Clarence Valley to farewell ‘Bradman of the North’
- Russell Ellem's funeral will be celebrated as a Mass today at St Mary's Catholic Church, Grafton at 10am.
WHEN you earn the nickname 'The Bradman of the North', you know you have made it in the cricketing world.
That was the regard Clarence Valley cricketer Russell Ellem, who died in Grafton last week aged 97, was held in.
Ellem, who began playing in the 1930s, was a champion all-rounder in an era when the tag meant something.
He thought so highly of the job description he created the coveted Russell Ellem Trophy for all-rounders in the CRCA, and devised the point scoring system to decide the winner.
Ellem's career was at its peak following the Second World War but the game then was much different to today.
In the pre-television era the best players toured the country taking on the best the locals could put up.
Ellem's talent meant he got to play against some of the greats of the game like Keith Miller, Sid Barnes and Arthur Morris and he admitted it had been a special time.
"I had two seasons playing in Sydney for Balmain and came up against plenty of players who represented NSW and Australia," Ellem said.
For Ellem, the highlight of his cricket career was representing Northern NSW against the world's most famous cricket club, the Marylebone Cricket Club.
"We played the MCC at Lismore. I got 3-10 and scored 40 runs. They had a wonderful side with players like Alec Bedser, Trevor Bailey and Godfrey Evans," Ellem said.
In an article in the The Daily Examiner in 2009, Ellem recalled the early days of his beloved Westlawn Club.
"We were struggling for money so myself and Reg McLennan decided to do something about it," he said.
"The association were not interested in running anything so Reg and I decided to put on a dance.
"At the start of the 1949-50 season the NSW Shield side captained by Keith Miller played a stop-over game in Grafton so we held a dance in honour of the visiting team.
"Through word of mouth we had young fellows coming from everywhere, we even ran out of tickets.
"We charged two bob to get in and we ended up raising enough money to purchase three full kits, we were amazed."
Always a fierce competitor, Ellem was also a fierce guardian of the game's traditions.
Asked in 2011 about the sledging of rival players, he was dismissive.
"It's only a form of cheating," he said.
"The question I would like to ask if I was captain is, do you blokes want to be cheats or good sports? Take your pick. If you want to be a cheat, I don't want you in my team. If you want to be a good sport, I'll have you."
Ellem said sledging was not tolerated in his day and he couldn't recall it going on except when he was playing in a representative fixture against a touring side which included the late Sid Barnes who played 13 Tests for Australia.
"I was about 17 and I was picked to play against Gar Waddy's side.
"We played in Grafton and I remember Sid Barnes was fielding in close while I was batting," he said.
"Vic Jackson was bowling and Barnes never shut up and that was the first instance I encountered of people talking consistently, and that was back in 1936.
"But you never really heard of it (sledging) in my day. The captains had a lot of responsibility in those times.
"The teams looked to their captain for guidance and what the captain more or less did, that was how the team played.
"There was never any of this bickering and once the bowler started his run-up, there was dead silence.
"You only wanted to get pulled up once (for talking) and you'd feel like a damn goose."
Ellem's contributions to the game have been recognised in many quarters.
He was a life member of the CRCA from 1951, the Westlawn Cricket Club and the Clarence River Cricket Umpires and Scorers Association.
Cricket NSW historian, Dr Colin Clowes reports Ellem played two seasons in first-grade with Balmain. In 1950-51 he had five innings and scored 122 runs at 24.40 with a top score of 55. He also took six wickets at 13.66. The following season in 13 innings, he scored 305 runs at 33.88 with a top score of 61 and another of 57 not out. He took 17 wickets at 25.47. His highest score of 61 was made against Manly, whose attack included Keith Miller, Alan Walker and Tom Brooks. He was eventually bowled by Miller. Earlier in his innings he had trodden on his wicket when pulling Miller for four, however the umpire ruled he had completed his stroke before that and he was given not out.