The name of Johnston and Norths Cricket Club are almost synonymous. Four generations of the family have been closely associated with the Club over the past century.
Alfred Johnston, the founder of Johnston’s Boot Store in Maitland in 1885, was a keen follower of cricket. He was Vice-President of the Club for 22 years and during that time was a generous benefactor and supporter.
Two of his sons, Harold and Will, were to become prominent identities with the Club during its early years.
Harold Johnston was a foundation member of the Club. Prior to coming to Northern Division he had previously played with the Albion and Pearl Clubs. He was to become well known for his prowess as an opening batsman.
Though not in the same class as Bob Lindsay, Harold’s performances for Northern Division were very impressive.
By 1914-15 he had completed his hundredth innings for the Club averaging 27 per innings. Two of his best seasons were in 1911-12 when he scored 395 runs at an average of 43.8 and in 1914-15 when he scored 372 runs at an average of 28.6.
He still continued to play on after the war and in 1920-21 was fifth in the district averages with 341 runs at an average of 34.1.
He was very active in the administration of the Club, serving as the foundation Treasurer and as Secretary for fourteen years from 1905-15 and from 1922-26. For six seasons prior to World War he combined the roles of Secretary and Treasurer. Frequent Annual Meetings paid tribute to the work that he did for the Club. For instance, at the 1913-14 Annual Meeting, Elias Bowden, the President, complimented the Secretary “on the way he had carried out his duties, and thought the position of the Club was in large measure due to him”. He was also Treasurer (1919-24) and Life Member of the Association and was the second President of the Hunter Valley Cricket Council from 1927-35.
Even after retiring from playing cricket with Northern Division in the early 1930’s, he still continued to take an active interest in the affairs of the Club and was a Vice-President at the time of his death in 1956.
His son, Basil, was to carry on the family tradition.
Will Johnston joined his brother, Harold, in 1903 in the first season of the Club. He was to remain a member or office-bearer with the Club for the next sixty-five years.
He was described as “not a superlative bowler” but one who “always gets wickets” and as “a handy change man”. He was also a useful batsman and in 1921 at Lorn Park scored 114 not out in a first grade match against Brunkerville, sharing in a ninth wicket unbeaten partnership of 192 with Colin Collard to create a district record that still stands to this day.
As a fieldsman he earned the reputation of having “a very safe pair of hands” and it is reputed that in all his playing days with Norths from 1903-27 he only dropped one catch!
Highly respected as a leader and captain, for many years he skippered the District John Bull Shield and Northern District representative teams. One of the proudest days of his life was when he led the Northern District team on to the field at the Maitland Showground in 1925 against Arthur Gilligan’s M.C.C. team. This was a match that Will was largely responsible for gaining for Maitland and one that brought a handsome profit to the local Association.
However, he always seemed proudest of his part in the construction of the turf wicket, oval fence and pavilion at Lorn Park in the early 1920’s. These new features were opened by Will Johnston’s side against a team of interstate and international players brought to Maitland by his school and life-long friend, the famous Australian Test batsman, Charlie Macartney.
Will was President of the Club from 1936-41 and from 1946-47 and then Vice- President and Patron.ln his later years after his retirement from playing in 1927, he was a keen spectator each Saturday at Club matches.Having served as Association Vice- President from 1920-28, he was made a Life Member of that organisation in 1950 for his services to Maitland cricket.
Above all, Will was one of those members largely responsible for setting the highest standards for young cricketers. As the 1967-68 Annual Club report recorded in his obituary notice: “Nothing gave him more satisfaction than to see a young player,not only those from our club succeeding. His criteria were keenness in the field, energy when batting or bowling and proper cricket attire. If these requirements were fulfilled, you had prospects on and off the field; if you did not, if sloppiness was evident, then, he believed, you should not be playing cricket.”
These were part of the tradition that was to be carried on by his two sons – Colin and Alan – into the next generation.