FOOTY LEGACY Club sets foun­da­tion

The Riverine Herald - - SPORT -

IT IS NAIDOC Week and to­day we cel­e­brate the con­tri­bu­tion the first Aus­tralians have made to our great game of Aussie Rules foot­ball.

Many will know of the Cum­mer­a­gunja mis­sion on the NSW side of the Mur­ray, not far from Echuca, which had many Yorta Yorta liv­ing there.

And in the 1800s, its res­i­dents wanted to play foot­ball.

The mis­sion al­ready fielded a First XI. The Cum­mer­a­gunja Cricket Club was a dom­i­nant force in the 1890s, claim­ing the 1890 Dobin­son trophy against Wom­boota and it was only nat­u­ral the play­ers wanted to join a foot­ball league.

A club was formed and a team en­tered into the Aitken Trophy, played against sides from Echuca, East Echuca and Rochester.

Things didn’t go well — the rookie team would lose all its games in that de­but sea­son.

But, as was re­ported in the River­ine Her­ald of the day, that can mostly be put down to a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the game.

Make no mis­take, the ath­leti­cism was there.

Once the skills were mas­tered, they would be a great side. And that’s ex­actly what hap­pened. They won their first game the next year, and won most of their matches in the next few.

By 1894 they were too good for their maiden com­pe­ti­tion and wanted to move on to big­ger and bet­ter op­po­nents.

A let­ter in the Bendigo Ad­vertiser writ­ten by Thomas S. James, sec­re­tary of the Cum­mer­a­gunja Abo­rig­i­nal Foot­ball Club, asked the Bendigo Dis­trict Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion for help.

It read: “... if there were any kind and gen­er­ous gen­tle­men con­nected with the as­so­ci­a­tion and in­ter­ested in the Abo­rig­ines, and who could af­ford them such fa­cil­i­ties as will en­able them to go down to Sand­hurst and play a few matches in and about the city, or can you rec­om­mend a gen­tle­man who will be will­ing to ar­range matches for us, and who will un­der­take to col­lect the gate money for us at ev­ery match.’’

The let­ter went on to say the club was will­ing to pro­vide en­ter­tain­ment in the way of English and na­tive singing, skipping and boomerang throw­ing.

The Cum­mer­a­gunja club was will­ing to do all of this just to play a few games of foot­ball.

The BDFA said no, they were too busy. But the club kept get­ting bet­ter. Cum­mer­a­gunja joined the Nathalia Dis­trict Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion and went un­de­feated in 1898 and 1899.

Now in­vi­ta­tions were com­ing to play against big­ger teams.

Wins fol­lowed against com­bined as­so­ci­a­tion teams from across the re­gion, fur­ther grow­ing the name of Cum­mer­a­gunja.

In fol­low­ing decades, the team just kept get­ting bet­ter. And bet­ter. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the team won five flags in six years in the West­ern Rid­ing and Moira Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion.

The league’s so­lu­tion to the dom­i­nant side – ban all play­ers over 25 play­ing for Cum­mer­a­gunja. Seems fair, doesn’t it? The club very quickly league.

More in­vi­ta­tional games were played then, in 1939, the club was ad­mit­ted into the Echuca Foot­ball League.

In their one and only sea­son, they lost a semi-fi­nal to De­niliquin.

But the club wasn’t go­ing to be around for long, be­cause the mis­sion wasn’t around for long. left the

By Fe­bru­ary of that year, those on the mis­sion fi­nally had enough of their mis­treat­ment by the NSW Abo­rig­i­nal Pro­tec­tion Board.

The fi­nal straw was the ar­rest on the mis­sion of Jack Pat­ten, an Abo­rig­i­nal rights ac­tivist.

On Fe­bru­ary 4, 1939, 200 res­i­dents walked off the mis­sion, crossed the Mur­ray and en­tered Vic­to­ria. The mis­sion was no more. And by the end of the year nei­ther was the foot­ball club.

Those who left the mis­sion set­tled all around Yorta Yorta land, many in Shep­par­ton, en­sur­ing in many ways that Rum­balara Foot­ball Club would be its spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor.

Per­haps its most fa­mous alum­nus was Fitzroy foot­baller and South Aus­tralian gov­er­nor Sir Dou­glas Ni­cholls, born on the Cum­mer­a­gunja mis­sion and the first true in­dige­nous star of our great game.

A man whose legacy con­tin­ues to cast a long shadow to this day, not just for his foot­ball prow­ess but most im­por­tantly for his in­cred­i­ble work within the wider com­mu­nity.

There is a great quote from Sir Doug, who once said ‘‘a man can preach his ser­mon by the way he plays the game’’.

It isn’t quite ser­mon, but, in many ways Cum­mer­a­gunja changed per­cep­tions of the way they played.

They used foot­ball to change per­cep­tion of in­dige­nous Aus­tralia.

And this legacy re­mains in its name with rep­re­sen­ta­tive teams still us­ing it to this day.

Cour­tesy of the Yorta Yorta Na­tion Abo­rig­i­nal Cor­po­ra­tion.

PROUD HER­ITAGE: The Cum­mer­a­gunja Foot­ball Club in 1927 with their re­cent pre­mier­ship flags in the back­ground. Photo:

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