Culture, 'race' and discrimination in the 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour of England.
Preface: Vignettes of the Aboriginal tour of England
From a press account of the Aboriginal team's appearance in Manchester:
the variety of performances by the Aboriginals illustrative of their mode of using their native weapons of war or the chase ]would doubtless] prove far more interesting than their skill--no matter how creditable--in a game to the manner in which they were not born (Graham 1868:33). (1)
From a letter written by a daughter of William Hayman, manager of the 1868 Aboriginal team on the tour of England:
One 'Flash Dick' (Dicky Dick) fell in love with a white girl in an Hotel at home [i.e. England] and she would have married him if he had stayed behind but Father made him come. I feel quite certain that the two [chronically ill Aborigines] you mention were not sent back to Australia; if so Father would have been sure to have told us. He always spoke of their good behaviour on the whole. Johnny Mullagh: the good bat was rather inclined to sulk! & once he left him at an Hotel for a couple of days where he had to work for his keep & after that he was no trouble (Hayman 1933). (2)
From the memoirs of William South Norton, the Kent cricketing gentleman related by marriage to William Hayman. Norton received the touring Aborigines at his home in Town Malling, arranged for them to stay there and occasionally acted as the captain of their team.
Two of them, Mullagh and Johnny Cuzens, may be spoken of as having acquired great proficiency in the game ... The rest were very poor players, being boomerangers and spear throwers rather than cricketers ... but for the fact that the race is dying out fast, more Mullaghs and Cuzenses would have been trained in the Colony ... I and others tried hard to conciliate and please these savages, and to get friendly with them; but except as regards Johnny Cuzens, without success. The latter was seriously ill while at Mailing. We carefully nursed him and he was most grateful. His was a cheerful, kindly disposition, and he would have assimilated to the best of the poorer classes in our civilisation (Norton 1907:64-5). (3)
The author is probably WB Tegetmeier, science writer, correspondent of Charles Darwin and England's foremost pigeon expert:
In common with all those who take an interest in the various types of the human kind, I have had much pleasure in witnessing from time to time the progress of the band of Aboriginal cricketers who have now departed from our shores to return no more ... Indeed it is doubtful whether there will ever again be seen in the northern hemisphere so many examples of these unhappy races ... In the struggle for existence the weaker race has gone to the wall ... the Tasmanian type ... to be followed by the Red Men of North America and the wild blacks of the Australian continent. Taking advantage of the presence of the Australians in England I ... made several [ethnological] measurements of these men ... thinking they may be of as much interest to the general reader as I know them to be scientific observers (Graham 1868:335).
From the memoirs of William Shepherd, Surrey cricket professional, who umpired, captained and travelled with the Aboriginal team throughout the tour:
The Aborigines, at heart, did not like the white man, and were of rather a sulky disposition, but by exercising tact I got on extremely well with them, finding them all right with a little bit of 'sugar, i.e. humouring' (Shepherd 1919:130).
During the 2009 Ashes series in England, cricket commentators will remind us that the first Australian cricket side to tour England and to play at Lord's and the Oval was the Aboriginal team of 1868. Popular and official recognition of the 1868 Aborigines as Australia's first international cricketers--recognition that Ian Chappell and others have been campaigning to achieve--is welcome and long overdue. It is a deserved tribute to the Aboriginal team's remarkable skills and fortitude and perhaps a small measure of compensation for the generally shameful history of race-based exclusion, denied opportunity and prejudice against Aborigines in Australian first-class cricket (see Whimpress 1999).
But implying that the Aboriginal tour conformed to the cricketing practices or the relatively egalitarian, race-blind ideals of all other Australian cricket tours of England is historically misleading. It also does two injustices to the Aboriginal team.
First, it implicitly obscures the centrality of the racially based exploitation, denigration and sufferings that confronted the Aboriginal performers during 12 difficult months of estrangement from their native lands. As the preceding vignettes indicate, discriminatory racial practices, racial ideologies and racial science subjected the disempowered Aboriginal team to hardships and humiliations completely unknown to every white Australian cricket team in England. Appreciating what they had to deal with begins to explain William Shepherd's (1919:130) observation that the 'Aborigines, at heart, did not like the white man'.
Quite simply, the tour was part of settler and colonial power over Aborigines, rather than an idealised and ahistorical exception to it. It was consistent with, not an exception to, the accompanying British prejudices, ideology and science that perceived Australian Aborigines as racially distinctive, fascinating, primitive and inferior.
Second, a predominant concentration on the cricketing aspects of the Aboriginal tour fails to do justice to the magnificent non-cricketing achievements of its Aboriginal performers. It has obscured and trivialised the thrilling demonstrations of Aboriginal weapons and culture that comprised their most popular displays for the British public (Sampson 2000).
It is nothing short of astounding that the handful of young Aboriginal men who had survived the colonisation of the Wimmera were able to quickly produce two cricketers as consistently outstanding as Johnny Mullagh and Johnny Cuzens. As was rapidly apparent in England and Australia, however, only a minority of an Aboriginal team hastily trained from such a tiny selection pool could possibly have been better than adequate cricketers. But every one of them proved capable of providing spectacular and unique performances with Aboriginal implements.
Restricting our perspectives to an international cricket tour dominated by two star players of an English game highlights one incomplete part of the story. It unfairly overshadows the historically important achievement of all of the 1868 Aboriginal performers in pioneering spectacular dramatisations of Australian Aboriginal culture and technologies for major international audiences.
When cricket commentators do commemorate the Aboriginal tour as the first Australian cricket tour of England, it should also be remembered that it was also the only Australian cricket tour:
* whose illiterate members were subject to a contract they were unable to understand and that guaranteed almost all benefits to management (Sampson 1998)
* whose members were paid nothing but living expenses, despite a program that has never been approached for its length and arduous performance schedule
* whose Aboriginal cultural expertise and racial identity proved its most enduring attractions for English audiences
* where one player, King Cole, died on tour; at least one other, Johnny Cuzens, nearly died and two others were sent home chronically ill (Maidstone Telegraph, 30 May 1868; Norton 1907:385-6)
* whose players were denied the right of providing a captain for their own cricket team because they were regarded as racially incapable of leadership
* whose appeal was enhanced by being viewed as a doomed Stone Age race
* whose greatest cricketer was intimidated and humiliated by being forced to survive as a menial worker in a hotel
* whose management wielded unparalleled power over the public and private lives of the team because the Aborigines were financially and culturally powerless in an alien environment
* whose players were subjected to anthropological measurement and incessant racial scrutiny.
Most of the 13 Aborigines who embarked on the tour of Britain were from the Jardwadjali, Gunditjmara and Wotjabaluk nations in the Wimmera region of western Victoria. The seizure of traditional lands by pastoralists during the early years of their childhood had been violent, rapid and catastrophic--impacting profoundly on their capacity for physical survival and customary ways of life (Clark 1989, 1998; Critchett 1990; Pascoe 2007).
A handful of young Aboriginal men who struggled to survive on the sheep stations that had recently been their ancestral lands were encouraged by a few Wimmera pastoralists to play cricket. When some of the Aborigines displayed precocious abilities, William Hayman, a Kentish emigre, local pastoralist and cricket enthusiast, organised for them to be coached by Tom Wills and then Charles Lawrence, two of Australia's leading cricketers, in preparation for playing against white teams in front of paying audiences. They toured Victoria, then New South Wales, in 1867 and Victoria, Sydney and Britain a year later.
Always under a white captain, usually Lawrence, and under white Australian management and entrepreneurs, the ten Aboriginal members who completed the tour played a relentless and unprecedented schedule of 47 matches against intermediate-level English amateur teams from May to October 1868, winning as many as they lost. But after an initial flurry of interest in the cricket, there was little spectator concern for the results of most of their matches.
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On the final afternoon of every contest, each cricket game was abruptly terminated, according to schedule, even if a close finish was in prospect. Audience numbers swelled, specifically to witness the eagerly anticipated displays of Aboriginal bodies, skills and weapons that were unprecedented attractions on British soil and which, therefore, became the feature of advertisements (Figures 1 and 2).
The Reverend JG Wood, a respected English scientific author, described how primitivist costuming satisfied British racial expectations of Aborigines. He lamented that when he saw them dressed in their grey European clothes and even their vivid cricketing uniforms, 'there was nothing remarkable about them, and in fact they seemed to be very ordinary persons indeed' (Wood 1870:3). But then the Aborigines moved into tents to change from civilised cricket apparel into a costume that approximated the black near-naked bodies that British audiences expected of a Stone Age race. Thus:
with their clothes they threw off the commonplace look, and attired only in tight 'fleshings' died as nearly as possible the colour of their black skins, with a piece of fur wrapped around their loins and a sort of fur cap on their heads, they walked with a proud elastic step that contrasted strangely with their former gait (Wood 1870:3).
Standing in two lines they used woomeras to propel spears at their opposites 100 yards distant. They curled boomerangs around the field and around spectators' heads to return at their feet, although the effect of high winds on the boomerangs sometimes put spectators' hats and heads in peril (Sporting Life, 30 May 1868; Times, 14 September 1868; Field, 19 September 1868). A solo Aboriginal performer known as Dick-a-Dick used a club and shield to deflect and dodge cricket balls hurled at his body by three or four audience volunteers.
The Aboriginal team members successfully competed in running, jumping, hurdling, running backwards and other novelty contests, in addition to demonstrating Aboriginal implements and even stockwhips. Assessments of their cricketing skills ranged from laudatory to patronising to dismissive and harshly critical. But journalists' evaluations of their performances and repeated descriptions of excited audience reactions leave no doubt that the displays of costumed Aboriginal bodies and unique native implements were the highlights of their appearances. Spectators came to see Australian Aborigines and whereas cricket minimised their racial and cultural exoticism, Aboriginal performances, costuming and implements emphasised it. Analysis of estimated audience numbers throughout the tour indicates that an average of 2500 spectators attended on the days that featured Aboriginal displays compared to an average of 1500 on days where only cricket was featured (Sampson 2000:207, 409-12).
Aboriginal cricketers had never before been seen in England, nor such elaborate and accomplished demonstrations of their unique Indigenous weapons - regularly described as native sports, Aboriginal sports, Australian sports and savage sports. But the tour was a new twist to an established genre. Previous tours had brought other native performers to England to similarly satisfy audience interest in exotic peoples, sport, entertainment and popular science.
Sport, primitive bodies and Indigenous predecessors of the Aboriginal tour
In the mid-Victorian era 'race' was an almost universally accepted category that was believed to determine human abilities, hierarchy and the capacity for evolutionary survival. The new language, ideologies and science of white racial superiority had become established by the mid-nineteenth century, reflecting the consolidation of European dominance over colonised native peoples. Immutable biological determinism had superseded environmental understandings of racial difference (Hannaford 1996; Malik 1996).
The biological construction of race has been identified from the late eighteenth century. Its temper and interpretative reach can be gauged by the liberal scientist and pre-historian Sir John Lubbock's (1978 [1869-1870]:360) contention that the 'close resemblance existing in ideas, language, habits and character between savages and children' had been unjustly neglected by science. In ethnology and physical anthropology, racial science established itself as the respectable discourse that legitimised colonial dominance and ultimately exculpated British civilisation for calamitous declines in Indigenous populations.
Humanitarian 'ethnologicals' like Lubbock, Huxley and Darwin argued ferociously with hardline 'anthropologicals', (4) led by Hunt and supported by Carlyle and Farrar, about colonial-racial policy and the origins of racial difference (Stocking 1982:252). But they shared a racial determinism that consigned 'primitive' or 'Stone Age' races to rapid extinction. Like South American Tierra del Fuegans, South African San, Central African Pygmies, Native Americans and Maori, Aborigines were regarded as an intellectually inferior race that would soon vanish from the earth. Few disagreed that anatomically defined non-European races were fascinating, albeit inferior, and inevitably, inescapably, doomed (Sampson 2000:63-9). Australian Aborigines, indeed, 'tended to be the model for these [anthropological] discussions of disappearing races' (Lorimer 1978:145). The apparent certainty of their imminent extinction was a significant aspect of their fascination for both scientists and popular audiences.
The dominance of colonialism and its new ideologies of race gave fresh impetus to a centuries-old practice of importing rare and exotic peoples to display in the colonial metropolis. The small-scale entrepreneurs who brought them to England were commonly emigres to the colonies who had established relations of power and sometimes of trust with the native peoples they imported. The susceptible native 'imports' knew little of the dependence, difficulties and dangers that they would face in England, and managers tempted them with contracts and promises that they often broke.
Such speculators/managers pursued more than financial profits from the proceeds of public entertainment. They also sought to benefit in prestige and valuable social opportunities because exotic racial curiosities were sensational novelties. They were attractions that gained their managers prized invitations to London's most fashionable, wealthy and aristocratic gatherings at the height of 'the season', London's famed period of elite social occasions beginning in spring.
A varied range of Victorian show-spaces and viewing opportunities were used to display exotic races in England, from rural fairgrounds and urban exhibition halls to museums, international exhibitions and private gatherings of respected scientific institutions (Altick 1978; Connolly 1855; Sampson 2000:55-8). Commercial shows combined popular science with entertainment in devising imaginative ways to publicly display exotic native peoples to an inquisitive public that spanned all social classes.
The mid-Victorian age in England was a crucial transitional era for sport. Modern sport was starting to emerge. While it continued to retain some of its pre-industrial characteristics, it was developing towards its urbanised, representative, internationalised and institutionalised forms (Holt 1989). Very briefly, English cricket offered a favourable window for the Aboriginal tour, coming just after the decline of the privately organised, professional travelling elevens that challenged local teams, and just before the beginnings of both the county championship and (white) Anglo-Australian international cricket.
Sport appeared to be a universal activity. Competitive pursuits like running, jumping, hurdling, wrestling, rowing and horse-riding looked to be common across a broad spectrum of cultures and peoples. A significant Native American cultural activity such as lacrosse was interpreted among 'Native sports' before being co-opted as a European game (Vennum 1994). A Tutsi activity, gusimbuka-urukiramende, was misinterpreted as high-jumping (Bale 1997). Shooting, hunting and fishing were highly prestigious British pursuits and sporting commonality could be depicted in an evolutionary continuum beginning with Hottentots, Native Americans and Australian Aborigines with spears, arrows and boomerangs and continuing up to civilised aristocrats fox-hunting with rifles.
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Physical anthropology measured what were presumed to be race-specific physical attributes that could be vividly compared in inter-racial sporting contests such as running and boxing (Hoberman 1997:97-114). Inter-racial bare-knuckle boxing contests were the earliest and most dramatic, with British champions pitted against black American pugilists like Bill Richmond and Tom Molineux from the early nineteenth century (Fryer 1984: 444-54). Scientific and popular interest was considerable because, while science agreed on the intellectual, technological and spiritual inferiority of primitive peoples, physical abilities were a more controversial issue (Hoberman 1997:100-106). It was a natural transition for entrepreneurs to take advantage of British fascination with sport and racial difference by bringing underpaid non-European peoples to new sporting venues for large concentrations of paying spectators.
George Catlin's remarkable displays of Native Americans brought to Europe in the 1830s and '40s were influential precursors of the practice. Catlin's spectacular shows included pulsating performances of hunting with bows and arrows on horseback, as well as inter-racial rowing contests (Figure 3).
In the early 1860s a Seneca Native American runner known as Deerfoot became a sensation in Britain, not only for his athletic prowess but also for the primitivist costuming, bare skin and body display that attracted immense spectator interest (Lucas 1983) (Figure 4).
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Just one year before the Aboriginal tour, Captain WB Johnson brought a group of Native Americans from Canada to Britain. They demonstrated their recently appropriated Indigenous activity of lacrosse (Figure 5), as well as performing war dances. Other Native Americans were imported for similar purposes in 1876 (pictured) and 1883 (Vennum 1994).
From the first performances of the Aboriginal cricket team in Australia, observers recognised the implications for racial science. One journalist dismissed the value of the Aborigines' cricket games but advocated that the athletics contests ('in which, unlike all other things, we are not their masters') should provide the basis for an interracial 'Olympic games' (Australasian, 5 January 1867). He proposed that results of the white--Aboriginal contests, combined with European adoption of scientific gymnastic training, might measure and remedy common fears concerning 'the physical degeneracy of our race' in the warm climate (Australasian, 5 January 1867).
William Hayman, the manager of the Aboriginal team, promoted the team to Australian audiences by emphasising their imminent racial extinction. His letter to the Australasian publicised their appearances by emphasising that the opportunity to see them would soon vanish: 'these men are literally and truly the last of their race, and in a few years the aboriginals will have ceased to exist in the West Wimmera district' (Australasian, 16 February 1867).
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In Australia feverish initial interest in an Aboriginal team playing cricket quickly waned (Argus, 27 December 1876; Age, 28 December 1866; Australasian, 11 May 1867). Neither cricket nor athletics was effective in displaying a distinctive Aboriginal identity and the results of the contests were unimportant. The turning point in their performances came when Charles Lawrence usurped Tom Wills as captain. Under Wills, the spear and boomerang demonstrations were in a formative and under-rehearsed state (Leader, 11 May 1867). The Aboriginal team had even suffered public embarrassment when in an early boomerang display in Wollongong, a local Aborigine joined in and made the team look incompetent (Fleming 1968:9). Nevertheless, shrewd observers predicted that although the team would be outclassed by the best English cricketers, their demonstrations of spears and boomerangs could sustain intense interest in Britain (Fleming 1968:9). Lawrence, an astute and opportunistic former English professional who understood the tastes of British spectators, supervised the construction and rehearsal of a unique and spectacular Aboriginal show.
It is important to emphasise the crucial level of Aboriginal knowledge, input and collaboration that was necessary to construct the Aboriginal elements of the shows. At the same time, Lawrence appreciated the primitivist elements--bodily displays, unique weapons and the thrill of danger--that would induce British spectators to pay money to see Aborigines. Lawrence organised the team to diligently practice throwing spears, boomerangs and other Aboriginal implements, understanding that 'these exhibitions will be the means of drawing thousands to see the matches, &c. which it is proposed to play' (Geelong Advertiser, 21 October 1867). He designed their faux-naked costumes. He was probably responsible for the savage 'war cry' the Aborigines emitted when they took the field (Maidstone Telegraph, 30 May 1868). And he added to the troupe Charlie Dumas, a magnificent virtuoso with woomera, spear and boomerang. Having no pretensions to cricketing skills, Dumas could propel a spear 140 yards and throw four boomerangs simultaneously (Brighton Herald, 13 June 1868; Ballarat Courier, 4 March 1869).
After 11 weeks of rehearsal since their previous show, the full and elaborate performance was premiered in Sydney for Prince Albert, the visiting Duke of Edinburgh. Events organised for the royal tour, then regarded as one of the biggest events in Australian colonial history, indicated the level of British interest in Aboriginal spectacle, performance and ethnography.
'King Billy' (William Lanney), '"the last man" [sic] of the [Tasmanian] native race' (Milner 1869:343) was brought to a royal regatta in Hobart for an audience with Prince Albert. In Brisbane a living archway of semi-naked Aborigines in war dress startled the royal visitor (Milner 1869:383-4). At Lake Alexandrina, white residents organised an Aboriginal corroboree for the Duke (Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers, 26 November 1867; McKinlay 1970:43-4). On the banks of the eastern Murray River, the royal party intruded on an Aboriginal burial site, which they decided 'was quite in keeping with the idea that the race was fast passing away' (Milner 1869:188). The Colonial Secretary was funding another corroboree of more than a hundred Aborigines in Hyde Park, Sydney, for the Duke. Albert indicated his interest in 'native sports' that would be 'the greatest novelty to him' (Sydney Morning Herald 2 November 1867). The Aboriginal displays (or shows) developed by Lawrence were a triumph and Lawrence and the Aborigines sailed to England three days later.
The Aboriginal performances in England
British readers recognised that the Aboriginal tour conformed to a familiar entrepreneurial practice that used sport to present exotic peoples for the entertainment of English spectators. London's Sportsman observed that: 'It seems now to be an established custom to import annually some sporting novelty from the colonies. Thus, last year, we had the Indian La Crosse players from Canada, and this season we are to have the Aboriginal cricket players from Australia', and yet another Native American runner in the tradition of Deerfoot was anticipated: 'our next imported novelty is likely, I hear, to be an Indian runner from Canada. I can't spell his name, and forget his time, but I can vouch for the fact that both are very extraordinary' (Sportsman, 9 May 1868).
William Hayman and Charles Lawrence, the principal English-born, cricket-loving organisers of the tour, were well aware of English curiosity in Aborigines, as well as the potential benefits for managers of visiting Indigenous troupes. Hayman stood to make a thousand pounds plus five percent of net profits; Lawrence had played in privately organised cricket tours, knew of Deerfoot, and boasted of having hatched a plan seven years earlier to make a fortune by taking spear- and boomerang-throwing Aboriginal cricketers to England (Lawrence 1989:37; Sampson 1998; Sampson 2000:176).
Whereas cricket and the Aborigines' displays of European sports were 'not very wonderful...not at all comparable with their really magnificent displays with their special weapons' (Observer, 31 May 1868), boomerangs, in particular, defined the Aboriginal performers as genuine, exotic and mysterious. As 'the strangest and most nationally characteristic of the exercises of the blackfellows' (Gravesend and Dartford Reporter, 6 June 1868), boomerangs defined the racial authenticity of their exponents for, as WB Tegetmeier confidently claimed, boomerang expertise 'is said never to be acquired by any of the colonists, or even by their children born in the colony' (Field, 23 May 1868).
In the 1830s boomerangs had become a minor craze in British universities and were available in toy shops, but quickly lost their popularity when English buyers found they refused to return. Accordingly, newspaper descriptions and crowd reactions to the unprecedented 1868 performances were rhapsodic. Boomerangs were described as birds in flight, whirring as they sliced through the air, usually returning to the feet of their throwers, 'now sailing like a swallow, now poising itself like a sky-lark, and now flying in circles like a pigeon, till it swoops like a hawk' (Gravesend and Dartford Reporter, 6 June 1868). Like Aboriginal bodies and physical aptitudes, boomerangs challenged the prejudice of racial science. In an era when they were believed to be a 'child-race' and defined by science as 'savages' or 'barbarians', how could Aborigines have pioneered a technology that had escaped the superior European race? After being amazed by a boomerang performance, the Norwich Mercury of 29 July pondered: 'how the most profound principles displayed in its construction could have been discovered by these barbarians, or by what accident the use of so eccentric a missile could have been revealed to them'.
Colonel Augustus Lane Fox (later Baron Pitt-Rivers), the famed archaeologist and an observer of the Aboriginal performances at the Oval in May, confirmed that only 'instinct' could have led Aborigines, 'a people of the lowest grade', to accidentally discover the boomerang (Pitt-Rivers 1906 :125). He concluded that as even apes throw sticks and stones, so primitive peoples throw sticks, and Aborigines must have accidentally hit upon one that returned. A pioneering pre-historian and Darwinian, Sir John Lubbock, demurred slightly, accepting that as the returning boomerang existed in no other culture, it constituted proof of a small but undeniably independent technological advance--though 'a small one indeed' by 'true savages' (Lubbock 1978 [1869-1870]:332). They agreed that the Aborigines lacked sufficient intellectual capacities to truly invent and understand the unique technology they so brilliantly displayed.
Woomerah and spears
The performances with woomerah and spears (Figure 6) introduced international audiences to another Aboriginal technology. In conjunction with exotic body costuming, they excited British audiences by fulfilling expectations of primitive racial savagery, as Reverend Wood's (1870:45) tremulous observations convey:
the very fact of quivering the spear acts on the Australian warrior as it does upon the African. The whirring sound of the vibrating weapon excited him to a pitch of frenzied excitement and while menacing his foe with the trembling spear, the warrior dances and leaps and yells as if he were mad--and indeed for the moment he becomes a raving madman.
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To further replicate racial stereotypes of primitive war and Aboriginal savagery, the displays were staged as 'sham fights', the men hurling the spears towards each other up to 100 yards distant. They were thrilling spectacles and if the boomerang performances endangered spectators, the spears seemed to imperil the very lives of the performers:
almost every spear would have killed its man had he not evaded it by nimbly stepping aside, just in time to escape the blow of the spear ... One man was loudly cheered for having allowed one of the spears to come as close as could be to where he stood, striking the ground about two inches from him (Illustrated Sporting and Theatrical News, 10 October 1868).
Dick-a-Dick: a real Wotjabaluk warrior
Dick-a-Dick's (Figure 7) provocative and wildly popular individual feat of dodging and warding off cricket balls with agility, native spear and club remains the least understood element of Aboriginal culture pioneered for English audiences in 1868. Naked but for black skin-tight leggings and short drawers of opossum skin, lightly clutching a narrow shield in his left hand and an L-shaped leowell (a small Aboriginal club) in his right, his skill and courage defied the cricket balls pelted at his body by spectators.
His extraordinary showmanship drew repeated applause and gasps of acclaim. He stood stock-still, coolly allowing balls to hurtle past, five centimetres from his head or body; languidly raised a slender shield to parry a projectile hurtling at his face; lifted an arm to permit a missile to pass between limb and body; tilted his head to allow the ball to ruffle his hair like a boxer slipping a punch; dropped down to one knee; and mocked his frustrated assailants by laughing, mugging, grinning, abandoning his protective weapons and poking out his tongue, as he yelled and danced before them (Maidstone Journal, 1 June 1868; Middlesbrough Weekly News and Cleveland Advertiser, 28 August 1868).
The cricket match against the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) at Lord's on June 13-14 is the most famous accomplishment of the Aboriginal team, as well as remaining a somewhat equivocal symbol of racial acceptance from the highest levels of English society.
George Catlin's Iowa troupe and the Native American lacrosse troupe had previously performed at Lord's, as had teams in some novelty cricket matches and even clowns. But a stuffy MCC Committee, intent on restoring the ground's dignity, initially refused to host the Aboriginal team in the belief 'that the exhibition was not one suited for Lord's ground' (MCC Committee minutes, 26 March 1868). It eventually agreed to stage the cricket game but refused permission for the performances of Aboriginal culture, stipulating 'that no exhibition except the cricket match take place on the Ground' (MCC Committee minutes, 18 May 1868). Even then it attempted to obscure the racial identity of the team by changing 'black team' to 'Australian team' on handbills. The Field pilloried the MCC for this futile charade--everyone knew the racial composition of the team (Field, 13 June 1868).
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Eager to enhance gate money that would defray costs for recent building improvements, RA Fitzgerald, the MCC's first paid secretary, did not want to restrict the Lord's appearance to cricket. He knew that the Aboriginal performances would greatly boost audience numbers, even if the MCC charged premium entrance prices. Public pressure demanded the Aboriginal performances, and Fitzgerald was well aware of 'a very general wish ... that some of the Australian sports should be displayed after the match is terminated' (Pridham 1930:11).
A subcommittee led by Fitzgerald side-stepped the annoyed committee (MCC Committee minutes, 15 June 1868) and at the end of the match, spears, boomerangs and Dick-a-Dick thrilled huge crowds. A curmudgeonly The Times condemned 'what may be called a travestie [sic] upon cricketing at Lord's', and its report omitted all |reference to the non-cricketing performances (The Times, 15 June 1868). Fitzgerald's decision was vindicated when a somewhat disappointing first-day cricket attendance almost doubled to 6000 on the second afternoon for the Aboriginal performances (Bell's Life in London, 20 June 1868; Illustrated Sporting and Theatrical News, 20 June 1868).
The patrician prejudices of the MCC Committee and The Times 140 years ago are understandable. But does some misplaced embarrassment linger even today at the dignity of a cricket match being overshadowed by the popularity of something that sounds like a racial novelty act? Johnny Mullagh's magnificent innings of 75 is rightly celebrated; less so Johnny Cuzens' ten wickets. But Dick-a-Dick's starring role is forgotten. At Lord's the climax occurred when onlookers became so carried away by the spectacle of the semi-naked Aborigine expertly wielding his shield and club that 'the crowd broke into the ring, as at the Oval, and carried Dick-a-Dick to the dressing room on its shoulders' (Illustrated Sporting and Theatrical News, 20 June 1868). Journalists praised Dick-a-Dick's performance as an amazing feat of dexterity, showmanship and courage. But there was little appreciation that what they were seeing was a real Aboriginal warrior imaginatively adapt an aspect of traditional Aboriginal law to satisfy the theatrical expectations of white audiences.
Foreign Field Sports of the Native Inhabitants of New South Wales, a supplement of the 1814 illustrated booklet entitled Foreign Field Sports, included an illustration, entitled Trial, of a 'native sport' (Figure 8). It explained that the single warrior was undergoing a trial by combat for violating Aboriginal law.
For British readers, the same Aboriginal practice was described in some detail by Chambers Journal in an 1864 article entitled 'The Australian blacks'. In 1865 a depiction (Figure 9) in the Illustrated Melbourne Post indicated that the practice remained current in Aboriginal culture.
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Just as few spectators appreciated the deep roots of Dick-a-Dick's performances in Aboriginal law, traditional culture and 'Aboriginal sports', who was in a position to realise that the seemingly hazardous feat of evading cricket balls must have been child's play for a Wotjabaluk warrior trained to defy real weapons?
One Englishman who did witness Dick-a-Dick first hand was W Glanville Wills, an English visitor to Australia during the Aboriginal team's first tour when the show was in its early stages of development. The team played at Redfern and Glanville. Wills watched Dick-a-Dick excel in the team's spear and boomerang demonstrations. Then:
four of the blacks stationed themselves in different parts of the circle armed with spears, Dick being in the centre with a native shield. The blacks then attacked him with the spears, but he warded all the shots off with the shield ... Then four of the white men took the places of the blacks armed with cricket balls, which they flung with all their force at Dick, but he was prepared for each one as it came (Wills 1871:34-5).
JC Hamilton was a Wimmera pastoralist and brother of William Hayman's old cricketing friend Tom Hamilton, who helped introduce the Aborigines to cricket. JC Hamilton's memoirs described a local Aboriginal 'sport [which] consisted of throwing spears, boomerangs, sham fights with waddies and blunt spears, the latter warded off by a long shield.... Two young men would attack each other, throwing spears with great force, which were turned off by a shield' (Hamilton 1923:101). It is likely that after Hayman saw some of the Aboriginal team performing the 'sport', he, Wills or Lawrence realised that it would thrill white audiences and so decided to incorporate it in the team's performances.
But Dick-a-Dick deserves the creative credit. When the team's spear and boomerang performances were still missing their mark during the first tour, Dick's warrior skills in his individual display were already fully formed, an indication that he had developed them long before, not for paid performances on English cricket fields but for his tribal and ceremonial life. He was recognised by both the other Aborigines and their management as being supremely capable of the daring, dexterity, charisma and performance skills needed to adapt an Aboriginal skill for European expectations. The audience rewarded him by pressing money into his hands and he was shrewd enough to extract individual payment from management, too.
Like Charlie Dumas, he showed no skills as a cricketer but neither man seemed to care and both men's pre-eminent skills with Aboriginal implements were essential to the success of the tour.
Race and the experiences of the Aboriginal team in England
Although the Aborigines endured hardship and suffering in England as a consequence of racial subordination, it would be misleading to view them as passive victims subjected to unrelieved misery. Until the tour degenerated into an incessant grind of pointless contests and problems with illness, home-sickness, weariness and alcohol, they probably relished many of their early experiences of being feted and indulged (see Sampson 2000:197-345). The tour did provide temporary opportunities that were denied to Aborigines in the Wimmera: the satisfaction of being lionised by mass audiences and received by England's most privileged classes; the experience of adventure and travel; access to adequate lodgings provided by their management; the enjoyment of the status of star performer instead of being just another Wimmera Aboriginal struggling to survive; the occasional possibility of romance with an English woman; and the pleasures and perils of legally available alcohol.
But compare it to the immensity of their negative experiences: death and regular illness due to an unaccustomed climate; long separation from their land and peoples; an exhausting and unrelenting work schedule; constant racial scrutiny from curiosity-seekers even intruding into moments of privacy and grief; an abyss of cultural unfamiliarity; being denied their rightful pay at tour's end; knowing that their security and daily survival in England, together with their eventual ability to return home, was entirely at the pleasure of their management.
Profound cultural misunderstandings even turned well-meaning sympathy and support into mutual miscomprehension and Aboriginal distress. When King Cole neared death in Guy's Hospital, the rest of the team was required to perform in Bishop Stortford. Unknowingly, spectators peered into the tents that were used as change-rooms to gawk at Aborigines and to shake their hands. An unusual journalistic insight appreciated some elements of Aboriginal emotional trauma, perceiving that the Aborigines were 'exceedingly grateful for any little kindness, and as readily sensitive of an insult' (Hefts and Essex Observer, 27 June 1868). Charles Lawrence later expressed his bewilderment: 'it is a curious thing that not one of his comrades ever mentioned his name or made the slightest reference to him after his death' (Haigh 1996:4). This cross-cultural incomprehension is excruciating to imagine: sympathetic attempts by managers and spectators to express commiseration; the Aborigines avoiding mention of their dead countryman's name in observance of their beliefs; subsequent misinterpretation of the 'sullen' or 'surly' Aborigines by rebuffed white sympathisers.
There is scant personal documentation of the tour. None of it is from the Aboriginal performers, apart from one comment attributed to Twopenny, the skilful and wilful cricketer and boomerang-thrower from New South Wales (he and Dumas, both apparently recruited by Charles Lawrence, were probably the only non-Wimmera Aborigines in the team). Years later, Twopenny apparently recalled England as 'a cold and lonely place' (Henderson c. 1890). The few direct personal accounts by active white participants (Lawrence and Shepherd) and the many brief journalistic articles indicate that while the Aborigines were certainly regarded as racial and social inferiors by their management and audiences, they were rarely subjected to hostility.
In the wake of native revolts against British colo-nialism in Jamaica (1865) and India (1857) and the ascendancy of racial science, English racial prejudice was acute by the late 1860s (Bolt 1971:75-108; Hyam 1976:74-80; Lorimer 1978:12-14; Shipman 1994:53-69; Walvin 1973:171-7). But like other troupes of Indigenous performers, the visiting Aborigines constituted no real or imagined danger to their hosts. They enriched their lives by providing exciting and exotic entertainment and were welcomed for it. As they did not threaten the economic, social, sexual or even cricketing status of the British whom they intrigued and entertained, racial hostility was rare. Spectators often supported the Aboriginal cricket team and athletes, in addition to wildly cheering its native performances.
There is another reason the Aboriginal team was welcomed in England. Praise for the European skills that the Aborigines demonstrated in public and private seemed to vindicate the civilising mission of British colonialism in Australia. Commentators congratulated the Aboriginal visitors for their skills in playing cricket and billiards, dancing a minuet, speaking English, eating with a knife and fork, and even playing violin. Such praises offered implicit testimonies to the benevolence of colonialism for elevating a handful of Aborigines above a Stone Age race deemed incapable of independent self-improvement.
Observers approved Aboriginal adaptation to British behaviours and skills, improvements that were attributed to physical and imitative talents: 'although hitherto looked upon as untameable, there hardly seems to be any limit to their capacity for things requiring precision of sight, steadiness of hand and activity of body' (Sportsman, 9 May 1868). WB Tegetmeier praised Aboriginal mimicry of civilised behaviour but assumed that a childlike incapacity for self-restraint would cause a reversion to innate racial savagery: 'It is strange that these men, when they return to the colonies, will, in all probability throw off all these restraints and their European clothing at the same time, and take to the sweet society of unreclaimed gins' (Graham 1868: iii). John Hoberman has assessed such paternalistically racial appraisals of the Aboriginal team in England as 'a fine precis of incomplete manhood, identifying defects of body, soul and willpower' (Hoberman 1997:110).
It is important to distinguish racism or a belief in immutable racial superiority from racial hostility. A secure sense of racial superiority is often accompanied by feelings of sympathy, kindness or obligation towards those who are regarded as unfortunate racial inferiors. Similar feelings of sympathetic superiority can be expressed towards women, children, refugees or domestic pets. But when those regarded as inferior attempt to assert a measure of independence or defiance, the indulgent sympathy of their suddenly challenged superiors turns into discipline and a desire to reaffirm the inferiority of their subordinates.
WB Tegetmeier was delighted to meet the Aboriginal team, dine with them and praise the level of civilisation they had attained. But when Charlie Dumas, Cuzens and Dick-a-Dick refused to allow Tegetmeier to continue with his anthropological measurements of their bodies, his displeasure and sense of racial superiority became plain:
These measurements are not so complete as would be desirable, but my Australian friends have like petted children, been rather spoiled by their good reception in this country, and were not quite as docile and obliging as when I saw them on their first arrival (Graham 1868:335).
Charles Lawrence and William Hayman also complained that the Aborigines became disobedient and troublesome because they had been spoiled by the English crowds (Sampson 2000:319-25). (9) Lawrence tried, unsuccessfully, to lock up the Aborigines at night to keep them from turning to alcohol, a problem he attributed to the childlike indiscipline of their racial nature (Mulvaney and Harcourt 1988:146-7). When Hayman forced Mullagh into submission, it was necessary because Mullagh was 'inclined to sulk' like a child; and Dick-a-Dick may have wished to stay in England to marry a white girl, but Hayman said no (see Vignette 2 in Preface). It was clear where the power resided and that the Aborigines remained at the whim of incompetent management decisions and greedy itineraries.
The commemoration of the Aboriginal tour and its place in history
Why do two central realities of the 1868 tour--the fundamental importance of its Aboriginal sports/cultural displays and the racially based hierarchies, hardships and discrimination that confronted the team--remain obscured? I argue that the causes of both elisions are inter-related.
First, with the exception of John Mulvaney, the historians and popularisers of the tour are cricket historians who interpret the tour within familiar cricketing frameworks and concerns (Mallett 2002). Some cricket historians have concerned themselves with racial exclusion of individuals or an entire group (apartheid, the non-selection of the 'Coloured' South African Basil D'Olivera, all-white West Indian captains up to Sir Frank Worrell, the persecution of Jack Marsh and Eddie Gilbert), but the central racial foundations of the Aboriginal tour of England are deeper and more complex issues than either race-based exclusion from a cricket team or overt racial hostility.
The tour is little appreciated within the context of Indigenous performers and sportsmen taken to Britain for display, a context that was readily understood at the time. Nor is the tour critically scrutinised in terms that are accepted as fundamental for the rest of Australia's Aboriginal and contact history. These include acute imbalances of power, the exploitation of native labour, the effects of racial paternalism and racial ideology, and the partiality and self-interest of predominantly European and Eurocentric documentation.
Second, and more recently, the tour has become transformed from an unusual aspect of cricket history into an exemplary part of Australia's national narrative. In the revised edition of Cricket Walkabout, published in the bicentennial year of 1988, the tour was proposed as an alternative to colonial racism, as:
an object lesson for other Australians that, instead of contempt and prejudice during the nineteenth century, respect and tolerance towards Aborigines could have achieved a more positive interaction and helped to ameliorate generations of suffering and bitterness (Mulvaney and Harcourt 1988:3-4).
In 2000 a national television advertising campaign by the Centenary of Federation Council noted that Australia had a national cricket team before a national parliament, adding that, 'The first Australian team to tour England ... was an Aboriginal team from the western districts of Victoria' (Sydney Morning Herald, 1 April 2001). The Aboriginal cricket tour had somehow become a precursor of Australian nationhood.
In March 2002 a Canberra cricket match between a Prime Minister's XI and an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) Chairman's XI commemorated the 1868 tour. An ATSIC poster of the match features an 1866 photograph of Tom Wills and a respectably besuited Aboriginal team in Melbourne. John Howard and the ATSIC Chairman Geoff Clark are superimposed in the foreground of the team, side by side. Both men are beaming with delight, as if they and the tour symbolise the joy of cross-cultural unity. Two years later John Howard abolished ATSIC but his support of the commemoration was no doubt sincere.
For John Howard the 1868 tour could be celebrated as a contact event remarkably free from any 'black armband history' connotations. For those who love cricket and cherish the myths of sporting equality, it is an event to unproblematically commemorate, whether one endorses the Howard view of history or actively campaigns for Aboriginal rights. For many who recognise and seek to rectify Australia's history of injustice towards Aboriginal peoples, the tour seems to offer a welcome and uncomplicated exception, even if its purported isolation from the racial practices and ideologies that surrounded it is historically inexplicable.
Historical commemoration is a valuable enterprise, although it typically airbrushes, sanitises and recontextualises difficult and embarrassing aspects of the story it is celebrating (Lowenthal 1998:148-68). Critical history recognises and examines the uncomfortable and discordant elements that commemoration smoothes over and omits. The commemoration of the 1868 Aboriginal tour within Anglo-Australian cricket history and as a unique instance of co-operative racial enlightenment obscures the awkward elements of racial ideology, racial hierarchy, racial exploitation, colonialist entrepreneurialism and Aboriginal pain that were at its core.
It is understandable that John Mulvaney's invaluable efforts to salvage historical memory of the tour involved a concern to defend its dignity and its practices. The trail-blazing 1967 edition of Cricket Walkabout, published even before Stanner's 1968 Boyer lectures, included a claim that the Aborigines 'were received on terms as equal as any accorded colonials in Victorian England' (Mulvaney 1967:56). The revised edition averred that the tour 'could not be dismissed as a speculation or stunt', and despite establishing that the team members were not paid, judged that 'it cannot be claimed they [the Aborigines] were unduly exploited' (Mulvaney and Harcourt 1988:135). Now that the tour has achieved a level of public recognition that decades ago would have been unimaginable, such disclaimers are no longer necessary. Aborigines are rightly proud to remember the tour. Aboriginal historians and activists to whom I have spoken express great pride in the achievements of the Aboriginal team, together with empathy and acknowledgment of the suffering and difficulties they faced in England. This is combined with ready appreciation that the team in England was alienated, exploited and exhibited like racial oddities, savages and anthropological specimens (Sampson 2000:8-9).
It is no discredit to the memory of the tour, to its participants or to John Mulvaney's indispensable work to fully recognise the distress, alienation and exploitation endured by the Aboriginal team in England. And while it is probably correct to assess the management of the Aboriginal team as relatively benevolent, it is no disservice to recognise that they were not immune to the racial prejudices, ideologies and assumptions of the time. In the eyes of management, these beliefs, practices and hierarchies naturalised their power over Aborigines, as well as endowing them with responsibilities for the welfare and repatriation of the disempowered peoples from whom they sought to profit.
In the nineteenth century, Aboriginal art was dismissed as childish scribble, whereas its cultural and aesthetic depths are now internationally honoured. Aboriginal dance and song were once patronised as primitive and grotesque but the Bangarra Dance Theatre has danced throughout Europe, America and Asia, while the music of Gurrumul Yunupingu from Elco Island is a world music sensation. The game of marn-grook, until recently an obscure curiosity, is now celebrated and debated as the Aboriginal inspiration for Australian Rules football. The Aboriginal cultural performances and technologies that thrilled up to 100,000 British spectators in 1868--native games, Aboriginal sports, call them what you will--likewise deserve unembarrassed recognition, re-evaluation and celebration, no less than the cricketing greatness of Johnny Mullagh and Johnny Cuzens.
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(1.) The game and performances were at Longsight, Manchester, 18-16 July 1868.
(2.) Emphasis in the original. The two sick Aborigines, Sundown and Jim Crow, were invalided home to Australia in August 1868 after being ill throughout their time in England.
(3.) Norton also claimed that Dick-a-Dick was a 'pretty good wicket-keeper'.
(4.) Named for bitter divisions in Britain between the generally hardline, polygenesist Anthropological Society and the generally humanitarian, monogenesist Ethnological Society supported by Exeter Hall. The ethnologicals carried greater scientific prestige; the anthropologicals had more popular support. Jamaica's Morant Bay massacre of 1865 was the public flashpoint of their disputes.
(5.) For an unusual exception see Bendyshe 1864. For analysis of the belief pertaining to Aborigines, see McGregor 1997.
(6.) For a pre-Victorian example that featured Aboriginal and European 'sports', see Foreign Field Sports (1814).
(7.) NSW Archives Office, 13 and 21 February 1868, Secretary's Correspondence 68/1002. This corroboree was abandoned when Albert left Sydney.
(8.) Financial entries in Graham's (1868) ledger include specific payments for 'Dick dodging'.
(9.) The Aborigines were insisting on their right to drink alcohol.
Dr David Sampson is a freelance historian, a researcher, and a social and environmental activist. He lives in Marrickville, Sydney, and has worked as a steelworker, railworker, library worker, writer, community organiser and academic.
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|Publication:||Australian Aboriginal Studies|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2009|
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