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May 26: National Sorry Day

Submitted by rickeyre on May 27, 2006 - 2:09am

Today, Friday May 26, is National Sorry Day in Australia. Instituted in 1997, it is the annual commemoration of the tens of thousands of indigenous Australian children who were forcibly removed from their homes as children.

It's not a holiday, but it is certainly a day when all Australians should stop to reflect on the destruction of indigenous society and culture over the past two and a quarter centuries, and which is still happening, not just in the Northern Territory but all across the country.

More information about National Sorry Day can be found on the NSD Committee's website.

Why am I writing about this in my cricket blog? Because the cricketing establishment is just one part of white Australian society which has given our indigenous brethren a raw deal over the decades. Out of over 500 Test and one-day international cricketers for Australia, both male and female, only two - Faith Thomas (1958) and Jason Gillespie (1996-) are known to be of indigenous heritage.

That is far below the proportion of indigenous people to the total Australian population (believed to be around 2 per cent). Two is also the number of indigenous bowlers no-balled for throwing in first-class cricket, namely Jack Marsh and Eddie Gilbert - now that's way above 2 per cent of all the Australian first-class bowlers who have been called.

Although Cricket Australia's indigenous programs are inching towards the 21st century, there are still very few playing first-class cricket and no one likely to make an imminent breakthrough to the Australian side. Compare that with the progress made in rugby league, Australian rules and rugby union.

Even Sir Donald Bradman showed little interest in the development of indigenous cricket in his lifetime, the Bradman Foundation setting up such a program in his name following his death in 2001. It was claimed, posthumously, that Bradman was interested in indigenous issues because "his son knew an aboriginal boy and sometimes brought him home".

It shouldn't be forgotten that the first cricket team from Australia to tour England was an all-Aboriginal squad, in 1868. Not that they were treated as well as they could have been while in England. They were treated as a bit of a novelty at some venues, being required to give boomerang and spear-throwing exhibitions during breaks in play, for example. One (King Cole) died of illness while on tour. Only two went on to play intercolonial first-class cricket after returning to Australia.

It wasn't until 2003 that formal recognition of the 1868 team began to roll. During his acceptance speech for induction to the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame, Ian Chappell proposed that the members of the 1868 team should retrospectively be granted full international status.

While none of their matches on the 1868 were of first-class status, Cricket Australia took the idea on board, eventually coming up with the idea of allocating player numbers and special caps as recognition of their place of full Australian representatives.

The official presentation was made during the 2004 Boxing Day between Australia and Pakistan at the MCG. One of the descendents of the touring team was present to accept a cap at the ceremony, for which Faith Thomas was also present. The official numbers are allocated with a prefix of "AUS" to distinguish them from Test and ODI player numbers.

Earlier this month, Cricket Australia announced that they would "fly the Aboriginal flag at cricket grounds across the country" every May 13, to mark the anniversary of the day the 1868 tourists landed in England. Except that this year, they did it on May 12 because the 13th was a Saturday, and apparently they didn't fly the Torres Strait Islander flag. A curious gesture buried deep in cricket's off-season.

CricketArchive, whose database of match scorecards is vastly superior to CricInfo's, has been adding scorecards from the 1868 tour to their website. There's still more research and data entry to be done (their archival work is huge and highly commendable), but it's worth commemorating indigenous Australia today by noting the match between the Australian Aborigines and Surrey which concluded at The Oval on this day in 1868. (This particular scorecard was added to CricketArchive just this week.)

For more information about the disgraceful treatment we continue to serve up to our indigenous brethren, I recommend taking a look at the indigenous news section on the ABC website, especially the situation in Wadeye. And then think about the prominent self-styled "cricket tragic" who refuses to join the rest of Australia in saying Sorry.

Footnote: the 1868 Australian Aboriginal touring team, with their cap numbers, is as follows (their names on tour given in brackets):

  • AUS 1: Arrahmunyarrimun (Peter),
  • AUS 2: Ballrinjarrimin (Sundown),
  • AUS 3: Bonnibarngeet (Tiger),
  • AUS 4: Brimbunyah (Red Cap),
  • AUS 5: Bripumyarrimin (King Cole),
  • AUS 6: Bullchanach (Bullocky),
  • AUS 7: Charles Lawrence (the English-born captain/coach),
  • AUS 8: Grongarrong (Mosquito),
  • AUS 9: Jarrawuk (Twopenny),
  • AUS 10: Jumgumjenanuke (Dick-a-Dick),
  • AUS 11: Lytejerbillijun (Jim Crow),
  • AUS 12: Pripumuarraman (Charles Dumas),
  • AUS 13: Unaarrimin (Johnny Mullagh),
  • AUS 14: Yellanach (Johnny Cuzens).