By Sam Watson
NOEL ‘Butch’ West had no experience preparing turf wickets when he took over curating the second oval at the Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve in 1978.
And he certainly didn’t think that oval would be named after him 25 years later in 2003.
Prior to taking over in 1978, there wasn’t a turf wicket in Wonthaggi, and Butch eventually grew tired of his representative cricket side struggling when they played away games.
“At home we were playing on hard wickets, malthoid and matting, and every time we went away on turf we couldn’t measure up,” Butch said.
“We were hopeless.”
So, he knew there needed to be a local turf wicket and despite his lack of experience, he started preparing a wicket on rec two at the Wonthaggi Recreation Reserve.
“The only way we were going to match up was us getting our own turf, and me being me, I put my hand up,” Butch said.
“Everyone laughed at me. I was self-taught, I didn’t know anything.
“I learnt everything as I went along.”
The first game on the wicket was played in 1981, and despite his successes with the wicket in the years after that game, he never curated anywhere else.
Butch stepped back from curating his wicket when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, which then saw Koby Brann to step in.
Brann, a star cricketer for Wonthaggi Club, was working for the Bass Coast Shire Council as a groundskeeper and did a fantastic job preparing pitches after work hours according to Butch.
“He did a great job, to his credit he put his hand up to do it and he did it well,” Butch said.
Earlier this year, Koby’s hard work on Butch West Oval and other local grounds paid off and he received entry into a Diploma of Turf Management at Holmesglen in Glen Waverley.
“Apart from going over there to encourage him every now and then, I’ve kept out of his way, and he’s done a great job,” Butch said.
Now that Brann is in Melbourne, Butch’s son, Bevan and two of his grandsons, Fraser, 18, and Harry, 14, will be taking over the curation of the Butch West wicket.
Bevan used to help his old man prepare the wicket when he was in school so he should have some understanding of the role.
And Fraser and Harry, who are keen cricketers for Wonthaggi Club, are very motivated to continue making it a great playing surface.
After no interest from other potential curators, Bevan thought he’d take over and keep the role in the family.
“I thought it’d be good to keep it in the family and the two boys sounded pretty interested in having a go at it,” Bevan said.
“It’ll be exciting to do it with the boys, especially Harry who’s interested in greenkeeping, he might go down that line of work so it’s a good time to give him a taste of it.
“They’re right into their cricket too, so they’ll get a bit of a buzz out of producing some pitches, and hopefully people make runs or get wickets.”
And Bevan’s well aware preparing pitches, especially at Butch West Oval, can have its difficulties, but he’s not too worried.
“Keeping everyone happy will probably be the biggest challenge, and unpredictable weather, but I don’t think it’ll be too much of a challenge.
“The wickets got plenty of grass on it, so we should be good to go.”
One thing that will make the job easier is the support Bevan will get from his brothers Stephen and Scott, who have been looking after some of Melbourne’s best sporting grounds since they finished school over 30 years ago.
Stephen is the head curator at Haileybury College in Keysborough and Scott works for the Melbourne Cricket Club where he spends most of his time preparing the Albert Cricket Ground for the premier cricket side.
Both will be great sounding boards for Bevan and the boys over the next few months.
Butch said he’s excited to see his family work together on something he’s put a lot of time into, but he’s also disappointed the council aren’t taking control of the wicket.
While it’s great to see his son and grandsons work on the wicket, he thinks the council should be employing an apprentice to look after it and the rest of the Wonthaggi Sporting Precinct.
“There’s enough work over there for a young apprentice to work all day, every day,” Butch said.
“I’m very happy for them, but I think it’s a shame they’ve got to do it, where it could be done through the council.
“People get the wrong impression about working on a wicket, you only roll it for 15 minutes at a time, then you go away and do something else, then you come back and give it another roll later on.
“People think that you sit there and roll and roll and roll and roll all day, but it’s quite easy to over-roll them.”
With the Leongatha and District Cricket Association due to start on October 9, the Wests will now be in a race against the clock and the weather to get the pitch in good condition.