A letter from Dennis Lillee was my husband’s most treasured possession – then he lost itJune 2, 2023
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When my husband was 12, he wrote to Dennis Lillee. Standard but heartfelt fare: I was at the MCG when you bowled Viv Richards off the last ball of the day. You’re my inspiration. This season I went from the U/13Cs to the As and am convinced with that trajectory it’s only a matter of time before I’m sharing the new ball with you. Thanks, Chris from Malvern.
Then he went about his business, joining the Kiss Army, killing Sea Monkeys and dreaming of a gold cricket bat pendant like the one nestled in DK’s chest hair.
Dennis Lillee – and a glimpse of that cricket-bat pendant – at Lord’s in 1981.Credit: Getty
The jewellery never came. A letter did, five months later.
Dennis’ cord cursive was world-class. He apologised for his reply taking so long. He’d had to duck off to England for the 1983 World Cup, he wrote. Thanks for being such a big fan. The key to being successful in anything is never giving up. I’m thrilled to hear about your promotion and have no doubt if you work really hard you’ll play for Australia.
Chris sealed up the letter in a Perspex display case. He loved it so much. He’d bring it out for mates who would understand the significance of a treasure from Lillee’s hand. “I was making appointment times,” he remembers. “You’re allowed five minutes with the letter, three questions, no touching, then make way for the next group.”
When his family moved house, the letter was lost. Decades on, when maudlin or having seen an aerial shot of Lord’s, Chris still reminisces about his lost Lillee, its glorious penmanship adrift in the world. It ties with a vanished photo of his late mum Jenny with Stevie Wonder for the physical thing he misses most.
By a certain age, we’ve all had losses. People, pets, places, health, youth. Friendships. Reputation. Big things and annoying niggly ones. Backs of earrings, mix tapes, perfectly worn-in thongs. A friend had a bespoke leather jacket his mum had made for him in Argentina. It was racked from a pub a few years ago and he still misses the memories of it as much as the jacket itself.
My loss list includes a marriage, a patch of back where the melanoma was, a copy of Andre Dubus’ We Don’t Live Here Anymore. Mostly I’m someone who holds onto things for dear life. My 56-year-old teddy (Mama Ted, hairless, eyeless and so priceless my daughter has asked for her when I die); my first bra, yes, quite creepy; three positive pregnancy tests.
We think life is about gaining things – money, experience, family, love – but I wonder if it’s also about making peace with letting go. It’s reductionist to say life is a series of losses, but it often feels like the gaps speak louder than the filled-in bits.
Right now, there’s a run on high-profile blokes – Kochie, Hardwick, McGowan – deciding they can afford to lose their jobs, that they’ll manage without the salary, the headlines, the adrenalin. I reckon at least one has a Plan B bigger than a European summer and sleep-ins, but I like that risking casting off the familiar and braving the unknown.
Richmond coach Damien Hardwick called time on his career with the club last month. Credit: Jason South
Dennis, if you’re there, Chris did bowl for Australia, or at least the Australian Navy in the Defence Tri Series at the Junction Oval in 1987. He’d modelled his run-up on yours, circa late 1970s. His posting to the HMAS Darwin was delayed by the commodore at the HMAS Cerberus so he could play.
In his telling, the Navy destroyed the Australian Army in the first game then obliterated the NZ Air Force in the second. Life highlight. Chris would have swapped it all for the letter.
Kate Halfpenny is the founder of Bad Mother Media.
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