I have just received the advance copies of my latest book.
Here it is…
It’s called ‘Knockabout Cricket’ and it’s my first foray into non-fiction writing with One Day Hill.
I absolutely love the front cover. The illustrator, Ainsley Walters, has excelled herself; the colours are vivid and wonderful. And without any bias, of course, I think the text is pretty darn good too.
Funnily enough, I wrote this story five years ago as fiction. Yep, you heard me right, five years ago. It was long forgotten. But as one of my writerly friends once said to me, no written word is ever wasted. And sure enough this story managed to find it’s way from the depths of my filing cabinet back into the spotlight again, only to be re-written as non-fiction. I wasn’t too sure about it at first, but now that it’s done, I can see that it works well. I really appreciate the opportunity that One Day Hill and Scholastic gave me to re-write this story.
It does lend itself to a story with text and illustrations interspersed with text boxes pointing out an interesting fact here and there.
So what’s the story about?
‘Knockabout Cricket’ is a story told through the eyes of a squatters son, James Edgar, growing up on his parent’s pastoral station ‘Pine Hills’ at Harrow in Western Victoria.
It’s the true story of the famous indigenous cricket player, Johnny Mullagh. It’s set in 1865 when James Edgar arrives home from boarding school to find it’s shearing time at Pine Hills Station. It’s a narrative account of how Johnny Mullagh may have come to play cricket.
Pastoral runs in this era were typically very large, Pine Hills Station was 30,000 acres; so there were many sheep to be shorn. Shearing was a demanding time of year and all the adults were busy working during this annual period of ‘shearing time’.
During these periods, James was concerned his holiday would be boring as there was no one around to play cricket with him. In these hard working times though, children did have the freedom to roam and play with the local Aboriginal children.
So James manages to fill in his time by organising casual games of cricket after the shearers knocked-off, which was usually around 5pm. They played cricket for the pure enjoyment, although they were always happy to prepare for any pastoral challenge matches coming up on the calendar. Whoever was around usually joined in, including station owners, neighbouring stations owners, managers, roustabouts, drovers, groomsmen, gardeners, fencers, spiltters, and rabbiters.
The definition of ‘Knockabout Cricket’ means ‘a casual game of cricket’ with rules modified to suit the environment. This meant it could be played anywhere. There were usually no wickets and the bat and the ball would be typically home made and rudimentary.
In the 1860’s, the game of cricket was hugely popular and often played between pastoral stations.
Johnny Mullagh’s real name was ‘Unaarrimin’ and he was born of the Jardwadjali people around 1841 at Pine Hills Station near Harrow in Victoria. He rarely moved far from Pine Hills Station and Mullagh Station, which probably covered his traditional tribal lands. It was not unusual for Aboriginals to be nicknamed from the pastoral station they lived.
Local young sportsmen Tom Hamilton (from Bringlebert Station) and William Hayman (from Lake Wallace Station) organised a match between an Aboriginal team and the MCC (Melbourne Cricket Club) in Melbourne.
The match was played at the MCG (the Melbourne Cricket Ground) on Boxing Day in 1866 and attracted a crowd of 8,000 spectators. It is one of, if not the earliest matches of the great Boxing Day tradition. It was also the catalyst of an Aboriginal cricket team touring England in 1868.
Extraordinarily, this all happened 11 years before Test Cricket.
On the Aboriginal cricket team tour of England, Johnny Mullagh’s cricket statistics were outstanding. He took an incredible 245 wickets at a bowling average of 10 runs apiece, in addition to scoring the most runs of the tour with 1,698. His performance during the tour is comparable to the best the game has ever seen.
Johnny Mullagh had a famous and daring ‘signature shot’. He would drop onto one knee to a fast rising ball holding the bat over his shoulder, perpendicular to the ground. The ball would touch the blade and shoot high over the wicket keeper’s head to the boundary. This shot was an adaptation of a technique traditionally used in tribal fighting whereby a narrow shield would deflect spears. It was a dangerous shot, but spectacularly mastered by Johnny Mullagh (and it’s now being used today, especially in T20 Cricket).
The English crowds loved the Aboriginal teams cricketing prowess and were thrilled with their displays of traditional skills. At the end of a days play they would change into traditional tribal wear such as possum cloaks and feathers into to provide demonstrations of boomerang and spear throwing. A player called ’Dick-a-Dick’ used a narrow shield to parry away a hail of cricket balls thrown at him by spectators.
However, Johnny Mullagh was the star of the show. He was the ‘social darling’ of the upper echelons of English high society and he ended up with a collection of pictures of English women who admired him. He was a cricketing hero to a white audience but he was also a man caught between two worlds.
Johnny Mullagh’s went on to play professionally with the MCC but after a season, he returned to Harrow.
By this time, a law had been introduced in Australia that Aboriginals could not leave their designated Missions without written permission from the ‘Board of Protection for Aboriginals.’ This ‘restriction of movement’ ruined any opportunities that cricket may have had to offer an Aboriginal person and it was an absolute tragedy.
Johnny Mullagh continued to play for the Harrow Cricket Club right until the end of his life in 1891. He dominated the batting and bowling averages, and the locals recalled how he would emerge from the bush and, with seemingly no practice, perform like a champion.
Johnny Mullagh’s life was never free from discrimination, but he rose above it with dignity and has been described as humble, upright and quiet. He refused to live on a Mission and he was a great advocate for Aboriginal rights. He never married and lived out his days alone with his dogs by a waterhole at Pine Hills. Among his belongings when he passed away was a miniature daguerreotype of a lady he had met in England.
Johnny Mullagh is a true sporting legend – his feats making him one of Australia’s first international cricketing stars.
What inspired me to write this story?
…well, Johnny Mullagh, of course, because he was such an amazing person…with an equally amazing story…
But so are these two little people who just love their cricket…
‘Knockabout Cricket’ can be found in any good bookstore and will be available from February 1st, 2015.