Conversation: Tom O’Dwyer, ‘bowling baritone’ and special minister of Eucharist - Man of prayer who bowled the Don inl’48
ALMOST INVINCIBLE: Tom O’Dwyer was among the best bowlers of his day
Tom O’Dwyer was the last cricketer to capture Don Bradman’s wicket in a first class match in Australia.
He performed the feat at the WACA ground in 1948 when the Australian team stopped off to play Western Australia on their way to England for the tour in which they earned the name “The Invincibles” by becoming the only team in history not to lose a match on tour.
Tom O’Dwyer is also a man who, every day for the past 20 years, has walked from his home in Mt Lawley to Sacred Heart Church in Highgate for Mass and Communion.
In 2003, when perpetual adoration was introduced at Highgate, he began timing his walk to arrive at Sacred Heart about 10 or 11 at night and he would remain there in prayer until the 7am Mass, after which he would walk home.
These are two features of a Catholic life that began when Tom was born in Bridgetown in the south-west of WA on November 5, 1919. He had two sisters, Isabel and Imelda, and a brother Laurance, but he is the last survivor of the family. His father John was in charge of the Lands Department office in Bridgetown. His mother Isabel (nee Priest) was a convert to Catholicism.
“I consider myself very lucky; I was born into a good Catholic family,” he said.
“The gift of faith is the great gift God has given us; we know where we are.”
Tom’s family moved to Perth when he was five and he has lived most of his life in Mt Lawley and in the Highgate parish.
After an education at St Pat’s he took up a successful career in the insurance industry, but in his early life his two main interests were cricket and singing. In fact, he became known as “the bowling baritone”.
All of the O’Dwyer family were good singers. Tom’s father led the choir at Highgate for many years and Tom himself spent the best part of 70 years singing in church choirs. He also appeared in many musicals and concerts presented on stage at His Majesty’s Theatre and other venues.
“I thank God I was born pre-television,” he said. “The family used to gather around the piano and sing for an hour or so before going to bed.”
He started to take cricket seriously when he was 15 and gained a place in the North Perth C grade team. Some time later he was asked to “fill in” as a spin bowler for the B grade team one Saturday. He made 18 not out batting at number seven, and took five wickets for seven in the first innings and 5/46, including a hat trick, in the second.
He played for Mt Lawley for a couple of years and then transferred to Subiaco.
He used to ride his bike from Mt Lawley to Subiaco for cricket practice, carrying his bat and other cricket gear with him and singing most of the way.
On Thursday nights after training he would ride his bike to the Redmeptorist monastery in North Perth to continue his education and experience in his faith.
He soon gained a place in A grade and has vivid memories of many of his early games, particularly one against Bassendean. The score was none for 39 when the ball was tossed to Tom. He took a wicket with his first ball, another with his second and finished with 7/4.
It was not long before the left arm wrist spinner became one of WA’s leading cricketers, and eventually his talent was noticed elsewhere. When Wally Hammond brought the English team to Australia in 1947, its first game was in Perth and Tom O’Dwyer was in the Australian Combined Side for that match. He took the wickets of Bill Edrich and Joe Hardstaff.
In 1948, WA was finally admitted to the Sheffield Shield competition (now the Pura Cup) and Tom was in the thick of it. In the final against Queensland in Brisbane, he batted at No 7 and made 46 in the first innings and 11 not out in the second, but he really excelled with the ball.
In Queensland’s first innings he took 7/79, and in the second 2/46 as Western Australia claimed an historic Shield victory. There were no man-of-the-match awards in those days, but some of his teammates said Tom had won the final for them.
He was unlucky not be chosen in the 1948 Australian team that became known as “The Invincibles”.
When WA beat NSW at the WACA in 1948, with Tom taking six wickets and making 51 runs, Arthur Morris, a member of the 1948 team and one of Australia’s greatest opening batsmen, said: “Tom O’Dwyer is the best bowler of his type in Australia and a better batsman than many imagine.” When WA beat SA in its first ever Shield match at the WACA, with Tom taking 5/47 and 3/54, Dick Whitington, a cricket writer and former South Australian Sheffield Shield player wrote: “Tom O’Dwyer is the best spin bowler in Australia and Colin McCool is a close second.”
Unfortunately for Tom, it was McCool, of Queensland, who got the nod for the tour of England. When the team stopped in Perth on the way to England (the players travelled by ship) and Tom O’Dwyer took Bradman’s wicket in his final first class game in Australia (caught by former Aquinian Tom Outridge for 115). He also took the wickets of Ian Johnson and Colin McCool. And he made 31 runs.
The selection did not bother Tom. He already had the philosophy he offered when asked what advice he would give to the young today: “Jesus said, ‘if you love me you will keep my commandments, and my Father will love you and we will come and make our abode with you’.
“The reality of this presence within you more than makes up for the disappointments and the humdrum of life.
“A lot of us don’t do what we want to do in this life, but if we miss out on heaven, our life would be a real tragedy, a complete waste.”
As well as his busy life of sport and later coaching and umpiring, his music, his religion and his work, Tom always found time to help those in need through the St Vincent de Paul Society. In 2001, the Society gave him an award for more than 55 years of faithful service.
In later years he became a Special Minister of the Eucharist and at 84 is still taking Holy Communion to people in their homes and in hospital.
“God has put himself at our disposal at Mass, in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle, and it is up to me to go there, and to take the Body and Blood of Jesus to those who can’t go there,” he says.
“Never be afraid to be a Catholic. Don’t hide it and don’t be afraid of your weaknesses and failings.
“In their moment of denial of God, the angels were buried in hell, but no matter how often we sin, Jesus is at our side ready to forgive.” – Discovery