Article by Shane Dell
He was the cricketer who could have brought the English tourists to their knees during the Bodyline tests over the summer of 1932-33. A viciously fast bowler, who many considered the only man capable of dishing the medicine up to the English batsman when the crowds cried for revenge for their despicable display of Bodyline bowling. There is no doubt had he been given the opportunity, he would have written himself into Australian cricket folklore.
A man, many considered to be the fastest bowler in Australia and possibly the world during the 1930's was not only denied the opportunity of playing against the English tourists, but was also, never chosen to represent his Nation. Why? I hear you ask, it's astoundingly simple to answer, because he was a "black man", an Indigenous Australian descended from the traditional owners of the place we all call Australia.
I am referring to none other than Eddie Gilbert, an exceptionally gifted fast bowler who was never given the accolades by his peers, which he not only earnt through his cricket achievements, but downright deserved due to his talent with a cricket ball. Eddie Gilbert, one of the only bowlers in history who ever dismissed the great Donald Bradman for a duck. He was so fast with the ball, he is also the only bowler to ever knock the bat from the hands of Bradman, who later said of Eddie, "he sent down the fastest bowling I can remember of that time, he was much faster than Larwood or anyone else".
It may be difficult to imagine a bowler who only took 3 to 4 steps, prior to bowling the ball was able to generate such ferocious pace, however, Eddie's deliveries were so fast, he once even injured his own team's wicketkeeper who doubled up in pain after being hit in the stomach by a ball delivered at a blistering pace. In 1931, during the Queensland v West Indies match he returned the excellent figures of 5 for 65, but still he was not considered for selection to the Australian team. Any hope Eddie had of ever representing his country were just that, hopes.
I guess it will never be known if Eddie ever knew that his chances of representing Australia were nil. He was a "black man" who dared to be successful and excel at a sport that was considered to be a "gentlemans" game. It would never be accepted by the Cricket Establishment that an Indigenous Australian could be worthy of representing his country, they were going to make sure of that.
It remains unknown, exactly who engineered the downfall of Eddie Gilbert, but will long live in the memory of many Australians how it occurred. During a match between Victoria and Queensland at the MCG in 1931, the umpire A.N Barlow, no-balled Eddie, a total of 13 times for what was described as a suspect action. In today’s terms this would be called chucking. From this moment on it was obvious the fate of Eddie was sealed, he was doomed to go the way of every talented indigenous player before him, and there had been plenty.
The record books don't actually tell us if Eddie continued to play cricket after this time, but it is very doubtful he did. The only reference available after this match, shows a large gap in the playing career of Eddie Gilbert. He in fact, played no games between 1931 and 1935. His last game is recorded as being played in 1936.
On 11 November 1936, Eddie Gilbert was given his final marching orders from the game. In a communication to the authority responsible for the management of Indigenous Australians at the time, the Secretary of the Queensland Cricket Association wrote "The matter of Eddie Gilbert has been fully discussed by the committee and it is decided, with your concurrence, to arrange for his return to the settlement". During this depressing time in Australia's history, all Indigenous persons, were required to live in a controlled area not unlike the Russian Gulags, called a settlement. Better known by many people, as a reservation.
Every aspect of their lives was dictated to by the authority known as the Aboriginal Protectorate, subsequently these Indigenous Australians were nothing more than prisoners in their own land. Such was the oppression suffered by these people, Eddie Gilbert was required to obtain written permission every time he wished to travel for the sake of playing a cricket match. The final nail in Eddies coffin was also delivered by the QCA who demanded "the return of his cricket clothes to their office". Not only were the QCA prepared to push one of Australia's finest cricketers out of the game, they also wanted the clothes of his back.
Needless to say, Eddie Gilbert disappeared into obscurity. It was not until 1972 that he was heard of again. Eddie was discovered in a mental institution totally incapable of any speach, he had been a resident there for 23 years. On January 9 1978, Eddie Gilbert passed away without even the slightest acknowledgment he had even existed.
A shameful fact that should be redressed by cricket authorities and historians alike.