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Crafting the finest blades.

From her Mirboo North workshop, Clare Johnston is carving highly coveted cricket bats.

Aug 17, 2022

Words: Liam Durkin
Images: Liam Durkin

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Clare Johnston may well belong to the most exclusive club in Australia.

Clare is a cricket bat maker – believed to be one of, if not the only, female cricket bat maker in the country.

While the playing and commentary of women’s cricket has exploded in recent years, the art of bat-making has remained a male-dominated area of the game.

After all, your bat is going to be by your side in the heat of battle.

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Clare is on the tools: taking clefts of timber and sculpting them into stylish blades used by players across the state. Better still, some of the timber is grown locally, coming out of a plantation in Sale.

Like all bat makers, who seem to quietly go about their business, Clare operates out of a shed in the secluded countryside of Berrys Creek, just a short drive from Mirboo North.

Clare started making bats in 2015 and said her foray into the art came about from a strong affection for the game. “It was really the love of cricket and being able to put something back in to learn an old craft,” she said. “An opportunity (to learn bat making) came up, it was advertised in The Weekly Times, I read it and just thought ‘wow, that sounds awesome’.”

Former Australian cricketer Ian Callen showed Clare the ropes, and before too long, she was an accredited bat maker.

Stepping into her quaint workshop, you sense it’s a place where time does not matter, as each shredded woodchip and coat of linseed oil forms part of the story of each bat that has been meticulously pieced together under her concentrated eye to reflect the person who will ultimately wield it.

This capacity to provide a gift to not only a player but to the game itself was something Clare said carried a lot of meaning.

“It is a very personal thing, making a bat for a person. I think it is a labour of love,” she said. “It is really cool. I’ve seen the girls using my bats in games, [and] it is really lovely.”

Starting with a solid piece of English willow timber, Clare then attaches the bat's handle before using a variety of pull shaves and planes to handcraft the wood into the shape of a cricket bat.

From there, the handle is bound and a rubber grip put on, then finally the de Lacy stickers, bringing to an end a process that takes around eight hours.

Having been crafting for a few years now, Clare is hoping to take what is currently a side venture further.

“I’ve made some bats for the women’s cricket teams, one of the young Victorian cricketers, and for a few blokes around the place.

“Now I’m hoping to settle here in Gippsland and make a bit more of a business out of it. I work fulltime and do this part-time; if I can get the bats out there I’d really like to share them with people and if people want to see how a bat is made I’m happy to show that to people.”

Playing for the Mirboo North Cricket Club women’s team, Clare has noticed a void of bats made specificallyfor women – something she was eager to help change.

“I’d really love to work with girls to make better bats for them,” she said.

“We are physiologically different, our muscles are slightly different, so I’d really love to understand that more and work with people to understand what it is that we need to help us.”

Although cricket bats these days seem to be made of 10 per cent wood and 90 per cent stickers, Clare said the same principles when selecting a bat remained.

“Depending on how much you are willing to pay, I think trying to get a straight grain (between eight to 12 grains) and the feel of the bat are most important,” she said.

After all, your bat is going to be by your side in the heat of battle.

Looking at the stickers on Clare’s bats, you might recognise the name ‘de Lacy’. Hector de Lacy was a famed AFL journalist in the 1920s to the 1940s and is a direct relative of Johnston. “My great-uncle was Hector and he was a sports reporter for The Sporting Globe,” she says. “He’s recognised in the Hall of Fame at the AFL for his sports writing.

“He taught my Dad to play cricket and gave him all his cricket gear, and then Dad taught me.

“It is a bit of a homage to that tradition. The purple, red and gold are the family arms.”

Just as a de Lacy had helped footballers, Clare is helping cricketers some 80 years later.

“Bat making is a beautiful tradition and I’m just really happy to have the chance to do it,” she said.

“I feel very privileged to be one of the few women in the world that do make them.”

Those wanting to see the Clare’s de Lacy Cricket range can visit

Gippslandia - Issue No. 23

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