Five years ago Todd Darrington was mowing centre verges down the main street of Leeton, NSW. Over the past six months he has helped prepare some of the world’s most hallowed sporting surfaces, among them Wimbledon and Lords.
I guess you could say that I was born into the turf industry. My dad Craig was a greenkeeper at Leeton Soldiers Club and the Leeton and District Bowling Club, and as a young kid I would go with him to work and sit on his lap while he rolled the greens. I also grew up working on the family’s turf farm (Darrington Turf), so I guess from a young age greenkeeping and turf maintenance was always in my blood.
l first started working at Leeton Golf Club before and after school as a greenkeeping labourer before I was offered an apprenticeship with the Leeton Shire Council’s parks and gardens department in 2013. I worked there for two-and-a-half years, during which time I learned a lot thanks to my bosses Josh Clyne and Justin Davidson.
In 2015 I decided to make the move to Canberra to finish my apprenticeship at Cricket ACT (Manuka Oval). Apart from my parents and Leeton Shire Council, a lot of credit for the development of my career must go to Brad Van Dam, head curator of Manuka Oval. One of the industry’s best, Brad took me under his wing as a 19-year-old and has taught me how to prepare quality surfaces.
2019 has certainly turned out to be quite the ride and it all started in February when Manuka Oval hosted its very first Test match between Australia and Sri Lanka. I had been lucky enough to be a part of One Day Internationals, Big Bash, PMs XI and Australian Women’s Ashes Series cricket in 2017, but to do a Test match was always a dream.
Brad did an awesome job and we all played a part in preparing Canberra’s first ever Test match wicket (see Brad van Dam’s article in ATM Volume 20.6 – Nov-Dec 2018 – ‘Manuka set for ultimate Test’ pgs 24-26). What made the experience even more special was having my dad come down to volunteer for the Test and work by my side. I remember thinking how times change… dad was no longer telling me what to do and the roles were somewhat reversed from our days together on the Leeton golf course or family turf farm. My older brother also joined us at one stage during the Test to lend a lend hand during the lunch break.
I was also working alongside one of my best high school mates, Jonte Schmetzer, who had joined the Manuka Oval crew in January 2018 as an apprentice. Another highlight was seeing a lot of Brad’s former 2ICs come back and assist, among them Michael Sangston, Logan Booby and Tom Fahey who over the previous years had put in a lot of hard yards to get Manuka to the level it is.
It was about a month after the Test, during a casual conversation with Tom (who now works at the Sydney Cricket Ground), that I was alerted to the possibility of working at Wimbledon. Tom knew that the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) took a number of summer casuals in each year and encouraged me to apply. I did and to my huge surprise within a week I was being interviewed over the phone by AELTC head of courts and horticulture Neil Stubley. The feeling was pretty unbelievable when he told me I had been successful and I knew then that I was going to be a part of something pretty special.
It was crazy to think that just three-and-a-half years ago I was mowing the centre verges along Pine Ave, Leeton’s main street, and Leeton Golf Course. Now, having just been involved in Manuka Oval’s international Test debut, I was off to help prepare some of the most hallowed turf in world sport.
Originally published in Volume 21.5 (Sept-Oct 2019) Australian Turfgrass Management Journal.