Charles Townsing is an enthusiast. For many years he had a dream of running a cattle station. He’d had a few head on a small hobby farm in Maryborough, Vic, but he really wanted to try his hand at the real thing.
So, after a highly successful career as a baker, he and his wife Fay sold up and bought Cawkers Well, a 75,000 acre property just west of Wilcannia in the far west of NSW, and they’re now running more than 600 Herefords.
Chas is also a keen cricketer and a Rotarian of some standing, but when home is more than two hours’ drive to the nearest Rotary or cricket club in Broken Hill, getting to meetings or playing games present a problem. Above all else, however, Chas is an ideas man, and if he couldn’t go to cricket or Rotary, he’d find a way to bring cricket and Rotary to him.
“If you didn’t come up with these ideas and do something about them, you’d have nothing to do and you’d go mad,” said Chas.
Some might argue that with his latest project, Chas has gone completely around the bend, but more than 200 Rotarians from Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and even a handful from New Zealand would disagree.
Many, if not most, travelled thousands of kilometres to Cawkers Well station on the Barrier highway. They flew in, they rode in, they drove in towing caravans, to what must now rank as one of the most iconic cricket grounds in Australia. Chas and his mates graded a patch of red dirt about 200m from his humble station homestead. Then they fenced it, including an appealing white picket section at the players’ gate.
The crowning glory and the most extraordinary aspect of the weekend, however, is the pitch.
There it sits in the middle of the Cawkers Well Cricket Ground, interred in a bed of baked outback red dirt, following transportation on the back of a (rather large) truck from the hallowed turf of Adelaide Oval, where legendary curator Les Burdett had stored it under one of the newly built grandstands. Even more remarkable, this pitch had its genesis in South Africa – an awfully long way from Cawkers Well.
Chas has an irresistible amiability and it would not have taken Les long to get caught up in the cattleman’s enthusiasm for this project.
As one player observed, even thinking you could plant a turf pitch in this environment, let alone a former Test pitch from Adelaide Oval, required a certain audacity.
“We’ve had Rotary cricket festivals all over the world. We’ve played on matting and all sorts of artificial surfaces, so I thought, why not get a decent wicket in here?” said Chas. “I really only wanted to talk to Les to get his advice, but he soon became just as enthusiastic as I was.”
Indeed, with more than $40,000 in proceeds from the matches going to Variety Club, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and various other charities, the Cawkers Well Cricket Ground – which also bears Australian Football goalposts at either end – is almost certain to host more events like this, particularly as the Rotary Club of Broken Hill has been enlisted to lend a helping hand in the setup.
Chas is a Rotarian of many years, but since his move to Cawkers Well he has been a member of the Rotary E-Club of South West USA. It enables him to remain in Rotary, participate in projects by the dozen in several parts of the world at once, and entitles him to attend the occasional Broken Hill meeting as a Visiting Rotarian.
At 69 going on 70, Chas is not exactly what you’d expect of an e-club member. With his leathery skin, hands like hams, saggy-arsed jeans and a well-worn Akubra, you don’t get the impression he spends much time planted in front of the computer, but you’d be wrong.
“As an e-club Rotarian, I get to do Rotary business 365 days a year, 25-hours a day and I can do it in my sleep,” said Chas.