DAVID BOON PLAYED 107 TEST MATCHES, SCORING 7422 RUNS WITH A BATTING AVERAGE OF 43.65; IN 20 YEARS OF FIRST-CLASS CRICKET HE AMASSED 23,413 RUNS. SUCH IMPRESSIVE FEATS WITH THE CRICKET BAT EARNED HIM PLENTY OF ACCOLADES – AN MBE (MEMBER OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE MEDAL) AMONG THEM.
However, for this giant in a sport often dubbed the “best game in the world”, two ovations in Tasmania rate as personal bests. “Great” is how he recalls his testimonial match at Launceston’s NTCA oval in 1996, when fans filled the ground despite the “weather being rubbish”.
Then, in January 2005, and despite nine years having elapsed since he had last donned cricketing creams, fans packed the Bellerive Oval to once again offer “Boonie” a hero’s welcome.
A lap of the oval was the last stretch of what been a gruelling 650km charity walk David had instigated in support of the Bone Marrow Donor Institute. With his wife, Pip, and family of three by his side, the crowd’s rapturous applause on that day made the challenge all the more worthwhile.
“Along the walk Tasmanians had shown great generosity, but to have my family with me to feel such a welcome was just tremendous and something none of us will forget,” David says, of the Walk For Hope, which raised $542,000 to help in the fight against leukaemia and other cancers.
For a man who has always preferred his sporting achievements to speak to the world, and whose focus is always on the
game not acclaim, these are powerful personal revelations. David maintains his achievements have all come from the sound, supportive upbringing he had in Launceston. “Tasmania has always been home to me – from when I first started playing cricket, Launceston and its people were always very supportive.”
Tasmania took this lad to its heart early on. Faith was duly rewarded when, as an 18-year-old in 1978, David played a pivotal role in Tasmania’s history-making Gillette Cup win, the State’s first interstate one-day victory.
Today, he is a Test cricket selector for Australia, but remains closely associated with the game on a state level given his role as cricket operations manager with the Tasmanian Cricket Association. He prefers the nuts and bolts of the game. He deftly directs reasons for much of his achievement back to the hard yards in training he did thanks to the dedication of his parents when he was a teenager.
But with a mother who represented Australia in hockey as vice-captain, and played locally in the team now known as Queechy Penguins, and with a father who was a good all-rounder at sport, there was plenty of inspiration to prove himself. “My mum (Leslie) and I had a secret competition going when I was at school. I dreamed of playing cricket for Australia and she would tease me about whether I could join the elite ranks at an earlier age than she did in hockey. She won easily as I was 22 whereas she was playing nationally at 19.”
Dropping his defences, just like opening the face of his bat as he relaxes at the crease, David relinquishes a little more family history. He acknowledges that he is very much like his mother – “quite shy” and someone who has always gone about sport with a “quiet, realistic approach”.
“Mum has had an enormous influence on me – I admire her strength of character. She could have achieved more in hockey, but she got pregnant with me at 23 or 24 and her playing career was cut short, but there’s never been a complaint.”
Then conversation turns to his father – a larger-than-life character around Launceston until his death in 1994. “Clarrie (his dad) was confident, he loved people, talking to people,“ David says.
Clarrie Boon was a popular footballer, playing for North and East Launceston clubs and becoming a coach for Brooks Old Boys in the amateur league. His legacy is not lost on youngsters coming into the game today, given the annual Clarrie Boon Medal, awarded to the player judged best on ground in the NTFA grand final. He was a familiar and lovable face in the city streets thanks to years as a Launceston newsagent, initially in Charles St opposite what was Jimmy’s Supermarket and later the City Newsagency in St John St until he retired.
“Dad loved that life, he loved his customers and the children coming in. He loved to talk to the gentlemen of the town, the sportsmen; on a Friday morning he’d sneak away and leave the shop to mum, to go and play crib with some mates.” Detail here is quickly cut off – “secret men’s business” – deflects David, to protect his father’s mates from any flak.
Memories flow then in other directions. “Every time I return to Launceston I like to walk around the town; it reminds me of working as a paper boy for Dad, catching the bus from town out to school (Launceston Church Grammar School). There are plenty of people I know still there and faces I recognise.
“The best thing about returning to Tasmania is the respect of privacy. Locals will say ‘hello’, but they aren’t nearly as intrusive as I’ve known in other places. On the mainland people are more forward, more inquisitive, so to come home has always been relaxing and refreshing.
He doesn’t deny that being on tour was exciting, particularly when at the tender age of 16 he was selected for the Australian under-19 team to tour England in 1977. This was all the more memorable once he scored a century at the hallowed ground of Lord’s. Years on the road and a stint living abroad when he played for the English county side of Durham, however, has him appreciative of a more settled life back in Tasmania.
“It hit me hardest when my youngest daughter, Georgina, who was 18 months at the time, didn’t recognise me when my family joined me in England. I’m incredibly lucky to have had such a supportive wife as Pip, who for many years was like many cricketing wives, almost living the life of a single parent.
“Family ties are very strong, we are a close family – grandparents are incredibly important – my sister Vanessa has kept our history alive by living on a hobby farm on Pateena Rd (Longford) that had been my father’s.
“Years of touring, living in England for three years has been hard for Pip and my children. Kids of today are different from when I grew up – mine have been incredibly lucky to have travelled a lot,” but David recognises that there is a yearning to be more
stable. David’s three children in 2005 are aged 17, 14 and 10. “They have said to me that if I ever think about moving again, they are staying right here in Hobart and going to boarding school.”
David’s schooling began at what used to be Charles St Primary School in Launceston, only a stone’s throw from his childhood home and his high school years were highly enjoyable at Grammar. It is friends from those years that remain closest to David. “With my cricket commitments over the years, we don’t catch up that often, but when we do time slips away and we slide right back into knowing each other by old nicknames.”
It was as early as primary school that this ‘Goliath’ began to shine at cricket. Backyard games had taught him toughness and resilience. “I was mad keen on sport and always badgering Dad to play footy or cricket. Probably to the detriment of my physical being as I always thought I was bulletproof and yet for some reason I seemed to have a close relationship with the LGH. I was always having to go to hospital with broken bones, a split head, concussion.”
His cricket ability was noticed and nurtured by former Lancashire spin bowler ‘Flat’ Jack Simmons, who was the Northern Tasmania Cricket Association coach at Launceston’s beloved NTCA ground. It’s been recorded that Simmons said about the first time he set eyes on David playing cricket: “I took one look at this squat, muscled little fellow and my heart gave a jump there and then and I thought to myself, ‘Have I ever seen an uncoached kiddie play so straight and have such time to play each ball where he wanted?’ “
Simmons asked David where he lived and went straight over to see Clarrie. “Your boy is something special,” he said. “If you think
so, Mr Simmons, I’ll make sure he’s there for coaching whenever you want him.” And David was.
David made his Sheffield Shield (now the Pura Cup) debut for Tasmania at the age of 17 in 1977, the year Tasmania entered the competition.
“There’s no peer to Jack Simmons and we still have a very strong friendship,” says David, with quiet candour. “He became like a father figure when my Dad died.” David and Pip Boon’s son is named Jack in honour of that deep friendship.
David looks back fondly on games played at the NTCA ground in Launceston, where the grandstand now bears his name in big, bold letters. It was at that ground that he first played for Tasmania against the West Indies. “It was nerve-wracking batting against players who had for so long been my heroes such as Andy Roberts, Michael Holding.
“Cricket is a sport that builds friendships – the traditions of the game allow for that to happen – although the social aspect of the game has lessened a bit these days. Now the two sides in a match only seem to socialise at the end of a series, but in my day it used to be the side who had spent longest at the wicket had to host drinks at the end of play. Today players have to go through warm downs, have ice baths to ease muscles and it’s all a bit late in the day to then enjoy a drink with the other team.”
David looks back on the social side of his time in cricket as a great way to learn more about the game. “You could listen to great players,” he explains.
Make a comment that today’s players are more professional, fitter, and David sends a “bouncer” back. “We trained, no doubt about that. It may seem as if there is more cricket, but the Australian
side plays on three days more cricket per year than what we did back in the early 1990s. The difference is that today 90 per cent of the game is international cricket, meaning more travel for the players, whereas we probably travelled only 65 per cent of the year.”
As Launceston geared up to welcome another cricketing hero back in October, 2005, with Australian Test captain Ricky Ponting to play for his old home team of Mowbray, David reflected once more on what it meant to be a Launceston lad.
“There’s an interest in people and their endeavours in such a town like Launceston that is invaluable. Launceston has supported mum with her hockey, Dad was a great supporter of footy and Launceston supported his newsagency; when Dad was a swimming coach in the days that diver Elizabeth Jack was in training (for the Olympic Games in 1976) there was so much Launceston support for her.
“To me, the only ones who fail are those who have never tried. There is always plenty of support for those who give something their best shot.”
Thousands of armchair cricketers feel a special kinship with “Boonie”. He’s a pretty regular bloke, whose mighty ability with a bat and ball thrilled the world, and who will never call anywhere else but Tasmania home.