Basin still houses legacy of cricket leader’s drive
John Hayward Oakley: b Palmerston North, February 7, 1925; m Margaret Carmine, 1s 2d; d Lower Hutt, August 9, 2013, aged 88.
IN 1986, Wellington lawyer John Oakley hit on an idea for how the superfluous dressing and tea rooms beneath the Basin Reserve’s old grandstand could be used.
During the five years since the new RA Vance stand was opened in 1981, the old dressing rooms had gathered cobwebs and dust while the tea rooms were used by Wellington’s cricket umpires for their weekly meetings.
One of those umpires, Stanley Cowman, had over the years accumulated a collection of cricket memorabilia. During a Basin Reserve test against Australia in February 1986, Mr Cowman borrowed some trestles and magazine stands and, with the help of other umpires, laid out the collection of historical material in the old tea rooms.
The test was interrupted by rain and a large number of spectators had an opportunity to take a stroll through the makeshift museum. One was Mr Oakley, who from 1985 to 1987 was the president of New Zealand Cricket.
Cricket historian Don Neely recalled how he was talking to the long-term chairman of NZ Cricket, Rob Vance, in the Norwood Room during the test when the president entered the conversation and extolled Mr Cowman’s exhibition in the old stand.
‘‘We must establish a permanent museum there soon,’’ Mr Oakley told them.
Mr Vance listened to what Mr Oakley was saying.
‘‘If you want a museum you have my blessing, but do not expect me to help. It’s over to you. I am still exhausted from getting the ground changed,’’ Mr Neely recalled the late Mr Vance as saying at the time.
Within 21 months, Sir Paul Reeves, governor-general at the time, opened the permanent National Cricket Museum that had arisen from the derelict tea rooms.
During this period, Mr Oakley, who worked alongside Mr Cowman and museum designer Gary Couchman, was the founder and chairman of the trustees for the National Cricket Museum. In 2002 it became known as the New Zealand Cricket Museum and a new area was named the John Oakley Gallery.
Earlier, from 1982-85, when he was the president of the Wellington Cricket Association, Mr Oakley left his mark on the players’ viewing area after they complained their new dressing rooms were like living in a goldfish bowl on match days.
A further storey was added and the players are now treated to the best view of games played at the Basin.
The museum’s current fulltime director is Jamie Bell, who opens the entry-by-donation museum to the public on weekends, Mondays and big-game days.
Mr Oakley, an old boy of Sacred Heart College’s boarding establishment in Auckland, was
Mr Oakley had left his mark on the players’ viewing area after they complained their new dressing rooms were like living in a goldfish bowl on match days.
the son of a Palmerston North lawyer. He played cricket as a Victoria University law student in the mid-1940s while living at the Weir House student hostel.
In 1954, he married Margaret Carmine, the daughter of the manager of the strategically placed Waterloo Hotel in Wellington, which was opposite the Union Steamship Company’s Inter-island wharf and Wellington Railway Station.
As a cricketer, Mr Oakley was an aggressive, attacking righthand batsman who was not afraid to loft a ball in search of boundaries.
His early life was spent in Palmerston North and he graduated in law from Victoria University in 1947 and worked all his legal career in Wellington.
As a lawyer he progressed through criminal and divorce court work to more lucrative personal injury claims before taking on a managing partner’s responsibility for Hogg Gillespie Carter & Oakley.
On the cricket pitch, he represented Wellington against the touring MCC cricket team in 1947 and was the co-creator and an executive member of the New Zealand Cricket Foundation, which was formed in 1972.
In 1974 he became a trustee of the Wellington Cricket Trust and served on it for 30 years. Over the years, he was a welcome guest at world cricket’s major test pavilions.
In 1989, he was invited to join the centenary of South Africa’s involvement in test cricket. Many former test cricketers and administrators from around the world congregated in Port Elizabeth.
When he returned from South Africa he resolved that the standard of the Basin Reserve had to be raised for test matches as well as the hosting area, the Norwood Room. He combined resources with businessman and cricket patron Sir Ron Brierley to bring previous New Zealand teams, and sometimes their opponents, to a test match for five days in Wellington.
The first reunion was in 1997 and was for the living members of the Australian and New Zealand teams that played in 1946, as well as other prominent cricket-lovers from around Australia and New Zealand.
Since then about 20 such reunions have been held at the Basin.
Mr Oakley loved cricket and the legacy of his generous spirit remains in the museum below the Basin Reserve’s old grandstand.
In 1988, he was made a CBE for his services to cricket and, in 2001, was made a life member of Cricket Wellington.
Mr Oakley was also a backer of John Reid when the former New Zealand cricket captain established the very successful John Reid Squash Centre in Salamanca Rd in Kelburn in 1963.
Sources Jill Oakley, Don Neely, John Tizard and Jamie Bell. A Life Story tells about a New Zealander who helped to shape their community. If you know someone whose story should be told, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Top order: John Hayward Oakley, right, with ex-New Zealand cricket captain John Reid.