Black Swan Summer 

Published: 2022
Pages: 224
Author: Bonnell, Max and Sproul, Andrew
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 5 stars

I travelled to Sydney in 2021, and while there I called in on Max Bonnell and had him sign all his books for me. While he was developing writer’s cramp, he let me know his next cricket book would be on the Western Australia’s (WA) first Sheffield Shield. My first question was to ask if there was still anyone alive who played cricket from the summer of 1947/48. Only three was his answer – Neil Harvey (Victoria), Ken Archer (Queensland) and the only one from the WA team, Basil Rigg. I remember thinking that given the scarcity of firsthand accounts, I wouldn’t learn too much new about that summer. How wrong I was.

Bonnell and co-author Andrew Sproul manage to take their readers back to the summer of 1947/48 and all that happened to Australia, and there is plenty to learn. Some of it makes for uncomfortable reading. The White Australia Policy was in full swing and the immigration minister, Arthur Calwell, embraced it like a religion. The authors illustrate just how zealously it was enforced by telling the story of an American black boxer. The Alabama Kid, despite marrying an Australian and fathering two children was imprisoned before being deported, never to see his family again. This story, Calwell, and the policy were certainly racist and regrettably occurred during the first Test tour of India to Australia. What the tourists thought when they read this in the Australian newspapers is unknown.    

The Indians were soundly beaten 4-0 by an Australian side that would win the Ashes in 1948 against England by the same margin. The Indian tour and a number of other facts assisted the WA team to win the shield at their first attempt. Firstly, none of the WA team were in the Australian side which weakened the other states, and secondly, the shield was decided on a percentage basis with WA only playing four games to the other competing states seven matches.

The authors introduce us to all the WA players, most of whom I was unfamiliar with, as none of them ever play a Test. We learn about their war experiences and lives outside the game, as well as the culture of WA. It seems WA had an inferiority complex and managed to write off any success as luck. The one man who didn’t seem to enter into this mind set was their new player/coach. This was probably because their new player/coach, Keith Carmody, was a New South Welshman.

Carmody, was a war hero, who appears to have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), although this was not a known mental health condition at the time. While he dealt with his PTSD by being a functioning alcoholic, he also distracted himself by thinking deeply on the game of cricket. Bonnell and Sproul really dig deep into the non cricketing person that was Carmody and it makes for a quality read.

A sideline that is weaved into the book is Bradman. The Don is playing in his last season of domestic cricket and, as was his habit, the season becomes one long celebration. He scores his 100th first class century off the hapless Indians, and keeps the country and the cricketing world guessing whether he will lead Australia one last time to England.

Apart from Bradman’s last home season, there are heaps of other topics covered. The assassination of Gandhi, and its impact on the Indian team, which at one stage may have meant they did not play the final Test of the series, was something I was unaware of. The authors also manage to cover- politics, communism, Australia’s favourite author of the period, the great WA runner Shirley Strickland, union strikes, and even the shortage of beer that summer. How they manage to cover all this plus more besides and still provide a comprehensive coverage of WA’s triumph, all in just 224 pages is a magnificent effort.

Black Swan Summer, is so informative and entertaining, I think it should be read by all school children so they can appreciate what Australia was like in the summer of 1947/48.   


Thanks for the very generous review (and thanks also to the Australian Cricket Society for the recognition).

Comment by Max Bonnell | 12:51pm BST 20 August 2023

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