In 1949 in his first year at Preston Tech, Bill Lawry was recognised for his prowess with a cricket bat. John Reid, the science teacher, suggested he play for the senior Northcote Cricket Club, as John knew the club coach, Jack Baggott, a former champion half-back flanker for the Richmond Football Club.
At the time, Bill was eleven years old and playing for the local Thornbury Presbyterian Sunday School Cricket Club. Without John Reid’s direction, Bill said he might never have transcended church cricket. ‘It’s one of my favourite memories of school,’ he explained. ‘John Reid pushed me from a junior club to a senior club and I played for Northcote for several years. I was the youngest member of the club at the time, and I spent two years in the fourth XI, one year in the third and another in the second XI and then joined the firsts. It was a real buzz for me and we played on turf, not matting as we did at the church club.’
Bill attended Preston Tech for four years until 1952 and played for the school cricket team. On one occasion the cricket ball missed its mark and found Bill’s nose instead. The 1952 school magazine states: ‘Bill Lawry received a bad blow on the nose against Essendon but the damage was only superficial. The side played well together and Bill Lawry proved an able leader. His general handling of the team was commendable, while his general organisation of equipment and practice proved very helpful.’
It wasn’t only on the cricket pitch that Bill excelled. He was captain of the school baseball team and led them to a premiership in 1952, and it was in baseball that his teachers believed Bill could possibly carve out a sporting career.
In those days, Bill played baseball in winter and cricket in summer, however, he had no aspirations to establish himself on the world stage as either cricketer or baseball player. He was ‘the same as any young kid at the time that liked sport a lot,’ and thought his professional future would focus on a trade. Certainly, school work was less important than sport. ‘I came from a sporting family and it was the family hobby to race pigeons and play cricket. My father and brother both played cricket and I was a very average student who was quiet in class. I was just a normal kid running around enjoying myself. I can’t remember doing any homework; I don’t think we got very much. I don’t know if I was lazy and didn’t want to work but I enjoyed sporting activities more than anything academic.’ While playing in the senior district side at the Northcote Cricket Club, cricket assumed paramount importance. ‘Once I started on that path, cricket was my priority. I was happy to play a game and at that stage had no thoughts of playing for Australia. Preston Tech,’ he said ‘helped foster my keen interest in sport.’ The fact that Neil Harvey and Wally Driver, two big names in cricket, were umpires at the school’s baseball games was a great inspiration for Bill. ‘They inspired me a lot and I was pushing down their path. I think the school was as much sports-minded as it was education-minded.’
Despite his penchant for sport, Bill attended all his classes at school. ‘I never wagged, not even one day,’ he said. ‘I never got up wishing not to go to school but nor was I trying to be a great academic achiever. Life was so simple in those days and what we thought about most was getting to and from school safely on our bikes from our nearby homes. It was a good, fun time and a nice period of my life.’ Bill also never missed a cricket or baseball match for the school. He noted that Preston Tech could boast three captains in sport. ‘Ron Barassi, myself and Ross Straw, who captained the Victorian baseball team and went on to become Victorian coach of the baseball team of the century.’ he added.
After his years at Northcote, Bill’s skills as a cricketer continued to improve. In 1956 just before the Melbourne Olympic Games, Bill was picked to play for Victoria. ‘I was really pleased that I’d reached that level, but I still wasn’t aspiring to play for Australia. I had a few lucky breaks and I guess some talent helped. In 1962, I was picked to play for Australia for the English tour. I was happy to be there and all I wanted to do was cement my place in the side.
In between establishing himself as a cricket legend, Bill also played baseball for 17 years with the Collingwood Baseball Club. At 24, he was asked to try-out in America for the Cincinnati Reds, but by that time he had been picked to play cricket for Australia and baseball faded into oblivion. Of course, the rest is history. Bill was Victorian captain between 1962-63 and Australian captain from 1968-71. He played in 249 first-class games and 67 Tests. He scored 18,734 runs in first-class cricket with an average of 50.90 and made 50 centuries. His highest score was 266 in the Victorian side against NSW in 1960-61. In his 67 Tests, he made 5234 runs with a highest score of 210 and 13 centuries. He retired from cricket in 1972. When Bill left Preston Tech after completing Year 10, he did an apprenticeship in plumbing. He worked for nine years in the trade until cricket commitments demanded a more flexible occupation. For 28 years, he worked for Email, a whitegoods manufacturer, first in sales and later as state manager. He then joined the Victorian Cricket Association as cricket manager where he stayed for nine years and retired from professional commitments in 1997. For the past 25 years, he has continued to work for Channel 9 as a cricket commentator, waxing lyrical about others’ cricketing prowess.
For Bill, his years at Preston Tech were all part of a positive perspective on school. ‘There are no unpleasant memories at all,’ he said. ‘I still have my friends from there and I thank John Reid for helping me get started.’
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Last Modified: May 8, 2013