England’s tour of India is now three Tests old and a familiar pattern has taken shape.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are advised that this article contains images and names of people who have died.
If I were to say to you I’m going to tell you about a cricket series with Australian involvement, a team of black men dressed in burgundy with a handful of excellent players who were mostly underdone, and most importantly, of the series when the ramp shot was introduced, those of you in the know would answer the 2000-01 tri-series between Australia, Zimbabwe and West Indies.
And you would be wrong. None of these are new things. They are all occurrences from the very first time an Australian sports team left these shores; the 1868 indigenous cricket tour of England.
As I’ve been researching this piece over the last month or so, I’ve struggled to find what I should write about. Was this a tour of serious cricketers, or was it just a sideshow? Were the players acting out of their own sense of agency, or were they indentured labourers being exploited for the profit of a handful of Europeans?
Like most indigenous history, its indigenous voices are silent. Like most indigenous history, it sits untold until the second half of the 20th century. Like most indigenous history it is hotly contested and disputed.
To go into these issues would take much more space than allowed for here and would belong in an academic journal. For the purposes of these pages, I’ve decided to stick to what is indisputable: the acts of individual sporting excellence displayed on that tour.
First, the cricket:
It’s clear that the team was not uniformly great at the sport. Most of the team had batting averages that would make Glenn McGrath feel like Bradman. Although some were genuine first class cricketers: Unaarrimin (Johnny Mullagh) was declared by one journalist as “the best all rounder in England” at a time when W.G. Grace was at the peak of his powers.
He finished the tour with stats of 1698 runs at 23.65 and 245 wickets at 10. Zellanach (Johnny Cuzens) was also a gifted all-rounder, finishing with 1358 runs at 19.9 and 114 wickets at 11.3.
Murrumgunarriman (Twopenny) was an underutilised bowler out of fears for being called for throwing. When he did get a go he was formidable, taking 35 wickets at 6.9. Bullchanach (Bullocky) was the stand-out wicketkeeper, getting 28 stumpings off the fast bowling of Charles Lawrence alone. All four of these men would go on to play for Victoria.
It’s also wrong to think of this as an Australia team, as all but two players were drawn from the Western Districts of Victoria (from an indigenous population of under 2000).
Most had been playing cricket for only a handful of years and receiving coaching for under two. Take a Western Districts novice side to England these days and come back with more wins than losses and you’d call the tour a success.
That most of the wins come at the back end of the tour reinforces that the players progressed the more they played and that there was a lot of untapped potential in the side.
In 47 games played the team won 14, lost 14 and played out 19 draws, many of which they were in a good chance of winning when stumps were pulled.
But cricket wasn’t the only sport on display. Jimmy Tarpot (I’ve been unable to find his language name) could run the 100 yards in 14 seconds. Backwards. At the time an unrecognised world record by over a second, not to be beaten for over 50 years.
Pripumuarraman (Charley Dumas) threw the cricket ball 137 yards, two feet. To put that into context the current world record is just over 145 yards.
Pripumuarraman and Grougarrong (Jimmy Mosquito), who was only 5’4”, were both able to clear 5’8” in the running high jump. The world record at the time was 5’9”.
Pripumuarraman could make the boomerang fly 150m along the ground, touch the ground, rise up around a stand of trees and soar through the air to return to him, hovering, before dropping to his feet. It’s doubtful a better proponent of the boomerang, once a hunting tool and implement of war, now a sport in its own right, has ever existed.
One of the greatest attractions on tour was Jungunjinanuke’s (Dick-a-Dick) dodging. Clearly an adaption of an indigenous war and justice technique, for a shilling, you could take a cricket ball, walk ten paces, and throw it at him. Using only a narrow (15cm) shield and a leangle (an L shaped club), Jungunjinanuke would dodge, duck, dive, dip and dodge up to ten balls at once.
In the whole tour of England, only one person managed to score a hit, and even then it was just a glancing blow. For those of you gambling oriented, Jungunjinanuke was giving odds of 10:1 that you wouldn’t hit him.
Finally, to perhaps the biggest claim of this article, that the ramp shot isn’t 16 years old, but 150, to which I present this quote from D.J. Mulvaney’s Cricket Walkabout:
“One of Mullagh’s favourite batting strokes of this period was somewhat unorthodox. Dropping on one knee to a fast rising ball, he would hold his bat over his shoulder and parallel to the ground. The ball would touch the blade, and shoot high over the wicket-keeper’s head to the boundary”.
So rather than giving this credit as Marillier, or Dilscoop, I think we should be calling it “the Mullagh”.
*Out of respect for these athletes I have used their real names in this article. However, it should be noted that the names in brackets are what they are commonly known as in the history and record books.