Of the myriad statistics that have spawned libraries of Bradman-alia, perhaps the least cited – though likely the most revealing – is the number of shirtless appearances that Australia’s most famous cricketer made in feature films.

Given the socially conservative era that he came to characterise, and the careful cultivation of his public persona he was known to practice, it could be safely assumed that number would be the same as the score he posted in his famously anti-climactic last Test innings.


But footage that was saved from destruction and is now held by Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive shows not only rare vision of Bradman heaving the ball beyond the SCG’s boundary fence, it also captures his sole line of dialogue in his only feature film appearance.

A scene that shows Sir Donald, with his shirt removed having purportedly been dismissed a short time earlier for 99, observing from a window in the SCG dressing room a fight scene being acted out upon the stairs of the ground’s emblematic Ladies’ Pavilion.

The footage is from the joint Australian-British drama production The Flying Doctor that began filming in January, 1936.

The scene featuring Bradman – the first of the movie to be put ‘in the can’ - was shot 83 years ago this week and to commemorate the occasion, the NFSA has made the historic vision available online.

All record of The Flying Doctor and its celebrity guest star’s fleeting appearance was thought to have been lost, until a chance find in the early 1970s that saved it from permanent destruction.

Eight of the movie’s nine reels were unearthed at a film studio in the Sydney suburb of Lane Cove that was listed for demolition but, with no appreciation of their value, they were loaded on to a truck and consigned to a nearby rubbish tip.

A keen-eyed local council employee recognised that a trove of historic film might be worth preserving, and gave chase in his car to rescue the payload before it was dumped and thus lost for all time.

In addition to the eight reels that were then bequeathed to the NFSA’s predecessor organisation (the National Film Archive), the missing ninth reel was located at London’s National Film Archive and a slate of still photographs turned up at a Sydney second-hand store.

"The Flying Doctor footage of Don Bradman is unique in that they are images of this iconic Australian which haven’t been seen for 80 years and show him in a little-known episode of his life – acting in a feature film,” NFSA Film Curator Jeff Wray said.

Bradman, who had relocated to Adelaide during 1934 to continue his fabled career with South Australia, was in Sydney in late January 1936 for a Sheffield Shield match that was heavily affected by rain.

And in which the star batter, who would assume the captaincy of Australia’s Test team from his SA teammate Vic Richardson later in 1936, was dismissed for a duck in his only innings.

However, on the day after the Shield game ended as a damp draw, Bradman was back out in the centre shooting close-up scenes that would later include a fictional opponent – the film’s eponymous central character, John Vaughan (played by English actor James Raglan).

Having holed out to the ‘bowling’ of Dr Vaughan in the movie, Bradman notices his rival in the centre of a subsequent crowd scuffle and observes, in his distinctive drawl: “Hello, what’s John been up to?”.

It wasn’t the only time Bradman appeared in front of cameras as he bestrode the global sporting landscape over the ensuing decade and more of his celebrated playing career.

He was a familiar figure in newsreels that showed at cinemas, in advertisements, coaching films and awareness campaigns such as his road safety warning as to the dangers of playing street cricket.

In 1932, Bradman and his new wife Jessie had also visited North America as part of an Australia team’s sponsored cricket tour.

In addition to touring Hollywood’s legendary film studios, he took part in matches that featured screen greats Boris Karloff, Leslie Howard and Ronald Colman (whose brother, Eric, also features in the SCG fight scene).

However, Bradman’s fleeting cameo in the 1936 movie – which received lukewarm public reviews, but helped to raise significant awareness and funds for the Royal Flying Doctor Service – was his only on-screen role in a major cinematic release.

And it is as notable for the overlaid newsreel footage of Bradman taking to a hapless spin bowler as it is for his shirtless appearance and his forgettable line of dialogue.

While the scoreboard sequences that show Bradman powering his way towards another century – courtesy of successive blows into the crowd, while notionally batting with SA’s No.11 Clarrie Grimmett – the match footage used was legitimately sourced from newsreels.

The examples of Bradman clubbing the ball into the packed terraces at the SCG are taken from a Sheffield Shield match against Victoria played in January, 1934 – when The Don was still turning out for New South Wales.

The luckless bowler is reportedly Leslie ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith, who would go on to play 10 Tests for Australia but came in for some unusually brutal punishment from Bradman that day.

Fleetwood-Smith finished with innings figures of 2-178 from 31 (eight-ball) overs as the Blues powered to a total of 8(dec)-672 from just 132 overs faced.

Renowned for rarely hitting the ball in the air – he recorded only six sixes during his gilded 52-Test career – Bradman took to the bowling with savagery in the film footage.

In real life, it formed part of the 128 he bludgeoned in just over 90 minutes batting at No.3 for NSW, an innings that featured 17 boundaries and four sixes during a partnership of 192 with opener (and Test teammate) Bill Brown.

Bradman’s pyrotechnics, preserved for posterity courtesy of his silver-screen debut, lifted NSW’s day one score of that Shield match to a remarkable 2-445.

The sort of feat that ensured his cricket acumen forever outshone his cinematic acting.