history where UQ enjoyed its most success on the field?
I can pinpoint in the mid 50s where fellas came back from serving in the war, some of them were RAF people who fought in the Battle of Britain, and up until then, there would always be 11 captains on the University cricket team. They all had their own ideas, and thought they knew what was best for the team. But, once these blokes came in who had served in the war, and who were used to commanding, they pulled their teams into line – they even made players turn up to practice, which was unheard of in the early 50s! By the time a very good captain came along, called Bob (Robert) Mihell, teams started to win premierships and that led to players being selected in the state team. From that moment on, the club hardly looked back – Bob pulled the club up by the boot straps. He also organised interstate tours. We used to tour to Armidale and Sydney, and go out country and play. It was part of the social scene – team bonding.
Many UQ Cricket Club members have gone on to represent Queensland, but just how many have pulled on a Baggy Green for Australia?
We had six who went into Australian Test teams. Ken Archer was the first, then Tom Veivers. David Ogilvie, Michael Kasprowicz, the spinner Peter Taylor, and Martin Love was the most recent. There’s also the era where the women first played for the club in the 1980s. That was a new thing for us, especially for the old brigade who were male chauvinists. The women have made quite the difference to the club, and to date we have two Australian representatives in Jessica Jonassen and Holly Ferling.
While the history of the club will be made available in electronic form, is there a way club alumni can view historic artefacts and memorabilia items?
The closest you could come to artefacts and photographs would be if you went to the St Lucia pavilion where there are glass cases of things we’ve won – old cricket bats, photographs of teams. Another project of mine as I went through year by year was securing a photograph of the captain of every team. We have on the wall of the pavilion the image of every captain since 1912, and a little pot of history under his name. I organised that.
The archived UQ Cricket Club scrapbooks will be made available in PDF format via The University of Queensland’s online resource database, E-Space. Hard copies will remain in the Fryer Library for long-term security.