The 1923-24 season was marked by the formation 1 of two organisations that were to play an important part in the future development of Maitland district cricket.
The first was the local Umpires Association. Proposals for such an organisation date back to before 1914 but did not come to fruition until 1923. At its inaugural meeting C Fitzgerald was elected President, and Reuben A Dransfield Secretary, a position he was to hold until he retired in 1953.
At the opening of the competition the Umpires Association was able to appoint eight members – two umpires to each of the three A grade matches and two to one of the B grade matches. They also succeeded in having an amendment introduced into the rules of the HRDCA whereby officially appointed umpires were given the power to order off the field players who committed flagrant breaches of the misconduct rule, and to provide for such cases to be dealt with by a tribunal, consisting of three members of each Association.
At the HRDCA Annual Meeting the President referred to the Umpires Association “filling a long-felt want” and bringing about an improvement in the game.
A second organisation formed in 1923 was the Hunter Valley Cricket Council. This followed a conference of delegates at Maitland on October 5 1923, when it was resolved to form a Council consisting of the Associations of Hunter River, Cessnock, Singleton, Newcastle and Upper Hunter, for the “purpose of advancing the game in the north”. of the driving forces behind its organisation were Frank McMullen and John Lintott of the HRDCA. The format of the Council was to provide a model to the NSWCA for the organisation of country cricket in other parts of the State.
The new Council also drew up rules for a John Bull Shield competition to be conducted on public holidays among the affiliated Associations. The trophy for this competition was a “handsome shield” valued at fifty pounds, generously donated by David Cohen & Co., the proprietors of John Bull flour and baking powder products.
The first of the HRDCA’s matches in the John Bull Shield competition was played at Lorn Park on November 5 1923 against Cessnock. The Association was represented in this match by R McLean (capt.), N Tiedeman, F Cummins, R Oakes, C Bendeich, J Long, V Cleary, G Bell, M Winder, WC Johnston and C Edmonds. With no limit on time or overs the match was drawn with Cessnock scoring 179 and Hunter River 3 for 95 in reply.
In the first season of the competition the John Bull Shield was won by Singleton. Apart from a lapse for a period during the late 1930s and 40s, the shield was to remain the prestigious focal point of a competition among the affiliated Associations of the Hunter Valley Cricket Council.
During the pre-season Will Johnston organised a return visit by Macartney’s team, which played a match against a representative Northern District team at Lorn Park. By this stage further improvements had been carried out to the oval, including the erection and painting of a picket fence by the voluntary labour of Northern Division Club members.
Macartney’s team was the same as the previous season, except for the addition of Jack Gregory, a notable Australian Test all-rounder. On a rain-affected wicket Macartney’s XI scored 7 for 265 (Johnnie Taylor 57 and Jack Gregory 56) to the Northern District’s 86.
A new turf wicket came into use at the Showground. The Association entered into a new five year lease arrangement with the Show Association, and gained permission to put down a turf wicket inside the showring to replace the old Albion wicket. Mainly through the efforts of Mr R Wilcher, the groundsman, the wicket was ready for use much earlier than anticipated. The new turf wicket at the Showground was officially opened just before Christmas with a match played between members of the Show Association and officials of the HRDCA. The first inter-district match on the wicket was played against Upper Hunter on December 26 1923.
The opening of the new Showground wicket was to have a controversial sequel. With three turf wickets now available, the Fixtures Committee decided to alter the draw and arrange for all A grade matches to be played on turf. This decision did not please clubs such as Branxton which felt that the benefits of playing on turf did not compensate for the loss of home matches. As a result Branxton refused to play two of their matches that were switched to the Showground wicket. Following a Special General Meeting at which a no confidence motion was passed, the Fixtures Committee and the Association Secretary all resigned, The matter was finally resolved when the no confidence motion was later rescinded and the resignations withdrawn but not before a lot of ill-feeling had been created. In the local competition there was a record entry of 43 teams. An additional entry in A grade was Mulbring, which in the previous season had created a record by winning all of its matches in B grade outright. An unusual entry in C grade was Kurri Butchers.
The finals were limited to three Saturdays. In A grade the results of the previous season were reversed with Branxton winning the premiership but being defeated in the Irwin Shield final by Northern Division. In B grade Robins won the Kerr Shield by defeating Kurri Co-operative Society, the premiers, in the final. In C grade Heddon Greta repeated its success of the previous season by winning both the premiership and the Johnston Shield final.
A gold medal donated by R Moncrieff for the best all round player in the Association was won by Roy Oakes of Northern Division Club. A bat donated by TH Pearse for the first century on the new turf wicket at the Showground was won by RW McLean of Robins Club.
A young player by the name of Charlie Andrews began to attract attention. At the age of 15, he made some appearances in A grade ‘for the Robins Club towards the end of the season. While on a cricket tour of Sydney with a Maitland High School team he caught the eye of a Sydney press reporter with innings of 51 n.o. and 48 against a CHS No 2 side.
At Country Week, which was held in November instead of Easter, the Association was represented in the Northern team by G Bell, G Weakley, N Tiedeman and G Tiedeman. The Northern team was captained by EK Brown, a former Maitland player who had moved to Newcastle.
The Association donated two guineas to the Bellbird Relief Fund following the mining disaster in September 1923 at the Bellbird Colliery when 21 miners were killed.