Clare Johnston spends a lot of time in her back shed in Gippsland, Victoria, on a property in Berrys Creek, between Mirboo North and Leongatha.
Johnston spends her free time with her greatest passion, making women’s cricket bats – and she may be the only woman in the country, if not the world, to do so, something she speculates on, calling it “bizarre”.
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She started making the bats in 2015 but her love of cricket and the craft of making bats began much earlier in her life when she was a young woman playing cricket for Wantirna South.
Her love of the game could only be matched by the excitement of watching the pros.
“Dad used to take me to the Test matches all the time and I remember sitting there for days and it was probably in the 70’s and 80’s when things really peaked for Australian cricket,” Johnston told 7NEWS.com.au.
One thing she remembers is that it was all men’s games.
“I know we had women’s cricket back then, but you couldn’t see it, it wasn’t on public view – at least you can see it now, which is really nice,” she said.
Interest in their craft began with former Australian cricketer Ian Callen, who played one Test match and five ODIs between 1978 and 1982.
“Ian was a racquet maker himself and he also owned a sporting goods store that I lived in when I was a teenager, so I used to go there and look at the racquets and all kinds of things,” she said.
“He got some of the England players to work with him over the summer when they played over here and he got one of the guys over there to teach me how to keep wickets.
“From then on I had a good relationship with Ian and many years later Ian was calling the Local Times weekly and trying to create a little bit more industry across Australia.”
Johnston explains that historically there has always been a larger bat industry in Australia, much like England, but locals were beginning to find it increasingly difficult to compete commercially.
“One day my mom gave me the newspaper to give to my then-partner — and he wasn’t interested,” she said.
“Then I saw it (Ian’s ad) and I was like, ‘That’s really amazing, that would be pretty cool.’
“When I spoke to Ian he said that if you do that you might be the first cricket batmaker in the world. “
She explains that as we continued talking to Ian, he encouraged her to pursue her interest by telling her that there was an untapped market for women’s bats.
“Ian said it would be great if there was someone working on cricket bats for women, that women would come to him to make bats for them… he knew there was an interest in that… there’s a market there outside.
“It fulfilled everything I loved about making cricket bats, I love making things and I loved the sport.”
The wood is grown in Victoria at nearby Sale, something Johnston is proud of, and she spends her time crafting bespoke creations, tailored to measurements that better suit a woman’s physique.
“What I hear is they can’t get the right weight or lift for their body shape or their style,” Johnston said.
“If you go to a men’s store, you have a lot of choice, you might get 10 or 15 different bats.
“For people who play cricket it’s how it feels in their hands, so they know the weight and style they like, but it’s not until they actually put their hands on it that they know it.
“So when women go into the store, they only have one or two to choose from.
“They just find that either the grip isn’t right or the weight isn’t right…so they just don’t get the opportunity to test different racquets.
“Women often use what’s called a harrow that’s made for teenagers, which is generally the slightly smaller size, but they’re not made for adult women.”
For now, Johnston is custom making the bats, but is passionate about the need for more research and production to flow into the industry.
“My wish would be that we do more research on bats for women and actually launch a line of bats, that’s the ultimate goal,” she said.
“So a woman can go into a store or go to a cricket bat maker and say this is what I want and have a really good selection to choose from.
“My goal is to understand what really works for women and try to make a lot more available to them.
“I think there’s still work to be done by people in physiology or sports movement, kinesiology, to actually start doing research on this so we can get that data out there.”
A qualified horticulturist, Johnston works full-time for Parks Victoria on inclusion, helping to make parks across the state more accessible to all.
“My purpose in life is to make sure people have the things they need to make their lives more comfortable and I think that contributes a little bit to making cricket bats,” she said.
Johnston says it’s not just the bats that need attention, it’s all of the game gear for women so they can play their best.
“I absolutely believe there is a market out there to focus on some women’s helmets and I’ve found that a lot of the pads are quite wide so some women find it quite difficult to walk in, or they end up too long with too small youth insoles,” she said.
“Just to take the time to make sure they’re actually getting the good gear. It’s safety gear, so we ask women to get in front of the ball, not get pushed around, and if it’s not in place it just makes it less comfortable or less safe.
“If you’re walking around with a helmet jiggling over your head, it’s no fun. So let’s just make the effort.
“We want people to love these sports and women to love playing them, so why not make an effort to actually support them? It doesn’t have to be just about making a dollar, it has to be about making an effort every now and then, and then it will come.”
Cricket Australia’s most recent 2020 census says female participation has increased to 76,400, an 11.4 per cent increase on the previous year, with junior female participation up by 25 per cent.
The Australian women’s cricket team is one of the best of all time, having won more World Cups than all other nations combined (seven). They have also won the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup five times since 2010.
Johnston, who is a mother herself, says giving women the confidence to focus on cricket is as much a part of it as anything else if the game is to continue its upward trend in Australia.
“We should aim to build confidence in players, you should be able to do that,” she said.
“Given that women have been playing cricket for a long time and are doing amazingly well internationally, that’s great and we should at least be able to encourage our youngsters to go out and give it a try.
“I’d love to do this full-time – it would be a different business atmosphere because now it’s just me getting into the shed.
“But if all that matters is that I got people interested, getting other cricket bat makers and commercial teams to do more research on it, that’s a good legacy for me anyway… if I change people’s attitudes.”
https://7news.com.au/sport/cricket/meet-the-aussie-mum-changing-womens-cricket-in-her-backyard-shed-c-9427720 Meet the Australian mom who changes women’s cricket in her garden shed