Monday, 2 Oct 2023

Did AFL Originate from Aboriginal Football?

Aboriginal Football

Most of you are probably under the impression that Australian football came from the well-known tale of the sporting hero, Tom Wills, who created a combination of British games intended to allow players to maintain their high levels of fitness out of season.

However, recently there has been an alternative theory that suggests that the rules one of Australia’s best-loved games can be closely linked to that of a game played by the Western Victoria’s indigenous population, known as Marngrook.

Busting Myths in Sports

While you may not believe it, recent connections have been made between Tom Wills and the game of Marngrook – connections that, if not considered, would have you believe that it could all just be a coincidence.

Whether you consider yourself a sports fanatic or you simply engage in a bit of Caulfield Cup betting when it comes around every year, we’ve got all you need to know to become a sports legend guru and bust fact from fiction.

A Little Marngrook History

Marngrook HistoryFirst, let’s take a look at Marngrook. The game of Marngrook was originally played with a ball that was made out of possum skin, stuffed with charcoal and then tied with the sinew of a kangaroo tail.

The game didn’t boast goals at the time, but the biggest element was kicking the ball high up into the air and then leaping as best you could to catch it, which is one of the first and more obvious connections this game has to AFL. In 1841, Victoria Richard Thomas, who was the Protector of Aborigines at the time wrote his observations of the game down.

He said, “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. 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. The tallest men have the best chances in this game. Some of them will leap as high as five feet from the ground to catch the ball. The person who secures the ball kicks it.”

The Story of Tom Wills

Here’s where the more circumstantial evidence comes into play to connect AFL and Aboriginal football. It turns out, that in spite of the fact that Tom Wills grew up in Western Victoria, it was argued that he was never exposed to Marngrook because it only ever existed in the Grampians region.

However, records of an interview with Mukjarrawaint man, Johnny Connolly, found in the Victoria State Library shows that he actually played the game as a child in Grampians in the 1840s. Professor Hocking, who found these transcripts, was then able to successfully find connections between the two men, including the fact that Connolly used to work at one of the stations owned by Tom Wills’ father.

While we understand that there is no direct evidence to say that Tom Wills and AFL were influenced by aboriginal football, the connections between the two certainly are evident.