Indigenous cricketers to honour 1868 XI
The incredible story of the first Australian sporting team to travel overseas will be honoured when the country's best Indigenous players tour the UK this month
2 June 2018, 07:33 AM AEST
The 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour of England is an incredible story of hardship, race relations and colonial attitudes.
Arguably even more remarkable is how few Australians now know the tale of the nation's first sporting team to tour overseas, 150 years ago.
English cricketer turned Sydney publican Charles Lawrence took the Jardwadjali, Gunditjmara and Wotjobaluk men, who learned how to bat and bowl on farms, from western Victoria to Sydney then onto a wool-carrying boat.
An arduous journey at sea was followed by a taxing schedule of 47 games. Bripumyarrumin, given the anglicised name of King Cole, died from tuberculosis while in England.
The pioneers were on the field for 99 of 126 possible days, with hastily-arranged matches often requiring them to cross England on short notice.
They won 14 games and lost 14, with the London Times describing the tourists as "a travestie (sic) upon cricketing at Lord's".
"One of the blokes didn't come back. You can't put into words the enormity of what they did," paceman Brendan Doggett said, prior to departing for England as part of an indigenous squad that Cricket Australia (CA) has assembled to mark the 150th anniversary.
The tour starts on Tuesday. Male and female Aboriginal XIs will play a series of games, including a clash with Surrey at The Oval that doubles as a rematch of the 1868 tour opener.
"It would have been a bloody struggle and a massive culture shock," Doggett said.
"The way I'm looking at our tour is the games are a bonus on top of what we'll learn culturally."
Doggett will be steaming in for Australia A in India shortly after he represents the Worimi people alongside brother Sam.
24-year-old Brendan Doggett a young indigenous talent who demanded the attention of national selectors after a sparkling Sheffield Shield debut season with winners Queensland that ended with a five-for in the final, would have been an outlier 10 years ago.
Now he looms as a future role model alongside the likes of Dan Christian, Scott Boland and Ashleigh Gardner - who are all making the trip - and D'Arcy Short, but also the product of a pathway CA can present to young Indigenous athletes.
It's an area that CA chief executive James Sutherland admits his organisation, which espouses a desire to be a sport for all Australians, neglected for far too long.
Eddie Gilbert, famously so fast he knocked the bat out of Don Bradman's hands, required written permission to leave his settlement in Queensland and never progressed beyond first-class cricket.
Faith Thomas and Jason Gillespie, the first indigenous cricketers to represent Australia, debuted in 1958 and 1996 respectively.
A National Aboriginal Cricket Forum was convened in 2001, seeking answers as the sport lagged behind the likes of the AFL and NRL.
CA has since, slowly but surely, invested more time and money in attempting to address the barriers that have restricted indigenous cricketers at both elite and community level.
The Imparja Cup, which started in 1994 as a game between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek then in 2001 became an Indigenous interstate tournament under the auspices of CA, has become a key plank of its strategy.
Imparja was the first taste of representative cricket for Short, Gardner and so many of the more than 60 indigenous cricketers who are in first-grade city comps around the country.
Short and Gardner, both proud of their heritage, have since graduated up the ranks. The latter played in a World Cup last year, the former could well play in a World Cup next year.
Short, who was part of the Aboriginal XI prior to his call-up for the ODI series in England, and national coach Justin Langer want the touring parties to meet up in London while learning more about the 1868 trip.
Gardner, who has advocated for the date of Australia Day to be changed between starring with bat and ball for Australia, is 21 but already inspiring youngsters.
"Ash becoming part of the Aussie team has really helped getting the message out there about opportunities for indigenous girls and women," Emma Mannix-Geeves said.
Mannix-Geeves, who was recently awarded a state contract with Tasmania, will take a break from school so she can take part in the tour.
"I want to learn as much as I can and create our own legacy. We're part of the first female indigenous team they've taken to the UK," the teenager said.
Mannix-Geeves, whose great-great grandmother was part of the Stolen Generation, started investigating her heritage more actively after returning from her first Imparja Cup.
In terms of the 1868 tour, she and Nick Boland had limited knowledge prior to meeting descendants of the original tour and visiting key sites in West Wimmera last week.
"This tour is a great chance to learn more about the history," Nick Boland, the younger brother of Scott, said.
"We have to keep telling this story, it's amazing, and keep promoting our culture."