The Story of the Real First Eleven
The first Australian cricket team to tour England was a group of Aboriginal stockmen. This is their story.
Mark Greenwood's award-winning books examining history, myths and legends have been honoured in Australia and internationally. Simpson and His Donkey was a CBCA Honour Book. Jandamarra, illustrated by Terry Denton, was shortlisted for the CBCA Eve Pownall and the NSW Premier's Literary Awards. Mark often teams with his wife, illustrator Frane Lessac, to produce books that promote history as well as an understanding of multicultural issues.
Terry Denton is one of Australia's busiest literary creative forces and his work as a writer and illustrator can be found in popular children's titles such as the Gasp! books, Terry Denton's Bumper Books and the Wombat and Fox stories. His work with writer Andy Griffiths on the Just! books and the epic Treehouse series is universally loved.
It’s the 1860s in the Wimmera district of Victoria and Aboriginal stockman Unaarrimin (aka Johnny Mullagh) is watching the white settlers play “a curious game called cricket”. When he is invited to play he hits the ball so hard he splits the redgum bat! And so begins the remarkable story of the first Aboriginal cricket team and the first Australian team to tour England. Johnny introduced his fellow stockmen to the game and they were so good that soon they were beating the local white settler teams and invited to play in the city at the MCG! An English cricketer, Charles Lawrence spotted them, recognised their potential and proposed a tour of England. But his plans were thwarted when the Board for the Protection of Aborigines refused to let them go claiming “These men might not survive the voyage.”
Undaunted and driven by the money-making opportunity of the novelty of such a team, Lawrence did not give up, continuing to coach them and all the while hatching a secret plan to smuggle Johnny and his mates to England. After eight days of sneaking through Victoria to Queenscliff, they were taken by longboat to a steamer bound for Sydney and from there, under the cover of darkness they boarded the Parramatta bound for England.
The tour of England was both triumphant and tragic. Viewed initially with fascination and later admired for their ability, the team played 47 games in six months with 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws. Mullagh scored 1,698 runs and took 245 wickets. But racism reared its head, Bripumyarrimin (King Cole) got sick and died, the players were tired and they were all homesick. And so they returned to Australia, but unlike today’s teams, “there was no triumphant welcome” - and each, apart from Mullagh, went their own way back to the bush and anonymity, at home in their country.
Mark Greenwood is the master of telling the back story, the unknown or unheralded truth of those who should be Australian heroes, and this book is no different. Once again he stands up for the Aboriginal people who were denied their identity, their heritage and their dignity to shine a light on our original cricketing heroes, and bringing to life a team of characters and personalities, not just facts and statistics. Who knew they had to sneak out of the country like criminals? Who knew they donned traditional gear at the end of the match to entertain crowds with their “tricks” so they could make a little extra money?
Terry Denton also brings each of the players to life with his iconic illustrations. Double page spreads, vignettes – each one helps the reader picture the action as well as the emotions. Even though the text is written in the third-person in a ‘reporter-like’ fashion, the astute reader marries both words and pictures to get to the purpose that drives this story-telling. The endpapers are poignant – showing the delight and excitement of the cricketers as they leave on their long sea voyage to the individual portraits that gives each a name and an identity, going a little way to restoring the dignity they deserved but didn’t get 150 years ago.
This book is rich in so many areas for discussion and investigation and comprehensive teaching notes are available at: http://www.markgreenwood.com.au/images/notes/boomerang_and_bat_notes.pdf
Barbara Braxton, Teacher Librarian, NSW
What a remarkable story of history of the first truly eleven cricketers of Australia that should be shared with all Australians. It is unfathomable now to think that when they left Australia in 1868 on this journey, it took them 3 months to arrive in England by boat and then to do should a wonderful job representing Australia in cricket and to not to be acknowledged for their efforts. They toured England for 5 months and were the first organised team of Australian cricketers to travel overseas. “There was no triumphant welcome after the long voyage home.”
A truly remarkable true story written by Mark Greenwood which could easily be used in the Australian Curriculum for either: history, geography or art purposes at both primary and secondary levels. The colours and techniques used in this book are pen and ink drawings as well as painting and would appeal to all readers; the illustrations by Terry Denton are wonderful.
I found myself so impressed by the way Johnny Mullagh, one of the cricketers, did not tolerate the racism he encountered when he was invited to afternoon tea at York where he was denied access. He stood up and refused to play further cricket stating “this day or the next” he would not play. This book could be used to view attitudes to Indigenous people historically and currently in Australia and the way the men were made to perform for the crowds after their matches.
A wonderful book to start conversations on both the way we still treat and historically treated our Indigenous people. I believe this book should be shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council awards next year and is truly a fascinating story of Indigenous people in sport in our history.
Felecia Phillips, Tasmanian eSchool, TAS
This splendid picture book conveys the vitality and amazing athleticism of our first indigenous cricketers, from 1868. Taking to the game by chance, their outstanding prowess took them from outback country stations to the MCG, and eventually to England to play the English on their home turf. Englishman Charles Laurence had spotted their talent early on and became their captain and coach.
Mark Greenwood’s vibrant, full-page pictures along with Terry Denton’s deft touch with words, bring the story to life. We can step into the shoes of Johnny Mullagh, King Cole, Mosquito and the rest – and more importantly, discover something about the indigenous man behind each name.
Walking in another’s footsteps is one of the most important journeys we can take each time we read. This is one of those books where layers of meaning open up past lives which are too easily overlooked or forgotten. Even the endpapers, with their maps and depictions of each cricketer, give us something to think about. I think any young cricket fan, and any person interested in the deeper stories behind recognizing our First Australians, would enjoy this book.
Detailed and insightful Teacher Notes are provided by Dr Robyn Sheahan-Bright on the Allen and Unwin website. Again, they give much food for thought, plus extra research – these notes are outstanding for exploring the book and the deeper issues. After reading and enjoying Boomerang and Bat, I did wonder: where are the indigenous players on our state and national cricket teams today?
Lynda Santolin, Parade College, VIC
This is an understated story telling of real events that happened in 1868, the tour of England by a team of Aboriginal cricketers. This huge story has been told using very few words and it is therefore easy to miss the substance of the story and dismiss the book. However, when explored, researched and unpicked, there is so much to base lessons on. The teachers’ notes from Allen and Unwin are invaluable. This is a deep story and students need to be encouraged to delve into the backstory.
Why was it common to Anglicise Aboriginal names? Why was there no ‘triumphant welcome’ when they came back home? These are the kinds of questions we need to be asking and talking about. Students of all backgrounds need to be exposed to this real history of Australia.
The brevity of this book enables it to be read from front to back in one sitting which makes it an ideal class text – and useful for many subjects.
Lois Best, English Teacher, VIC
This lovely picture book is such a joyful read. Somehow it avoids references to invasion, colonialism, racism, and exclusion, and instead just celebrates the relationships between men: men who love cricket; and men who can acknowledge and celebrate the skills and personalities of individuals. Boomerang and Bat, “words and brushstrokes by craftsmen Mark and Terry”, celebrates the independent spirit and the power of Sport to bring respect and the bonds of friendship between men, bonds which are unrelated to race or income. Written deceptively simply, and resonant with names and expressions which could only be Australian, the illustrations have a grace and power which bring the text to life. The addition of “mud maps” and world maps to illustrate the journeys undertaken adds an interactive dimension which will be greatly appreciated by children, and also by those adults who will want to read this book with children.
Probably intended for an audience of Primary School age boys, there are opportunities for studies at all school levels in Inter Textuality, comparing images presented by the text with any current media stories regarding indigenous sportsmen, the treatment of Aboriginal people in Colonial times, and the power of Sport today. There are also opportunities for discussion provided for studies in Australian History, and Studies of Society. Art students may appreciate the work of creating the paintings, and the simplicity of the cartoon like style, which somehow brings real personality to each character.
Parents and Grandads, or other adults who are lucky enough to share this book with a child, will be able to just enjoy the story, tracing the journeys via the maps, talking about changes in modes of travel, and the telling of ‘what happens next’ once the team returns home will satisfy the curious. The peaceful final image reminded me of a poem that I love:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
– W.B. Yeats
Helen Wilde, SA
This book is fabulous in so many ways. The game of cricket is enjoyed in many countries of the world so it is important for Australian children to see how this team of skilled Aboriginal people played a significant role in giving credit to Australia in England 1868. The skill, cheerfulness and spirit in which the team played is a great role model for any sportsperson. It is also a great example to anyone of what you can achieve if you put your heart into whatever interests you.
The maps are useful and will be useful in class activities. They show how a map can tell a story. Already I have shared these with year 5/6 students I work with and who love drawing maps. The illustrations are a great example to students in both Primary and Secondary of how a story can be told through visual literacy including the many vignettes.
The incident of refusal into the luncheon tent is a situation that can be discussed in the classroom and how racial prejudice can be such a demoralizing effect on people. Another issue for discussion is; why the Board for Protection of Aboriginal people in the 1800’s existed to care for these First Australians?
A classroom discussion could be initiated around the form of travel the team undertook to play cricket overseas in 1868 compared with forms of travel today and sports hype in the world, including the Olympic games. The issue of sickness and homesickness can be discussed when one travels overseas or just away from home and strategies for people to cope with this. The death of King Cole, whilst overseas, must have been devastating to the team and his family.
Diane Lucas, Part time teacher, Milkwood Steiner School, NT
As always Mark Greenwood and Terry Denton deliver a quality product that can challenge common perceptions. With a well written text and quirky, interesting illustrations Boomerang and Bat is a terrific addition to the classroom or home library.
The book tells the story of the ‘real First Eleven who crossed the world to take on England’s best’ in 1868. It taps into Australian history and also the history of one of our best loved sports. I wonder how many avid cricket lovers actually know this fascinating piece of history. And Mark Greenwood doesn’t gloss over some of the things that happened either. For example, “they were denied service at the luncheon tent” in York and “there was no triumphant welcome after the long journey home”. There is plenty of opportunity for enjoyment and discussion about the realities of Aboriginal life within European society, as well as the game of cricket.
One Year 3 student cricket enthusiast told me it was a terrific book but it left a few things out. He then produced researched evidence from home to support his point of view. While a good reader this young man was not prone to self-initiated research. Well done, guys!
Whether a way to share Aboriginal achievement during NAIDOC Week (or any other time of the year) or use as the start to a sport unit on cricket skills this book is worth a read. Thank you for a fascinating insight into a long forgotten story!
Colleen Thistleton, Wanniassa Hills Primary School, ACT