'See you at the Gabba'
The Weekend Australian 20 November 2010

Take a tour of Brisbane's famous cricket ground for a hit of sporting history by Kerrin O'Sullivan

The nicknames of Australia's sporting stadiums have always baffled me. Melbourne has the G, Perth has the WACA and here I am at the Brisbane Cricket Ground, better known as the Gabba. Also baffling is Brisbane's weather. Instead of trademark blue skies and dry days, I encounter surly clouds and drenching rains; three of southeast Queensland's dams are 100 per cent full and Brisbane's low-lying areas are sandbagged against flooding.

The rain however provides the first sporting anecdote of my tour of the Gabba. Just days before, Queensland bowler Nathan Rimmington is purported to have claimed a piece of sporting trivia here in a rain-marred Sheffield Shield game against Tasmania. He took six sessions to bowl the six balls needed to complete an over. When stumps were drawn, the sides had managed just 118 minutes of cricket in three days.

As we explore the Gabba - named for its inner-city Woolloongabba location - history interweaves with anecdote. Designated as the site for a cricket oval in 1895, the land was formerly sacred ground marked by bora rings, where Aborigines congregated for ceremonies. Over its 115-year history the venue has hosted various events including greyhound racing and cycling; rugby, baseball and athletics. The Rolling Stones once graced the pitch for a concert and at Easter 1993 the Brisbane Lions AFL team played their first match as permanent tenants.

In our group of 10, six are English tourists. Aussies v Poms jokes abound as we enjoy an eagle-eye's view from the stadium's upper levels and the room used by the third umpire. The forthcoming Ashes Test here between Australia and England elicits a stream of colourful British wit from a Lancashire chap in an England soccer shirt.

The minority Aussie contingent are not amused, and a cricket-savvy local gently reminds him that it is 25 years since England beat Australia at the Gabba. "So it's our turn then?" pipes the Lancashire lad.

We learn the colours of the outdoor seating are in a confetti configuration of blue sprinkled with gold and, of course, maroon, Queensland's State colour, giving the illusion of a filled stadium even when numbers are down. In the media room, one Brit dons the headphones and does a brilliant Richie Benaud impersonation.

Trailing our cricket-loving guide through corporate suites and function rooms, we discover the first Test match played at the Gabba was in 1931 against South Africa. Don Bradman made 226 in the first innings: still the highest individual score for a Brisbane Test. We continue along corridors lined with Honour Boards and photographs. Historic prints show the original stand and the Hill, legendary for its larrikin mob.

In the Members' Dining Room, surrounded by a fascinating array of memorabilia, is a bat used in the Bodyline Series and signed by both teams, including Australia's captain, Bill Woodfull, Douglas Jardine and the controversial Harold Larwood. Also thrilling is a photo of Aboriginal fast bowler Eddie Gilbert bowling for Queensland to an off-balance Bradman, a spectacular moment captured.

After inspecting the Indoor and Outdoor Practice Nets we enter the holy of holies, the Australian Players Dressing Room, and our guide points to a corner he claims a superstitious Ponting always occupies.

Outside, I take a last peak at the arena. Groundsmen in broad-brimmed hats are mowing, hosing and rolling the wicket but today, the only spectators are a couple of seagulls.

© 2012 Kerrin O’Sullivan