Fourteen Wallabies, one victory, and a long history of prejudice: Why the Indigenous jersey must be permanent

A decade or so ago, I was sitting in front of my television set watching St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, playing St Ignatius’ College, Riverview. After about 15 minutes, the telephone rang. “How good is he!” my son Zolton yelled out down the line.

The “he” was Kurtley Beale. And he wasn’t just good.

He was brilliant, sensational, just add in the superlatives.

Playing number ten for Joeys, Beale dominated the match with incisive running, sleight-of-hand passing – both short and long – cunning little kicks and generally playing, on attack and defence, as if he were four players. He helped created the impression that Joeys had about 18 players on the field.

Beale became a professional rugby player at age 16. He attended his first Wallabies camp, invited by coach John Connolly, when he was 15. In 2010, he kicked a monster long-range penalty on full-time at Bloemfontein, clinching Australia’s first victory at altitude against the Springboks in 47 years.

He had a brilliant 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament and his absence in the semi-final final virtually handed the Test – and the Cup – to the All Blacks.

He was a key player in the Waratahs winning their first and only Super Rugby title. And this season, after coming back from a stint with English club Wasps, he has been an outstanding contributor to a Wallabies side that is attaining some credibility.

Despite all this success, it is fair to say Beale has not achieved in his 67 Tests the sort of record, accomplishments and leadership positions that his incipient genius as a schoolboy star suggested would be his destiny.

Kurtley Beale of the Wallabies puts a kick downfield. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

He’s been good, but Kurtley Beale hasn’t reached the superstardom his school performances hinted at. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

Compare Beale’s rugby career with that of Beauden Barrett, a similar type of player. In his 59 Tests, Barrett has played in a Rugby World Cup champion team, won a Super Rugby title and was given the temporary captaincy of the All Blacks when Kieran Read was allowed a week off from the 2017 European tour. He has never been dropped from the national team, and has avoided the sort of off-field issues that dogged Beale in his days as one of the ‘Three Amigos’, and later in the Di Patston controversy.

When his playing career is over, hopefully well into the future, Beale might well be remembered less for his rugby exploits and more for his pivotal role in helping to create the Indigenous Wallaby jersey that inspired Australia to defeat the All Blacks at Brisbane in the third Bledisloe Cup Test of 2017.

Just look at this article published by Welcome To Country.

“The Wallabies can be proud to have elevated Indigenous culture to the international sporting arena. Indigenous player Kurtly (sic) Beale has been the driving force behind this dream. He was inspired not only by the All Blacks HAKA but also by New Zealand’s and South Africa’s national anthems that are sung in two languages. The playing group also made sure that the Welcome to Country ceremony was promoted to the same stage as the national anthems.”

This push to come to terms with his own Aboriginality has been a long time coming for Beale. It is a journey that is closer to its beginning than its end, which may well be the explanation why his career has been marked with unacceptable behaviour off the field and has not entirely fulfilled the high hopes held by so many on the field.

We can probably pinpoint the year when Beale became aware that he had to look to his Aboriginality as a source of strength to guide his behaviour off the field, freeing him to play with more responsibility.

That year was 2014, five years after he first played for the Wallabies.

In 2014, Beale was fined $45,000 for his involvement in the Di Patston texting scandal. Under instructions from Rugby Australia, the fine money was handed over to the Lloyd McDermott Development Team – a life-coaching project created by the first Wallaby to identify as an Aborigine – which recognises and helps promising Indigenous youngsters in sport and education.

Kurtley Beale stands in a rain soaked opening game of the series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks at ANZ Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

2014 saw Kurtley Beale embroiled in controvery. (Photo: Paul Barkley/LookPro)

In a sense, by bringing the Lloyd McDermott Development Team into his life, Rugby Australia helped Beale, who in 2011 didn’t know which mob he came from, to think seriously about himself as an Indigenous person.

As Beale told Phil Lutton in a candid interview for the Sydney Morning Herald in 2015, this effort to find the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle of his life was a difficult process to manage.

“It was very hard to follow back my family tree. I couldn’t really find the elders to pass down the knowledge to me. I was born in Blacktown, so my people are the Darug people. That’s where I was brought up. My mum’s part of the Kamilaroi tribe and that’s one of the biggest tribes in NSW, that’s out west,” Beale said.

“I think, talking about it, for me there’s still a little bit of uncertainty, which is kind of disappointing. I’m sure there are people that can help and I’ve been trying to focus on myself and trying to get my life right before I do that. But one day down the track I really hope to sit down with someone and work it all out.

“I’ve said that to a number of people, that once I do find that true identity, then I’ll be able to feel a bit more secure with myself and have a lot more belief in myself and the things I do.”

By way of contrasting Beale’s uncertainty of his origins, we should note that when the New Zealand Maori All Blacks side is announced, the home tribe of each player is listed beside his name. It would be unacceptable for a prominent Maori not to know his tribe, his place in the tribe and the history of his tribe.

To know yourself, you have to know and acknowledge your origins.

This is a task that confronts the Australian rugby community and its relationship in the past with its Indigenous players.

And this brings us to the future of the Indigenous Wallaby jersey.

The national jersey has been invested with a chaotic concoction of colours since Australia’s first Test, in 1899. One edition in the 1990s was so dire it was designated by some journalists as a “dog’s vomit” of patterns and colours.

In this commercial age, admittedly, sporting teams often change the colour or special details of their uniforms several times a season. This money-mad rush exploits the passion of supporters and thwarts the creation of special tradition based around a colour or colours that have been worn proudly over the decades through tough times and during years of triumph and greatness.

One edition of the Wallabies jersey in the 1990s was so dire it was designated by some journalists as a “dog’s vomit” of patterns and colours.

In their first Tests, the Wallabies played in the light blue of NSW in Sydney and the Queensland colour of maroon in Brisbane.

Later, the outfit stabilised as a green jersey and gold shorts.

Then, to avoid a clash with the Springboks’ green jersey on the 1961 tour of South Africa, the outfit of a gold jumper and green shorts was adopted.

The gold jumper has been worn by the Wallabies since. But, and this is an important qualification, there have been variations of the gold colouring, from a pumpkin yellowy-red to the current Wallaby gold, and many stylistic adjustments to the body of the jersey, ranging from man-boob lines to green and white flashes and stripes.

All these changes and adjustments have worked against players and supporters establishing a rapport and love for the jersey. The essential feature of an iconic jersey, surely, is that it doesn’t change.

How can you have a passion and reverence for the Wallaby jersey, as New Zealanders do for their all-black colour scheme, when it changes from year to year?

The 2017 Brisbane Test at Suncorp Stadium was a historic occasion because it marked an official recognition of the 14 Indigenous Wallabies. This included the overdue acknowledgement that Cecil Ramalli, a Wallaby in 1938, was the first ever Indigenous person to represent Australia in any sport.

Overdue, because it was known by many people in the rugby community for many years.

Admittedly, Ramalli refused to recognise his Aboriginality during his playing career, but he talked about it when he was retired. Despite his reticence, he was named by Jack Pollard in Australian Rugby: The Game and the Players and by myself in a history of Australian and New Zealand Test rugby, Two Mighty Tribes, as the first Indigenous Wallaby. These mentions were published about 20 years ago.

The Indigenous jersey that was created to mark, finally, Ramalli’s special status and the contribution of his fellow Indigenous Wallabies, mixed and matched the basic gold colour with traditional Indigenous motifs.

The Indigenous jersey has the power to do for the Wallabies what the black outfit does for the All Blacks.

A stylised wallaby embellished the jersey and surrounding it were 14 waterholes, each of them representing one the 14 Indigenous men who have played Test rugby for Australia: Cecil Ramalli, Lloyd McDermott, Mark Ella, Glen Ella, Gary Ella, Lloyd Walker, Andrew Walker, Jim Williams, Wendell Sailor, Timana Tahu, Saia Fainga’a, Anthony Fainga’a, Matt Hodgson, and Kurtley Beale.

The jersey was designed, brilliantly, by Dennis Golding Weatherall, a Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay man.

As they ran out onto Suncorp Stadium wearing this stunning jersey, I was immediately electrified with the notion that the players were wearing the iconic Wallaby jersey that Australian rugby has been searching for since 1899.

Judging by the intense, passionate, prideful and winning manner they played during the Test, the Indigenous jersey has the power to do for the Wallabies what the black outfit does for the All Blacks.

So I present this modest proposal to Rugby Australia: the Indigenous jersey should become the official Test jersey for the Wallabies.

Kurtley Beale throws a pass
israel folau wallabies celebrate
Kurtley Beale makes a break
wallabies celebrate
stephen moore wallabies celebrate

Why did it take so long for the Australian rugby community to honour Cecil Ramalli’s special status?

Ramalli was born in Moree in 1919 and died at Budgewoi, on the NSW Central Coast, in 1998.

He played for the Wallabies in two Tests against the All Blacks in 1938. A rugby prodigy, he had quicksilver pace from the scrums and rucks, his pass was sharp and accurate, and he was a ferocious and accurate tackler, despite his small size.

From everything I have read about his halfback play, the picture that comes to mind is that he was a combination of Ken Catchpole, with his brilliant running and the speed and accuracy in his passing, linked with a George Gregan-like zest for making crucial tackles.

The All Blacks, anyway, paid Ramalli the ultimate compliment by smashing his nose and concussing him in his second Test with an elbow to the head.

In his lifetime, Ramalli – named Ali Ram, but changing it to the less exotic Ramalli when he came to Sydney to play rugby – admitted to being the son of an Indian-born camel driver, but not to having an Aboriginal mother.

In an excellent article in the Australian, published on the morning of the Brisbane Test, Wayne Smith explained why Ramalli never identified as Indigenous, even though he accepted the accolade of being the first Asian to play for the Wallabies: “Racial harmony has still a long way to go in this country but in the 1930s the oppression was so much worse, and it was not uncommon for Aborigines to hide their true identity.”

Then Smith made a couple of assertions that I find perplexing

“Until now, Aboriginal fast bowler Faith Coulthard has been hailed as the first Indigenous athlete to compete for Australia, in 1958, (the 1868 all-Aboriginal cricket team that toured England was not officially recognised as a representative team), while Lionel Morgan led the way in rugby league in 1960 and McDermott in rugby in 1962. Indeed, McDermott still is acknowledged as the first rugby international — by no less than the Australian Rugby Union’s own website which, even today, remains unchanged.

“How Ramalli remained so anonymous is a mystery because the Guardian newspaper wrote his story in 2015. But it was only last year that the ARU even became aware of his background and set to work repairing its history. The Indigenous jersey, which Beale especially will wear with such pride at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, certainly goes a long way to placing him squarely where he belongs in history.”

It simply is not factual to make the case, as Smith has, that Patrick Skene’s 2015 article in the Guardian, ‘The forgotten story of … Wallabies star and Nagasaki survivor Cecil Ramalli’, was the first time Ramalli was revealed as “Australia’s first Aboriginal and Asian Wallaby”.

Skene’s article admittedly does have the great merit of being the most authoritative account of Ramalli’s life and rugby story.

After his first Test, for example, Skene reports that Ramalli was regarded as the standout Wallaby on the field, with the Courier Mail reporting, “Ramalli made such a splendid debut, he should become one of the greatest players the game has produced.”

There is a detailed account of the aborted tour of the British Isles by the third Wallabies, and then of Ramalli’s experiences during and after the Second World War.

The 1939 Wallabies training on the deck of the 'Mooltan'

The third Wallabies training on the deck of the ‘Mooltan’. The captain, Vay Wilson, is in the foreground. (Image: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Ramalli was serving with the Signallers 8th Division in Singapore when he was captured by the Japanese and sent to Changi prison camp, where from time to time he was treated by the famous surgeon and former Wallaby, Ernest Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop.

Before being repatriated to Sydney at the end of the War, Ramalli worked in the mines at Nagasaki and survived the atomic bombing of the city because he was underground at the time.

Skene’s fine piece of journalism will be a key document in establishing all the crucial facts when a smart producer gets around to making a film about Cecil Ramalli’s remarkable life story.

But it is not, as Smith suggests, the first time that Ramalli’s Indigenous background had been documented.

As long ago as 1994, Ramalli’s ‘secret’ was revealed in an easily verifiable way.

Surely the general ignorance of the rugby authorities over a period of over 20 years about the background of the first Aboriginal Wallaby raises serious questions about their interest in a line of players that Professor Colin Tatz, in his pioneering account Obstacle Race: Aborigines in Sport, calls the “black diamonds” of Australian rugby.

The real story of Ramalli’s origins was first published in the second edition of Australian Rugby: The Game and the Players, a masterpiece of information, facts and social history, which was written by the late veteran author and journalist Jack Pollard.

Every Wallaby up to 1994 has an entry in the book, as well as coaches, rugby identities and personalities, in over 800 biographies. The scores of every Test played by the Wallabies is recorded and the scorers; every tour, at home and abroad, is covered; the history of the rugby game in each state is detailed; there are numerous other entries of match appearances, crowd attendances, referees, defections to rugby league, grounds, uniforms and a detailed bibliography.

“Until publication of this book, the records of rugby football in Australia were in a complete disarray,” Michael Lynagh writes in his foreword.

“Two disastrous fires at the Sydney headquarters of the Australian Rugby Football Union burnt all the ARFU’s records of matches, players and tours stretching back to the 1880s or even earlier … In Brisbane, the other main centre of the game, there were virtually no records of value before the sport set up its headquarters at Ballymore in 1967.

“To find the material for his book, Jack Pollard has had to interview hundreds of old players, and spend weeks in newspaper offices going through accounts of matches played over a century ago. He has been to funeral parlours to secure details on star players’ lifespans, visited graveyards to check on the year of their death, and painstakingly worked his way through dozens old match programmes.”

Some rugby writers have dismissed this marvellous book as being riddled with mistakes. It is true that some of the details are wrong – Ramalli’s death date in his entry is listed as 1991, whereas Skene spoke to his son and gives the year as 1998.

Cecil Ramalli (far right) with Paul Collins, Basil Porter and Des Carrick in 1939.

Cecil Ramalli (far right) with Paul Collins, Basil Porter and Des Carrick in 1939. (Image: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Mistakes like this have to be accepted in an undertaking as huge as the one Pollard embarked on. Sometimes it took months to get details of a single fact, say the birthdate of a player. Pollard’s achievement is immense. He singlehandedly restored the history of rugby in Australia from oblivion.

And with his history, he allowed rugby’s forgotten heroes, like Cecil Ramalli, to be remembered and cherished.

In his foreword, Pollard noted an update from the first edition, published in 1984, for the second edition: “Recent research has also necessitated revisions to the section on our Aboriginal footballers, with Lloyd McDermott and the Ellas appearing a long time after two of their race who played for Australia in 1938, John Howard and Cecil Ramalli.”

The entry on Ramalli established his unique place in the story of Australian rugby. The last paragraph of the entry alluded to the reasons why this unique place was not acknowledged when he was selected for the Wallabies:

“One of the first Aboriginals to play for Australia, a halfback of exceptional brilliance who combined a long pass with speed and strong tackling. His football career was finished after he was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese.

“Ramalli was the son of an Indian-born camel driver who settled in Mungindi in northern NSW and married an Aboriginal. He changed his name from Ali Ram before he went to Hurlstone Agricultural College…

“After his repatriation, his health broken, he devoted himself to coaching young players. He left the Sydney scene believing (mistakenly) that a colour bar operated against him when he failed to get a job as NSW Sports Foundation rugby coach.”

The entry on John Howard, a speedy winger who played in two Tests for the Wallabies against the All Blacks in 1938 along with Ramalli, named him as “one of the first Aboriginals to play for Australia”, but did not provide documentary evidence of the assertion: “‘Jockey’ Kelaher who replaced Howard in the final Test of the series said Howard was an Aboriginal.”

For this reason, presumably, Pollard mentioned Wallaby John Howard as a player of Aboriginal descent but did not make a claim for him to be officially recognised like Ramalli.

Coming from New Zealand – where a Maori, Dave Gage, was the first captain of a national side, where the first superstar of New Zealand rugby, George Nepia, was a Maori, and where the national Maori side is ranked only one position down from the All Blacks and has played Test rugby – it was a surprise that Aboriginals and aspects of their culture, which contributed strongly to the local game, received little acknowledgement.

I discussed this matter a lot with Pollard and with Professor Tatz, a South African-born academic who pioneered major studies into Aboriginal sporting stars.

The fact is it was not unusual for people of Aboriginal origin to hide their background when they were players. This is what Ramalli did, after all.

These discussions, a lot of research, and much thinking culminated in an article I wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2000, for which a clever sub gave the heading: “Prejudice and a Wallaby called John Howard”.

The article made the case for Howard being acknowledged, officially, as the first Indigenous Wallaby:

“Rugby, generally, despite its unthinking acceptance of the Aboriginal stereotype, has a good record of its treatment of Aboriginal players. Even when it was an amateur game, it tried to be inclusive. It gave representative caps to outstanding Aboriginal players when, say, cricket did its best to force them out of the game.

“Most of the following information which supports this thesis comes from two outstanding books research, Black Diamonds by Colin (text) and Paul Tatz (photos), and Australian Rugby: The Game and the Players by Jack Pollard.

“The title of Black Diamonds is taken from an item in a sporting magazine which in 1879 reported that an unnamed ‘sable party’ from North Queensland had turned his back on ‘money, baccy and grog, to run professionally.

“‘There’s a gold mine in this black diamond,’ the magazine noted. This news item provides an explanation why some Aboriginal athletes, right up to the present day, are unwilling to be known as Aborigines. They have not wanted to face up to the hostility other Aborigines have to endure.

“Like many gays, and for the same sort of reasons, they have been reluctant to be outed.

“This seems to be the case with John Howard whom Jack Pollard names in his rugby history as the first Aborigine to play rugby for Australia … Howard played for Queensland in 1937 and for the Wallabies in the first two Tests against the All Blacks in 1938. (Cecil Ramalli played in the second and third Tests in 1938).

“Howard, who was known to his friends as ‘Jack’ or ‘Blondie’, was described as a ‘solid, strong-running winger’ by Ian Diehm in his history of Queensland rugby, Red! Red! Red!

“Diehm quotes a teammate, Cyril Andrews, saying: ‘He certainly was no Aborigine. They’ve got him mixed up with Bernie Howard.’

“But Pollard is sure of his research. The winger Howard displaced in the Wallabies, John ‘Jockey’ Kelaher, and Joe French, a former president of the ARU and a teammate of Howard’s, told him that they ‘were adamant that Howard was an Aborigine.’

“Unfortunately, the records relating to Howard have been lost. According to Pollard, he is believed to have died in a prisoner-of-war camp, but the army has no record of him.”

Was John Howard the first Aboriginal Wallaby?

The fact he was nicknamed ‘Blondie’, an example possibly of Aussie laidback irony, is more a positive than negative in establishing his Indigenous claims. As also is the witness of Joe French, one of the great rugby administrators and characters coming out of Queensland.

With Cecil Ramalli now rightly restored to the pantheon, it is perhaps time for some deep research into John Howard’s life story.

But, unlike the case of Ramalli, there is no direct evidence from the player himself.

The fact is it was not unusual for people of Aboriginal origin to hide their background when they were players. This is what Ramalli did, after all.

Aborigines had virtually had no civil rights in the 1930s. They could not vote. The Aborigines Protection Board, with its unfettered power of the movements of Aborigines, particularly in Queensland, ‘protected’ many from living a satisfying life in the wider community. And Wallaby John Howard was a Queenslander.

Aborigines could be placed in missions or reserves and forced to try and conduct a sporting career, such as the unfortunate fast bowler Eddie Gilbert attempted, with the active hostility of administrators.

Howard would have had very good reason, therefore, for trying to hide his background, and his teammates, like French, collaborated in the deception while providing a wink-wink with his nickname.

With Cecil Ramalli now rightly restored to the pantheon, it is perhaps time for some deep research into John Howard’s life story to establish definitively, if possible, whether is he actually the first of Australia’s ‘Black Diamonds’.

Professor Tatz’s Black Diamonds was launched at the SCG by the brightest of the Diamonds, Mark Ella – my favourite Wallaby.

Ella told the audience that he got angry when people spouted the nonsense that he and his brothers were stereotypical Aboriginal ‘naturals’. Hours of practice, a toughness of mind and body, flair, imagination, and a great deal of thinking about rugby tactics and strategy, he insisted (correctly), were the key to the ‘Ella Magic’.

It was hard work, in other words, that made the Ellas look like naturals.

He also attacked another false stereotype, that the best Aboriginal players relied on sheer speed and instinctive skills but were flighty and inclined to go ‘walkabout’ under pressure.

When Ella was making these comments, the only recognised Wallaby Aborigines were backs: Lloyd McDermott, Mark Ella, Gary Ella, Glen Ella, Lloyd Walker and Andrew Walker.

The ‘speed and skills’ stereotype was broken in June 2000, when Jim Williams, a big (193cm and 115kg), tough loose forward with a high work-rate was named for the Wallabies to play Argentina at Ballymore.

Jim Williams for Australia attempts to break a tackle

Jim Williams was the first Indigenous Australian to play in the forwards for the Wallabies. (Image: Hamish Blair/ALLSPORT)

The first Indigenous Wallaby to play in the forwards, Williams has since been joined by Matt Hodgson and the Fainga’a brothers – the latter three all being relentless, on-the-ball forwards, totally shattering the stereotype of the ‘walkabout’ tendency.

On the morning of the 2017 Brisbane Test, Mark Ella wrote a hard-hitting column in the Australian, making some pointed comments about the lack of respect for Indigenous players shown by the Australian rugby community over many decades:

“Other major Australian sporting codes, particularly Australian rules and rugby league, have for many years honoured the contributions of Indigenous players. The ARU are finally catching up.

“I am not sure why it has taken rugby so long to recognise Indigenous participation but it is better to be acknowledged than not at all.

“I note with interest that my brothers Glen and Gary were in Brisbane on Thursday for the appropriate picture opportunities and Wallabies Indigenous jumper presentation, which I hope gives the Wallabies a little more to think about leading into today’s match against the All Blacks.

“I should have been there myself alongside my brothers, but I couldn’t help thinking that this is a novelty rather than a sincere effort from our leading body to acknowledge the 14 Indigenous players from the total of 914 players to have worn the Wallabies jersey…

“The fact only 14 Indigenous players in the history of Australian rugby have represented their country doesn’t fill my heart with much joy when you look at how many Maori have played for the All Blacks over the past 100 years.”

Some weeks earlier, in another hard-hitting Australian column, Mark Ella wrote about the experiences of his brother Glen in trying to get a coaching job in Australia and the hostility he faced, even from Michael Cheika, when he highlighted the lack of skills the current Wallabies last year:

“Glen, who as we all know was seconded to help the Poms by his close friend Eddie Jones, was writing for a website in Australia that was getting picked up by the mainstream papers.

“That is not unusual but it really irked Wallaby coach Michael Cheika, mainly because Glen kept on emphasising the obvious lack of skill level with Australian ­professional players and Super Rugby teams.

“Leading up to the Test series against England, Cheika also went out of his way to mention the learned opinion from my brother would have no direct influence on the Wallabies once they got into camp.

“Well what an embarrassing statement that was as the Wallabies lost the England series 3-0 and only won six out of 15 matches last year.”

The punchline in this attack, aside from the obvious point that Glen Ella’s coaching of skills to the England players was superior to the coaching in the Wallabies camp, is that he has been constantly rejected by Australian franchises and the national team from being appointed to a coaching role.

England were prepared to use Glen Ella. But not Australia.

Glenn Ella with Eddie Jones

Glen Ella helped England to a 3-0 whitewash over the Wallabies in 2016. (Photo by Tim Anger)

For about 20 years, Mark Ella has been invited to present Test jerseys to the Wallabies. Each time he declined. But last year, before the third Test against England, his old friend Michael Cheika convinced him to do the honours.

“I have been a bit removed from the Wallabies and Australian rugby, so maybe it was an opportunity for me to bite the bullet and become more sociable,” he told the Daily Telegraph’s Iain Payten.

But this was a one-off concession. His articles in the Australian leading up to the Brisbane Test have continued to be unyielding about the way the rugby authorities have neglected Indigenous players and coaches.

The disappointment is personal, I would think. In May 2016, it was reported that Mark Ella would co-chair the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cricket Advisory Committee.

You have to ask yourself why Rugby Australia has not offered Mark Ella, an Australian rugby legend, a similar advisory role.

And then we have the case of Lloyd McDermott.

The first Wallaby to acknowledge the fact that he was an Aborigine when he was capped against the All Blacks in 1962, McDermott did attend Bledisloe 3. However, he made it clear in an interview with the Herald that his rugby career had been fraught with prejudice:

“Yes, there was racism. A bit of in-your-face racism and a fair bit of racism behind your back. I found that it was at the school and club level, racism was more prevalent,” McDermott said.

“When you played at state or international level, I never experienced any racism. A lot of the great rugby union players were black; Maori or Fijian or Samoan. It was more or less in the lower codes I experienced racism.”

So the sad truth is that three early standout Aboriginal Wallabies – Cecil Ramalli, Lloyd McDermott and Mark Ella – were confronted with prejudice about their race.

kurtley beale lloyd mcdermott gary ella indigenous jersey launch

This prejudice is the original sin of Australian rugby.

Rugby, admittedly, inherited this stain along with all the other institutions and sporting codes in our national life. But for too long, this prejudice festered within the Australian rugby community when other sporting codes like AFL, rugby league and even cricket pushed forward with positive policies and appointments designed to right previous wrongs.

The earliest recognition in the rugby community that there was something wrong with Australia’s treatment of its Indigenous peoples and that something needed to be done about this shame came from the first truly great Wallaby captain.

Dr Herbert Moran, the forthright and thoughtful skipper of the 1908 national side – which won an Olympic gold medal at the London Games – set the standard of intelligence, honesty, excellent play and leadership, on and off the field, that created the template for future Wallaby leaders.

As captain of Australia, he was determined to promote rugby’s inclusive ethic to improve the condition and status of Indigenous peoples in the Commonwealth.

This determination collided with the Australian rugby authorities’ requirement that his team perform an Aboriginal dance before his team’s matches.

For too long, this prejudice festered within the Australian rugby community when other sporting codes pushed forward.

They wanted a ‘native dance’ along the lines of the Haka performed by the touring 1905 All Blacks and the Zulu dance by the 1906 Springboks.

Dr Moran hid behind the ranks of his teammates when they did their dance, a photograph of which Jack Pollard once showed from his archive.

On his return to Australia, Dr Moran forced the abolition of the dance, which remains in place to this day.

In his excellent history Wallaby Gold: 100 Years of Australian Test Rugby, journalist and author Peter Jenkins quotes Dr Moran’s full statement – taken from the latter’s brilliant autobiography Viewless Winds – that states in unequivocal terms why he had no enthusiasm for the Aboriginal war dance:

“The memory of the war-cry provokes anger in me even after all these years. The New Zealanders always performed their antics before the beginning of the match: but after all it was in the Maori tradition to lash themselves into some sort of fury by this picturesque method of self suggestion. In Australia, on the other hand, no club ever adopted a war cry except as comic relief. Now we were being asked to remind British people of the miserable remnants of a race which they had dispossessed and we had maltreated or neglected. We were officially expected to leap up in the air and make foolish gestures which somebody thought Australian natives might have used in similar circumstances, and we were also given meaningless words which we were to utter savagely during this pantomime. I refused to lead the wretched caricature of a native corroboree, and regularly hid myself among the team, a conscientious objector. None of the men liked it.”

After the famous victory at Brisbane, these supportive messages for the special jersey initiative appeared on Twitter.

In August 2010, the Wallabies played the All Blacks at Christchurch, with three players of Aboriginal descent in the starting line-up: fullback Kurtley Beale, centre Anthony Fainga’a and his twin brother and hooker, Saia Fainga’a.

An Aborigine, Jim Williams, was on the coaching staff.

Is it a coincidence that the head coach of the Wallabies at the time was Robbie Deans, a New Zealander? Deans, anyway, made it one of his projects to rehabilitate Beale as a player and a person. He spent time, for instance, kayaking with Beale on Sydney Harbour as part of this healing process.

The Wallabies side that ran out onto the field wearing the Indigenous jersey at Brisbane contained only one Indigenous player, Beale. This outcome raises the question whether the push for respect for Indigenous players that Deans was concerned to maintain has been thwarted slightly in the last six years.

The best answer to Mark Ella’s challenge to Rugby Australia to prove its support for Indigenous players is “not a novelty” is this: make the Indigenous Wallaby jersey the official outfit for Australia’s national rugby team for every Test, and not just once a year.

wallabies indigenous jersey haka

Written by Spiro Zavos.

Spiro is a founding writer on The Roar, and long-time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that ran for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

Editing by Joe Frost and Daniel Jeffrey

Design by Daniel Jeffrey

Lead image credit: Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

Images of Australia versus New Zealand in Brisbane credit: AAP

Image of Lloyd McDermott, Kurtley Beale and Gary Ella credit: Matt King/Getty Images

Comments (85)

Leave a Reply

  • Poth Ale said | November 16th 2017 @ 5:49am

    Absolutely agree. The new Australia jersey is a winner design. Keep it.

    And I want to get my hands on one.

  • Grandslamfan said | November 16th 2017 @ 5:51am

    This is an excellent and thoroughly detailed piece of research by Spiro Zavos.

    For decades I have become depressed at Rugby Test matches as we observe the following;

    New Zealand All Blacks – sing their National anthem twice and then perform the Haka!
    South African Springboks – sing their National Anthem three times and usually have some Zulu warriors performing around the ground at home matches

    Australia sings its National Anthem only once.

    Some forward thinking individual in New Zealand Rugby in the 1970’s decided to elevate the HAKA of that era from a pathetic half-hearted token gesture by an poorly choreographed team into the current awe and fear inspiring, cultural performance of the modern era.

    I would also like to see the Indigenous community take greater control of the Welcome to Country ceremony and consider increased cultural content. An Indigenous Australian version of the HAKA may be too hard to conceptualize but worthy of some creative thought?

    Surely Rugby Australia can conceive of some short, but high impact piece of Indigenous culture in support of our national Rugby team?

    I applaud the indigenous Wallaby Jersey and also hope that Rugby Australia will move to forge a closer bond with the Indigenous community in the hope that more young players can see a career path in Rugby as opposed to AFL, Soccer or Rugby League.

    The Indigenous Jersey looked great and the players all appeared to take great inspiration from its symbolic importance. I remarked to many of my contemporaries (old rugby tragics) that I would support it being adopted by Rugby Australia as the permanent jersey. This opinion was also widely supported by many of my generation.

    In my opinion the indigenous Jersey was superior in every aspect to some versions of the Wallaby Jersey to which we were exposed when the design was tendered on a rotational basis to Jersey suppliers/manufacturers such as Reebok.

    • Paulo said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:54am

      “An Indigenous Australian version of the HAKA may be too hard to conceptualize but worthy of some creative thought?”

      The danger is if they try to invent culture. Culture does constantly change and evolve over time, but respecting the past means you shouldnt try to invent something and then place some sort of cultural significance on it. I dont know much about First Australian culture, but I dont think there an equivalent to the Haka there. Not to say something else couldnt be used, so long as it has actual cultural sigificance and isnt an invented peice of marketing.

      • Playerfromwayback said | November 16th 2017 @ 9:04am

        Years ago my son had a book called “John Eales Rugby Facts and Fun for Kids”. I found it very interesting that up until some time in the 1930’s the Wallabies did in fact have an indigenous war dance, however the Captain of the time (Dave Cowper?) refused to perform it and so it ended the tradition. I read that book about 12 years ago so it’s possible I could be way off the mark here, but the fact the Wallabies used to perform a pre-match war dance something that just stuck in my head.

        • grotto said | November 16th 2017 @ 3:49pm

          This is covered in Spiro’s article

      • Grandslamfan said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:25pm

        Good point, well made!

    • robert said | November 16th 2017 @ 9:17am

      for a few years we had to sit through that horrible song matilda, why did that stop it seemed to work i think you won those games against the abs

    • Gary said | November 16th 2017 @ 9:58pm

      The Welcome to Country done by the Gent in Perth this year was spot on , nice words, good song accompanied by clapping sticks , not too long and to the point – very Aussie – and I was very proud of him and us. More of that please.

    • cs said | November 17th 2017 @ 12:09am

      Thank goodness we only sing the anthem once, and it’s just an awful dirge at that!

      V. good piece Spiro. I’d quibble with some aspects of your interpretation of KB’s career, on another day. Suffice it that the best thing about his UK stint is that it’s given detractors an excuse to look again.

      Jersey would be great.

    • double agent said | November 18th 2017 @ 9:18pm

      I’m very happy that we only have one national anthem.

  • Leaguie said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:17am

    Totally agree Spiro. Make it permanent.

    I loved the Jersey and what it stands for. In my view Rugby in Australia ( which I love) needs to accept that it doesn’t represent the broader community, and needs to solve that problem.

    The real irony in this article is that if Kurtley was injured, there would be zero indigenous players in the Wallabies.

  • Not so super said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:19am

    Beale professional at 16? Are you including his scholarship to St Joseph’s as professional payment ?

  • David Weir said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:28am

    Thank you Spiro Zavos for such an informative and thought provoking article and history. I agree with you about the Indigenous Wallaby jersey. I’d love to see it become the official jersey.

  • Harry Jones said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:34am

    Enjoyed this article very much, Spiro. Learned a lot.

    When I watch KB play, I am always struck with the sheer joy with which he goes about his business.

    Wish him the best; most of us made mistakes when we were young, and especially if we were “stars.”

  • Harry Jones said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:34am

    Enjoyed this article very much, Spiro. Learned a lot.

    When I watch KB play, I am always struck with the sheer joy with which he goes about his business.

    Wish him the best; most of us made mistakes when we were young, and especially if we were “stars.”

  • Nick Turnbull said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:53am

    I love the indigenous jersey, we have just bought our son one for Christmas. However I’m not in support of it being the Wallabies permanent.

    The Wallabies hail from many nations and ethnic origins, Moore, McMahon, Foley and Hanigan all sound like sons of Eire so why should we not have the Irish Harp or similar on the collar? Same with the Fijian lads, etc.

    However I think there is a permanent place for the indigenous jersey. I submit the jersey should be worn for the first and last tests of the season so it’s worn once at home and once abroad. It’s symbolic of the first Australians finishing as one with all Australian’s.

    Go the Wallabies!

    • Paulo said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:49am

      A little confused on your two points as they appear to conflict. One on hand you say dont use it as lots of ethnicity in the team, and then say use it occasionally to respect the First Australians.

      The push to have it permamant is tied to your second point, it respects the First Australians. That also explains why your first point is slightly off center, the jersey isnt about the current ethnic make up of the team, otherwise it would need to change each season or even weekly selection. I get where you are coming from, but this is simply about respect for the past. Which I think you get anyway.

    • Cynical Play said | November 16th 2017 @ 9:29pm

      You miss the point. It’s like saying only Maori ABs can participate in the Haka. What would your hero Alan Jones say?

  • Jimbo81 said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:19am

    The 1991 Jersey was the best.
    Maybe Beale to 10, drop Foley.


    Folau can’t kick or cover defend. Sic of compromising and scoring a try doesn’t compensate for conceding two.

    Foley is average. Can’t kick, defend, pass.

    I’d have Folau in the squad for wing injury cover.
    Radrada for bench too?

    The forward pack for 2019 picks itself:


    But what would I know. I’m sure Phipps, Robinson, Foley, Folau, Hannigan, Moore are all vastly superior??!!??

    • Phil said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:01pm

      Jimbo,what has your comment about selections got to do with this article?Some people just have to be critical,don’t they?

      • Jimbo81 said | November 16th 2017 @ 5:15pm

        The article is about honoring the contribution of Indigenous Wallabies. My first sentence rejects the notion of the indigenous jersey in favour of the best Jersey we have ever had (1991). The rest is my ideal fantasy Wallaby side. I’m advocating Beale as Wallaby playmaker – at 10. I agree with Sporo’s praise of Beale and think we could elevate his role in the team even higher. We’re spoilt for choice everywhere else and I don’t think we need Foley anymore. Slightly off topic but this is a rugby forum…

  • Drongo said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:30am

    Recognition is important and should be permanent. Every match, in some way. That does not require that particular jersey to be permanent. The jersey will change a little each year or so, as it always does these days. An indigenous element should always be incorporated.
    Recognition will lose its strength and integrity if the past is twisted. We need the truth to strengthen the message. Suggesting a Kiwi influence was responsible for indigenous involvement through Robbie Deans is an example of unhelpful distortion. As if that was his motivation. Typically Spiro can’t help himself. Pity, the article is trying to be, and generally is, supportive.
    Private rugby playing schools have a history of providing scholarships for aboriginal and islander kids. And giving them a great education. This has and is one of the main pathways for indigenous kids to a rugby union or league career. It should be recognised and applauded. This has probably done more than any other single influence.

  • Snobby Deans said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:38am

    Beale’s absence virtually handed the 2011 RWC to NZ? That’s a hell of a stretch, & complete garbage.

    He was in the 2015 final & they lost, so clearly he’s not the key you think he is.

    A bit less hyperbole & a bit more perspective wouldn’t go astray Spiro.

    • robert said | November 16th 2017 @ 9:22am

      i think it shows how good ben smith really is and even dagg cause when those guys play beale and folau go missing big time

      • Sage said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:50am

        I think it shows how precious we can be. Such a comprehensive and interesting article and your take away is petty offence about a “virtual” WC 2011 comment. A bit less preciousness and a bit more perspective may serve you better too Snobby.
        The concept and the direction with the jersey is to be applauded. Whether this is THE jersey never to change maybe not. Having significant indigenous representation on the WB jersey for evermore, absolutely. A good read Spiro, thank you.

        • Snobby Deans said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:49pm

          Sage – it wasn’t a matter of being precious. It was a stand-out comment because it’s got no basis in reality, and to even suggest that it is in any way valid is rubbish.

          It’s the sort of comment that is designed to subtly cast shade over a team’s achievement – similar to what Sean O’Brien did with his comments regarding the B&I Lions earlier this year, when he said that they would have won 3-0 if not for over-coaching. It is poor form at best and sour grapes at best.

          If Spiro had said something along the lines of “Beale’s absence was a key factor in the Wallabies not fulfilling their potential and really challenging the All Blacks”, then no issues at all.

          Perhaps Spiro should have focused on their loss to Ireland in the pool match. Beale played in that game and they lost, so I struggle to see how his presence in losing to a team with a lower ranking than the All Blacks translates into his absence from the semi-final team being a key moment in their not defeating both the All Blacks, and France subsequently, to win that RWC.

          From someone with Spiro’s journalistic background, such hyperbole in the wake of a ‘monumental’ win (which is being tied inexplicably to the jersey) is a step too far.
          Perhaps the All Blacks can claim that every loss they’ve had in an alternative strip is somehow tied to not wearing the traditional & predominantly Black jersey? Far-fetched? You bet. Something an ‘irrational’ fan might postulate? You bet? Something you’d expect from an experienced rugby scribe/identity? Not at all!

          I appreciate your concern for me and my perspective. I can guarantee you, however, that it’s totally not necessary. I’ve called out similar comments before when they’ve been made, irrespective of whether it’s against the All Blacks or any other team.

          • Adsa said | November 16th 2017 @ 2:58pm

            Well said Snobby, I cannot fault your points. I don’t think Spiro made a good argument for keeping the jersey permanent, just thick on emotion and thin on reason.

          • Sage said | November 16th 2017 @ 3:12pm

            No. Perhaps a stand out comment to those who look too hard at times to take offence. Spiro is a Kiwi and his support for the darkness is well known. You reading into it that the reference was “designed” by him to cast a shadow over the AB achievement is tosh. Him tying the Bled 3 win to the jersey is his opinion & may or may not be 100% correct but it was explained quite well so it being inexplicable to you is more about comprehension than content.
            It isn’t concern I have. It’s more irritation that a great story like this about Aboriginal recognition stimulates certain people to take offence over nothing, yet again. So, I disagree, in my opinion it is a very good example of preciousness and a totally unwarranted response.

            • Snobby Deans said | November 16th 2017 @ 4:04pm

              Mate, I think you’re the one being precious here. I read similar comments to mine on the site, so clearly I’m not alone in that thinking.

              Saying Spiro is a Kiwi is a step too far mate, even for you. He is a true blue Wallaby supporter, and to think otherwise is fanciful.

              I get the feeling that my comment was a sitting duck for you to have a crack. His comment re Beale and 2011 was ridiculous and being a comments section, I called it out. The comment “virtually” suggests that Beale’s presence in the semi-final would have resulted in Australia winning that RWC. What an absolute load of tosh, and you taking me to task for that is a case of someone looking too hard to take offense.

              I’ve no doubt you’ll come back with a further justification and subtle indignation, but I suggest you save it for someone who, unlike me, actually sees any value in your trivial need to condemn a valid comment.

              As a foot note: I didn’t read the whole article, so there’s no doubt more in there that you can use to bash me, but given that that has nothing to do with my comment, I’ll dutifully ignore it.

              Thanks again, and pass on my best to the poor sap whom you choose to aim your indignation.

            • Sage said | November 16th 2017 @ 5:03pm

              Pointless exercise now and not a problem. I think your input diminishes a good story unnecessarily. You don’t so no surprises there.
              Lets move on before we both feel bashed

            • moaman said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:51pm

              Well said Sage.
              One of the most interesting articles I have read from Spiro.
              Snobby must not read many of them because Spiro has a penchant for sweeping statements predicting what might have been.
              This piece is about far weightier matters than a quibble about member size.

  • Connor33 said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:51am

    Excellent article — and the point re Deans was insightful.

    • moaman said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:53pm

      ‘Inciteful’ to some!

      • Sweet Caroline said | November 16th 2017 @ 9:55pm

        How so, moaman? Didn’t it just show the work that Robbie Deans put in to try and work in Beale to help him develop as a person?

  • Onside said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:52am

    A good yarn Spiro. Will the 14 circles eventually become say, 28, more ?

    As the years go by there will be many more Wallabies of aboriginal descent.

  • Sherry said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:58am

    Great essay Spiro, Joe and Daniel. Heartfelt sentiments very well expressed. Absolutely agree the indig jersey should be the permanent one. It’s not only uniquely Australian, it also happens to be a great design.

  • Paul Nicholls said | November 16th 2017 @ 8:07am

    What a pleasant surprise to come across this article this morning. Some very sobering stories there. Great work, Spiro and the Roar team

  • Bill said | November 16th 2017 @ 8:09am

    I agree the jersey should become permanent as it shows respect towards the first Australians. While the team is a mix of cultures however like the ABs they are acknowledging the original land owners.

  • Bill said | November 16th 2017 @ 8:10am

    BTW the buggie smugglers are a winner as well

    • Paulo said | November 16th 2017 @ 11:23am

      Would be an interesting game if they started playing in just those…

  • sheek said | November 16th 2017 @ 9:30am


    Great article, truly great article. Much too good an article of passion & ideas for the likes of the clowns running Australian rugby.

    I certainly agree, the Aboriginal design jersey should become the permanent Wallaby jersey.

    Stuff the marketeers!

    • Sluggy said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:06am

      Well said sheek, but I wish the yellow had more of a gold hue to it.

      @ Onside – add the 15th and freeze it there. Gives the “1st XV” under the badge two meanings.

      And I can’t be bothered responding to Jimbo.

      • Onside said | November 16th 2017 @ 3:42pm

        Good idea Sluggy.

      • sheek said | November 16th 2017 @ 5:09pm


        I suspect either the Socceroos or Kangaroos will beat the Wallabies to an indigenous designed permanent national jersey.

        The people running Australian rugby appear to be challenged both mentally & emotionally.

  • cm said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:13am

    Good to see your byline, Spiro. I was worried you’d retired! Great article, too. I agree the indigenous jersey should be permanent.

    But no kudos to the ARU marketing team. I went online to buy one on the night of Bledisloe III. Sold out! So I emailed to complain about their ineptitude and lack of foresight in failing to see demand would spike once we saw the jersey in action.

    A few days later, the ARU marketers emailed to say more were available. Sadly, I’d left my wallet at home and by the time I got back from work they were sold out again. Genius!

    Since then, we’ve been offered a nice-enough looking scarf (but not what I want), which today I see has been joined by indigenous jerseys for kids and women. But no men’s jerseys.

    With that sort of pathetic commitment to making the jersey available, I fear for the sincerity of any ARU efforts to honour our First People. A tokenistic, artificial “dance”? Spare me. Herbert Moran had the right attitude and appropriate respect.

  • Col said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:29am

    Spiro, A pleasure to read. Thank you, you do your journo mob proud by writing quality….

  • Ronaldo said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:53am

    You’ve done yourself proud Spiro. A lot of history here that’s woven into the modern day to what I will call the “Kurtley Jersey”.

    Thanks for the education on Cecil Ramalli. I did not know about him.

    I would love to see the three Ella magicians involved in Aussie rugby. Are we so blessed with talent that we allow these guys to grow fat & old without making their special contributions?

    On our latest indigenous special player … I’ve noticed a big change in Kurtley since he returned from the UK & not just on the field where he has so obviously “grown” but his personna in interviews. He seems to be comfortable in his own skin now. He talks with new clarity … yeah when he talks now he’s not just moving his lips … he is actually saying something. He’s come a long way & he is going further. He has some achievements yet to come. Kurtley has always had the natural talent but now he is applying it with heart & soul. Great work Kurtley.

    Also … how lucky the Wallabies are to have the ‘Cape Rodney” (Papua) dynamo back from the UK. Playing great rugby Will Genia. Glad you’re a Wallaby & not a “Puk Puk”.

  • AJ said | November 16th 2017 @ 11:19am

    Once a year is a good, combined with a celebration of original Australia’s history and culture.

    Maybe a permanent change of the wallaby emblem to an aboriginal art style?

  • Rebellion said | November 16th 2017 @ 11:52am

    On Beale you wrote:
    “He had a brilliant 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament and his absence in the semi-final final virtually handed the Test – and the Cup – to the All Blacks.”

    That’s recreating history of i’ve ever seen it.

    I’d say Beale was ‘brilliant’ in the 2010 international season, ‘reasonable’ in the 2011 season and ‘somewhere between good & absolutely dire’ during 2012-2013. In 2014 his game progressed some, he was ‘very good’ in 2015 and ‘close to outstanding’ in 2017.

    If anyone’s absence from the 2011 RWC SF sealed the Wallabies fate it was David Pocock (though I seriously doubt it would’ve affected the outcome)

    • Andy Thompson said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:48pm

      David Pocock played in the 2011 RWC SF. He was completely nullified by the All Blacks who hit him with two players at every ruck.

      • Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | November 17th 2017 @ 5:41am

        Sometimes legally?
        Spiro, I cannot remember a better article from you, or a more pertinent one. This is solid gold. Sure there was a little Lilly gilding in Beale’s 2011 RWC absence but that aside, brilliant.

        The great thing about thorough historical research (which you have compiled here)is that it forces a detractor to present their own, in order to offer an alternate opinion. Of course everyone is entitled to their social/political opinion, but sadly so many of them are historically ignorant.
        As a rugby fan since the 60’s, a lower grade player who once took the field by happenstance against the brilliant Mark Ella in his prime, and a long time student of Aboriginal history, this article surprised me. I had never heard of Ali Ram, nor of John Howard.
        Thank you for working so hard to unearth this portion of uncomfortable truth about our code and our nation.
        To those who insanely bleat the red herring ‘ I will not be made to feel guilty for the sins of my forebears’, there remains many questions unanswered. One of which is ‘why can we not pay due respect today?’
        And another, why has not the record been officially set straight on Ali Ram and John Howard?
        (And while we are at it we could look closer at Bennelong and Pemulwuy).
        Spiro, thank you for this article. It is an example of the social honesty that Australians should be grateful to certain NZers for.
        This Australian is grateful.
        Keep the jersey.

        • Sage said | November 17th 2017 @ 10:57am

          Good response KCOL. Same page mate.

  • Gordo said | November 16th 2017 @ 12:22pm

    Anthony Fainga’a isn’t a forward.

    100% agree the jersey should be worn regularly, though the marketing people will always want changes to make sales. Hopefully it can be the jersey for the next world cup at least.

  • wag said | November 16th 2017 @ 12:37pm

    Totally agree with your jersey suggestion, Spiro.

    On a related issue, NZ not only have the Haka to add to their pre-match national anthem, but their anthem is sung in Maori then in English. And the South African anthem is sung in THREE languages.

    So why isn’t advance Australia Fair sung in one of the Aboriginal languages, as well as in English?

    To that end, there is already an Aboriginal version of our National Anthem available — written and sung by that great legendary Aussie historian and singer/songwriter, Ted Egan AO.
    I would suggest that the ARU (Rugby Australia) contact Ted at his Alice Springs home (P.O. Box 1694 Alice Springs) ASAP.

  • Machooka said | November 16th 2017 @ 12:43pm

    Excellent read Spiro… stirring stuff!

    I have already said, here on the Roar, that I would love for this present ‘indigenous jersey’ to be the Wallaby strip, and not just once a year, but permanently. I firmly believe it’s the right thing to do… as it connects ALL Australians. Further, it also recognises our cultural past, sadly something that is still amiss in our ongoing history.

    I do not know why people would want to object to this recognition as it is historically fact. And when I look at the NZs and the SAs of the world, I feel how disappointing that Australia hasn’t done similar and embraced our cultural past by such a simple token of incorporation of that on our national jersey.

    Anyhow, others might disagree but this little Vegemite is most keen to see more done on incorporating our cultural history on a more permanent basis.

    Again, thanks Spiro for a fine article… and would just add that this sorta stuff is unquestionably your forte.

    Bravo sir!

  • Reg Mowat said | November 16th 2017 @ 12:54pm

    A wonderful article and I agree the jersey or one which uses aboriginal motifs should be retained for all matches in future.
    I am old enough to remember my disappointment when the Springboks misappropriated our colours, I didn’t remember the year though but I’m happy with “Gold” now and I think the Brisbane test jersey should be adopted in future.

  • Stephen Chen said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:19pm

    There is one race. The human race.

    But by all means continue to divide and conquer to suit your own ends…

    • Ozinsa said | November 16th 2017 @ 2:20pm

      Is that really what you took from this article? Sad.

    • Cynical Play said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:29pm

      Pathetic response.

    • Taylorman said | November 17th 2017 @ 5:41am

      Thats already happened…this is about redressing that fact. You make a valid point without actually knowing it.

  • Marjorie Stewart said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:23pm

    A brilliant article. The Indigenous Wallabies Jersey should remain forever more.

  • Who Needs Melon said | November 16th 2017 @ 1:51pm

    Agreed. Keep it. Not just because it looks good. Part of our identity and we should honour those we mistreated for so long and almost erased by NOT erasing them from the jersey.

  • Col Vaughan said | November 16th 2017 @ 3:04pm

    Spiro, that is the most important of the many fine articles you have written about Rugby.
    It would be so valuable if it could also find publication in the mainstream media.
    I think that it is also important that the ARU and the whole rugby community acknowlede that, aside from the enormous contribution of the 14 “black diamonds”, aboriginal players have enhanced our great game at all levels from the city to the bush.

  • WEK said | November 16th 2017 @ 3:31pm

    No way. The jersey proceeded Aborigines playing. It is bad enough we had to convert from green to appease the Springboks. Traditon is a single or jersey. No more alterations we start to loose the significance. Just look at the variations almost every week in NRL there is no such thing as a traditional NRL jersey.

    • Cynical Play said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:33pm

      Tradition is over-rated. Strength comes from roots. This land was Aboriginal land for 50,000 years. Unquestionably. The jersey is strong and meaningful. judging by the photos, the players grew taller just wearing it. The photo facing the Haka says they were not going to lose this one.

      • Taylorman said | November 17th 2017 @ 5:42am


  • Cassia said | November 16th 2017 @ 4:39pm

    Really enjoyed the article Spiro a pleasant surprise today.
    Australian Rugby turned a corner this year and got up off the canvass.
    The Jersey and KB were part of the improvement.

  • Crazy Horse said | November 16th 2017 @ 5:23pm

    Great article Spiro. I love this jersey and wholehartedly agree that it should be pemanently adopted. Perhaps with the national flag or crest worked into the design to include us all.

  • Geoff Parkes said | November 16th 2017 @ 5:23pm

    Thanks Spiro. It’s a compelling argument which you make with both heart and a deft hand.

  • Sheriff said | November 16th 2017 @ 6:21pm

    Great article. I had the honour as a kid on Sydney’s lower north shore to be coached by Jack Pollard. A Gentleman and a true Rugby man

  • Cynical Play said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:28pm

    Dear Spiro

    I pay tribute to you. This article is, without doubt in my mind, the best article I have read on Rugby in this country in recent memory. As resounding and poignant and relevant as your words are, the accompanying photos make me indescribably proud to a part of the same Rugby community, and to be proud that the indigenous and Pacific island Australian players are such a big part of the game.

    I salute you Spiro.

  • mark conley said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:32pm

    Best i have read for a long time, thanks Spiro

  • Mick McGrail said | November 16th 2017 @ 7:44pm

    I have been to All Black Tests in most of the Rugby stadiums in the world and was fortunate to be at the Cake tin in Wellington to witness one of the finest openings to a test match I have ever seen.

    Bledisloe Cup- 2 – 2000 .

    Packed stadium and the announcer called for silence , followed by the sound of the didgeridoo reverberating on loud speakers all around the stadium ,it stunned the crowd .
    Then the announcer said – Ladies and Gentlemen John Eales and the Wallabies, and out they came from the tunnel ,it was awesome ,and I,m an All Black fan .

    • Cynical Play said | November 16th 2017 @ 8:45pm

      THAT should be permanent. THAT should be our HAKA. Thank you for mentioning it.

    • Ken Catchpole's Other Leg said | November 17th 2017 @ 6:28am

      Thank you Mick.
      I have noticed something since the unveiling of the Brisbane kit, and you have just reaffirmed it here.
      Many NZers love indigenous culture, even Australian indigenous culture.
      And perhaps Australia’s lack of indigenous acknowledgement and celebration is a sticking point between the two societies, a significant portion of the occasional ‘nastiness’ between the cheap seats on both sides.
      Since the Brisbane test I have noted the volume of grace and encouragement offered by NZ commentators towards the Wallaby Indigenous Jersey and celebration of Aboriginal culture.

      Australian authorities obsessed with marketing alone, let alone cultural respect, would be unwise to ignore ‘the Kiwi vote’.
      Thanks for your memory, Mick. I wish I was there. Was that the wobbly kick for the win by Eales?

    • Peter O'Donnell said | November 20th 2017 @ 2:53pm

      I remember that test and the atmosphere that didgeridoo introduction created.. shivers up the spine. That’s what recognition of 65,000 years of aboriginal culture can bring to this sport.

  • Metalisticpain said | November 16th 2017 @ 10:10pm

    Agreed. Great jersey.

  • John Hoffman said | November 16th 2017 @ 11:00pm

    For years I have read many rugby articles for the Roar as I appreciate the honesty of assessments of matches, players, politics and the codes overviews. I have never written anything to comment to date. However now, I applaud Spiro on such a comprehensive article that evokes sadness,
    hope and appreciation of this game’s heritage. Thank you

  • Doug dew said | November 16th 2017 @ 11:16pm

    Couldn’t agree more

  • Tim Power said | November 17th 2017 @ 6:09am

    You are a brilliant writer Spiro. Insightful, concise, well researched and inspiring. I have enjoyed your articles for many years. This is one of your finest. Thanks.

    Incidentally, I had Mark Ella’s book on running rugby when I was at school. I read it over and over as we played flatline running rugby the Cyril Towers way. We learnt that we could win games using our brains and outsmarting the opposition. Every budding young rugby player should be given this book. Would you write something like this for young kids learning the game?

  • Christo the Daddyo said | November 17th 2017 @ 8:08am

    I’m open to an indigenous jersey being used on occasions, but not as a permanent solution.

    Why can’t we keep it simple – all gold (and keep it the same colour) jersey, green shorts?

    If it works for the All Blacks…

  • Margaret Freemantle said | November 17th 2017 @ 3:41pm

    Of course we need the jersey as a permanent fixture to recognise who owns this land.Please dont say that it has anything to do with winning or losing though!!!!

  • Tamworth said | November 17th 2017 @ 8:46pm

    Spiro’s article and mention of Gage as the Maori captain of the first national NZ team prompted me to dust off a couple of books in my bookshelf. T.R.Ellison, N Z captain 1893,wrote what might be our first instruction manual. In it he states that Jack Taiaroa (his cousin) was the great running player of his day. The NZ Native Team oF 1888 placed 108 games in the UK and Australia over 54 weeks (16 Travelling) they even played the “Victorian game” with limited success but did beat South Melbourne.
    In another book by Irwin Hunter, whose on own playing days were in Otago in the 1880s, but the book finishes about the time of the 1924 Invincibles, he too pays tribute to the many Maori players in that period.
    Some of this is before the end of the last Maori War (Te Kooti’s war) .
    Hopefully Kurtly B. and the Ella’s who were the one off indigenous players of our times will be followed by many more.
    Slightly off Spiro’ article, but an excuse to look at the past.

  • Chaz said | November 17th 2017 @ 9:41pm

    Fascinating and heartfelt article Spiro, further enhanced by many excellent comments. A great illustration of how team sports in general and rugby in particular can improve itself and also show the potential to better society as a whole. As someone with little knowledge of the issues raised, I can only say that it was a privilege having KB playing in the Premiership for a season.
    Really looking forward to Saturday. Against the ABs it’s always more in hope than expectation, but England Wallabies, who knows? Will it be a repeat of 1987, 1998, 1991, 2015 or will it be 1988, 1995, 2007, 2010, 2016?

  • Schuey said | November 19th 2017 @ 6:03am

    I emailed the ARU after the game to keepthe jersey. Heres hoping.