The 1988 team played against then-Prime Minister Bob Hawke before leaving for England. (Supplied: Helen Mulraney-Roll)
A 30-year reunion of Australia’s second all-Indigenous cricket team has given players hope their contribution to the national sport will finally be recognised.
Cricket Australia has vowed to “correct the mistakes of the past” and revive the 150-year legacy of Indigenous cricketers.
The organisation is set to announce a third international, all-Indigenous tour to commemorate the tours of 1868 and 1988.
Australia’s first international sports team is one of its lesser known.
The squad of Aboriginal cricketers from western Victoria left for England in 1868, more than a decade before the first Ashes series at Lords.
A second all-Indigenous team followed in their footsteps in 1988, for the bicentenary.
The team of 1988 came from every state and territory in Australia, and many of them had only heard “whispers” of the legends who had played 120 years before them.
They left Sydney with the blessing of then-prime minister Bob Hawke, catching him out for a duck at a match in Manly, and played a celebrity game against fast bowler Dennis Lillee.
Australia’s forgotten cricketers
But the players felt they were quickly forgotten at the close of the eight-week tour.
Speaking at the 1988 team’s reunion at Edenhope in western Victoria over Easter, batsman Joe Marsh said the treatment of the country’s second Indigenous international team had followed the pattern of the first.
“Unfortunately after both tours we were sort of forgotten people, so for us I wish there was more that could have been done to promote Indigenous cricket,” he said.
Australia’s first international sports team was a squad of Aboriginal cricketers from western Victoria, who left for England in 1868. (Supplied: Harrow Discovery Centre)
Marsh was an 18-year-old from Toowoomba, and proud to play for his country.
He went on to play under lights at the Brisbane cricket ground for Brisbane’s western suburbs, but said the team could have gone further with more support.
“We could have been great mentors for a lot of Indigenous people,” he said.
“In the past [we would go] out and do school visits and help kids out, but no-one knows what we’ve achieved or where we’ve come from.
“They have just seen us as coaches, which is great, but it would have been great to [share] what we’ve achieved by playing for Australia, for our people.”
New experience for young cricketers
A young bowler from Broome, Pius Gregory, had never worn spikes before arriving in Sydney in 1988.
He told the Dreaming of Lords documentary that the sensation was “like walking with chewing gum on the soles of your shoes”.
Broome bowler Pius Gregory had never played on grass before he began training with the all-Indigenous squad in 1988. (ABC Western Victoria: Jessica Black)
Gregory said he was too far from Perth to continue playing, but still had his uniform, and his story was proudly remembered by the traditional owners of Broome, the Yawuru.
“I had heard about this side made up from around the country here — Edenhope [and] Harrow — and I did not know the first team ever to come out of Australia was an Aboriginal side,” he said.
“So I got really interested and tried my best to make it.”
Laurie Marks was a young cricketer from the Latrobe Valley.
He hoped the team’s reunion would be part of a resurgence in Indigenous participation.
It was the first time the team had come together in 30 years.
“When we got back to Australia, we just dispersed and the flower opened up and we went our separate ways,” he said.
“It’s like it only happened yesterday, so we just started a new flower and hopefully that flower will grow into a massive, big bush.”
Push for recognition of Indigenous players
Former Australian cricketer Peter Sleep played against the boys in 1988.
Laurie Marks with his son, Byron. Marks hopes the reunion of the 1988 all-Indigenous team will encourage more Indigenous players. (ABC Western Victoria: Jessica Black)
He and the Australian Cricketers’ Association are working with Cricket Australia to give a Test number and cap to every Indigenous player who represented their country, starting with the Aboriginal stockmen of 1868.
“They get it in football, in most other sports and there’s too much politics in sport,” he said.
“With so much going down to your top end players, the Indigenous players are missing out to a degree, and AFL et cetera are getting the best of the crop of Indigenous players.”
In a statement Cricket Australia said the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders playing cricket had jumped by 10,000 in the past five years, from 45,000 in 2013 to 55,000 players last year.
The organisation is set to announce a commemoration tour to the United Kingdom of the national men’s and women’s Indigenous teams.
“The purpose of this tour will be to shine a light on the remarkable achievements of these pioneers of the game, and to further educate the community on the importance of that event,” a spokesman said.
“Cricket Australia is committed to maintaining the recent momentum in the growth of cricket for Indigenous Australians.
“We see this tour as an opportunity to address mistakes of the past by creating a new generation of storytellers.”