For the first time, Cricket Australia has formally recognised the tour of England by a group of Aboriginal players in 1868 for what it is: the beginning of a great tradition of Australian touring teams.
In a ceremony at the MCG, former Test captain Ian Chappell presented two replica shirts from the tour to Len Clarke, a descendant of tour member Johnny Cuzens, and Faith Thomas, the first female Aboriginal player selected in a national team. One will be housed at the Sport Australia Hall of Fame at the MCG; the other will take pride of place in the Johnny Mullagh Cricket Centre in the western Victorian town of Harrow, from where the original team was gathered.
Each of the 14 team members – 13 local Aborigines plus their English captain-coach Charles Lawrence – has been given a playing number in the same way that all players are now honoured with a number inside their baggy green caps. This presented a problem, however, because Cricket Australia already had allocated the first 11 places to the team that contested the first Test match against England at the MCG in 1877, beginning with initial captain Charles Bannerman at No. 1.
They came up with a compromise under which the members of the 1868 team will have ‘AUS’ attached to their numbers, and the members of the 1877 Test team and all others beyond that will not have their numbers changed. Therefore, Arrahmunyarrimum (otherwise known as “Peter”) becomes AUS 1 in the pecking order, and Ballrinjarrimin (aka “Sundown”) is AUS 2 and so on in alphabetical order.
The tour occurred nine years before Bannerman led Australia into battle with England in what is acknowledged as the first Test match anywhere in the world, and 10 years before a full Australian team went to England.
Chappell has been a strong advocate for recognition of the team since he was asked to rededicate the historical monument to the team at Harrow in 2002. His grandfather, the late Vic Richardson, unveiled the original monument many years before, but locals wanted to add the names of the players and update the plaque.
“Like most Australian cricketers, I knew most of the names and I knew of the side, but not much more than that,” said Chappell. “But when I went there, it dawned on me that these guys actually paved the way. Not to say there wouldn’t have been Australian sides after them, but the fact they went and were so popular and did so well there actually made it easier for the rest, and therefore they deserved to be recognised.”