Tom Wills, the architect behind the commencement and codification of Australian Football in 1858, was also Australia’s leading cricketer. In 1866 the MCC asked Wills to Captain and Coach a group of Western Districts Aboriginal cricketers in a match against the MCC. The motive appeared to be financial.
The above cover shows a composite picture of the Aboriginal team along with Wills on the left to be used for publicity. When the day arrived, 10,000 people attended and although they lost the match, they won considerable accolades for their ability. The Australia Post FDC, at top, shows an etching of the game. The WCS FDC incorrectly names Lawrence as Captain. It is of course Wills.
Next followed a tour to NSW and eventually a tour to England, Wills stood down as Captain/Coach and the team was mentored by Ex-English Professional Charles Lawrence. 13 Aboriginal men left for the tour.
The Maximum Card shows the team in August 1868 at Trent Bridge, Nottingham.
The anglicized names of the players are:
Standing: Dick-a-Dick, Tiger, Johnny Mullagh, Charles Lawrence (c), Johnny Cuzens, Red Cap, Bullocky, Twopenny.
Sitting: Mosquito, Peter, W Shepherd, Charley Dumas
Not present: Jim Crow, King Cole, Sundown
They played 47 matches against county and local teams. They won 14, drew 19 and lost 14 matches.
The cachet of the cover by Coversplease shows a limited edition print on canvas by Dave Thomas, showing the famous Aboriginal team, published by the Bradman Museum. The cover of the stamp pack also showed the same print.
The 1868 Aboriginal Tour to England was part of a limited edition of 200 numbered “Australian Stamps 2018”, Commemorative Landscape. The original issue was on 1 May 2018.
What has been the outcome of the tour?
A tour managed by Rugby Union Legend Mark Ella toured England in 1988. The Commonwealth Bank has sponsored both a men’s and women’s Aboriginal tour this year. Cricket Australia sponsors the Mullagh-Wills Oration named after Johnny Mullagh, the best batsman for the 1868 team and Tom Wills, the initial coach and captain.
Despite the historic involvement of Indigenous Australians in cricket, only four Indigenous players – former Test and ODI fast bowler Jason Gillespie, limited-overs all rounder Dan Christian, trailblazing women’s player Faith Thomas and D’Arcy Short in ODIs and T20s – have played cricket for Australia. Only a small number have played first class cricket. Considering their prominent place in AFL and NRL, cricket has a lot of catching up to do.