In 1868, 13 Aboriginal men made history as the first Australian cricket team to play in England.
Last month, two teams of 16 and 17-year old Aboriginal boys from New South Wales carved out their own piece of history by playing the first game of rugby league on the World War 1 battlefields at The Somme in France.
The rugby league games were part of a series of Remembrance Day activities to honour the contribution of Aboriginal servicemen in World War 1.
Joe Flick, a Gamilaroi and Yualliroi man who works in the NSW Aboriginal Land Council’s Western Zone, accompanied the young men on a journey of discovery
“The journey was a chance for the boys to understand the sacrifices made by not only Aboriginal soldiers but all soldiers in the First World War,” Joe said.
“They placed small wooden crosses on a number of graves of Australian soldiers and participated in the Remembrance Day march as a guest of the Mayor of Villers Bretonneux.”
“Two of the boys also laid a wreath in remembrance of Aboriginal soldiers.”
Joe said when the party first arrived in France they were hosted by the Australian Ambassador in Paris for morning tea.
“It was the first time that the Embassy was filled with the sounds of didgeridoos, clapsticks and Aboriginal dancing.”
“The Ambassador was honoured to host the group and said it was a groundbreaking event for the group to be dancing in the Embassy.”
Joe also travelled to England to attend a Commemoration Service for Joseph Knight – one of three Barkandji brothers from Louth who enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces.
Albert was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and William the Military Medal.
However, Joseph was struck down with pneumonia about a month into service and was buried at Stratford Sub-Castle near Salisbury in England.
His family have never seen or visited his grave but soil from around Bourke was spread on Joseph’s grave to provide some connection to Barkandji country.
As for the footy, the boys did their families and communities proud, Joe said.
“They were tough and physical games but they played with passion, wearing the jumper to honour 100 years of the ANZACs. They won all eight games on tour, six against French teams and two against Italy.”
“These boys have the ability to go all the way into professional Rugby League,” Joe said.
“With guidance and support from their mentors and Aboriginal staff at NSW Rugby League, the sky’s the limit,” he said.