State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 85 May 2010


Barry Judd
'It's Not Cricket': Victorian Aboriginal Cricket at Coranderrk

DURING THE 1870s and 1880s the German born photographer Fredrick Kruger (b. 1831 Germany, d. 1888 Australia) was commissioned to document the cultural (and racial) transformations taking place at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station under the supervision and direction of the Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines. Kruger was commissioned by the Board to record in photographic series their work in converting the Aborigines from a state of perceived savagery to an enlightened state that mirrored British civility. During a visit in 1877 Kruger captured the beautiful image of Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk.1 The image, one of the most enduring and popular visual records of Aboriginal life at Coranderrk, shows a group of Aboriginal men playing cricket in front of the settlement. The batsman waits for the bowler to release the ball from his hand. Spectators seated neatly in a row wait in anticipation of the imminent next delivery. Beyond the buildings and post and rail fence lies the bush and further still the mountains of the Yarra Ranges. The image is characterised by the energy of the play. All on the field appear engaged with the play as the eyes of the fielders are locked on bat and ball.
Scanning the photograph, however, the eye is eventually drawn to the foreground where a lone fieldsman betrays the presence of Kruger by peering directly into the lens of the camera. The lone fielder's apparent disinterest in the cricket match and his fascination with the camera create an intimacy between this subject and the viewer insofar as he appears to us as an individual and not simply a member of the team. His gaze into the camera lens of Kruger compels us to ask a series of questions about this man we might not feel necessary to ask of the other cricketers in the photograph. Our questions might include: who was this man? What was his name? Who were his people? How did he come to be at Coranderrk? While such enquiries are likely to end with the familiar colonial epitaph 'unidentified Aboriginal man', the subject's gaze into the lens compels me to ask how this Aboriginal man and the European photographer each understood this moment in time which the new technology of the camera recorded for prosperity? How did this Aboriginal man who lived at Coranderrk, a survivor and product of colonial dispossession, perceive his participation in the game of cricket? How did Kruger, the photographer born in distant Germany, perceive his own participation as visual record maker? Similarly how did the Victorian Board for the Protection of Aborigines who commissioned this photograph view the Aboriginal men who played this most quintessential of English games? Such questions compel us to investigate the
social and political context in which the photographic image of the Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk was produced. This in turn leads us to consider why cricket, a sport popular with Aboriginal men across Victoria in the later half of the 19th century, ceased to be a game associated with Aboriginal participants in the 20th century.
Using the photographic image as a point of reference onto our colonial past this article investigates the Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk in the context of the residents' political struggle that enveloped the operation of the Station from the late 1870s until their practical, if not moral, defeat at the hands of the Board in 1886. In doing so, I argue that the fate of the Aboriginal cricketers whose existence is captured so beautifully in Kruger's photograph parallels the fate these same Aboriginal men met in their efforts to initiate adaptation to the changes wrought by British colonisation in taking up agricultural practices as a strategy of collective group survival. As a visual record of the past, Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk reminds us of the ingenuity, intelligence and willingness of Aboriginal Victorians to make cultural adaptations and accommodations to ensure their survival.
This was a considered response to a lost social order and to their country that had been forever transformed by the impact of colonial dispossession. In this article, I show how the agency of Aboriginal Victorians in making such adaptations and accommodations was not limited to the necessary political and economic imperatives bound up with their desire to become settled agriculturalists; but extended to the social realm to include the English sport of cricket. In doing so, I also seek to highlight the opportunities lost to Aboriginal Victorians in both sport and life more generally, as a combination of cultural ignorance, administrative incompetence and the ideologies of Christian and scientific racism conspiring to exclude Indigenous men from participating in Australian cricket and the Australian political and economic 'mainstream'. Perhaps more importantly, I seek to prompt readers to reflect on the costs of these exclusions that we Indigenous and non-Indigenous Victorians continue to reap in the 21st century present.

Aboriginal Policy in Colonial Victoria: 18391886

The history of state intervention in the lives of Aboriginal Australians owes much to the policy agendas and administrative frameworks first tried and tested in colonial Victoria during the period before (18391850) and after separation (18511886) from New South Wales. It was the Victorian model of Aboriginal Affairs that during the latter half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century provided the template for state management and control of Indigenous lives in all other Australian colonies (after 1901, States and Territories). It was the Victorian model too, which developed the formal discursive tools of language necessary to 'effectively' govern the 'Aborigine'. It was through a growing experience and 'expertise' in Aboriginal Affairs, in Victoria, that the
construct of the 'Aborigine' become subject to a process of serious and ongoing 'scientific' definition and redefinition by the colonial state. In this sense, the Aborigine, as a representative subject in need of, and requiring, the interventions of the colonial state, was primarily the product of Victorian ideas and Victorian solutions to the problem posed by the remnant Indigenous peoples whose forbears had once possessed the continent.
If the history of Aboriginal Affairs in Australia owes much to its development in colonial Victoria, the advent of these original forays in the governance of Indigenous subjects owes much to the formative work of William Thomas (b. 1793 England, d. 1867 Australia). Appointed Assistant Protector of Aborigines in the Port Phillip Protectorate, Thomas took up his position in 1839 and worked among the Woiworung and Bunurong clans of the Kulin nations in the years that immediately followed the 'settlement' of Melbourne. Thomas was one of few colonists to become fluent in their language and to observe their societies with interest, sympathy and in 'scientific' detail. Following the dissolution of the Protectorate in 1849, Thomas was appointed Guardian of the Aborigines.2 Through agreement with Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe who wished the Kulin excluded from Melbourne, Thomas succeeded in establishing a policy of land reservation where the 'remnant' clans could be provided safe refuge. In 1852 land at Mordialloc for the Bunurong and at Warrandyte on the Yarra River for the Woiworung was secured. Although neither settlement proved viable, Thomas's policy of land reservation was confirmed by the 1858 Select Committee formed by the Parliament of Victoria to 'examine the condition of the Aborigines throughout the colony'.3 Their findings recommended separate reserves, large enough for the development of agricultural and pastoral pursuits, be set aside for the various 'tribes' in their home areas. The report recommended supervision by missionaries and agreed that supplies should be distributed to all needy Aborigines. It was essentially Thomas' scheme. But there was already doubt that suitable reserves could be obtained because of the continuing flood of British immigrants seeking gold or land to farm. Thomas had argued that no relief scheme could succeed unless the reserves were of sufficient size and quality so that Aborigines could support themselves by cultivation. He insisted that their land must be permanently protected against the intrusions of covetous Europeans. Finally he demanded that reserve residents must be fed adequately whether they worked or not so that their homes would become a secure refuge. That much he had learned from the failures of the Protectorate.4
The task of enacting the recommendations of the Select Committee initially became the responsibility of the Lands and Survey Office to whom Guardian Thomas now reported. In February 1859, Thomas received an important deputation from the Woiworung men Simon Wonga and Tommy Munnering. These sons of the Ngurungaeta, Billibellary, had brought with them five Taungurong men, Kulin whose
traditional country centred on the upper Goulburn River. Wonga, acting as translator conveyed the Taungurong message to Thomas. 'Marinarta (Good Father), I bring my friends Goulburn Blacks they want a block of land in their country where they may sit down, plant corn potatoes, etc. – and work like white men'.5 Convinced of the sincerity of the Taungurong desire to become settled farmers Thomas successfully argued their demand for land to government and in March the Acheron Reserve at the junction of the Acheron and Little Rivers received official approval. Some 80 Kulin made the Acheron Reserve their home between April and December 1859 and by mid 1860 the men had 'fenced seventeen acres, grubbed, cleared and ploughed this area and planted five acres of wheat and an acre and a half of vegetables ... and ten acres of potatoes'.6
The Acheron Reserve signalled the first attempt to substantiate recommendations of the 1858 Select Committee, yet the administrative framework to manage and support the proposed reserve system remained unresolved. Forced into action by Thomas and the Taungurong, a second Select Committee was convened in March 1860 to devise the required administrative arrangements. In a brief report the Select Committee recommended the establishment of a Central Board. Appointed to 'watch over the interests of the Aborigines' on 21 May 1860,7 the seven foundation members of the Board were 'a tightly-knit circle of prominent gentlemen involved in most of the charitable activities of Melbourne, supporters of its hospitals, and of the Old Colonists Association and the Zoological and Acclimatisation Society...all were prominent and respected colonists but few had ties to the squatter establishment or much knowledge of the condition of the Aborigines in the hinterland'.8 As these members had little or no understanding of Aboriginal issues, the Board was initially guided by an aging Thomas whose work as Guardian now took place under Board supervision. Although the Board and its policy of 'Aboriginal Protection' would later be regarded as paternalist, racist and largely counter to Indigenous interests, the intent of the Board and its membership were considered socially progressive in outlook and its use of power benign in its control of Aboriginal affairs.9
Though the Taungurong believed the selection at Acheron was reserved for their permanent and exclusive use by the end of 1860 their chosen land had been lost through a combination of bureaucratic maladministration and the underhanded deals of a neighbouring squatter.10 Despite this major setback, Kulin desires to adapt to the new colonial order remained undeterred and the young leader of the Woiworung people, Simon Wonga petitioned Thomas for the government to set aside land on his country. According to Thomas:
Wonga, having seen his friends the Goulburn Tribe [Taungurong] comfortably provided for – in 1860 waited upon me again and said he looked out a spot for the few blacks left in his tribe – I stated that there was a fine reserve for the Yarra tribe [Woiworung] which I had for many years secured for them on both sides of the Yarra River – he said, 'Yes Marminarta you very good but black fellow no tell you
to look out that one country – I want like you get'em Goulburn Blacks where black fellows likes.11
Fortuitously the Woiworung request for reserve land coincided with a Board desire to establish a central school for Aborigines and the appointment of John Green to the position of Inspector of Aborigines. Well known to the Kulin, Green, a Presbyterian Scot, had visited Woiworung camps on Yering Station since 1860, extending his work as 'bush missionary' to the Aborigines. Green quickly commanded the respect and admiration of the Kulin as indicated by the conversion to Christianity of the future ngurungaeta William Barak. Green became key to meeting Woiworung demands for land on which they could become a self determining and independent people in the new 'post'-colonial context.
In December 1862, John Green led the Woiworung and many of the Taungurong to a new reserve. The site chosen by Wonga and the senior Woiworung men was at the junction of the Coranderrk (now Badger) Creek and Yarra River. The place had been a favourite campground of the Woiworung that Wonga and Barak remembered from their childhood. Although selected without prior Board approval, the gazettal of the site that became known as Coranderrk Aboriginal Station was completed on 30 June 1863. The formal granting of the Coranderrk site occurred just weeks after the senior Woiworung and Taungurong men attended a Levee held by the Governor of Victoria, Sir Henry Barkly. Held in celebration of the Prince of Wales' marriage and the birthday of Queen Victoria, the Kulin presented gifts of baskets and weapons for the Prince and Queen and spoke to the Governor of their need for good land. The old Guardian Thomas had drafted a loyal address in Woiwurru expressing the deep gratitude and loyalty of these 'black subjects' to 'their Queen'. The Queen replied with an assurance of her ongoing protection. The coincidence of the Levee, the granting of Coranderrk and the written acknowledgments of the Queen were considered significant and linked events in the hearts and minds of the Kulin. They took Queen Victoria's pledge of protection as a promise that land reserved to them at Coranderrk was her gift to them. They regarded this small parcel of land as rightful compensation for all the country now occupied by the Queen's white subjects. Furthermore they believed that the Queen's gift had been granted in perpetuity and the land at Coranderrk would provide a home for them and their heirs and successors.
Kulin understanding of the reserved land as their permanent and inalienable home, combined with the unwavering belief of John Green, that Aborigines, whether 'full-blood' or half-caste', were the equals of Europeans in intelligence, and often their superiors in matters of morality, ensured that the first decade of 'pioneering' at Coranderrk was characterised by sustained achievement and success. Dedicated to achieving their desire to become self reliant farmers on their own country the 55 Kulin 'pioneers' of Coranderrk proved to be capable and effective proprietors of the land. In
the first decade (18631874) the Kulin were able to develop their land more rapidly than at any other Aboriginal Station in Victoria. They transformed the heavily forested land at Coranderrk into a station capable of supporting residents. By the mid 1870s the Kulin owned 450–500 head of cattle and horses and worked 120–160 acres. On this land they produced enough wheat to become self sufficient in flour and hops that were widely regarded as among the finest in the world. They had also built a school, a church and 15 cottages in which they lived in a similar fashion to their selector neighbours. With residents' most basic needs supported through a government ration, the rising standard of living among Kulin in the 1860s and 1870s attributed to their ability to earn income as valued shearers and labourers on white-owned farms near and far and to sell a range of artefacts (possum skin cloaks, wallaby rugs, grass woven baskets and bags, spears, boomerangs and shields) representative of 'authentic' Aboriginal life. As Barwick notes,
The Coranderrk people themselves raised their living standard by their 'canny' expenditure of income from crafts and the wages they brought home. Visitors repeatedly commented that their homes and furnishings were equal to those of 'English workingmen' and superior to many selectors in the district ... Surviving photograph albums of 1867 and 1877 and photos owned by descendants prove that Coranderrk people dressed with remarkable elegance. The women sold their baskets, eggs and fowl to visiting peddlers for fashion books, dress lengths and trimmings and then paid itinerant photographers to record their finery. Most of their furniture was home made but they eagerly saved to buy sofas, chiffoniers and rocking chairs, curtains and wallpaper, clocks for the mantelpiece, pretty ornaments and tea cups, sewing machines and perambulator, spring carts and harness and guns, as well as all the utilitarian bedding, cutlery, candles and kerosene lamps not supplied by the Board. In addition to spending large sums in Healesville shops they ordered furniture and other goods from Melbourne, and the manager in 1877 complained that 'there is no end to their propensity for good dress when they have the money'. They also spent their money on novels and newspapers although the station had a library of 'improving works'. The illustrated weeklies contained engravings of stirring events and portraits of Her Majesty to decorate the walls; the Melbourne newspapers the Age, and Argus, were their main source of information.12
The growing self sufficiency of Coranderrk in the decade 18631874 underlines the extent to which this community of Aboriginal Victorians were willing and active agents in taking up the farming practices and cultural customs of British colonial society. Confident and secure in the future of their home these Aboriginal pioneers had believed their best chance of cultural survival as a people lay in Coranderrk becoming a self-sustaining farm. The gruelling labour of the first decade at Corrnaderrk was combined with Kulin desire to achieve the economic independence that they rightly considered necessary to maintain a degree of cultural autonomy. The Woiworung and Taungurong Coranderrk pioneers' decision to integrate into the economic order of British colonialism through uptake of settled agriculture needs to be seen as a strategic decision which during the 1860s and 1870s found serendipity with the Board and its
most active and influential servants. The growing confidence of the Kulin and their ability to deliver the success they desired was possible with the support of John Green. As an administrator of Aboriginal affairs, John Green was 120 years ahead of his time. The respect Green had for the Kulin contrasted with the attitudes of his contemporaries.13
Green believed the Kulin should manage Coranderrk for themselves and by themselves with his assistance and guidance. Green encouraged them to make decisions and settle community disputes according to their own political 'traditions'. In the 1860s Kulin politics required complex processes of consultation, deliberation and consensus making. Green allowed the senior Kulin men to operate these political processes through the establishment of assemblies which provided a decision making forum that reflected 'traditional' Kulin political arrangements and the sectarian preference of Green to be directed by a council of elders drawn from the community rather than centrally imposed political authority. From 1863 all adults participated in the community assemblies and although Green attended he participated as a trusted advisor and friend to the senior Kulin men – Wonga, Barak and Bamfield.
The sophistication of the Kulin at Coranderrk and their determination to manage their own affairs amazed and annoyed other officials. And it impressed visitors, notably the Royal Comissioners who visited in 1877: their report commented that the Coranderrk residents 'bearing and demeanour form a contrast with those of the natives on all other stations'. Green's method of management had made the difference; but it roused the antagonism of other Europeans determined to impose their notions of discipline on the Kulin.14
Despite his success John Green was forced to resign by the Board in 1874. Increasingly controlled by pastoral interests the Board came to resent the growing political confidence and economic independence of the Coranderrk people and began to openly advocate the closure of the 'troublesome' Station. This reversal of policy was met with a sophisticated land rights campaign in which the Kulin attempted to retain their home and reinstate Green and his policy of self determination. Between 1875 and 1890 the Kulin at Coranderrk became the Board's most determined adversaries and a major embarrassment. Led by Barak and Bamfield, the Kulin successfully argued their right to retain Coranderrk in the Melbourne press, forcing the government to convene several Royal Commissions and departmental investigations into Board administration.15

The Politics of Cricket at Coranderrk

The photograph Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk was taken in 1877 a time of emerging political crisis for the Kulin. Commissioned by the Board, the photographer Kruger was employed to produce a visual defence of their work. Set against this political
struggle the photographic series of 1877–78 was intended to 'argue for the residents' successful management and progress toward civilisation'.16 In Eye Contact, Lydon argues that Kruger's photographic series of 1877–78 stressed a humanitarian and sympathetic view of Aborigines that represented life at Coranderrk in terms of an Aboriginal idyll. 'Kruger's picturesque views of Coranderrk stressed harmony, productivity, and peace, assuring viewers of the residents' appropriation of a rural peasant lifestyle'.17 Making this point in reference to Badger's Creek at Aboriginal Mission Station (Fishing Scene), Lydon argues that Kruger's image
Signals the advent of Aboriginal people enjoying an ideally tranquil, harmonious relationship with each other and with the landscape yet clearly not leading a traditional, pre-colonial way of life. The image and account emphasised their closeness to nature, but at the same time the fishing 'holiday' encouraged the 'sable labourers to persevere in habits of order and industry': the subjects' civilisation, marked, for example, by their European dress and their diligence, becomes the framing trope of the text.18
Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk likewise follows the trope of the Aboriginal idyll with the image emphasising the cultural transformation of the Kulin into cricketers whose sporting habits mirrored those of their 19th century English counterparts. The subject of the photograph makes Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk perhaps the most emblematic of all Kruger's Idylls. Framed by the imposing Yarra Ranges, the Station's cottages and outbuildings, the image of the Coranderrk cricketers emphasises a rural ideal that to colonial eyes provided a scene reminiscent of cricket played on the village greens of Hampshire and Kent. In this sense, the photograph can also be considered a cricketing idyll. Cricket in the Victorian era was much more than a game. In England during the latter half of the 19th century the game became a key sign of Englishness and the English superiority. According to Sandiford, to the English of the Victorian age cricket was
a perfect system of ethics and morals which embodied all that was most noble in the Anglo-Saxon character. They prized it as a national symbol, perhaps because – so far as they could tell – it was an exclusively English creation unsullied by oriental or European influences. In an extremely xenophobic age, the Victorians came to regard cricket as further proof of their moral and cultural superiority. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of cricket to Victorian life. It was a ritual as well as recreation, a spiritual as well as a sporting experience. Its values and its language came to be freely used by politicians, philosophers, preachers and poets...the term 'It's not cricket' came gradually into general usage. It was a loaded and emotive phrase both in the nineteenth century and the twentieth. It was meant to denote any despicable act or thing which was immoral, ungentlemanly and/or improper. It had much to do, that is to say, with a regrettable lack of 'good form' and/or 'fair play'. 'Keep your end up' gradually became a general call for a positive contribution to a worthy cause. And 'playing the game of life with a stiff upper lip and a straight bat' was the customary advice given to the bulk of young men by their late Victorian fathers beseeching them to conduct themselves always in a correct and
courageous manner. Such linguistics have serious sociological implications. They tell us a good deal about the Victorian concept of the meaning of cricket. In the Victorian mind, cricket was the ideal form of recreation (using the term in its truest classical sense), in which the chivalrous Christian participated. The notion of the chivalrous cricketer was of paramount importance in an age completely dominated by the cult of muscular Christianity.19
Understandings of cricket as a game imbued with spiritual dimensions were enthusiastically embraced by settler society in Australia as the game signified the familiar and underwrote a strong colonial desire to remain as Englishmen. The advent of Test Matches between Australia and England in 1878 entwined the game with an emergent Anglo-Australian nationalism. Cricketing success in this context measured the extent to which Anglo-Australia matched their adversaries in being Englishmen par excellence. The game came to underpin the assertion that the Australian colonist was the best type of Anglo-Saxon and that Australia had recreated England in a form more perfect than the original.
Although the dominant tropes in Australian cricket became those associated with the cause of nationalism, the imperial impulse to civilise the native made Aboriginal participation in cricket an acceptable spectacle in 19th century Australia. The first known group of Aborigines to play cricket were those at Poonindie, South Australia, where during the 1850s the Church of England encouraged cricket as an effective means to civilise and Christianise the Aborigines. A decade later the emergence of Aboriginal cricket in Western Victoria took place on pastoral stations where Aboriginal station workers learnt the game through a process of socialisation.20 At Edenhope, the station owners formed a cricket club in 1862, with club practice sessions keenly watched by their Aboriginal employees. The Aboriginal workers soon joined in practice and quickly mastered the fundamentals of the game. Within a short time scratch matches were organised and promoted as racial contests between 'black' and 'white'. Generating substantial local interest the on-field exploits of the Aboriginal cricketers were read within the framework of English ideas of 'fair play' and the ethical and moral worth of cricket. The civilising authority of cricket and the extent to which the game could uplift a people considered the lowest on the scale of civilisation was a popular issue among the general population. In 1866 the Hamilton Spectator wrote in qualified support of the game's ability to improve the morals and intellect of the Aborigines:
Those of our Cricketing friends who are interested in the development of 'muscular Christianity' will be glad to find that the long-contemplated match, between the aboriginal [sic] Eleven and one of the Melbourne clubs, is likely to eventuate in a real contest. A professional from Melbourne will shortly proceed to coach the Lake Wallace, and other blacks, in the higher mysteries of cricket, and we have no doubt, from the imitative aptitude of these men that there will be neither block, twist, nor catch unappreciated or not adopted, if not excelled in by them, that Metropolitan talent can exhibit...under the supervision of Messers Hamilton
and Hayman, the enterprising gentlemen who brought the blacks here, and afforded us the opportunity of seeing what the blacks could do when kindly and considerately treated, and of how they could play against almost born cricketers, as most Englishmen are. That generous kindness of the remote settler has disclosed to the outer world an undeniable talent in the aborigine [sic], no one who witnessed their exploits on the Hamilton Cricket Ground can doubt, and it remains with those who have at some time or another witnessed the almost feudal attachment of the unadulterated black to his master or companion, to say whether they are put in a position to achieve success, or only deserve it. The hope that those who desire to see the native race elevated to a platform, where, on common ground, they encounter the white man in a contest that in every arena in every little English village has enlisted the sympathies of every English boy, will give their contribution to the furtherance of an object that will raise the aspirations of the much maligned blacks, and enable them to show that under tutelage suitable to their capacities, they are second, if not equal to their instructors.21
The team of Aboriginal men who emerged from pastoral cricket in Western Victoria under the instruction of the first class cricketers Thomas Wentworth Wills and Charles Lawrence became a professional touring XI. In 1868 this team became the first from Australia to tour England and play at the home of English cricket, Lords.22 Despite a record of success that demonstrated the Aborigines to be the equal of English cricketers, ideas of 'fair-play' and the Victorian cricket ethic combined with a growing obsession to categorise the 'races of man' to create a trope in Australian cricket in which Aboriginal cricketers were primarily represented as 'physical' men. In keeping with the idea of natural selection advanced by Charles Darwin in Descent of Man, the superior vision and reflexes exhibited by Aboriginal cricketers suggested that their often 'magical' skills were the outcome of human variations. Through a process of natural selection 'the savage' had attained over generations the superior physical attributes that enabled them to mimic the game with speed, precision and style. Natural selection according to the racial theories of the latter 19th centuries suggested that the physical superiority of the savage was however compromised by an under-evolved intellectual and moral capacity. The Aborigine was therefore thought to exist in a 'child-like' state incapable of adult thoughts and responsibilities. It was a widely held idea advanced by government and academia as scientific fact. In the 1890s, Archibald Meston, the architect of Aboriginal protection in Queensland wrote that Aboriginal 'thoughts on nearly all subjects outside of war and hunting were children's thoughts'.23 Baldwin Spencer, whose work did much to entrench the pervasive influence of evolutionary anthropology in the Australian national psyche, reported to government in 1912 that 'Aborigines had the mental level of children, had little control over their feelings, lacked responsibility and rarely displayed initiative'.24 On the cricket field 'physical skills and natural endowments were seen as the reason for a particular Aboriginal cricketing style but it is also implied that Aborigines lacked some of the subtle intelligence required in the game because they were childish or stupid'.25
As a portrait that emphasised both a rural and cricketing idyll, Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk was produced as a political instrument to underline the extent to which the Kulin had successfully adapted to British colonial culture under the supervision and tutorage of the Board. This it seemed was a truth supported by the observations of the English naturalist Henry Mosely who on seeing cricket at Coranderrk in 1872 commented on both the signs of English culture and evolutionary traces of race that marked the black cricketers as cultured but savage.
We found the cricket party in high spirits, shouting with laughter, rows of spectators being seated on logs and chaffing the players with all the old English sallies' "Well hit", "Run it out"; "Butter fingers," &c. I was astonished at the extreme prominence of the supraciliary ridges of the men's foreheads. It was much greater in some of the Blacks than I had expected to see it, and looks far more marked in the recent state than in the skull. It is the striking feature of the face. The men were all dressed as Europeans; they knew all about Mr W. G. Grace and the All-England Eleven.26
Pointing to the difference between being Anglicised and being English, this description of Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk confirms the success of the Board in civilising 'the native' while at the same time infers the need for the vigilant governance of 'the savage' to persist. As made clear above, it was Aboriginal abilities to mimic cricket skills with speed and precision combined with an ever present colonial doubt about their intellectual capacities that fascinated 19th century Victorians. Perhaps it is partly because of the ambivalent and disturbing features of the Aborigine as cricketer, as cultured but savage that Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk remains one of the best known and most loved images of Coranderrk. I believe that the popularity of cricket, the imperial desire to erase Otherness by recreating the native as almost perfect facsimile of an English Self and the disturbance the mimic men engendered, suggest the political importance of the image in the Boards' struggle with the people of Coranderrk.27
According to Barwick, all of the men who keenly played cricket were regarded as 'half-caste' and belonged to clans of distant western Kulin or those of the Murray River who had no kinship ties to the Woiworung landholders of Coranderrk. Racially designated 'half-caste', the Board regarded the Aboriginal cricketers as superior outsiders to the 'full-blood' men who had pioneered the Station. The Kulin on the other hand, regarded these Aboriginal cricketers as inferior outsiders according to their laws of kinship that designated them no rights to the Coranderrk land. The contradictory esteem in which the Aboriginal cricketers were regarded by both Board and Kulin is significant in the context of Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk and the political objectives the Board sought to attach to this image. I believe that the image was commissioned and used to demonstrate the success of the Board's civilising project in a very particular way. The fact that all the Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk were racially designated 'half-caste' suggests a deliberate attempt to underline perceived
differences in intellectual capacity between people of 'full-blood' and 'half-British' descent. The English notion of 'fair-play' and the cricket ethic of the 19th century Victorians provided a highly complementary discursive arena in which such differences could be noted and widely distributed to a public who viewed the Aboriginal cricketer as a cultured but savage sporting spectacle. Further support for this understanding of the Kruger photograph is found in Board encouragement of the Coranderrk cricket team.
Aboriginal men in colonial Victoria actively adopted the playing of cricket because they regarded the game as an important source of enjoyment. The sport, with its rigid laws and strict conventions, offered a sense of stability during a period of immense social and cultural change in which old societies disintegrated. As a team sport enjoyed by men, Whimpress, in Passport to Nowhere: Aborigines in Australian cricket, 1850-1939, has argued that Aborigines readily took up the playing of cricket because the game provided a forum for 'men's business' that paralleled and replaced 'traditional' activities such as hunting. It is likely that the western Kulin who made up the bulk of the Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk had learned the game from individuals associated with the Edenhope team. The diffusion of cricket across Western Victoria through the efforts of skilled Aboriginal cricketers such as 'Bullocky' at Lake Condah mission indicates that Victorian Aborigines, through their own agency, actively coopted the playing of cricket. Cricket among the Aborigines of Western Victoria spread through a bottom up and lateral expansion of the game in which missionaries played only a secondary role. As a game popularised by Aborigines themselves, cricket became an accepted and valued part of the social milieu that Aboriginal Victorians attempted to forge in the context of colonial 19th century Victoria. In this sense, cricket became a strategy for Aboriginal survival in the colonial context in the same way the more serious business of settled agriculture did for the Kulin pioneers of Acheron and Coranderrk. The pastoral origins of Aboriginal cricket in colonial Victoria indicate that the Victorian Aborigines were keen to accommodate both the working practices and recreations of their white neighbours where such accommodations were considered advantageous in producing engagements with British colonial society on terms they considered fair.
By the mid 1870s the Presbyterian Scots who had dominated the Board during its first decade had been replaced by a cadre of English Anglicans drawn from the pastoral establishment of the colony. Encouraging of cricket and its perceived civilising capabilities, The Aborigines Protection Board's actions during the 1870s and 1880s indicate that Aboriginal enthusiasm for cricket at Coranderrk was harnessed as part of a broader political agenda employed by the Board that aimed to close the Station and disperse its independently minded and troublesome residents. To achieve this end the Board employed a policy of 'divide, rule and conquer' that deliberately set about creating social and political divisions amongst Coranderrk residents. Consistent with the
influential ideas of social Darwinism, Board tactics focused on making the perceived racial divide that separated 'half-caste' from 'full-blood' the critical line of fracture. The appointment of William Goodall as Manager of Coranderrk in 1882 accentuated this strategy. Goodall, an Anglican and cricket enthusiast who had actively supported Aboriginal cricket while manager of the Church of England, operated Framlingham Aboriginal Station in Western Victoria. At Coranderrk:
Goodall was not intolerant of indigenous belief. He never refused old people's requests for holidays in their own country for he understood however dimly, that they had responsibilities and rights which an immigrant to this country must not question [but] ... Goodall had a great deal of trouble understanding the old Kulin pioneers who preferred their own language. He did his best for them but was hurt by their seeming disloyalty. He could not share their memories and misunderstood the reasons why they still, with polite obstinacy, reminded Green's successors of their loyalty to the Ngamajet leader who had helped them build their home long ago. Goodall felt more at ease with the fit young 'half-castes' of his own age who were now the best workers. He thought well of their farming skills and shared their enthusiasm for cricket. They spoke good English and because of their lifelong tuition in school or the dormitory understood ... In his homesickness he had become particularly close to ... western Kulin, the only people at Coranderrk who could talk with him of the people and the country he had left behind ... Their relations with the new manager annoyed some of the elders who could trace out everyone's genealogical claims to reside on Barak's land and muttered that some of these uppity young folk had no right.28
Goodall used his authority at Coranderrk to openly favour the 'half-caste' cricketers who were 'his best workers and leaders of his temperance campaign'.29 The Board, following advice from Goodall, granted the Aboriginal cricketers at Coranderrk lengthy leave passes which allowed team members the rare privilege to travel freely throughout the colony for the purpose of playing cricket. Goodall, close to the western Kulin due to his Framlingham experience, extended his indulgence of the Coranderrk cricketers by recommending they take up newly constructed cottages ahead of the older 'full-blood' Woiworung and Taungurong men who had pioneered the Station. To the Kulin such actions were seen as Board favouring 'foreigner' over 'traditional owner' and the privileging of the cricketers created much tension between newcomers to Coranderrk and those who saw themselves as Station pioneers. On several occasions the preferential treatment granted to the cricketers led to violent disagreement with the pioneers to whom Kulin custom conferred the right to speak for and provide authorised leadership to the community at Coranderrk.
The disputes over cultural speaking rights, unwittingly accentuated by the love of cricket that Goodall shared with the Aboriginal cricketers of Coranderrk, were incorrectly read as further evidence that 'half-castes' did not belong in the same racial and cultural space as those scientifically classified 'full-bloods'. As the Board campaign to close Coranderrk intensified in the 1880s, the belief that the superior intelligence of
the 'half-caste' demanded their removal from Aboriginal reserves and merger with colonial society became a widely accepted objective of policy among radicals and conservatives alike.30 In 1886, the Board successfully lobbied the government of Victoria in passing amendments to the Aborigines Protection Act of 1869. Commonly known as the Half-Caste Act the 1886 amendments signalled the demise of Coranderrk and of its Aboriginal cricketers as the loss of their labour made Kulin aspirations for a viable Coranderrk untenable.31

The end of Coranderrk and Aboriginal cricket

In the context of the Board strategy to close Coranderrk via a campaign determined to 'solve' the 'Aboriginal problem' by removing 'half-castes' to colonial society, Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk can be read as both a beautiful image and a carefully crafted piece of political propaganda. The Aboriginal idyll evoked is one that recommends only the 'half-caste' to a rural ideal. Emblematic of English cultural values at their best, the game of cricket framed this rural idyll. The image sought to imply the superior intelligence and ethical position of the 'half-caste' players who, because of their 'part' British ancestry, were not just 'physical' men like the 'full-blood' men who had pioneered Coranderrk.
Focussing attention on the civility of the racial position occupied by the 'half-caste', Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk suggests the players possessed the ability to understand the ethical and moral dimensions of the game because of their British heritage. Underlining the 'half-castes' greater 'racial' abilities of cultural accommodation and adaptability, Kruger's photograph provides strong visual support to the Board's policy of removing people of mixed racial heritage from Aboriginal reserves. Seeing the image as the Victorians might have read it, 'half-caste' appreciation of cricket and the quintessential Englishness that the game embodied recommended their immediate and successful merging into British colonial society; because to know cricket was to know English culture, English values and an English world view. The Act of 1886 that succeeded in enforcing the desired merger of the 'half-caste' signalled the end of Kulin aspirations for an economically independent and socially dynamic and learned Aboriginal community. Kulin attempts to create such a community were repeatedly thwarted by a Board who, guided by the racist ideology of 19th century 'science', failed to acknowledge or accept the intelligence and abilities of the 'full-blood' men and women who had requested and pioneered land at Coranderrk. The end of Coranderrk and the other Victorian reserves similarly ended a sustainable Aboriginal cricket from taking hold in the 20th century. By the 1900s, Aboriginal Victorians had abandoned the sport of cricket in favour of other sports: Australian Football, Athletics and Boxing. The abandonment of cricket often explained in terms of lack of sporting resources and facilities is on the contrary a further indication of Aboriginal agency at work.32 I believe
that the virtual disappearance of Aboriginal cricket in 20th century Victoria can, to some extent at least, be read as a rejection of English notions of 'fair-play' and the British games ethic that framed Victorian understandings of cricket. It was the absence of 'fair-play' that had witnessed the Board destroy Kulin initiative and agricultural entrepreneurship. It was the absence of 'fair-play' that ensured that Aboriginal Victorians would be stripped of dignity and self-determination and placed on the margins of society; unwanted and unworthy recipients of state welfare and private pity throughout the 20th century. Seeing their economic and social aspirations destroyed by the hollow ethic of 'fair-play', Aboriginal Victorians walked away from cricket. Thus the Australian game, monitoring Australian society more generally, missed the opportunity to be enriched and influenced by playing skills and styles that reflected in Aboriginal ways of playing the sport.
This study of Aboriginal cricket in 19th century Victoria conducted through the gaze of Kruger's camera lens reiterates the extent to which the Aboriginal affairs failures of the past continue to be repeated up to the present day. The loss suffered by Aboriginal Victorians as a result of events played out at Coranderrk in both politics and sport has been great. The impact of these forgotten mistakes of the past have been persistent and inter-generational. Aboriginal Victorians continue to struggle for the independence their ancestors at Coranderrk rightfully regarded as natural birthright. The difficulty of their struggle can be gauged in almost every measure of social and economic well-being which places the first Victorians as the last Victorians in terms of income, wealth, employment, education and health. The social and political marginalisation of Aboriginal Victorians is a cost we all continue to bear and one that diminishes all who value 'fair-play' and its contemporary Australian derivative 'a fair go'.
The loss to Victorian and Australian cricket needs to be considered in similar terms as we collectively remember what happened at Coranderrk with the shout 'It's not cricket!' In Beyond a Boundary, arguably the best cricket book ever written, C. L. R James famously asked: What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?33 The question James so pointedly asks is clearly of direct relevance to the Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk, as the fate of Aboriginal cricket cannot be appreciated without understanding the social and political contexts in which the sport emerged and later vanished. The Kulin and other Aboriginal Victorians played cricket in the spirit of 'fair-play' while the Board for the Protection of Aborigines chose to play in politics the cricketing equivalent of bodyline.

Frontispiece map in Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt, Kamilaroi and Kurnai ..., Melbourne: George Robertson, 1880.


James Dawson, Australian Aborigines, Melbourne: George Robertson, 1881.

Presentation copy from the author to his friend John Lang Currie, dated Melbourne 25 July 1881.
On page 200 of his scrapbook, Dawson copied out the telegram he had received from Lang Currie's daughter on 11 March 1898 informing him of her father's death early that morning.


F. Kruger, circa 1877, Aboriginal Cricketers at Corranderrk, Photograph, Pictures Collection, H33802/23, State Library of Victoria. Coranderrk is incorrectly spelt 'Corranderrk' on the caption to this image. This spelling has been followed where the image has been cited with the correct spelling used elsewhere.


The position of Guardian was limited to operate in the counties of Bourke and Mornington that adjoined Melbourne. 'Later the county of Evelyn was added as many of the Woiworung preferred to camp in the Yarra Ranges', D. E. Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk, Aboriginal History Monograph 5, Melbourne: Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, 1998, p. 35.


Ibid, p. 37.


Ibid, p. 38.


Ibid, p. 40.


Ibid, p. 46.


Ibid, p. 43.


Ibid, pp. 43-44.


According to Barwick (whose Rebellion at Coranderrk provides a definitive account of Board operations in the 19th century) 'The seven worthy gentlemen who volunteered their time to watch over the interests of the Aborigines in 1860, and who framed the legislation for their protection, were genuinely concerned about the social and moral issues of contemporary race relations. They had to design policies without any information on comparable problems and administrative remedies, and had to fight the inertia and greed of their fellow colonists to implement those policies. Their belief in the potential of Aborigines to adapt to their middle class version of the good life when offered opportunities for European-style schooling, housing and employment was a positively radical viewpoint ... What information Board members had on race relations overseas was limited and not reassuring. The press was full of accounts of native wars in Asia, Africa and North America; there was some alarm at the likely consequences of Mr Lincoln's policies; and for years there had been shocking accounts of Maori uprisings in New Zealand ... there was little information available on the administration of indigenous minorities in British colonies. The Board in fact had no precedents. Theirs was the first attempt to draft protective legislation in Australia – the first legislation for Canadian Indians did not appear until 1865 and welfare legislation for New Zealand Maoris was delayed until 1867. The Legislation framed by the board between 1861 and 1863, but not passed as the Aborigines Act until 1869, was intended to be benevolent. The provisions were those considered necessary by Thomas, who had seen the Woiworung and the Bunurong dwindle from 300 to 30 in two decades ... in the contemporary violence and ill will the 1869 Act was beneficial. In attempting to regulate residence, employment and access to liquor, the authors aimed to curb the nastier propensities of Europeans rather than limit the civil liberties of Aborigines.' Ibid, p. 46.


Peter Snodgrass. Snodgrass, a member of the Legislative Council and the Select Committee that had recommended the establishment of the Central Board as well as a local correspondent to the Board used his insider knowledge to dispossess the Kulin from Acheron. Shifted to an unproductive adjoining site at Mohican Station the Taungurong were unable to realise their hope to become a prosperous community of Aboriginal farmers whose cultural independence would be maintained through economic self-sufficiency.


Thomas quoted in Barwick, p. 51.


Ibid, p. 83.


'Nineteenth century Victorian officials generally believed that Aborigines were a 'childlike race' requiring authoritarian direction and paternalistic. Green was the only one ... who ever entrusted full responsibility for discipline to the residents. He was almost unique in treating the Kulin as 'free and independent men and women' who would work well if well led but would not be driven. He considered them the equal to Europeans in intelligence and superior in honesty and truthfulness; there were no locks at Coranderrk for eight years until strangers came ... He disapproved of coercion and insisted that the only effective method of bringing about change was by example and explanation. He believed that 'They are very proud and sensitive, and you can work a great deal upon their pride: in that way you can make them see that it is disgraceful to take what they have not earned ... John Green was one of the few who considered that people of wholly Aboriginal ancestry, were as intelligent and capable as 'half castes' and Europeans. He insisted that 'half-castes' had no inherent superiority; their only advantage was that they met with less prejudice from Europeans. The evidence he presented in annual reports and at later enquires was ignored'. Ibid, pp. 59, 67-68.


Ibid, p. 69.


In an admirable political campaign remarkable for its sophisticated use of public opinion and its longevity, the Kulin, led by William Barak masterfully forced the Government of Victoria to overrule Board policy and secure Aboriginal tenure of Coranderrk. In response the Board changed tactics and lobbied for the removal of the 'half-castes'. The intelligence and understanding of colonial politics that Barak possessed is evidenced in his letter to the Argus in 1882 in which he implores public support for Kulin aspirations. 'Sir, – We beg of you to put in our little column in you valuable paper please. We have seen and heard that the managers of all the stations and the Central Board to have had a meeting about what to be done, so we have heard there is going to be very strict rules on the station and more rules will be to much for us, it seems we are all going to be treated like slaves, far as we heard of it, – we wish to ask those Managers of the station Did we steal anything out of the colony or murdered anyone or are we prisoners or convict. We should think we are all free any white man of the colony. When we all heard of it, it made us very vex it enough to make us all go mad the way they are going to treat us it seems very hard. We all working in peace and quietness and happy, please Mr. Goodall, and also showing Mr Goodall that we could work if we had a good manager expecting our wishes to be carried out, what we have asked for, but it seems it was the very opposite way. So we don't know what to do since we heard those strict rules planned out. It has made us downhearted. We must try again and go to the head of the Colony. – We are all your Most Obedient Servants, Wm Barak (X), Tho. Avoca, Dick Richard (X), Tho. Mickey (X), Lankey (X), Lankey Manto, Tho Dunolly, Robert Wandon, Alfred Morgan, Wm Parker. Coranderrk, August 29, 1882', quoted A. Heiss, and P. Minter, 2008, Macquarie Pen Anthology of Aboriginal Literature, Allen and Unwin, Sydney: p. 15.


Jane Lydon, Eye Contact: photographing Indigenous Australians, Durham: Duke University Press, 2005, p. 125.


Ibid, p. 126.


Ibid, p. 129.


K. A. P. Sandiford, Cricket and the Victorians, Aldershot, Hampshire: Scholar Press, Aldershot, 1994, pp. 1-2.


See Ashley Mallett, The Black Lords of Summer: the story of the 1868 Aboriginal tour of England and beyond, St. Lucia, QLD: UQP, 2002. See also D. J. Mulvaney, Cricket Walkabout: the Australian cricketers on tour 1867-68, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1967.


Hamilton Spectator, 25 August 1866, quoted in B. Whimpress, Passport to Nowhere: Aborigines in Australian cricket 1850-1939, Sydney: Walla Walla Press, 1999, pp. 74-75.


The professional status of the Aboriginal team and the exoticism that it used to draw crowds was considered to be degrading to the cricketing ideals of the Victorians. The entertainment qualities of the all Aboriginal team which mixed cricket with displays of savage pursuits including spear and boomerang throwing were frowned upon by the Victorian cricket purist because these reminded them of the Georgian cricket of the 18th century and its popular commercial element that came to associate the game with excessive drunkenness and unscrupulous gambling. See D. Underdown, Start of Play: cricket and culture in eighteenth century England, London: Allen Lane, 2000.


Whimpress, Meston quoted in ibid, p. 31.


Whimpress, Spencer quoted in ibid, p. 31.


Ibid, p. 36.


Mosely quoted in Lydon, p. 125.


For an in-depth and considered discussion of the relationship between Victorian and Edwardian understandings of race in the context of imperial cricket, see J. Williams Cricket and Race, Oxford: Berg Press, 2001.


Barwick, p. 264.


Ibid, p. 277.


While the conservative members of the Board led by Edward Curr had long advocated the merging the 'half-caste' population with the broader colonial society, by the 1880s this policy agenda had succeeded in gaining the support of anti-Board radicals including the wealthy land holder and philanthropist, Anne Bon, Premier and Chief Secretary of Victoria, Graham Berry and his political protégé and the future prime minister of Australia, Alfred Deakin.


See John Chesterman and Brian Galligan, Citizens Without Rights: Aboriginal and Australian citizenship, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2001.


For purely economic arguments for the disappearance of Aboriginal cricket see C. Tatz, Obstacle Race: Aborigines in Sport, Kensington, NSW: UNSW Press, 1995.


C. L. R. James, Beyond a Boundary, Durham: Duke University Press, 1993 (first published 1963).