Ian Callen has transplanted English cricket bat making skills to Victoria’s Yarra Valley.
6 - Wickets Ian took in his sole Test for Australia
40 - Most cricket bats that can be made from a Willow Blue tree
Most athletes don’t think about life after retirement while they’re at the peak of their powers. Ian Callen is an exception.
The former Australian cricketer, who represented Australia in one Test and five One Day Internationals, found his future career while playing in England.
“One of my teammates was Yorkshire leg spinner Peter Kippax, who had started a business making cricket bats,” he says.
Ian already ran a sports store in Boronia, where he repaired bats. He then learned bat making from Chris Farrant and began importing English willow clefts – regarded as the best bat-making material – after his career ended in the mid-1980s. His early bats carried the Callen name, and Ian says, late test cricketer Phillip Hughes made his first junior century with one.
But the costs and waiting time made importation of clefts prohibitive. “You didn’t know if what they sent was top grade. It forced me to grow my own.”
Ian discovered that former English captain Archie MacLaren had helped establish an English willow plantation near Daylesford. Most were long gone, but Ian was able to get some root stock.
“I found some unused swamp land in Healesville, and the Healesville Racing Club gave me a long-term lease.” Ian planted 3000 Willow Blue trees in 1994. He expected them to mature within 14 years, but it took more than 20.
For three years, Ian has hand-crafted bats at his workshop. He reckons his plantation can produce 3000 clefts a year and has trained more than 50 bat makers across Australia who are supplied with Willow Blue timber.
“Cricketers say the timber plays as well if not better than English willow. Some say they’ve never used a better bat.”