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Australia's first international cricket team found fame in the UK. At home, they were betrayed

April 4, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 20.7%. 3 min read.

Until recently, most Australians didn't know anything about the journey that took 13 Aboriginal cricketers from farmsteads in Victoria to England in 1868 -- making them Australia's first sporting team to play overseas.

Harrow, Australia (CNN)Growing up in the small community of Harrow in southern Australia, 86-year-old Lachie Turner spent his childhood hearing legends of the great Aboriginal cricketer Johnny Mullagh.

At a time when being Indigenous meant you could be thrown off your land, forced into Christian missions or even shot, Mullagh -- of the Jardwadjali people from western Victoria -- grew from being a farmhand on a local estate to a world-famous cricket player.

Yet until recently, most Australians didn't know Mullagh's story, or anything about the journey that took him and 12 Aboriginal cricketers from farmsteads in Victoria, to Melbourne, Sydney and then, finally, England in 1868 -- making them Australia's first sporting team to play overseas.

But when the Aboriginal cricket team returned in 1869, their achievements couldn't save them from the institutional racism shown by colonizers towards First Nations people.

In their book Cricket Walkabout, which tells the story of Australia's First XI, Rex Harcourt and John Mulvaney give examples of Aboriginal cricket players from as far back as the early 1850s.

Sangster said homestead owners around Harrow quickly noticed their Aboriginal workers had a natural talent for cricket.

"Within a couple of years they were beating teams, people who had played cricket all their lives," said Kennedy.

Word spread of the Aboriginal team's success, partly thanks to canny marketing by Hayman who, according to Mulvaney and Harcourt, sent photographs of the Indigenous team in their uniforms to his cricketing contacts in Melbourne.

A photograph from the Melbourne Cricket Ground in December 1866 shows Mullagh, as well as Kennedy's ancestor Yanggendyinanyuk, who Sangster said joined the team sometime that year, after other players fell sick while traveling between towns.

On Boxing Day, the Aboriginals lost to the top local team at the Melbourne Cricket Club, but in other ways the match was a massive success.

Harrow Discovery Center's Sangster said that Gurnett ran off with all the money earned from ticket sales and left Wills, Hayman and the Aboriginal cricketers stranded.

Lawrence was a former cricketer who played in the English team's first tour of Australia in 1861-62.

He took a liking to the Aboriginal cricket team and, along with two Sydney businessmen, George Graham and George Smith, offered to help finance a tour of England for the Aboriginal team -- provided Lawrence coached them.

Much of what is known of the Aboriginal cricket team's almost two year-long tour of Victoria, New South Wales and then England is recorded by Lawrence, their White coach, in his memoirs, and press clippings in Australian and English papers.

Some of the great English cricketers of the day praised the Aboriginal team, especially Mullagh and Zellanach.

Posters from events in Nottingham and London advertized the team's extra special skills, including "throwing boomerangs and spears. " Kennedy's ancestor, Yanggendyinanyuk, was also lauded for his ability to dodge cricket balls using a traditional Aboriginal shield.

Lawrence Bamblett, co-director at the Australian National University's Australian Centre for Indigenous History and a Wiradjuri man, said the purpose of the missions "was to turn Aborigines into white people. "

Of the Victorian players, only Johnny Mullagh and Zellanach, or Johnny Cuzens, were taken on by professional cricket teams.

The Melbourne Cricket Club hired them as training help for the White cricketers, Sangster said, but the contracts were only for a few months and both Mullagh and Zellanach quickly got ill.

"A lot of the (Aboriginal cricket players), we don't know where they were buried, their death wasn't recorded and they weren't given a proper burial, let alone a marker where they were buried," Sangster said.

Bamblett said while the story of the 1868 cricket team was sometimes seen as one of exploitation, to him and generations of young Aboriginal men and women, all the players were "heroic figures. "

"The idea that the first cricket team from England to Australia was Aboriginal -- I absolutely loved it.

There was only one first team and it wasn't you (white people), it was us," he said.

Yanggendyinanyuk's Kennedy said he's glad the Aboriginal cricket team is now beginning to get the recognition it deserves.

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