Photo: The Morkalla Cricket Ground was the home of the inaugural dust bowl trophy match. (Supplied: Zac Lynch )
From dusty paddocks to dusty pitches, a handful of Victoria’s far-west farmers have brought a grassless cricket ground back to life for just one day.
The Morkalla Cricket Ground, fondly known as the MCG, became a hive of activity for the inaugural Dust Bowl Bash, which aimed to unite the Millewa farming region as it has faced another tough drought year.
Match organiser, Geoff Gray, owns a farms at Morkalla and lives over the border at the South Australian Riverland town of Renmark.
He said he had been thinking about reviving the grassless ground for several years, but the recent drought was the trigger to make it happen as farmers would usually be too busy harvesting their crops at this time of year.
“When the drought came on I thought ‘Well there’s been a lot of people in dire straits and we’ve got to get them together, and take their mind off of a few things for a while’,” Mr Gray said.
“It was only a matter of about four weeks ago I talked to Rad Kelly at Werrimull and said ‘Do you think you can muster up a few blokes [for a game of cricket]?’
Photo: Morkalla farmer, Geoff Gray, was proud to organise a cricket match at the Morkalla Cricket Ground. (ABC Riverland: Laura Collins )
“So, it has taken us four or five weeks to get it together and look at the crowd here today — it has worked!”
The team’s most experienced player
In front of a crowd of more than 200 spectators, former Millewa resident Eric Yates strapped on his whites and took part in the day.
Mr Yates still owns a small property at Werrimull but has moved away from the region.
He travelled four-and-a-half hours to play, but said it did not take a lot of convincing to get him back out on the field.
Photo: Former Millewa resident Eric Yates returned to the area for the dust bowl bash, held at the Morkalla Cricket Ground. (ABC Riverland: Laura Collins )
“My best mate had told me I was in the team, and because of the drought and the reason this was on today I felt quite happy to come back and support the locals,” Mr Yates said.
He had not played “serious cricket” for about 30 years and said he was not expecting to perform in a way comparable to his former playing days.
“There’s no chance of putting in anything like my best performance from those days — which wasn’t brilliant by the way,” Mr Yates said.
“There was a lot of better cricketers than me.”
‘MCG’ history remembered
Long-time Millewa local Peter Kelly was proud to see the MCG in use again as his memories of the ground are distant.
“It was never covered in grass, it had shrubs at some stages, but never a blade of grass,” he said.
“There was about three tennis courts. The old wire mesh is still laying in there on the ground.
“One of the other things I do remember is a channel, which you can still.
“As kids we’d run around and play and splash around while we were waiting for the adults to finish the cricket.”
Photo: The history of the Morkalla Cricket Club dates back well before the 1930s. (ABC Riverland: Laura Collins )
The last game of cricket played at the MCG was around 70 years ago, but Mr Kelly said he can vaguely recall there being one sporting game held at the ground.
“I think there was a game of football played here since, but that was when I was about five years old, so that would have been about 1963, and it was against a South Australian team,” he said.
The match’s result
The game was for the most part a bit of fun, but still the local farmers showed their competitive streak.
The Twenty20-style match went down to the wire, with the West Millewa Worriers celebrating the win during the final over.
Photo: Scorers tried to keep up with the fast paced Dust Bowl Bash at the Morkalla Cricket Ground. (ABC Riverland: Laura Collins )
However, a scoring discrepancy stopped the players in their tracks.
“There was a little bit of controversy at the end in the scoring, with the game being declared a draw,” West Millewa Worriers player, Rod Mattschoss said.
“We ran onto the ground all excited, but the scorers called us back and we didn’t know how to decide [the winner].
“We all felt the fairest way was to call it a draw, so the dust bowl [trophy] will probably go up in the local pub or in the local Morkalla tavern as we call it out here — our little drinking hole.
Photo: Eastside captain Kieran ‘Rad’ Kelly and West Worriers captain David Pickering shared the Millewa Dust Bowl Bash trophy. (ABC Mildura/Swan Hill: Kellie Hollingworth)
“We’ll share it and wait until the next game.”
But the farmers hope the rain comes sooner than the next cricket match.