Family account lends weight to ancient game's contribution
A VICTORIAN family's near-century old story has strengthened Marn Grook's ties to modern football.
Lawton Wills-Cooke, a great-nephew of Tom Wills -- widely regarded as the founding father of the game -- has told of a family story relating to Wills playing football with Aboriginal children at Ararat in country Victoria.
The 88-year-old revealed to long-time Wills chronicler Martin Flanagan that his grandfather Horace told Wills-Cooke's mother Rene that great-uncle Tom played a form of football with local Aboriginal children.
Horace was Wills's brother.
The story has been re-told in the family down the years.
Wills-Cooke remembers his grandfather -- who died when Lawton was a boy -- and also Tom’s cousin HCA (Henry Colden Antill) Harrison, who was a key player in formulating the original rules of modern football in 1859, a year after the first version of the modern game was played.
Harrison died in 1929, aged 92, when Wills-Cooke was nine-years-old.
Flanagan has written several historical accounts of Wills and this year defended Wills' standing in football history when his place in it was questioned in the AFL's official history book, The Australian Game of Football, released this year to celebrate the game's 150th year.
Flanagan also wrote The Call, a fictionalised account of Wills's life.
Wills was born near Gundagai in New South Wales in 1835. His family moved south to Victoria four years later and settled in the western region of the State.
The Wills family were said to enjoy extensive interaction with the local Aboriginal people. Young Tom was fluent in the language and later in life was instrumental in organising an Aboriginal cricket team that was the first to tour England in 1868.
He was a central figure in codifying football in 1859.
Wills-Cooke told Flanagan that his mother Rene told him the story of Tom playing at their property called Lexington, near Ararat, which is still occupied today.
"My mother was told by her father, Horace, Tom's brother, that Tom played some form of football with Aboriginal kids," Wills-Cooke said.
"We have no documents to prove this, but there is a family story that they kicked a possum skin sewn up in the shape of a ball."
This story mirrors the account written in 1841 by Richard Thomas, then Protector of Aborigines in Victoria, of a football game played by Aboriginal tribes.
"The men and boys joyfully assemble when this game is to be played. One makes a ball of possum skin, somewhat elastic, but firm and strong," Thomas writes.
"The players of this game do not throw the ball as a white man might do, but drop it and at the same time kicks it with his foot."
Wills-Cooke's story adds further weight to the school of thought of Marn Grook's contribution to the football game Wills, Harrison and WJ Hammersley and JB Thompson codified later on, and which has become a full-time, multi-million dollar per year professional sport right across Australia.
* See also Jim Poulter's extensive piece on Marn Grook from the link on the left panel above.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Last Modified on 31/12/2008 01:28