John Hawkins retires after 45 years at Adelaide Oval

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For 30 years, backyard cricket at John Hawkins’ home meant crowds of 35,000 and international superstars such as Dennis Lillee, Ian Botham and Viv Richards.

“Living here at Adelaide Oval was fantastic,” John says.

“But I live in Encounter Bay now, so I’ve gone from 75 steps walking out the door to the (work) shed, to driving nearly 100km one way.”

One of the longest unbeaten stands at Australia’s greatest cricket ground ended on Friday, when John called time on his 45-year career as an Adelaide Oval groundsman.

The 67-year-old, an Englishman who concedes he knew nothing of the Oval’s aura when he arrived in Australia in 1973, has worked at the world-famous venue under esteemed curators Arthur Lance, Les Burdett and now Damian Hough.

John Hawkins inspects grass damaged by painted advertising on Adelaide Oval during the 1990s.

He also holds the honour of being the first person to be naturalised as an Australian on the ground, in a ceremony that became part of SA’s Australia Day Test tradition.

And across those 45 years, working quietly out of the public eye, he’s seen everything from thrilling Test matches to classic football clashes, not to mention a series of upgrades and changes to the picturesque ground that make today’s Adelaide Oval almost unrecognisable from the version he first encountered as a 22-year-old.

“I like it now,” Hawkins says of the 2018-model Adelaide Oval. “I admit, I was very reluctant (about the upgrades) in the first place because I was losing my house. That was the first thing to go, so I had to find somewhere to live.

“But it’s grown on me now. I just love the place. I love the work and there’s so much variety.”

When Arthur Lance handed over head groundsman duties to Les Burdett in 1980, Burdett opted not to follow convention of moving into Adelaide Oval’s on-site curator’s residence.

The 1924-built house, which formerly sat at the southeastern corner of the former Bradman Stand, was up for grabs — and it was an offer too good to refuse for Hawkins and his wife Shirley.

“The funny thing is, I’d been at The Rolling Stones concert (at Memorial Drive) in 1973 and my wife said to me, ‘Look at that house there — wouldn’t it be fantastic to live in that house?’ John says.

“Of course, I never realised that one day we would,” John adds. “It was fantastic. We raised two kids there.”

Serving as the Oval’s live-in nightwatchman had a habit of tossing up the unexpected for Hawkins.

“You’d walk around after locking the gates and you might hear somebody snoring, fast asleep on a toilet,” John says.

Sadly, John lost Shirley to a sudden illness in February. In retirement, he plans to fulfil the pair’s travel dream and work more on his other passion, golf.

“I’ll take my wife’s ashes back to England and see some nieces and nephews I’ve never met,” he says.

“I haven’t been back there for 30 years, so I’ll visit my parents’ graves — I’ve never seen them.

“So that’ll take care of the first four weeks.”

Workmates have planned a golf day this coming week followed by a farewell function on July 11.

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