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Bill Jacobs, who was involved in District cricket for most of the first century of the competition, did not hesitate when asked his opinion. “Neil Harvey is the best District batsman I have ever seen,” Jacobs says.

Bill Lawry suggests that Ray Harvey is the best District cricketer he has seen.

And of course Merv Harvey was good enough to play for Victoria and Mick Harvey for Victoria and Queensland. Add Brian and Harold Harvey and you can appreciate just what an impact the Harvey brothers had on Fitzroy, Victoria and Australia.

The Harvey brothers between them made 25,185 runs in 772 games for Fitzroy, 7964 in 125 games for Victoria and 26,532 in 405 first class games.

Neil was the star, being recognised as arguably the best left-hander to play for Australia in a stellar career that included a place in Don Bradman’s 1948 Invincibles team to England.

He did not play as much District cricket as his brothers, but his influence was immense. Jacobs saw enough, through the eyes as club captain, to appreciate Neil Harvey would be a legend from an early age.

“Neil was something special from the moment he arrived at Fitzroy. He was outstanding at the age of 13. He had no formal coaching, just tips from playing cricket with his brothers in the laneway alongside their home at 198 Argyle Street, Fitzroy,” Jacobs explained.

“But he scored a century in each innings (101 and 141) of a third XI final in 1941 at 13, and anyone who can do that is destined for big things. I knew it the first time I saw him play. He had everything: technique, timing, an eagle eye and fleet footwork and a superb array of shots. He also was a brilliant fieldsman. He played first XI at 15, which shows just how good he was at a young age to be a superstar among the men of the competition. At 18 he was playing for Victoria and at 19 he was a Test player, and before he was 20 he had two Test centuries and had toured England with Don Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948.”

Neil fondly recalls his days at Fitzroy and the vast differences then to the modern game. 

“District cricket was the learning ground for me. All my brothers played at Fitzroy and we had a good side. The coaching of Arthur Liddicut and Joe Plant was fantastic, and the competition was really tough.

``Every club had top players. It didn't matter who you played, you knew you would have to perform well to win.

``I was lucky enough to play in one premiership, against my old mate Sam Loxton at Prahran. I didn’t play as much as I would have liked because I was away with Victoria and Australia, and, of course, I headed to Sydney to live pretty early in my career,” Harvey recalled.

Yet he remembers the enjoyment the competition provided.

``The social scene consisted of a few beers in the rooms after the game. At Fitzroy, we were lucky because we had the licensed bowling club adjacent to the ground, so those who had a drink would go there. Of course, the opposition was invited. Most clubs were not so lucky.
 
``They were days of sportsmanship and no bad behaviour on the field, and you made friends for life.

``It was very much a suburban competition and we made it to games the best way we could. I would walk to the Brunswick St Oval. Otherwise I would catch a bus or tram to the other grounds.

``You pretty much went to a game dressed to play. You took a Gladstone bag with your boots in it. You didn't have any kit to worry about. We had no pads or gloves or bat, we just used the club's equipment. So you just jumped on a tram with your Gladstone bag and headed to the game.

``The Harveys didn't have a car in those days, so you walked, rode a bike or caught public transport. And you made it home the same way. It was the same for most,” Harvey said.

``We played on uncovered wickets so the weather watch was most important in those days. Plenty of games finished early with really low scores. But it taught you to handle wet pitches. You had lightning fast pitches, those that took a lot of spin, and then wet pitches. You learned it all in a season against real quality players. Every team had a fast bowler, a quality spinner and a lot of outstanding batsmen. It was the best domestic competition in the world and if you made runs there you had earned them.”
   
Jacobs captained the entire brotherhood. “Merv was there when I started and then Mick moved up from the seconds. He played in the 1938/39 premiership side. Harold played with the first XI, and then there was Ray, who was a magnificent player. He never went on to Test cricket, but Bill Lawry regarded him as the best District cricketer he had ever seen. He just didn’t have the dedication to go flat out with his cricket career. He certainly had the talent to be a Test player.

“Neil was next and then Brian. They were a remarkable family.”

Neil was a prodigy. He was still in short pants when, as a nine year old, he played as a wicketkeeper/batsman for North Fitzroy Central School, mainly against 14-year-olds. He scored 112 in a total of 140 in one match. At 12, while attending Collingwood Technical School, he joined Fitzroy, starting in the fifth XI.

After his 101 and 141 in the 1941/42 third XI final, he quickly graduated to the seniors and was a regular at15.

In 1951/52 he made 254 and 126 for Fitzroy in a semi final against St Kilda. He reached his 254 in only 255 minutes and steered Fitzroy to a total of 8/424 before his brother Merv declared. St Kilda replied with 140 and Fitzroy batted again, with Harvey making 126 out of 9/269 (dec). St Kilda was dismissed for 137 in its second innings, leaving Fitzroy the winner by 416 runs. In the final against Melbourne, Harvey contributed 76 and 19 but Fitzroy lost. His flurry of runs at the end of the season enabled him to head the VCA averages with 57.50.

The Harvey clan was destined to play at Fitzroy after their father Horace, known as Horry, and wife Elsie May Bitmead moved to Fitzroy from Newcastle via Broken Hill in 1926. The first two of the Harvey clan, Rita and Merv, were born in Broken Hill, and the next two, Clarence and Harold, at Newcastle. Clarence became known as Mick because he was born on St Patrick’s Day, 1922. Ray was born in Sydney a few weeks before the family moved to Melbourne, and Neil and Brian were born in Fitzroy.

Two men who had considerable influence on the Harveys were Fitzroy legends Arthur Liddicut and Joe Plant. Neil recalled: “We were very lucky having Joe and Arthur. Joe influenced me to use my feet, to go out to the slowies. Arthur had an astute cricket brain and I learned a lot from him, too.”

Merv was an attacking opening batsman. He represented Victoria at 22, but managed only 22 matches as the war interrupted his career. He played one Test against England, scoring 12 and 31, but could not pass Arthur Morris, Sid Barnes and Bill Brown for more honours.

Jacobs described Merv as “a lovely player”. “The war gummed things up for him, otherwise, no doubt, he would have played for Australia before he did. He loved hooking fast bowling. I saw him make a century on the MCG one day and he hooked the daylights out of Ray Lindwall, which was no mean feat.” Lindwall recalled some years later that Merv Harvey was one of only three or four players who hooked him for six.” 

Merv captained Victoria five times, scoring 1147 runs in his 22 first-class games, averaging 38.23.

Mick played three times for Victoria in 1948/49 before moving to Brisbane where he notched up another 34 first-class matches for Queensland. He later became an umpire, officiating in two Test matches.

Harold played only 15 games in the Fitzroy seniors, but spent many years in the second XI, not having the same natural talent as his brothers.

Ray made his first-class debut in Sydney in 1947 in the same side as Merv and Neil _ the first time three brothers had played together in a Victorian team.

Ray was a magnificent free-scoring batsman at club and state level, but just failed to make the Test arena. “He didn’t have the killer instinct,” was a phrase used to describe him. In 1954 he was included in the pre-Test Australian XI to play Len Hutton’s MCC team, but on a rain-affected track he was out for seven before the match was washed out. In first-class cricket between 1947/48 and 1959/60, he played 40 matches, scoring 1970 runs at an average of 30.78 with three centuries. He was a brilliant fieldsman and a handy leg-spinner.

Ray played with Fitzroy for 20 years. He scored a record 9146 runs, 19 centuries and had a season best of 817 runs (on uncovered wickets) in 1943/44.

He scored 205 not out in a match against University, and topped the competition’s batting aggregate list in 1949/50 and the following season with 695 runs (at 57.91) and 803 (61.75) respectively. Then the following year he topped the competition’s averages with 695 runs at 51.59. 

Brian played 111 games for Fitzroy (nine more than Neil) in the decade from 1951/52. He was tragically electrocuted at work, aged 38.

THE HARVEY BROTHERS RECORDS AT FITZROY

Merv: (1933/34 – 1954/55) 207 matches, 6654 runs, average 29.31.
Mick: (1938/39 – 1949/50) 90 matches, 2601 runs at 30.24.
Ray: (1941/42 – 1960/61) 247 matches, 9146 runs at 36.15.
Harold: (1942/43 – 1949/50) 15 matches, 237 runs at 14.81.
Neil: (1943/44 – 1956/57) 102 matches, 4044 runs at 37.10.
Brian: (1951/52 – 1961/62) 111 matches, 2503 runs at 21.57.         

Fitzroy and Victoria lost Neil’s services when he moved to NSW after the 1956/57 season, having scored 744 runs for Victoria that season at an average of 106.28. Overall in 306 first-class games he scored 21,699 runs at 50.93 in his first-class career, including 67 centuries. His highest score was 231 not out, one of seven double centuries. He held 228 catches.

He scored 12 centuries while playing for Victoria as part of 4914 runs for the state. 
His illustrious Test career spanned 79 matches and produced 6149 runs at a most respectable average of 48.41. He hit 21 centuries at 15 different grounds.

Don Bradman summed him up: “He was certainly the best left-hander Victoria has had. The best word you could use to describe his batting style is fluent. His cricket used to flow. He had a wide range of shots _ all the shots in the book _ and he was never an inhibited player. He was very confident and of course he had every reason to be confident because he was a very good player. In addition he was possibly the best cover field we had _ a magnificent thrower.”

Harvey joined Don Bradman and Jack Ryder as a national selector in 1967 and held the post for two decades to help many talented young players, including Allan Border, make it to the top.