Out the front of close to every shop she is stopped by someone she knows – locals of the North Queensland town with a population of 8000 keen to catch up on what life is like in Brisbane and to hear tales from the Charters Towers girl doing big things in the world of cricket.
It’s a town where sport and the outdoors reign supreme, and where Birkett honed her ability with bat and ball in the perhaps the most Australian way of all – family games of backyard cricket.
Growing up in a cricketing family, the Birkett backyard was the scene of many a fierce battle between Haidee, her younger brother Matt and dad Lance.
It’s where she would learn not only the skills of the game, but according to Lance, where a competitive and adventurous streak that would see her well for years was born.
“We first noticed she had talent in the backyard,” Lance tells us, himself a state indoor cricketer.
“She was playing shots that you wouldn’t expect from a young kid and showed a lot of promise. We had some tenacious backyard games and she was always to the fore. That’s where it all started with Haidee,” Lance says.
For Haidee, she recalls those days in the backyard as the breeding ground for her passion, talent and love for cricket.
From the backyard she would go onto not only play with, but dominate and captain a team full of boys.
“I loved the friendly competition between my brother and my dad playing backyard cricket, and I was able to take that onto the field. That’s how I really got a love for the game,” Haidee tells us while looking over her junior fields in Charters Towers.
“It gave me the confidence to compete with the boys and stamp my place in the side. The backyard is when I grew to love cricket and realise it was something I was good at.”
While unofficial championships were fought in the backyard throughout her childhood, it wasn’t until she was 12 that after much coaxing from her mum, she made her debut for the Charters Towers Junior Cricket Club late in the season.
“I would always come down and watch my dad and my little brother play. My mum kept pushing me to play, but I dug my heels in. I just wanted to play netball and touch footy.
“It was the second last game of the season and I decided to give it a go. I loved it, so I played the next week, but I had to wait six months before I could play again.”
Those two games were the catalyst for what would become a meteoric rise.
First game at 12, picked to play for Queensland at 13, then captaining an all-boys team at 14.
Things were happening quickly.
As soon as high school was finished, Birkett made the bold decision to pack up move to Brisbane to pursue cricket seriously.
Though it was daunting to move away from the comforts of home for the first time, her adventurous side took over.
“I was pretty nervous but excited at the same time. I knew that if I wanted to take cricket seriously then this is where I needed to be.
“I think it hit me as soon as I got to Brisbane. I realised there was no more mum and dad and that’s when it became real and a little bit daunting.”
Being equipped to handle the challenge of starting a new life some 14 hours from home, you sense her adventurous philosophy is one she carries onto the cricket field.
The moment Haidee is perhaps best known for is a blinding outfield catch taken in the second season of the WBBL against the Sydney Thunder.
It’s one that received viral attention online and will go down in Brisbane Heat folklore.
Early in the Thunder innings, batter Naomi Stalenberg sweeps a full Jess Jonassen ball towards the mid-wicket boundary, Birkett sprints in and launches herself towards the ground.
Hanging onto what must be the best catch she has ever taken, momentum rolls Birkett onto her back before she gathers her feet, throws the ball skyward and is embraced by her teammates.
It was one of two classics Birkett would take for the match, with her second a sharp piece of work off her own bowling.
As a cricketer who likes to take the game on, the catch in the outfield perhaps best personifies her on-field attitude.
“I’m a fielder who wants to have a go at everything. I would rather come in and dive for a ball and it go for four then sit back and let it bounce.
“I didn’t think about. I just launched. It was unreal.
“I got off the field and not thinking much of the catch as we lost the game. But I jumped on my phone and it was blown up with messages from just about everyone I knew. When I saw the video, it was a pretty good moment.”
THE ROLE MODEL
On the day we speak, Haidee is at her former club to promote junior sign-ons. There is a captive audience of young boys and girls as she tells the story of a once Charters Towers junior cricketer now playing the game on national TV as her job.
She regales the in-awe juniors of her early days at the same ground they are currently sitting and her journey to the big leagues.
“It’s crazy,” Birkett says of her flashes with stardom among young fans.
“We go to schools and clubs in regional Queensland and when I’m introduced as a female athlete the girls’ eyes light up.
“For them to know that someone can come from somewhere like Charters Towers and be a professional cricketer is a special feeling and a responsibility I am happy to take on,” she says.
While Brisbane is Birkett’s home for now, her heart will always live in Charters Towers. Her journey from the bush to the Big Bash is one she hopes it will inspire other girls from regional Queensland to realise their dreams.
“I am really proud of my journey from Charters Towers to Brisbane. Taking the risk to move south and pursue cricket has helped make me the person I’ve become.
“Who would have thought that starting out at Charters Towers Cricket Club playing with the boys would turn out like this.
“It’s a dream come through.”
Living the dream with a smile on your face. You couldn’t ask for much more than that.