Throughout the 1920s and 30s, New Zealand cricket sides embarked on many significant tours that enhanced the reputation of the nation, both as cricketers and as people. While some of these tours feature prominently in the records and histories of New Zealand cricket, there is one that has almost universally been forgotten. In 1935, 13 young up-and-coming New Zealand cricketers embarked on a tour of Fiji under the name the Maorilanders.
By 1935 the term ‘Maorilanders’ was almost a forgotten one in New Zealand, perhaps rightly so. In the latter years of the 1880s and early 1900s it was a common name for New Zealand sporting teams, and for New Zealanders in general. The 1905 re-naming of the national rugby team to the All Blacks, and the prominence of the kiwi on WW1 uniforms, largely signalled a move away from names like Maorilanders, Fernlanders and En Zedders. In that sense, the 1935 Maorilanders were amongst the last of a generation.
The tour was the brainchild of Ernest Beale, an Aucklander with a strong reputation for organising colts’ teams and tours. Beale gained the sanction of the New Zealand Cricket Council and approval from the Auckland Cricket authorities (where most of the players were based) to ensure that there was no conflict for players. It also meant that the side was an official New Zealand side, yet the youth of the players, the perceived standard of the opposition and the poor quality of pitches and outfields have seen it ignored in official records.
With an average age of just 22, the Maorilanders arrival at Fiji on December 19 1935 would’ve been the first journey overseas for many of their members. There were ten matches scheduled to be played before their departure in mid-January, giving the team members some spare time to enjoy the local hospitality, beaches, sun and Fijian customs. Bruce Massey, the team captain and one of just four players who featured in First Class cricket, reported back that Sutherland could play the ukulele and Riley was a good singer which meant the team “could fare all right when the occasion arose”. It was also noted that two of the team “knew the haka”.
The tour opened with a match against the Suva 2nd XI, where Ted Dunning immediately adapted to the conditions, hitting 135 before retiring. While the New Zealanders acquitted themselves well in most games, they constantly struggled with the pitches which were often woven matting over concrete. The outfields also made run-scoring difficult – one was described as having “grass, six inches” long, no doubt due to the almost six months of constant rain that preceded the tour. In spite of the conditions, the two-‘Test’ series was shared 1-1.
When the side returned to New Zealand after a month in the Fiji sun, they were described as “bronzed and cheerful” but their time as a team was not over. In recognition of the team’s positive role in strengthening ties between the two nations, the Auckland Chamber of Commerce got together with Auckland Cricket and arranged a game against a colts’ side for January 21 and 22. The most notable aspect of that game was the performance of a young colt named Merv Wallace who smashed 169*.
Maorilanders team 1935-36: EC Beale (manager), HB Massey (captain), DL Martin, MJ Hewitt, JR Norris, EN Vipond, EJ Dunning, JL Wyatt, KL Sandford, EG Sutherland, LE Riley, CV Walter, HN Windle, EC Andrews, W Renshaw, JD Bright