Interview: Terror Australis
Unions: Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Industrial: The Hell of Troy
Organising: Miners Strike Gold
Economics: The Accepted Wisdom
History: Vicious Old Lady
International: Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Review: War Unfogged
The Locker Room
Getting Away With Murder
Graeme Beard's Second Dig
Graeme Beard's crafty mixture of off-spinners and seamers took him to Pakistan, England and a Baggy Green cap but, years after he traded flannels for a union card, there is one ball he is still glad he was never asked to bowl.
It came late on the afternoon of Sunday, February 1, 1980. Beard couldn't hear what his skipper, Greg Chappell, told younger brother Trevor because, like most team-mates, he had his own piece of MCG fence to guard.
But he knew exactly what was coming from the time the bowler approached the umpire and he, in turn, relayed the news to his square leg colleague. Beard had seen the process before, playing grade cricket against Balmain at Drummoyne Oval. But that didn't mean he wasn't surprised.
The ball, delivered underarm to Kiwi tailender, Brian McKechnie would go down in the annals of sporting villainy. It provoked a trans-Tasman war of words and, if the New Zealanders had had a defence force to speak of, might even have warmed up from there.
The AWU industrial officer spreads his long, spinner's fingers and shrugs.
"I think Greg saw it as the end of a long season. He was tired and everybody was under a lot of pressure," he says. "Greg played within the letter of the law and he played it hard.
"I was just glad he never asked me to bowl that ball. Someone like Dennis Lillee would have told him to stick it but ... I don't know."
Beard says Australian dressing rooms are accurate barometers of results. Victories mean unrestrained celebrations and defeats are taken hard.
That night was an exception.
"When we won the second game of the series the scenes were just fabulous but not this time. The place was dead, everyone had his head down. We might have won the game but you would never have known it," Beard recalled.
Beard might only have been around international cricket for three seasons but they came at a historic and dramatic time. He was called up for the 1979 tour of Pakistan, the first since the World Series split.
This was also a traumatic time for the host nation. The elected president had just been hanged, generals had taken control, and, for the first time, the country had declared itself "Islamic". And, just for good measure, the Soviets had crossed the border into neighbouring Afghanistan.
All of the above was a blessing in disguise for the NSW allrounder who found himself on the same team lists as the likes of Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh, David Hookes, Allan Border, Geoff Lawson and Greg Chappell.
For their own safety, the Australians had to spend long hours in their hotels and even more time than usual in one another's company. A couple of lengthy drinking sessions established rapports with Marsh and Lillee that would stand the test of time.
Beard stood up in that company, grinding out an invaluable double of 39 and 49 in the hubbub of Gaddafi Stadium, Karachi, that allowed team-mate, Border, to record 150s in each dig and their team to get away with a draw.
Pakistan was an eye-opener for the school teacher who had grown up on Sydney's northern beaches.
"The cities were frantic but, outside the CBD, it was like going back 1000 years," he said. "It was important not to be judgemental, to accept things as they were."
He reconnected with the game's super stars in two finals of the following year's one-day series when selectors figured, correctly as it transpired, that his lack of pace would be a useful on the slow Melbourne deck.
In 1981 he flew to England with the Australian squad dispatched to regain the Ashes. Beard didn't play a test but was an inside observer as another sensational chapter in the story of cricket unfolded.
The series is remembered, principally, for two events - the resurrection of Ian Botham and a Lillee-Marsh flirtation with English bookmakers.
Australia was up two-nil in the series and had England on the rack - seven down and still more than a hundred shy of making the visitors bat again - when bookmakers launched a ploy to try and wring bets out of punters who figured they knew a foregone conclusion when they saw one.
It wouldn't happen these day but this was 1981 and up it went on the electronic scoreboard - 500-1 for anyone who thought England could make the biggest resurrection since Easter Sunday.
"Well, Dennis is a gambler and he's got to have a slice of that," Beard says. "He's going to put 50 quid on but everyone in the dressing room says - no, you can't do it, even for fun - but, the truth is, England are shot and everyone knows it."
Lillee relents somewhat but his gambling instincts tell him he can't just let odds like that disappear. He tells the team's bus driver, a universally popular local who goes the extra mile for everyone, to put a tenner on the Poms.
As Lillee's runner is leaving, Marsh adds another fiver to the investment.
History records that Botham went berserk with the bat and Bob Willis came out like a man possessed to run through the Australian batsmen. The unthinkable happened and Lillee and Marsh found themselves in the middle of the first betting controversy of the modern era.
But 7500 English pounds was a lot of money, especially back then, so what became of it?
Beard says most, if not all, paid for the bus driver, who had barely been outside his coach, to an all-expenses paid Australian holiday the following summer. Lillee and Marsh met airfares; arranged accommodation; worked schedules so his arrival in state capitals coincided with Shield matches and he could catch up with other players; and they threw in a new set of golf clubs for good measure.
"That was the sort of men they were," Beard says of the Western Australians. "It (the bet) was just one of those things, all they were doing was taking the piss out of the situation."
He returned from that tour confident his international career was over. Much as he enjoyed the classroom he had never envisaged being a teacher when he was 40. All you could aspire to, he said, was being a principal and that defeated the purpose by taking you out of the classroom.
Completely by chance he was offered a job with the AWU. The conditions were good but, if he took it, there would be no time for first class cricket. He could still play grade, though, and did for another 10 years.
Back then, Beard never saw unionism as a calling, more an opportunity to make a contribution to a fairer world then move on.
Twenty two years later, he admits, he is hooked.
Beard has never become involved in the politics that attracts so many AWU activists. He is unapologetic about his Labor leanings but almost proud that he has never had a party card. Similarly, he has brushed internal union politics, preferring to get on with his job.
Beard is regarded as something of a walking encyclopedia on the 60 awards he is responsible for, invaluable at covering IRC bases for members across a range of industries.
"I enjoy putting the employees' point of view, ensuring they have a voice in matters that affect their livelihoods," he says. "I'm a moderate, I like to think that, with good will, most negotiations can result in win-win situations."
He says the Coalition's Workplace Relations Act has makes that more difficult by putting process ahead of dispute resolution, offering the bitter 1998 waterfront dispute as a "prime example".
"There was a real problem, a dispute, and it was never fixed," Beard says. "The courts examined whether Patrick had followed process, rather than whether what they did was right or wrong."
Most of all, though, Beard loves the variety. The job has taken him to factories, farms, roadworks in the middle of nowhere, oil platforms on the North West Shelf and shearing sheds near Broken Hill.
Oil and mineral developments in the west see him in and out of Perth on a regular basis. It's rare, indeed, if he leaves without sharing a meal, a beer and a laugh with men whose friendships stretch back to another continent and a different career.
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