Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian SportAustralian IdentityAustralian animals


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Why aren't American sports more popular in Australia?

How did AFL evolve?

How has class warfare shaped the NRL?

Why does rugby union have a private school boy image?

Does soccer suffer discrimination in Australia?

How have notions of identity been expressed in cricket?

Why does only one code play State of Origin?

Why are there 4 football codes in Australia?

What are some team names in Australia?

20/20 cricket

Australian Cricket

When colonising, Britain used cricket as an imperial glue. Not only did they expect colonists to play it, they also wanted the new British citizens (conquered peoples) to play it as well. Such expectations shaped the development of cricket in Australia.

The first Australian cricket was composed of Aborigines selected from western Victoria and coached by the founder of Australian football, Tom Wills. In 1868, 14 players left for England. Upon arrival in England, the The Times described the tourists as,

"a travestie upon cricketing at Lords", and, "the conquered natives of a convict colony."

While some sections of English society may have considered them to be a travesty, they were a popular one. So much so, the demands placed upon them were nothing short of horrendous. In a gruelling five month stay, they played  47 games and upon completion of each game, they also gave an exhibition of  'native sports', including boomerang and spear throwing. Admittedly, there were no Greg Ritchies (aka Fat Cat) in the team, but the fact the tour was completed with only one death and two players sent home suffering sever illness must be seen as an incredible feat of endurance. 

The results were also equally impressive. Despite the onerous schedule, having no history in the game and playing in a foreign culture, the team managed 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws. One team member Johnny Mullagh - bowled 1877 overs, 831 of them maidens, hit 2489 runs and took 245 wickets at an average of 10. An English fast bowler of the time, George Tarrant, bowled to Mullagh and later said, "I have never bowled to a better batsman."

On their departure Sporting Life wrote:

'no eleven has in one season ever played so many matches so successfully - never playing less than two matches in each week, and frequently three, bearing an amount of fatigue that now seems incredible.'

Despite these beginnings, few Aborigines have followed in their footsteps. One of the reasons is that The Central Board for Aborigines ruled in 1869 that it would be illegal to remove any Aborigine from the colony of Victoria without the approval of the government minister. This limited the opportunities for Aboriginal players.

In other parts of Australia, Aborigines continued with the sport but continually ran into difficulties with officialdom. The first Aborigine to suffer from establishment culture was Alec Henry. Alec represented Queensland in 1901 and was initially lauded as "perfectly civilised and in great command of the English language." A great fast bowler, in one pre-season match he took 8-14 which led to predictions that he would have a place in the Australian side against the visiting English. Unfortunately, an umpire judged that he was throwing and his place in the national team never eventuated. His protests fell on deaf ears and when his 'civilised' conduct appeared to falter, he was forcibly relocated from Brisbane on the charge of "defying authority."

 Another player who seemed destined for greatness only to be denied for dubious reasons was Jack Marsh. Born in 1874,  Marsh was a member of the Bundjalung people of northern NSW and southeast Queensland. Marsh burst onto the scene by leading the national bowling averages in his first season with NSW. Some batsmen, including the English cricket captain of the era, rated him the "world's best bowler." Despite his talent, he was denied international honours when in 1902 the visiting English refused to play against him. Like Henry, he was later no-balled out of the game.

20/20 cricket

Another player with eyes on national honours was Eddie Gilbert. Although he bowled off only five shuffled paces, he did so at a sizzling speed. In a match between Queensland and the West Indies, Gilbert took 5 for 65 off 19 overs and 2 for 26 in the second innings. He also won national respect when he bowled Sir Donald Bradman for a rare duck in 1931. The Australian public called for him to be selected for a test against South Africa but like his predecessors, an umpire no-balled him for throwing. Unhappy, he protested. Unfortunately, his refusal to heed the umpires decision only resulted in him being admitted to a mental asylum.

Jason Gillespie is officially the only player with Aboriginal heritage to play for Australia and his story also had a touch of unfairness about it. Gillespie was a brilliant fast bowler and a useful bat. In his last test, he bowled well and scored a double century. He was then dropped.

Mr Burns

Jason Gillespie - Had a bit of an air of Lucifer about him. Burst onto the scene with long hair, big ear rings and only needed the pointy beard to make church boy Mathew Hayden feel uneasy about his team mate.  More insight into his evil tendencies emerged when he was asked about his new hair style: "I'm trying to bring the mullet back into world sport. There's a distinct lack of mullets floating around in all walks of life."

Just as imperialism shaped Aboriginal experiences with cricket, it also shaped the experiences of wider Australia. In particularly, Australia's Convict heritage has been particularly salient in any contests between Australia and the motherland than sent its citizens to Australia in chains. When test matches commenced, the general thinking in Britain was that Australia’s Convict ancestry would inevitably lead to the “physical and moral degeneration of its people.” In August 1882, the English home crowd naturally expected victory for the English team facing an Australian XI. Sure enough, by the second day England needed only 32 runs to win, with seven wickets in hand and William Gilbert Grace, the world’s greatest batsman, at the crease. But against inspired bowling and brilliant fielding, the English players lost their nerve and collapsed. The following day, a mock obituary ran in the Sporting Times:

"in affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at the Oval on 29th August, 1882. The body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia."

20/20 cricket

Those mythical ashes became a reality when the next England team to tour Australia, led by the Hon Ivo Bligh, were presented an urn containing the burnt remains of a bail after beating the home side 2-1.

In 1884, the English further inflamed Convict sensitivities when they insisted that the width of the Australian's bats must be measured to ensure they weren't cheating. In front of the crowd, the bats were measured and all were found to be within the rules.

By the1930s, proud Englishmen were " seriously concerned the sport of gentlemen was being dominated by the Convicts from the Antipodes and the thinking of the day became, England must win at all costs." Of most concern to the English was Don Bradman, the best batsman the world has even seen. Initially, the English used Convict taunts unnerve him. When that didn’t work, the English Captain, Douglas Jardine, invented bodyline; instructing his bowlers to aim at the batsmen body with the intention of disrupting Bradman's concentration by causing injury. Diplomatic notes were sent, and the Australian team attained the high moral ground by refusing to use the technique when it was there turn to bowl.

Ironically, Harold Larwood was banned from playing for England because he refused to apologise for the way he bowled. He subsequently immigrated to Australia and rather than find hostility, he was surprised that Australians greeted him with open arms. As one commentator explained:

"Most Aussies in the 1950s when Larwood joined their nation were descended from convicts - often men sentenced for political offences rather than crimes - or the soldiers and warders sent out to run the prison system and they respected any man who stood up to the master class. "

By the 1970s, cricket seemed on the way out. Attendances at state cricket matches had dramatically fallen away and attendances at national games were following suit. Media magnate Kerry Packer saw an opportunity to turn things around by broadcasting cricket on his commercial station. Cricket administrators fobbed him off and insisted that cricket would only ever be shown on the government owned ABC. Furthermore, they insisted that players would remain amateurs who played for the love of the sport. The ACB secretary, Alan Barnes, remarked:

``They are not professionals... they were invited to play and if they don't like the conditions there are 500,000 other cricketers in Australia who would love to take their places.'

Packer’s response was to sign a host of Australian and international players. He then dressed them in colourful clothing and rented Australian football grounds. He also chose the recently invented One Day cricket as the format for his new competition. Crowds were initially embarrassingly small, but Packer's revolution developed an underdog image which endeared him to the population. Crowds soon built and the Australian Cricket Board was forced to the bargaining table. One day cricket, broadcast on Packer’s network, then became a staple of the Australian summer.

20/20 cricket

Packer's World Series Cricket, a rebellion bring colour to the all white game

Despite all the changes that have occurred in cricket and in Australia in the 20th century, Australia’s Convict heritage is still high in the minds of many international commentators when they think of Australia. For example, like many of his predecessors, English commentator linked Australia’s playing style to criminality. In his own words:

"We also have to consider the laws of the survival of the fittest and make a comparison with the West Indies, another team who dominated world cricket as the Australians are at this moment.

Australia was born as a prison cell, a dumping ground for criminals and political upstarts left a harsh environment when the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay in 1788. It was a rubbish heap for tough, rebellious men and their warders; and women who were prepared to defy the conventions and fight for their equality.

What better start could there be for a country that was eventually to hold sporting prowess as its greatest achievement.

There is a similarity with the West Indies, manned for hundreds of years by slave men and women who had been force-marched across the African continent before being shipped across the Atlantic. The strongest lasted the distance and, when their descendants were freed, grew into tall, handsome and fearsome competitors with a little hate in their hearts for the men who had made them suffer such indignities. So it was in Australia. "

While the likes of Corbett has used the heritage to explain Australia’s success, England’s Barmy Army has used it as a point of ridicule. At the grounds, the often sing ditties such as:

"We came here with backpacks, you with ball and chain!".

"The Aussies love the English, you might find it quite strange.
 'Cos we sent them all down under, with only balls and chains.
And when they see the English, they always shout and scream.
But when they had the chance to vote they voted for the Queen."

"You all live in a convict colony," *to the tune of Yellow Submarine.

We are a convict colony,
We carry balls and chains,
Our blokes are mainly beach bums who
Are really far too vein,
We like to go a-shooting,
Or shag a kangaroo,.
Our culture amounts to no more,
Than Rolf and his Didgeridoo.
You may have seen our cricket team,
They are an ugly mob,
We've got the McGrath the bank robber,
And Waugh with his loud gob,
Is that kid really Gilchrists' son?
Or Slaters? It's hard to tell,
Shane Warne has launched his own wine range,
With names he cannot spell.
We like to go Pommie bashing,
Well, what else can we do?
For they have got some history,
And first hand culture too,
We think that if we win the Tests,
We'll be a stronger place,
But still the cash of this nation,
Displays the Pom Queens face

Even Sri Lankan journalists have theorised that perhaps Australian behaviour bears the fingerprints of Convicts:

Australians, descending from the convicts may have an inherited mean spirit just the same way that Sri Lankans have a built in lackadaisical spirit. (Rajpal Abeynayake)

"There is a certain ancestral lineage involved here. After all, history does say that the British transported their excess convicts down under and let them off to do as they please in a land where only the fittest could survive. In the run-up to the World Cup final, the Australian cricketers have certainly proved that they are fit and that they are adept at getting out of jail every time they are thrown into one. " (Satish Viswanathan)

"The spectator behaviour was appalling, and shocking, their main target was Murali, who had to face the music for no fault of his, most of these louts were under the influence of alcohol.

If history is an indication, then I presume these men are direct descendants of the ex-convicts that Britain dumped on Australian soil, to keep their country free of criminals, if so their behaviour is understandable. To them the old adage that cricket is a gentlemen's game is a myth."Rex Wijewardene Sunday times

Activity 1 - Which is best?

Four types of cricket are played in Australia: indoor cricket, one day cricket, test cricket and 20/20.

Assess each version from

  1. a spectator’s point of view
  2. a player’s point of view.
  3. a commercial point of view
  4. a traditional point of view

Activity 2 - In need of entertainment.

Watching 11 men stand around all day in whites sometimes necessitates some humour of piss taking to deal with the boredom. Write profiles on some of the Australian players. Some examples below:

Adam Gilchrist; clean cut athletic go getter whose huge ears gave him a Yoda look:

Big Ears - Gilchrist

Small ears they are not. Big ears they are.

David Boon - Aka the Keg on Legs, broke the Sydney to London beer drinking record by downing 52 beers over 24 hours. Legend has it he had to be wheeled off the plane in a trolley.

Kim Hughes - Pretty boy with an effeminate name. Cried when he announced he was resigning as Captain. As the English press had a field day about crying Aussies, public figures came to his defence with excuses about his box being too tight!

Greg Chappel - Fine batsmen but poor sportsmen. As captain, he instructed his brother Trevor to bowl the last ball underarm, along the ground, to prevent New Zealand from being able to hit a six off the last bowl to win the game. If it was anyone other than the Kiwis, such actions would be impossible to forgive. 

Shane Warne - The Australian Narcissus. Had all the hallmarks of being a great Australian icon; smoker, boozer, gambler, fatso and the ability to make the Poms look totally inept. Tragically, he threw it all away with dreams of becoming a meta-sexual.  All his problems with the papparazi could have been avoided if he just learnt to be comfortable with being a fat, balding cricket player.

Michael Kasprowicz - Uncle Toby's oats character- good, wholesome but porridge never-the-less.

Ricky Ponting - Cavalier batsmen and larrikin off the field. After getting himself black eye at the Bourbon and Beefsteak in Kings Cross (red-light district), had to deal with jokes about ducking bouncers and avoiding hookers. Still became the Australian captain and married his girlfriend; probably because his boyish grin made it is easy to forgive his indiscretions.

Darren Lehman - Fat and bald. Should have had a word to Warney that being ugly isn't so bad. Sadly, his retirement signalled the end of a great era of fat cricketers who enjoyed a beer and a smoke.

Justin Langer - Spoke like a jockey and looked a little crossed eyed. Perhaps this was due to his diminutive stature or otherwise his underpants may have been too tight. 

Was very sensitive about small man jokes. After being described as a "brown nose gnome" on Cricket Australia's official website, saw to it that the offending party lost his job. Despite obvious displeasure, it seems the gnomes jokes would forever haunt him. In his retirement game, commentators speculated he would have been in "gnome-man's land" after he dropped a catch. Later, a commentator asked for "gnome-more jokes though, please".

Activity 3 - Aborigines and cricket

Although prominent in both the AFL and NRL, Aborigines are not prominent in any state cricket team in Australia today. Explain how issues of identity may have affected Aboriginal motivation to participatein cricket in the past and may continue today.