A Long Way To Go 

Published: 2024
Pages: 190
Author: Bonnell, Max
Publisher: ETT Imprint
Rating: 4.5 stars

Archie’s Review

Author Max Bonnell’s latest book is about the first West Indies tour of Australia in the summer of 1930/31. The timing of this inaugural tour could not have been worse. The stock crash of 1929 sent the world into what would become known as the Great Depression. The average Australian barely had enough to eat, let alone to be able to afford a day at the cricket. This remained the case throughout the summer no matter how much the ticket prices were reduced, and they were slashed.

Bonnell starts his book by taking us through the West Indies team, and the ad hoc way it was chosen for the tour. So inept were the selections that the team arrived with three wicket keepers and next to no spinners. The heavy reliance on speed was nullified by the docile wickets the team encountered in Australia. The 23 year old captain, Jack Grant was white, rich and had no leadership experience. Despite this, Grant presents as a deeply religious man, who did his best to make connections with his team. And apart from one member of the side, seems to have been respected by his players. 

The first star of the team was Learie Constantine, an all-rounder who was simply memorising in everything he did on the cricket field – big hitting, fast bowling or dynamic fielding. Grant also relied on Constantine’s superior cricket knowledge, when setting fields or tactically. The second star was George Headley, one of the all time great batsman. Headley’s Test average over a career of 25 years was over 60. He was often referred to as the “black Bradman”, although in the West Indies they liked to refer to Bradman as the “white Headley”.    

Bonnell weaves into his book not just the doings of the West Indian team, but what life looked like in Australia in one of the toughest periods of her history. We learn that most Aussies survived on rabbit and choko, a type of squash that was tasteless but cheap and a good source of vitamin C. Apparently many Aussies who lived through the depression swore they would never eat rabbit or choko again. The reliance on rabbit and choko was heavily influenced by the unemployment rate which hovered just below 30% during the depression (currently in Australia it sits at 4%).

It was not all doom and gloom in Australia during the West Indies tour. Bonnell focuses on a number of positives. These include the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge – although 16 men died during its construction – the aviation feats of Charles Kingsford Smith, the cultural significance to Australians of opera star Dame Nellie Melba who died during the summer, and even a gangster – Richard Buckley. Using his legal expertise to analyse the trial, you have the feeling that Bonnell may well have achieved Buckley’s acquittal from the charge of murder. Buckley lived until the age of 90, having been released from gaol after serving 16 years.

While the above were big stories, as per normal the sports mad Aussies saved their adulation for two sporting stars. One was the race horse Phar Lap, who was almost unbeatable and as a consequence unbackable. The dominance of Phar Lap saw attempts on his life during the summer. The other dominant sportsman of the time was Don Bradman fresh from a record breaking tour of England.

Still, even with Bradman as a draw card the West Indies struggled to make profits and as usual the parsimonious Australian Cricket Board did little to assist the struggling tourists. So bad did things become that the West Indies team started taking public transport to matches. Despite the money issues, the poorly balanced team and the slow pitches, the West Indies still achieved one of the great upsets by winning the fifth and final Test. In a match that was to be played to a finish on an uncovered wicket, Grant showed great cricket acumen by declaring both his team’s innings closed. This enabled his team to take advantage of the weather and pitch machinations.

The one controversy that Bonnell navigated well was in the area of race. Australia at the time was under the ‘White Australian Policy’ and the real custodians of the land weren’t even allowed to travel from state to state without government permission. Bonnell manages to call out incidents of racism while placing these issues in a contemporary setting. For their part, the tourists stated they felt welcomed and did not mention any issues with racism. Given that there are still isolated incidents of racism at sporting events in Australia in 2024, this seems more a case of politeness from the black members of the West Indies team.

Perhaps, churlishly, I have given this book 4.5 stars and not the five stars in deserves. This was for the poor quality of some of the illustrations in the book. I am not sure how Max Bonnell managed to include so many engaging elements into less than 200 pages. The writing and structure of the book is well deserving of full marks. If you only buy one cricket book this year, this is the one you should purchase. A Long Way To Go – retails for $30.

Martin’s Review

The first Test series between West Indies and Australia took place in the Australian summer of 1930/31. New arrivals to the game’s top table the men from the Caribbean had played seven previous Tests. Three of them were in England in 1928 when a truly representative England side beat them by an innings each time, and then four more in the Caribbean in 1929/30 when, with George Headley emerging as one of finest batsmen cricket had seen, the home side drew a four match series with a markedly understrength England side 1-1.

Australia on the other hand were basking in the glory of their success in England in 1930 and the emergence of the man who remains the greatest run scoring phenomenon in history, Donald Bradman, and they played their strongest side against their visitors throughout the five Test series. The West Indies lost each of the first four Tests, one by ten wickets and the other three by an innings so, one solitary Headley century apart their performances were disappointing if not unexpected until, to their enormous credit, they came back and, with some brave and imaginative captaincy from Jack Grant, took the fifth Test.

Given that Bonnell delves back into the selection of the West Indian party and the errors, whether of judgment or for expediency, that were made in that process, and at the book’s conclusion gives short biographies of all of the tourists, then it is an excellent subject for a book that dealt with cricketing issues alone. Author Max Bonnell is not however, as anyone who has read any of his previous work will appreciate, a man who only cricket knows.

The context in which the tour took place was that of what has become known as the Great Depression. The Wall Street Crash in October 1929 was the catalyst and by the time the tour began the shock waves had engulfed Australia. Construction of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge continued, but the dire economic situation is a theme that runs throughout A Long Way to Go. It was particularly surprising to learn that whilst the UK seems to have been content to cut Germany some slack on the payment of Great War reparations, that our Government was, quite shamefully in my view, less willing to show similar leeway to the Australians over the interest due from them on debt incurred as a result of going to the aid of the “mother country” during the conflict.

Other stories are followed in A Long Way to Go, and to me two in particular put in context names that were familiar to me but whose stories I knew little of the detail of. One is the racehorse, Phar Lap, who seems to have been the equine equivalent of Bradman, and the other the world famous soprano Dame Nellie Melba who, sadly, breathed her last between the fourth and fifth Tests.

A Long Way To Go is a fascinating account of a long forgotten cricket tour and the backdrop against which it was played. It is highly recommended and whilst I agree with Archie that the writing is well worth five stars I will also be churlish, albeit for a different reason. I can see where Archie is coming from on the subject of the illustrations, although that alone does not unduly trouble me. What I found just a little frustrating was that I had to look elsewhere to find the end of Phar Lap’s story. Those observations made such minor grumbles should not deter anyone from reading a book that deserves to be every bit as successful as its immediate predecessor, the masterpiece that was Black Swan Summer.


Thank you for two most generous reviews. It’s perfectly true that the illustrations could have been better, but there we’re constrained by the quality of the originals, and I take the view that sometimes it’s better to have imperfect illustrations than none. I have to say it didn’t occur to me to finish off Phar Lap’s story (which ended in 1932), partly because it fell outside the summer in question and partly because the story is so familiar to Australians (many of whom continue to insist that Phar Lap was poisoned by jealous Americans). I can see how that would be frustrating to someone who doesn’t already know how the story ends.

I wrote the book for two reasons – first, because I’d never read anything that really examined the impact of the Depression on cricket, which seemed to me to be worth considering. And also the early West Indian cricketers were fascinating characters who haven’t been closely examined. My personal favourite was one who missed the tour – Clarence Passailaigue, who was a champion sprinter, an international football goalkeeper, and averaged 245 with the bat after three first-class games, yet played only one Test. Besides which, his daughter was runner-up in the 1967 Miss Jamaica pageant! There’s plenty of rich material yet to be explored here. I understand that Giles Wilcock is researching for a book on the pre-war West Indies cricketers, and that will be well worth the wait.

Comment by Max Bonnell | 1:17am BST 11 June 2024

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