Tony Dell was hopeful of breaking into Queensland’s Sheffield Shield team for the start of the 1970-71 summer.
He was just back from serving in Vietnam. Tall and imposing at 196cm (6ft 5in), he looked an immediate prospect.
‘How old are you son?’ said Sam Trimble, Queensland’s long time captain.
‘Tell ‘em (the selectors) you’re 23. They’re more likely to pick a 23-year-old.’
Five months later, Dell joined the elite group to make their first-class and Test debuts in the same season.
‘For years, Wisden and Wikipedia had me being born in 1947, when it was actually 1945,’ said Dell. ‘It was an easy one to remember. It was the day of Hiroshima, August 6, 1945. My father-in-law always called me Tony “Hiroshima” Dell.’
The only Test cricketer still alive to have seen active service, Dell, now 76, shared his story via Zoom with almost 50 Australian Cricket Society members and friends on Don Bradman’s birthday, August 27.
It was fitting we chose that date, as Sir Donald had first selected Tony for the first of his two Tests for Australia.
Our plans to have the Governor-General, His Excellency David Hurley also attend a special function at Kooyong were thwarted by Covid.
But we still had a magnificent hour with Tony and his biographer, US-based Greg Milam, who wrote Dell’s story, And Bring the Darkness Home
At the time of being conscripted, Dell was excited by the prospect of active service, especially overseas.
‘Most of us when we were boys wanted to be soldiers or cowboys,’ he said. ‘I certainly did. My Dad tried to talk me out of it. We told the medical people I had flat feet but they didn’t have a bar of that.
‘So I trained and was ready to go.
‘I’d always thought about it as an adventure. Here I was a soldier. If it hadn’t been for cricket I might have signed on for another six years. It was a good life and I enjoyed it.
‘My battalion went back in 1971. I could have been with them.’
Dell’s fight with Post Traumatic Syndrome is now well known.
His experienced in Vietnam scarred his life, affecting his relationships, sex drive, everything. And it wasn’t until his 60s that he actually was diagnosed as a PTS sufferer.
Few of his Australian teammates, including captain Ian Chappell, had no idea of the horrors he had endured in Vietnam. ‘Ian didn’t even know I’d been. He just thought I’d been born cranky.’
Vietnam was the most polarising of wars and on return, Dell was told not to wear his uniform anywhere as it would incite trouble.
‘There I was walking down Queen Street (Brisbane) not daring to say where I’d been because of all the hatred for the Vietnam war.’
Tony’s riveting biography tells of his emotional roller-coaster and how he wasn’t given the forum to ‘decompress’ or access to any post-war rehabilitation.
Milam had heard Dell being interviewed on the BCC’s Test Match Special and contacted Dell saying he wanted to write his story.
Where Dell’s memory failed, others assisted, from family to friends.
A highly respected international news reporter, Milam was at Capitol Hill during the chaotic final days of Donald Trump’s reign as US president earlier this year.
‘For four years whatever Trump tweeted in the morning would be that night’s news,’ he said.
‘And Bring the Darkness Home’, a hardback, is his first book.
‘It’s about a cricketer and the Vietnam war. There aren’t too many books touching those two subjects,’ Milam said.
‘You see the extreme traumas in people’s lives. Tony witnessed atrocities in Vietnam which triggered his PTS.
‘He saw a bullet blow an enemy soldier’s brains out. He saw another enemy soldier shot in the chest and his hole back explode with the exit wound.’
Tony’s story will shock, challenge and provide a unique insight to how war can so destroy, mentally and physically.
* Signed copies of And Bring the Darkness Home, with Tony’s autographed bookplate inserted inside are $50 posted from cricketbooks.com.au – or contact ACS president Ken Piesse at email@example.com