Macedon regained the Ashes from Aireys Inlet by just one run in the 30th anniversary game between the two towns that were devastated by the Ash Wednesday bushfires of February 16 1983. The fires killed 75 people and destroyed 2500 homes in South Australia and Victoria.
Since February 1984 Macedon and Aireys Inlet have competed for an urn that contains ashes from the two towns. Macedon, an hour north of Melbourne, have won many of the games, including the inaugural match, but this year were keen to reclaim the trophy after Aireys Inlet, on the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Anglesea, won last year’s 30 over a side game.
Before play started Macedon resident Beau Warrener presented each of the players with the equivalent of medallions: burnt and melted coins from the 1983 rubble of his home.
The annual games now include players across two generations and for the 30th anniversary match, played in Anglesea on Sunday 17 February, a handful of players from the inaugural game donned their whites.
Macedon’s Gregg Kennedy evacuated late on Ash Wednesday. “We took a risk. I remember seeing embers flying about as we drove away.” Gregg’s wife was pregnant with their first baby, due on February 16. “We drove to my wife’s mum’s house and were okay.” Five days later their first child was born. Their house, though, was destroyed.
Gregg is a co-founder of the Ashes games. At a wedding later in 1983 he met Ray Venables of Aireys Inlet, whose father Lloyd had died in the fires. The two thought an annual game would be one way for the towns to commemorate the shared experiences of Ash Wednesday. And a good way to have a beer and a friendly game of cricket.
Gregg made 74 runs in that first game, a 40 over a side match that saw Macedon win with just one wicket to spare.
At this year’s game Gregg didn’t quite make as many runs but there was a quietly poignant moment in the 15th over of the Macedon innings when he faced the spin-bowling of Brett Venables, one of two sons of the late Ray Venables.
Aireys Inlet’s Pat Hutchinson was the town’s publican in 1983. He was in Lorne, blocked by a police roadblock, when the fires reached Aireys Inlet. The next morning he was told by Lorne police that the pub was ‘non-existent’. Within two days, though, he was trading from a tent and by Easter from a tin shed. This year the pub, which Pat no longer runs, was the focal point for 30th anniversary commemorative events.
There was a quiet moment of serendipity when Pat fielded the last ball of Macedon’s innings, struck by another of the game’s original players, Macedon skipper John Ewels.
John’s bowling turned the game Macedon’s way on Sunday. Chasing 123, Aireys Inlet seemed to be cruising after an opening partnership of 39. At one stage the home team was 1/56 but then John’s wily spinners (bowled off the wrong foot) tempted and trapped the middle-order. Before long Aireys was 9/102 and needing 23 off the last four overs.
Brett Venables and Dave Coad were on the brink of victory when they needed seven runs off the last over but tight bowling left the home team one run adrift and Macedon regained the Ash Wednesday Ashes.
In the end, a wide here or a no-ball there might have been the difference between the two teams. Or there might have been a two when the batsmen only ran a single. A boundary might have been a six.
But in the end these cricketers, survivors and the sons and friends of survivors, know that cricket is only a game.