Callen Cricket Bats
The WillowBlue Story began with
A.C. MacLaren (pictured) who was described as dashing at the wicket and even smarter in the field at slip or at cover, MacLaren judged the flight of the ball unerringly, while boundary after boundary was saved by the manner in which he picked up the fastest cut, snick, or drive with either hand.
By the year 1898 Mr. MacLaren had wooed his bride Maud and was playing the best cricket of his life.
He had scored his maiden Test century at Melbourne; had been named captain of Lancashire; scored a world record 424 runs and was voted Wisden Cricketer of the Year.
At the Melbourne Test of 1902 Mr. MacLaren the Captain of England turned to Bob Crockett, the International umpire and bat repairer and said: "One thing that surprises me Bob is that you do not grow the bat willow in this country. I have seen a score of suitable localities but I have not seen a single tree of the very ornamental bat willow."
Some six months later Crockett received six cricket bat willow cuttings sealed in a steel tube.
Indeed it is a quirk of fate that at the very location the MacLaren's honeymooned now more than 100 years later; you'll find from this very progeny, a Cricket Bat Willow Plantation.
The Callen Cricket Story began with Ian Callen in 1976, when engaged as the Professional for the Northumberland County where he met Peter Kippax (former Yorkshire Cricketer) who had just started his own Cricket Bat Brand. What a good idea he thought, perhaps he could do this himself after his career.
Over course of his Cricket career Ian learned of the English Test Captain, Archie MacLaren having posted the
English Willow cuttings to Bob Crockett (Test Umpire) and as a result a plantation had been established.
He also learned from many former Australian players ( Armstrong, Hassett, Harvey, O'Neill, Burge and Sheahan) that they had made centuries with bats made from the English Willow grown by Crockett Bats.
Ian (picture in 1985) learnt his craft under the guidance of Master Craftsman Chris Farrant (formerly Warsops of London).
It was about this time Ian located some of MacLaren's original progeny and immediately set up a nursery on his family's farm at Rhyll, Phillip Island where the first Callen bats were made.
This was the time that the idea of rebuilding the Cricket Willow Industry became Ian's mission and the making of the Callen Bats a way of funding it.
This was not an easy task... even after finding suitable locations environmentalists hindered our efforts to plant cricket bat willow... it took 9 years to get planting permission and finally in 1994, on 25 acres of Watts River Flats in the Parish of Tarrawarra Healesville, "Salix Alba Caerulea" trees (English Willow) were planted under planting permit.
English Willow, Cricket Bat Willow or Blue Willow as it is called in the UK is the only willow species used for quality Cricket Bats and because Australians come from the land "Down Under" Ian named his English Willow..."WillowBlue".
Ian began felling and processing timber for bats in 2007 and then began training Bat Makers to become the end market for his WillowBlue English Willow. In 2012 he began exporting Australia grown English Willow to Pakistan and India. Never before had English Willow been exported to International markets from outside the UK.
But growing English Willow for cricket bats in Australia is not a new idea.
Cricket Bat Willow cuttings had been sent to Australia in 1902 by the English Test Captain, Archie MacLaren to Bob Crockett (Test Umpire & Bat Repairer). Archie had told Crockett that whilst honeymooning at Healesville he had seen a score of suitable localities along the The Yarra River flats.
Crockett accepted the English Willow but planted at Shepherds Flat near Daylesford and although it produced bats for Australian Test players it was eventually cut down when the business was sold to Dunlop Slazenger.
This put an end to an Australian Cricket Willow industry until the discovery of MacLaren's original progeny and the establishment of a nursery with the vision to rebuild the industry as MacLaren had envisaged.
However the task was not that easy; environmentalists who believed English Willow had naturalized the Australian waterways were objecting... It wasn't until 1994 that Planting Permits were issued (9 years later).
Others were saying English Willow could not be grown anywhere but England and it was a waste of time;
Even though Australian cricket brands and Sports Stores refused to support the idea of an Australian Cricket industry. Ian made it a success story.
The late Romesh Kohli of "Beat All Sports" (BAS) India was Ian's first international customer (BAS were makers of the Virat Kohli's MRF Bat). Romesh gave Ian the specifications to make two bats to give to Kohli for use and later told him that Kohli had hit two double hundreds with his bat. In an interview on the ABC Romesh stated that WillowBlue English Willow was the best cricket bat willow in the world.
"WillowBlue" is now a registered trademark for English Willow.