Land at the Woolloongabba Recreation Reserve was set aside for the Queensland Cricket Association in 1895. With extensive drainage works, the ground hosted cricket matches at various levels, beginning in 1896 with a fixture between teams representing Parliament and the newspaper press. When they commenced in the late 1920s, Brisbane’s first Test matches were played at the more established Exhibition Ground in Bowen Hills.
The Brisbane Cricket Ground at Woolloongabba, meanwhile, hosted diverse sporting events, including rugby football matches, athletics, cycling competitions, horse and greyhound races. The Gabba did not host its first Test until 1931, when Australia comfortably defeated South Africa.
Earlier that year, the Gabba had witnessed the drama of Queenslander Eddie Gilbert, an Aboriginal athlete from the reserve at Cherbourg, bowling at astonishing speed to Don Bradman in an interstate match. Universally regarded as the greatest batsman in the history of the game, Bradman was confounded by Gilbert’s pace and accuracy. His five searing deliveries had Bradman reeling and dismissed without scoring, ‘the luckiest duck I ever scored’, Bradman later called it.
Cricket at the Gabba has thus had more than its share of drama, including the legendary Tied Test in December 1960 between Australia and the West Indies. The 500th test to be played, it was also the first to end in an extraordinary tie.
The Gabba later witnessed the ferocious pairing of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson as Australia’s spearheads in 1974-75, and the tearful resignation of Kim Hughes as Australian captain in November 1984. For cricket-mad Queenslanders, the agonising wait for the Sheffield Shield – Australia’s historic trophy for interstate cricket – ended in triumph at the Gabba in March 1995.
There have also been moments of high farce and larrikin humour at Brisbane’s home of cricket. Hailstones pelted the ground staff during a fierce storm during a 1992 Test against the West Indies, until Dean Jones handed out batting helmets for their protection. Spectators tested the limits of taste by releasing a pig on the field to mock the Englishmen Eddie Hemmings and Ian Botham in a one-day match in 1983.
The Gabba has been more than a cricket ground, however. Greyhound racing was revived there from 1972, and during 2000 it hosted international football matches. With the greyhound track removed and the playing area enlarged, the Brisbane Cricket Ground served as the home ground of the Brisbane Bears from 1993, and since 1997 for the Brisbane Lions after the club’s merger with Fitzroy. Cemented by the Lions’ extraordinary success in the 2000s with three consecutive premierships, the Gabba is today the undisputed heartland of Australian Rules football in Queensland.