Aboriginal cricketers: First cricket team to tour England

Robert Craddock The Daily Telegraph December 26, 2011

In 1868, an Aboriginal team became the first Australian cricket side to tour England.

Featuring names such as Dick-a-Dick, Sundown and King Cole, who died on tour of tuberculosis, they were one of the most enchanting sporting sides to leave Australia and did well to win 14 of 47 games in a country not sure what to make of them.

In 1868 an Aboriginal cricket team were the first to tour England but the number of players with Aboriginal heritage to represent this country in Test cricket has been reduced to nil.

No full-blooded Aboriginal has come close and Jason Gillespie, a descendant of the Kamilaroi people who once populated northern NSW, is the only Test player to publicly acknowledge his Aboriginal heritage.

The statistic could have doubled today if Dan Christian, with family links to the Wiradjuri tribe in NSW, was making his Test debut.

"It is something I'm pretty proud of," Christian said recently of his heritage. "I am more than happy to be a role model. Dizzy did it for a few years. It comes with the territory."

Cricket Australia is striving to find an Aboriginal role model, with its annual Imparja Cup featuring indigenous teams from around Australia.

And Matthew Hayden has made it a long-term priority to help find the first full-blooded Aboriginal Test cricketer.

But it is not an easy search because Aboriginal sportsmen traditionally are attracted to faster games such as Australian football.

Aboriginal involvement in Australian cricket had a flying start before being derailed by legislation which now makes any fair-minded Australian cringe.

In 1868, an Aboriginal team became the first Australian cricket side to tour England.

Featuring names such as Dick-a-Dick, Sundown and King Cole, who died on tour of tuberculosis, they were one of the most enchanting sporting sides to leave Australia and did well to win 14 of 47 games in a country not sure what to make of them.

The highbrow London Times said it was a travesty the conquered natives of a convict colony were allowed to appear at Lord's, but the group ignored the jibes and captured local attention with boomerang and spear-throwing exhibitions after stumps.

But soon after the tour, Victoria passed legislation that no Aborigines were allowed to leave the state without government permission and the interest of many of the players evaporated.

One of the best-known Aboriginal cricketers, Queensland fast bowler Eddie Gilbert, also struggled to come to grips with being treated like a second-class citizen.