Artwork to mark Boxing Day anniversary

Cricket Australia launch celebrations of Boxing Day match between Aboriginal XI and MCC at the MCG in 1866

Australia's cricketers will sport a piece of artwork on their playing shirts during the Boxing Day Test this year as part of commemorations for the landmark match between an Aboriginal XI and the Melbourne Cricket Club 150 years ago.

Cricket Australia today launched the first of several activities that will take place in the lead-up to and during the traditional MCG clash, which are aimed at recognising the significance of the Boxing Day clash between a team of Indigenous players and an MCC side at the same venue in 1866.

Image Id: 9D9383985ED94890B1378AB5498BA842 Image Caption: 'Walkabout Wickets', by Fiona Clarke

The match came 18 months before an Aboriginal team embarked on their famous tour of England in 1868, becoming the first sports team from Australia to tour internationally, nine years before the first official Test match in 1877.

CA today unveiled a piece of commemorative artwork that will feature as part of the celebrations, including on the Australian players' shirts, the stumps and throughout the stadium for the Commonwealth Bank Test against Pakistan on December 26-30.

The artwork, 'Walkabout Wickets', has been designed by Aboriginal artist Fiona Clarke, the great great grand-daughter of James 'Mosquito' Couzens, who was part of the Aboriginal XI along with his brother Johnny Cuzens.

"It is an incredible honour to have my artwork chosen to commemorate the 150th anniversary of both the 1866 Boxing Day match and 1868 Aboriginal team that toured England," Clarke said.

Image Id: 857FBA84105A4D988953BFD192A83487 Image Caption: Artist Fiona Clarke explains the significance of her artwork 'Walkabout Wickets'

"As a descendant of players from both of those anniversaries I am thrilled to be able to provide the Australian public with my representation of those historic events."

CA also announced today the introduction of the inaugural Mullagh-Wills Oration, to take place at the MCG on December 13, which will focus on the links between cricket and Indigenous Australians.

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The oration is named in honour of Johnny Mullagh, the Aboriginal XI's star allrounder and captain for the 1868 tour, and Tom Wills, who captained-coached the Aboriginal XI in the 1866 match.

The inaugural oration will be co-delivered by 2009 Australian of the Year Professor Mick Dodson AM, and Dr Greg De Moore, the author of Tom Wills and A National Game.

"The significance of these key moments in the history of cricket and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a story that needs to be shared with the Australian public and I am honoured to play my part in telling that story," Dr De Moore said.

Image Id: 01256C7F1DB54BC6BBDE40C884B7EA78 Image Caption: The MCG's Boxing Day tradition will continue this year // Getty Images

The celebrations will continue right through until 2018, when the Commonwealth Bank will sponsor men's and women's Indigenous teams to tour England and retrace the steps of the 1868 tourists.

Despite the historic involvement of Indigenous Australians in cricket, only three Indigenous players - former Test and ODI fast bowler Jason Gillespie, limited-overs allrounder Dan Christian and trailblazing women's player Faith Thomas - have played cricket for Australia.

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The multiple and complex reasons for the notable absence of Indigenous cricketers over the decades, outlined in the 2015 report For the Love of the Game that was co-authored by Dodson and welcomed by Cricket Australia, had their roots in racist policy and exclusion in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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But with six male and two female Indigenous players contracted at state or Big Bash League level this summer, and with Indigenous participation enjoying a boost of 40 per cent last summer to almost 37,000 players, CA CEO James Sutherland is confident that recent efforts to address the imbalance are having an impact.

"It's something we work very hard on," he said.

"We have a National Indigenous Carnival every year ... and we're creating more and more opportunities for Indigenous Australians to play cricket and become good at it as well.

"Part of it is about access, part of it is about competition as well, and it's also about creating aspiration.

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"Certainly, we see this celebration of the 150th anniversary of this match and the Indigenous XI that toured in 1868 (as) a great opportunity.

"And at the highest level, we'd love to see Indigenous talent coming through and knocking on the door of Australian selection."

'Walkabout Wickets', in the words of artist Fiona Clarke

"Walkabout Wickets’ is about the 'Cricket Walkabout' stars, past, present and future. The symbol that I have used for the design means ‘MINKGILL’, which means STAR, from the Aboriginal Dreamtime.

"My ancestors would gather all the clans together in the thousands at a special 'meeting place' each year for many cultural reasons, including Aboriginal games. The large circle represents the grounds the 'Walkabout' team played cricket on. The lines between the smaller circles represent the wickets knocked down by my Aboriginal ancestor cricket players, proudly beating the English players at their own game.

"The smaller circles represent the ovals around the globe. The dark brown circles inside the little circles represent the 'meeting place' of the ovals, that past, present and future players play on."