WHEN Australia take to The Oval for their Cricket World Cup fixture on Sunday, they'll reap the benefits of a path laid by an Indigenous cricket team and one of Harrow's favourite sons over 150 years ago.
In May 1868, 13 Aboriginal men from western Victoria arrived in England, becoming the first organised Australian sports team to travel overseas.
At the helm was Harrow's Unaarrimin, a member of the Jardwadjali people, also known as Johnny Mullagh.
Over a seven-month long tour, consisting of 47 matches, Mullagh scored 1698 runs, bowled 1877 overs, of which 831 were maidens, and took 245 wickets.
Harrow Discovery Centre manager Josie Sangster said the all-rounder quickly became a local legend.
"People in Harrow erected monuments for Johnny Mullagh when he was alive," she said.
"At his death he was given a proper burial and a marble headstone that read world-famed cricketer."
At the time cricket was popular among the Aboriginal stockmen and station hands employed around the region.
Edenhope station owner William Hayman formed a team of these cricket lovers in early 1866, bringing together men from Jarwadjall, Guditjmara and Wotjobaluk country.
Hayman later handed over coaching duties to Victorian captain and founder of Australian rules football Tom Wills, who lead the side in front of a 10,000 strong crowd at the MCG on Boxing Day 1866.
The side played few games in the following years until former English cricketer Charles Lawrence became coach and with the help of financial backers, set sail for England in February 1868.
Sangster said it was one of the first occasions the team's culture was shared internationally.
"It was a very important because they took their culture to the world in a time where they weren't as duly recognised," she said.
After three-months on the seas, the team arrived in London to start the tour.
The first match was played at The Oval on May 25, the very ground on which Australia will take on India in the Cricket World Cup this Sunday.
More than 20,000 spectators were in attendance as the 'First XI' team took on Surrey in a historic match.
Surrey won the toss and went into bat. Before the play got underway, the visitors gave three jubilant cheers to the delight of the crowd, setting the spirit in which the game was played.
The team toiled in the field against a professional Surrey outfit, but their enthusiasm for the sport earned the group plenty of admirers.
Reports from the time told stories of the Australian cricketers mixing freely and joking with the spectators during breaks in play.
They were supplied with sweets, cakes and sometimes drinks out a flask, but the team's management restricted the players only to diluted sherry or tea.
"These men back in their time took their culture to the world and conducted themselves with dignity and honour and endeared themselves to the English people," Harrow Discovery Centre manager Josie Sangster said.
"It is the goodwill that they generated in the UK that I think is important in today's cricket. The way they conducted themselves was well-evidenced and served as a great model to modern cricketers."
On the field, Surrey posted 222, and Mullagh starred in the run chase, posting 33 in the first innings.
After only reaching 84 in their first innings, the visitors were sent in to bat again and fared little better in the second innings.
Mullagh was the top scorer again with 73, but could only see his team through to 132.
The Aboriginal team was defeated by an innings and seven runs, but Mullagh was a hit with the London crowd.
"Mullagh was carried off like a hero and given a prize that consisted of quite a bit of money," Sangster said.
"He was a hero among the people who went to watch."
The tour continued around the country, with the Aboriginal cricket team winning 14, losing 14 and seeing 19 games end in a draw, in a result that surprised plenty at the time.
Sangster said regardless of the results, the fact that an Aboriginal team toured overseas was a historic achievement in itself.
"A lot of the people don't realise the adversity they had to overcome to make this tour happen. Whether it was being charged double for accommodation or whether it was being denied entry into the dining rooms," she said.
"For this to happen in 1868 is pretty extraordinary. It's an important part of our history given that back then it was only 20 or 30 years earlier that the Aboriginal people of this country were being massacred and poisoned and driven off their country.
"We're very happy to be sharing this story that the people of Harrow have been sharing since the time it happened."
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