REVIEW: Boomerang and Bat: The story of the real first eleven

Boomerang and Bat: The story of the real first eleven

Mark Greenwood

Terry Denton

Allen & Unwin, 2016

32pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99


It’s the 1860s in the Wimmera district of Victoria and Aboriginal stockman
Unaarrimin (aka Johnny Mullagh) is watching the white settlers play “a
curious game called cricket”. When he is invited to play he hits the ball
so hard he splits the redgum bat! And so begins the remarkable story of the
first Aboriginal cricket team and the first Australian team to tour England.
Johnny introduced his fellow stockmen to the game and they were so good that
soon they were beating the local white settler teams and invited to play in
the city at the MCG! An English cricketer, Charles Lawrence spotted them,
recognised their potential and proposed a tour of England. But his plans
were thwarted when the Board for the Protection of Aborigines refused to let
them go claiming “These men might not survive the voyage.”

Undaunted and driven by the money-making opportunity of the novelty of such
a team, Lawrence did not give up, continuing to coach them and all the while
hatching a secret plan to smuggle Johnny and his mates to England. After
eight days of sneaking through Victoria to Queenscliff, they were taken by
longboat to a steamer bound for Sydney and from there, under the cover of
darkness they boarded the Parramatta bound for England.

The tour of England was both triumphant and tragic. Viewed initially with
fascination and later admired for their ability, the team played 47 games in
six months with 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws. Mullagh scored 1,698 runs
and took 245 wickets. But racism reared its head, Bripumyarrimin (King
Cole) got sicked and died, the players were tired and they were all
homesick. And so they returned to Australia, but unlike today’s teams,
“there was no triumphant welcome” – and each, apart from Mullagh, went
their own way back to the bush and anonymity, at home in their country.

Mark Greenwood is the master of telling the back story, the unknown or
unheralded truth of those who should be Australian heroes, and this book is
no different. Once again he stands up for the Aboriginal people who were
denied their identity, their heritage and their dignity to shine a light on
our original cricketing heroes, and bringing to life a team of characters
and personalities, not just facts and statistics. Who knew they had to
sneak out of the country like criminals? Who knew they donned traditional
gear at the end of the match to entertain crowds with their “tricks” so they
could make a little extra money?

Terry Denton also brings each of the players to life with his iconic
illustrations. Double page spreads, vignettes – each one helps the reader
picture the action as well as the emotions. Even though the text is written
in the third-person in a ‘reporter-like’ fashion, the astute reader marries
both words and pictures to get to the purpose that drives this
story-telling. The endpapers are poignant – showing the delight and
excitement of the cricketers as they leave on their long sea voyage to the
individual portraits that gives each a name and an identity, going a little
way to restoring the dignity they deserved but didn’t get 150 years ago.

This book is rich in so many areas for discussion and investigation and
comprehensive teaching notes are available at

Barbara Braxton

Teacher Librarian

M.Ed.(TL), M.App.Sci.(TL), M.I.S. (Children’s Services)

Dromkeen Librarian’s Award 2003



Together, we learn from each other

500 Hats

The Bottom Shelf

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