How a young man with autism is creating a future for himself and others with painted cricket bats

William Clarke, 22, may live with autism and have a limited vocabulary but he is inspiring communities and around the world with his achievements.

It comes as people around Australia help him creatively paint crickets bats and paddles for sale at a growing number of exhibitions.

In fact the next Bats For Will exhibition at Timber Mill Studios in Bulli on Saturday has attracted two Archibald finalist impressed by the young man with special needs.

One bat traveled to the Middle East on HMAS Newcastle for an exhibition. Jimmy Barnes, John Howard and Zoe Young have also donated their creativity to the cause. And mum Ange Clarke said Will has painted a bat artwork himself for the Bulli exhibition.

“He can’t read or write so he filled up water bottles with paint. Because he loves cricket he threw it like cricket balls. We did it at Flagstaff where he works and there was a whole lot of other kids with disabilities there helping out,” she said.

 Will Clarke's artwork for the exhibition that will fund a collaborative studio to mentor, train and offer work experience for young people with autism.

Creative cricket: Will Clarke's artwork for the exhibition that will fund a collaborative studio to mentor, train and offer work experience for young people with autism.

65 artists have now created unique works on refurbished cricket bats for Saturday’s exhibition which will further support Will’s cause of raising funds for autism.

All the bats are for sale and there will be a silent auction as well as a normal auction this Saturday. The hope is to raise enough money to set up a collaborative studio to mentor, train and offer work experience for young people with autism.

Will is always giving back despite his own disability.

Mrs Clarke said it was amazing how far Bats For Will exhibitions have spread.

She is expecting 200 people on Saturday.

“We are overwhelmed by the support from the community. Everyone from famous artists to children are painting cricket bats. Young people from Flagstaff and families are getting involved all to help Will’s vision come to life”.

“With very limited choice with work and careers and community involvement for someone like Will, we are collaborating with the community to show people what the possibilities are. It is really important for Will to have independence. Combining his love of cricket and art is a way we can help him do this.”

Well known personalities and people in the community from all walks of live have enjoyed donating their time and skills to inspire other families and the community. It all showcases the possibilities for people with a disability.

In just two years Will has inspired 230 artists, sold 175 artworks and worked with Prime Ministers, Jimmy Barnes and well knowns artists such as Charles Blackman and Ben Quilty. Bats have ended up in Hollywood, the Hong Kong Cricket Club and with a renowned Melbourne AFL club chief executive.

  • Will Clarke scores big for autism with painted cricket bats
  • Will Clarke scores big for autism with painted cricket bats


Preparations for Bats for Will Exhibition at Timber Mill Studios in Bulli.


Bats For Will exhibitions are helping to create a social enterprise that influences and connects communities through sport, art and business.

And those who can’t attend on Saturday will be able to be bid online in the auction before the exhibition.

Mrs Clarke said a really lovely thing about the Bats For Will is that every one of the bats has a story.

She said one of the bats was painted by a lady whose daughter was gored by an elephant in Tibet and didin’t survive.

She was a beautiful painter but hadn’t done any artworks since that time.

That was until she did a bat for Will. 

Another cricket bat on Saturday was painted by 2016 Archibald finalist Melissa Ritchie. 

Ms Ritchie, of Wollongong, is renowned as an Australian figurative and portrait artist.

She has been a finalist in the Percival Portrait Prize, Black Swan Portraiture Prize, Portia Geach Memorial Award, Shirley Hannan Portrait Prize and the Kigour Prize. 


More about Will’s story:

Will was diagnosed at age 12 with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which alters his conversational language, writing and reading and makes it hard to communicate in the broader community.

He was given a cricket bat at the age five and learnt to play on Don Bradman oval in Bowral as a child.

His love of cricket is what inspired mum Ange Clarke to came up with the idea of starting Willo Industries for her son two years ago.

“We always had a concern about what he would do when he left school,” she said.

“We set about trying to develop some skills for him and decided to start refurbishing cricket bats.

“Within four months of him starting to refurbish cricket bats we had our first exhibition with over 60 artists at Bradman Museum in Bowral. That is when we realised that this has legs.”

“Will continued to sand bats. We then had 60 artists from Perth get in touch with us to ask if they could paint for us. And we had a story on The 7.30 Report.”

That was followed by a group of artists from Melbourne asking to paint bats for an exhibition that was opened by a Hollywood producer.

Artists in the Kiama community then wanted to do an exhibition.

“We obviously want to build a future for Will so that he can have a sustainable life. But 50 per cent now of everything we raise stays in the communities we work with,” Mrs Clarke said. 

“In this community we have entered into an MOU with Flagstaff and are building a Willo Hub where we are going to start mentoring, training and teaching other young people with disabilities to develop skills.”

Will has a desire to inspire other young people to find sources of income and become financially independent.

The creative outlet Willo Industries has provided has helped him feel accomplished

 After he sources old cricket bats he refurbishes them at his local Men’s Shed and finds artists to paint them.

News of Will Clarke’s achievements has spread around the globe.

Mrs Clarke is aware of other families of children with disabilities being inspired to tap into their interests to help them create opportunities for themselves.

“I have heard of some who have courier businesses, or have started a florist, or who bake cookies,” she said.

An international charity has been in contact wanting to fund the concept of Willo around Australia and internationally.

In two weeks Willo Industries has been invited to work with a community in the York Peninsula.

And there is a group of 100 artists in Perth who want to do an exhibition on February 7.

That will be followed by exhibitions in Ballina and the Sunshine Coast.

“It is just growing and growing. The really amazing thing to see from this is the way communities come together. There is awareness around abilities. We are introducing communities to our children so there is more understanding and awareness around what our kids can do. And who they are within their communities,” Mrs Clarke said.

“There are a lot of doors being opened around that which has been one of the really important parts of this.” 

Mrs Clarke said it was all about uniting abilities.

“In Perth there is a boy working over there who has a disability who is working for will refurbishing bats. And the same thing is happening in South Australia,” she said.