Aboriginal cricket teams

Aboriginal people played cricket from as early as 1868 and have travelled to England three times.

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'The Invincibles'

In the 1880s at New Norcia, a Catholic Benedictine Mission 200 kilometres north of Perth, Aboriginal people were not only trained in sheep shearing and blacksmithing, they were also introduced to the game of cricket, which would catapult them to fame as an outstanding team.

The mission’s occupants witnessed cricket being played on their trips to Perth during the wool season, and back at New Norcia they made bats and balls and played among themselves. Father Rosendo Salvado, who had founded the mission in the 1870s, recognised their prowess, and with support from a wealthy landholder the players were outfitted and trained, and thrashed white teams in Freemantle, Perth and beyond.

Their brilliant wins by huge margins would earn them the nickname ‘The Invincibles’, and they would continue to perform superbly in the 1880, 1881, 1882 and 1886 cricket seasons against the Metropolitan Cricket Club, Fremantle, Guildford, York and teams from the Victoria Plains.

Their history has been documented by Bob Reece, a Murdoch University historian, in his work The Invincibles: New Norcia’s Aboriginal Cricketers, 1879-1906.

1868 tour

Portrait of Johnny Mullagh
Johnny Mullagh.

Cricket's increasing popularity and the enthusiastic reception of the historic 1866 Boxing Day match between an Aboriginal XI and the Melbourne Cricket Club inspired a tour of England, backed by private financiers.

In 1868, English professional cricketer and coach Charles Lawrence, a non-Aboriginal man, was asked to captain and coach a touring team. He assembled an all-Aboriginal team of 13 Aboriginal cricketers, most of whom were Jardwadjali, Gunditjmara and Wotjobaluk men from the Western District of Victoria.

Lawrence believed that their traditional abilities would make them outstanding cricketers. The team started practicing at the newly formed Edenhope cricket club in Victoria, 30 kilometres from the South Australian border. The team also played at Manly Oval, a Prime Minister's Eleven, led by Bob Hawke.

To avoid opposition by the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines, the team secretly boarded a ship at Queenscliff on 8 February 1868 and travelled on to England, a journey wich took them more than six weeks.

Between May and October 1868, and led by star all-rounder Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin), the Aboriginal XI played 47 matches against county and local teams, won 14, drew 19 and lost 14.

The unrelenting schedule came at a cost. King Cole (Bripumyarrimin) contracted a fatal case of tuberculosis, and Sundown (Ballrinjarrimin) and Jim Crow (Lytejerbillijun) returned home soon after. This made the achievement of the remaining 11 (who were pictured on a commemorative Australia Post stamp in 2018) even more remarkable.

When they returned to Australia, most of the Aboriginal XI went back to station life, but increased restrictions made it difficult for them to continue playing cricket.

The Aboriginal cricketers' journey to England in 1868 was the first sports team to represent Australia overseas, 14 years before the first Ashes tour. They paved the way for the first Australian representative tour to England in 1878, as well as the first Test match against England in 1880. It created the beginnings of what is now considered the greatest battle in modern cricket—the battle for the Ashes.

In 2002 the team was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame. In 2004, each player was assigned an official Cricket Australia number to recognise their place in Australia’s cricketing history (see table below).

The team of 1868
Player numberTraditional nameEuropean name
AUS 1ArrahmunyarrimunPeter
AUS 2BallrinjarriminSundown
AUS 3BonnibarngeetTiger
AUS 4BrimbunyahRed Cap
AUS 5BripumyarriminKing Cole
AUS 6BullchanachBullocky
AUS 7n/aCharles Lawrence (captain/coach)
AUS 8GrongarrongMosquito (James Couzens)
AUS 9Jarrawuk (Murrumgunarrimin)Two Penny
AUS 10Jumgumjenanuke (Yangendyinanyuk)Dick-a-Dick
AUS 11LyterjerbillijunJim Crow
AUS 12PripumuarramanCharles Dumas
AUS 13UnaarriminJohnny Mullagh
AUS 14ZellanachJohnny Cuzens


Story: Johnny Mullagh

Johnny Mullagh was a Jardwadjali man from the Wimmera in western Victoria. Born in 1841 with the given name Unaarrimin, he became one of the greatest cricketers of his generation after the 1868 tour, in which he contributed 1,698 runs and 245 wickets.

To honour this outstanding player, from 2020 the Mullagh Medal is awarded to the best player on the Boxing Day Test.

And Wesley Enoch, also in 2020, wrote Black Cockatoo, a play that examines Mullagh's life and legacy and tells his story in a modern context.

1988 tour

In 1988 a 17-member Aboriginal Cricket Association team celebrated the 120th anniversary of the tour by travelling to England. Captained by John Maquire the team played 28 games, winning 16 of them. They met the Queen at Buckingham Palace and went backstage at an INXS concert.

2009 tour

In 2009 a squad of 14 Aboriginal players aged 16-26 left Brisbane, Queensland, on 20 June to retrace some of the famous 1868 tour. They played 11 matches within a month, some at the grounds where the tourists of 141 years ago visited.

This time the Indigenous cricket team won 8, lost 3 and drew 1 of their 12 games.

The documentary From The Ashes traces the journey of two members of the 2009 team, Worrin Williams and Cameron Trask.

In the 132 years since the first Test match was played, Jason Gillespie is the only Aboriginal player to have represented Australia at cricket.

It's only a matter of time before Indigenous people make their mark in first-class cricket, particularly with the popularity of Twenty/20.

— Dan Christian, Aboriginal cricketer

There are 13,000 registered Aboriginal cricketers across Australia. That figure, however, pales against the thousands of Aboriginal footballers in Australian rules or rugby league.

Faith Thomas: Australia's first Aboriginal test cricketer

In 1958 Faith Coulthard Thomas became the first Aboriginal woman to represent Australia in any sport. In 2015, aged 83, she visited Aboriginal cricket's Imparja Cup in Alice Springs to inspire the next generation of Aboriginal players.


View article sources (8)

[1] 'Cricket bats and Christ on Aboriginal missions', ABC 17/4/2015
[2] [2a] [2b] 'The First Cricket Tour: 150 Years', Australia Post, 1/5/2018
[3] 'From the Ashes', ABC1, 14/3/2010 1:30pm
[4] 'Documentary now on DVD', Koori Mail 467 p.75
[5] '1868 cricket pioneers honoured', Koori Mail 451 p.79
[6] 'Johnny Mullagh raises his bat down the years', SMH 3/1/2020
[7] 'Raising the profile', Koori Mail 454 p.81
[8] 'Yarning with Dan Christian', Koori Mail 454 p.80

Cite this page

Korff, J 2020, Aboriginal cricket teams, <>, retrieved 20 July 2024

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