Vale Neil John Bulger (1952-2022)
An ACT and Australian Indigenous cricketer Neil Bulger was a hard hitting left handed batter and left arm medium pace bowler, a mainstay of the Queanbeyan side in the 1980s and early 1990s. He was known at the Queanbeyan District Cricket Club as simply “The Legend”.
He came to the Canberra region in 1972 initially to play rugby league but also turned out for Queanbeyan, scoring two centuries for the club in scoring 429 runs and winning the ACT 1st Grade Player of the Year. Neil made his debut for the ACT in the same season, playing against the Australian Schools side and Queensland in two matches. He was asked by Queensland captain Sam Trimble to come and try out for the Queensland side but decided to return to Tumut to play cricket and rugby league.
He was selected to play in the Southern New South Wales against the touring English at Manuka in 1974 but the match was rain shortened and his involved just bowling four overs. He dominated the local Tumut competition with his best season being the 1977/78 season where he scored 1013 runs at the massive average of 202.60.
He returned to Canberra to play at the end of the 1978/79, resuming his career at Queanbeyan. The following season he scored 375 at 53.57 including 104 not out as well taking 16 wickets.
In 1980/81, he won the ACT 1st Grade Cricketer of the Year Award where he topped the first grade batting averages scoring 754 runs at an average of 68.55 as well as leading the bowling averages by taking 55 wickets at the low average of 8.11. He so dominated the season that he finished 5 points ahead of second place. In the ten rounds of voting he received 3 votes on eight occasions and 2 vites in the other two rounds. He also was awarded the NSW Country Cricketer of the Year for the season.
His efforts led Queanbeyan to their first 1st Grade premiership since 1958, taking 5 for 32 including the first hat trick in a first grade grand final.
In 1984, Bulger was announced as the 12th Man for the first Prime Minister’s XI match of the modern era. Prime Minister Hawke at the time said that Bulger was selected as the 12th man for his services to cricket in the ACT, Bulger having announced his retirement from representative cricket at the end of the previous season with a final match against the New Zealand B side which was touring Australia at the time.
He was the ACT 1st Grade Player of the Year on three occasions, 1972/73, 1980/81 and 1981/82, the ACT Representative Player of the Year in 1980/81 and 1981/82, NSW Country Cricketer of the Year in 1980/81, the 1st Grade batting average in 1980/81 and 1982/83 and the 1st Grade bowling average in 1980/81 and 1981/82.
In 1988, an Australian Aboriginal side was selected to tour England, 120 years after the first Aboriginal side toured England. Neil had captained the NSW Aboriginal side in the Australian Carnival and was one of the first selected in the Australian side. He played for the Australian Aboriginal side against a Prime Minister’s XI side at Manly Oval on two occasions, in 1987/88 prior to the side touring England and again in 1988/89 when he captained the side.
For the ACT, Bulger played 27 times. He scored 577 runs at 30.37 including four fifties. He also took 47 wickets at 19.66, including a best of 5 for 36 against the New Zealand Under 22 XI on the ACT tour of New Zealand in 1982/83. Overall in 1st Grade he played 135 matches, scoring 3933 runs at 37.10. He scored 10 centuries in an era where centuries were hard to come by as well as 14 half centuries. He took 253 wickets in 1st Grade at 16.14 with a best of 6 for 46 including 5 wickets in an Innings on 8 occasions.
In 2015, Queanbeyan’s second ground at Freebody Oval was renamed Neil Bulger Oval. To commemorate the match, Neil captained his Neil Bulger’s XI against the Queanbeyan Cricket Club President’s XI, captained by former team mate Peter Solway. Neil scored 14 in his side’s victory over his old club. He played for the Queanbeyan side for 25 seasons, and across all grades scored 7911 runs and took 384 wickets as well as being part of five premierships. His brother Vince also played 1st Grade for Queanbeyan and his nephew Ryan played for Queanbeyan, Weston Creek and also for the ACT.
As his nickname at Queanbeyan said, he was a legend of the game in the ACT and Southern New South Wales and his legacy will live on forever.