One may have made his mark in winter on snow, the other on the grassy fields of summer but both Michael Milton OAM and Bill Lawry AM will now have something in common when they are each inducted into to the Sport Australia Hall of Fame this week.
Along with the previously announced master swimming coach Denis Cotterell and sports scientist Dick Telford and four others, they will join the elite sporting club at its annual Induction and Awards Gala Dinner, presented by Etihad Airways. Induction represents one of the highest national sporting honours that can be bestowed upon an individual, with the annual dinner the largest collective gathering of Australian sporting champions and luminaries. This Thursday in Melbourne will be the 30th edition.
Lawry the gift to Australian sport who just kept on giving
A caricaturist’s and comedian’s delight, few Australian sports stars have been the subject of more irreverence than WM (Bill) Lawry.
And although sometimes criticised for his dour approach to preserving his wicket, Lawry amassed an outstanding record both as a player and Australia’s cricket captain.
His first class appearances spanned 18 years, beginning for Victoria in 1955. In 249 matches until his retirement in 1972, he accumulated 18734 runs at the outstanding average of 50.90.
Within it, his Test career was no mere cameo. In 123 innings in 67 matches at the highest level he scored 5234 runs at 47.17 with a highest score of 210 amongst 13 centuries.
His first and last Test matches were against the old enemy, England – at Birmingham in 1961 and at Adelaide 10 years later, immediately after which he was secretly and unceremoniously dropped both as captain and from the Australian team. It was an abrupt end to a wonderful international career.
Lawry acknowledges his roots in suburban cricket in Melbourne’s north, as being critical to his achievements and says he did his best to give back as a result.
“I was so proud of Northcote because they gave me an opportunity and I played there from age 11 to 34 so this meant a lot,” Lawry, 77, says now.
Despite having captained his country on 25 occasions, he remains humble about his achievements and opportunities.
“I would have been happy just playing at Northcote so I have been very, very lucky. I have no regrets, not one.”
“I fought very hard as captain to get a better deal for the players, possibly because of my Labor Party background, working-class stock.”
“Packer changed all that for the modern player. The most enjoyable thing I’ve seen in the last 35 years is that the professional cricketer is earning a good living. Some are probably overpaid but that’s not the point.”
Lawry certainly never was during his time at the crease for his country.
Bill Lawry has been a key figure in Australian cricket for five decades – as an opening bat, captain and commentator, as well as an administrator. Both the indoor centre at the MCG and Northcote’s home ground are named in his honour.
His long-time captain and opening partner, Bob Simpson AO MBE will be the presenter when Lawry is inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame on Thursday night. The two standing together will revive memories of some of the great moments in Australian test cricket – including their 382-run opening of the innings in Bridgetown, Barbados, the highest ever partnership by an Australian pair against the West Indies.
Robert de Castella AO MBE, chair of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame selection committee said that Lawry’s contribution to sport on and off the field has been endless.
“Bill has contributed to Australian cricket for over five decades as one of our greatest players, captains and commentators. His toughness and fighting spirit helped define the sport as an opening batsman through the 1960s and his commentary then become synonymous with the sport,” de Castella said
High achievement and versatility the hallmarks of Milton’s extraordinary career
One of Australia’s most versatile athletes, Michael Milton’s achievements are legendary not just for the results but for the sheer extent of his exploits.
They would be considered awesome for any athlete – with or without a disability but just yet another challenge on each occasion for Milton who lost a leg to bone cancer diagnosed at nine years of age.
Milton competed in five Winter Paralympic Games between 1988, when he debuted in his first international competition at just 14 years, and 2006 – collecting six gold, three silver and two bronze medals.
In world championship competition he won eleven medals – again six of them gold.
In 2006 he set a speed skiing record of 213.65 kilometres per hour – faster than any able bodied skier had achieved in Australia. At the 25th anniversary of the Australian Institute of Sport that year he was acknowledged as one of its 25 greatest graduates. Few would argue and few could challenge his breadth of achievement.
He then discarded his winter woollies and despite less than 12 months before having undergone extensive surgery, chemo and radio therapy for a new cancer, competed in the Summer Paralympic Games as a cyclist.
It had been a rapid rise. At his first Australian Track Championships in February 2007 he not only took gold in the individual pursuit but also broke the national record. Then despite the adversity and losing months of training he bounced back to repeat a year later and gain selection for Beijing.
The honour of joining fellow Paralympic greats Louise Sauvage and David Hall in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame is not lost on Milton.
“It makes me feel very proud to be inducted and to be joining such elite company,” he said when informed of his pending elevation.
And on the subject of the mountains he faced in pursuing his feats, in addition to those he so ably raced down, Milton sends a poignant message to those who may follow.
“The real challenging part about living with a disability is the low expectations of people around you and the people you meet in our culture.”
“The hardest part of life with a disability, and particularly when it comes to overcoming some of those obstacles to achieve some of those things, is to be able to break through the barriers that our culture places on us.”
But he is less emphatic on another matter. When asked to choose which of his achievements is the best, he was reluctant to nominate whether one trumped the others.
“Probably not, there has been so many and for many different reasons I don’t like to place one above the others, it’s like saying I prefer one of my children over another.”
Whilst retired from elite competition, there is no letting up for the Paralympic great – now turning his attention to adventure challenges, triathlons and even marathons.
“I still like to think of myself as a bit of a weekend warrior athlete and I still do lots of physical stuff. For me it’s about sharing my passion for the outdoors and being able to share that with other people.”
The Sport Australia Hall of Fame Selection Committee is clearly of the view that Milton remains a role model for all Australians.
“Michael Milton not only defies limits, he destroys them! All champions rise to a challenge, but Michael takes this to a new level, and through his incredible achievements he inspires us all to never give up, no matter how tough things look,” Committee chair Robert de Castella said.
Olympic skiing great, Malcolm Milne will have the honour of making the presentation to Michael Milton as part of his official Sport Australia Hall of Fame Induction next Thursday night.
382 sporting stars have previously been inducted as Athlete Members of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame. Along with 143 General Members, there are a total of 525 members of The Sport Australia Hall of Fame.
With a vision and values built around the words of the first inductee and Legend of Australian Sport, Sir Donald Bradman AC, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame is determined to carry to all Australians everywhere the symbol of excellence, as represented by all its members across all sports and genders.