Toolangi Cricket History

by Joanne Priestley  

It would seem that cricket was played from the earliest days of settlement in Toolangi. The first report is of an annual ball of the cricket club being held in the schoolhouse in 1897.[i] One can assume that balls were held by the cricket club before this date for it to be the annual ball and that there was in fact, a cricket club. By 1899 the annual balls were held at Toolangi House and seem to have been partly a fundraising opportunity but more a social gathering with suppers at midnight and dancing until the early hours of the morning, one event even lasting until 4am![ii]

The first reported cricket match was a game against Steel’s Creek in December 1897. The game was played at the ground at Toolangi House and won by Toolangi on first innings, 52 to 18. The team was expected to play Yarra Glen next.[iii] Toolangi also won against Dixon’s Creek in February 1898.[iv] No reports of cricket games can be found for the 1898/99 season except for a match at the Toolangi House ground between the ‘Paling Splitters’ and the ‘Lath Splitters’ in February 1899. The game was won by the Paling Splitters team of Smedley, Bassett, Smith, Robinson, Demby, Biggs, Rintel and Norton with 59 runs to 30.[v]

The first recorded game against Healesville was in 1899.[vi] Games continued between the two clubs for the next 94 years and the passion to play each other is demonstrated when some of the Toolangi team walked all the way to Healesville in searing heat in 1912, showing their dedication (or desperation!) to play. Needless to say, they lost.[vii] The friendly rivalry between these two clubs continued for many years and culminated in the 1980s after a particularly close match that should have been won by Healesville, but who lost the game in the last 2 balls. The games between Toolangi and Healesville became known as the ‘Mountain Ashes’, and complete with trophy, was an eagerly anticipated battle every year.

With lots of new members and a healthy bank balance of £2, the club resumed for the 1899/1900 season.[viii] Practice was being rigidly enforced and in 1905, Saturday afternoons were devoted to practice.[ix] By 1908 the Toolangi team had joined the competition for the Cameron Trophy against Kinglake, Steels Creek and Yarra Glen.[x] Toolangi won the trophy in 1910/11 after being undefeated all season.[xi] The Cameron Trophy was silver, and approximately 3 feet high.[xii] The cup was presented to the captain of the team, Mr George Biggs,[xiii] and survives to this day after being saved during the 1939 bushfires when it was thrown out a window before his home was destroyed.[xiv]

County matches were played from as early as 1911 when a team from Bourke-Evelyn Association played a team from the Cameron Trophy Association (CTA) at Diamond Creek.[xv] H. & G. Biggs, emergency A. Bassett with Tucker and T. Smith narrowly missing selection, were selected from Toolangi. In 1912, H. & G. Biggs were again selected with the CTA team winning on first Innings.[xvi] County games have continued, although now known as Country Week. Bernie Priestley represented Toolangi in the 1972/73 Yarra Valley Cricket Association U/16 team, with the team winning the premiership.

At the AGM in 1912, C.J. Dennis was elected Secretary and it was ‘hoped that the pitch on the new Toolangi Recreation Reserve would be completed before the opening of the season’.[xvii] It’s presumed that this reference is to the oval behind Smedley’s guesthouse ‘Heathlands’ where games were played during the 1920s. Earlier, games had been played on the oval at Toolangi House Hotel which needed improving. The present oval down Cherry’s Lane wasn’t used until the late 1930s after it was temporarily reserved by Order in Council dated 30 June 1936.[xviii] It is thought by many, and indeed recorded by A.P. Sewell,[xix] that the current Recreation Reserve is on land originally belonging to the Bassetts who owned the Post Office and Glenora guesthouse, and was donated to the community.[xx] Arthur Bassett had a long association with the Cricket Club as a player for many years and Captain in 1900[xxi], a committee member and association delegate, and then finally as an umpire. A presentation was made to him in 1940 in recognition of his support for the club for over 30 years.[xxii]

Toolangi, Steel’s Creek, Dixon’s Creek and Yarra Glen competed for the RJ Lithgow Trophy from 1929.[xxiii] Toolangi had some good players in 1930 with A. Sewell taking 1 wicket for 0 runs against Yarra Glen,[xxiv] and R. Bassett taking 6 for 10, and H. Biggs 4 for 12 in a game against Dixon’s Creek in 1930.[xxv] Harry Biggs was an excellent cricketer from a young age and was even invited to play for South Melbourne when only about 16 years old.[xxvi] Toolangi was unbeaten through the 1933/34 season and with R. Bassett scoring 105 in the final against Steels Creek, Toolangi won the premiership.[xxvii] The players were presented with a blue and gold Premiership Cap[xxviii] at a concert and ball in Victoria Hall, Yarra Glen on 13 May 1934.[xxix]

In 1937 the Toolangi club entered a team in the Yarra Valley Cricket Association. A team from Rimington’s Toolangi nursery also entered the competition.[xxx] The Rimington nursery team used the oval nearby at Toolangi House Hotel for games and practice. In the first match playing each other, McLaine took 7 wickets for 21 off 7 overs, A. Demby made 36 runs, D. McLaine 33 not out and G. Mclaine 13 not out to defeat the Rimington’s team.[xxxi] Unfortunately, the Rimington’s nursery team only played one more season, but during the two years included players Anderson, H., J. & N. Lamb, Middlin, K. Northey, N. O’Brien, A. & S. Rimington, C. Priestley, Postle, M. Ward and B. Wickham .[xxxii]

Toolangi won premierships in 1954/55[xxxiii] and 1956/57 in the Healesville-Yarra Glen District Cricket Association. With bowlers like B. Pockett taking 4 for 5 in one game, a hat trick in another and C. Cherry 2 for 1, the team was in a ‘purple patch’.[xxxiv] For winning the 1955 premiership, the team, captained by G. McLaine, all received an embroidered cap[xxxv] and a souvenir trophy.[xxxvi]

No records are available for the 1957 premiership but the team did include T. Cherry, C. Cherry, J. Church, A. Demby, B. Pockett, J. Priestley, F. McNulty and possibly K. Blackmore and B. Hughes. Team members of both premierships received a blazer embroidered with ‘Premiers 1955-57’ in recognition for winning two years in a row.[xxxvii]

Sport ‘ruled’ during the 1980s when Toolangi had numerous tennis teams as well as two senior cricket teams and a junior team. The junior team started in 1982 when about 14 boys of the district were eager to play. A huge fundraising event was held at Jan & Vic Williams’ property where sufficient funds were raised to pay insurance and fees, to equip the team, as well as take the boys to meet the Australian cricketers at practice and view the game the next day.[xxxviii] The emphasis was to give all a game rather than just selecting the best. Similar to the junior teams in the 1970s, some boys would often play in the morning and then be recruited to a senior side in the afternoon.

It was also during this period a Cricket Club Champion trophy was initiated. Players scored 1 point for each run, 10 points for each wicket bowled, 5 points each for an assisted wicket, ie bowler and catcher, and 20 points to the best fielder on the day. The highest points score was 766 points by Bernie Priestley in 1984/85. Other notable achievements were Moray Sharp winning the Association E Grade batting average in 1989/90. His good form with the bat would have contributed to E Grade winning the premiership that year while C Grade managed Runners Up.

Cricket games at Toolangi were often a family affair with women and children attending. The fantastic afternoon teas served by the ladies at the stunning Toolangi oval were legendary in the local cricket competition.[xxxix] Facilities to provide these feasts were limited. An open-sided structure near an access track from the Main Road/telephone exchange to the reserve was the only ‘pavilion’ for some years. In the 1960s the old store from Miss Dean’s was moved to the ground to create a club room and provide more acceptable, but still very basic, facilities. Two large ‘windows’ at the front of the building were opened up on hinges to serve. A side door provided access to the inside. The only luxury was electric power and there was no running water. A new pavilion was constructed in 1976 and included toilets. For some years there were two structures. The club tried to renovate the old building during the 1980s before a lack of funds prevented its completion. It was later demolished. The club built a new cricket pitch in 1981 and later, practice nets were also constructed. In 2017 multiple new toilets, a shower and a storeroom were rebuilt on the end of the log pavilion after storm damage.

Unfortunately, by the 1990s there were less people interested in playing cricket and E Grade struggled to field a team, so subsequently folded in October 1991. The C Grade team continued to play until 1993, but also folded before the 1994 season.[xl] Even with the demise of a senior cricket club, the ground continued to host Toolangi junior cricket for a number of years, as well as becoming the home ground for a team from Healesville for a few seasons. Unfortunately, the popularity of local cricket has been declining with many clubs now amalgamating and associations now disbanding to join a wider league. With greater distances to travel, family commitments and many people ‘time poor’, competition cricket may be left to only the absolute devotees of the sport.



[i] Trove: Healesville Guardian (1893-1898), 3 December 1897, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[ii] Trove: Healesville Guardian & Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 24 November 1899, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[iii] Trove: Healesville Guardian (1893-1898), 10 December 1897, page 3, ‘Toolangi v Steel’s Creek’

[iv] Trove: Healesville Guardian & Yarra Glen Advocate (1898), 26 February 1898, page 3, ‘Dixon’s Creek’

[v] Trove: Healesville Guardian & Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 17 February 1899, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[vi] Trove: Healesville Guardian & Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 10 March 1899, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[vii] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 9 February 1912, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[viii] Trove: Healesville Guardian & Yarra Glen Guardian (1898-1900), 6 October 1899, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[ix] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 21 October 1905, page 2, ‘Toolangi’

[x] Trove: Evelyn Observer & Bourke East Record (1902-1917), 20 November 1908, page 5, ‘The Cameron Trophy’

[xi] Trove: Evelyn Observer & Bourke East Record (1902-1917), 28 April 1911, page 2, ‘Cricket’

[xii] Trove: Evelyn Observer & Bourke East Record (1902-1917), 19 May 1911, page 2, ‘Yarra Glen’

[xiii] Trove: Evelyn Observer & Bourke East Record (1902-1917), 24 November 1911, page 3, ‘Toolangi Cricket Club’

[xiv] Toolangi & Castella History Project 2021, Interview with G & H Biggs

[xv] Trove: Evelyn Observer & Bourke East Record (1902-1917), 20 January 1911, page 3, ‘Cricket’

[xvi] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 31 December 1912, page 2, ‘Cricket’

[xvii] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 20 September 1912, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[xviii] Victoria Government Gazette, no. 74, 5 February 1947, page 906:

[xix] A.P. Sewell, ‘A Few Memories of Old Toolangi’, 15.05.1993, page 4. Held at Healesville Historical Society

[xx] Note: To be verified at Public Record Office Victoria when open

[xxi] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 26 October 1900, page 3, ‘Toolangi’

[xxii] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 13 April 1940, page 2, ‘Toolangi Cricketers’ Dance’

[xxiii] Trove: Advertiser (Hurstbridge, 1922-1939), 22 November 1929, page 2, ‘Yarra Glen’

[xxiv] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 15 February 1930, page 4, ‘Toolangi v Yarra Glen’

[xxv] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 1 March 1930, page 2, ‘Toolangi’

[xxvi] A.P. Sewell, ‘A Few Memories of Old Toolangi’, 15.05.1993, page 4. Held at Healesville Historical Society

[xxvii] Trove: Advertiser (Hurstbridge, 1922-1939), 20 April 1934, page 5, ‘Yarra Glen and District Association’

[xxviii] Premiership Cap, G. Demby family collection

[xxix] Trove: Advertiser (Hurstbridge, 1922-1939), 25 May 1934, page 4. ‘Toolangi’

[xxx] Trove: The Argus (Melbourne, 1848-1957), 13 October 1937, page 14, ‘Other Districts’

[xxxi] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 18 December 1937, page 3, ‘Cricket’

[xxxii] Trove: Healesville and Yarra Glen Guardian (1900-1942), 4 June 1938, page 3, ‘Big Cricket at Toolangi’

[xxxiii] Trove: Healesville Guardian, 1 July 1955, page 2, ‘Advertising’ (Premiership Ball 9 July 1955)

[xxxiv] Trove: Healesville Guardian (Lilydale, 1942-1954), 21 January 1955, page 3, ’Cricket’

[xxxv] Premiership Cap, D. Pockett family collection

[xxxvi] 1955 Premiership Souvenir Trophy, family of Ted Cherry, 2021

[xxxvii] Premiership Blazer, G. Demby family collection

[xxxviii] Interview with Jan Williams, August 2021

[xxxix] Trove: The Lilydale Express and Yarra Glen, Wandin Yallock, Upper Yarra, Healesville and Ringwood Chronicle (1898-1914), 20 January 1911, page 4, ‘Cameron’s Trophy Competition’

[xl] Toolangi Cricket Club records, B. Priestley

Steve Meacher Muddy Creek East 1864 veg notes
Steve Meacher Muddy Creek East 1864 veg notes
Steve Meacher Muddy Creek East 1864 veg notes
Steve Meacher Muddy Creek East 1864 veg notes