One of the stars of the first Australian cricket tour of England has become the first Aboriginal inducted to the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.
Johnny Mullagh was part of the 1868 Aboriginal team that became the country’s first sporting team to tour internationally.
The Hall of Fame chairman said Mullagh contributed to Australia’s identity.
It was an “oversight” not to have recognised the importance of the 1868 team before now, Peter King added.
The selection panel agreed to change the criteria to allow Mullagh to be inducted, as he had not played Test cricket.
It said it wanted to acknowledge the impact of indigenous players.
“Johnny Mullagh and the 1868 Aboriginal team paved the way for so many future Australians to showcase their skill and talent on the world stage,” Mr King said.
“To consider the team’s feats were in an era dictated by inequality, makes their story even more remarkable and worthy of recognition.”
Born in about 1841, Johnny Mullagh – also known by the traditional name Unaarrimin – was a Jardwadjali man from what is now the state of Victoria. He learned to play cricket working on a nearby farm.
He was among 13 Aboriginal men picked to form a team who were brought to London in 1868 by a former first-class cricketer, Charles Lawrence, an expat who had been living in Sydney.
Mullagh is credited with being a skilful all-rounder. He played in 45 of the 47 matches on the 1868 England tour, scoring 1,698 runs at an average of 23.65 and taking 245 wickets at 10.
He also played in the third cricket match ever staged at Australia’s most famous ground, the MCG. The best player during this week’s Boxing Day Test between Australia and India in Melbourne will receive the newly created Mullagh Medal in his honour.
Aboriginal Australians, who had inhabited the continent for tens of thousands of years prior to British colonisation, were subjected to severe discrimination in the 19th Century and afterwards.
Mullagh was a passionate advocate of indigenous rights, refusing to live on state-controlled reserves.
He continued to play cricket, despite colonial restrictions on the movement of Aboriginal people, and continued to do so up until the months before his death in 1891.
Australian cricket has belatedly made efforts to recognise indigenous players, but only fast bowler Jason Gillespie has represented the country in tests in the men’s game.
There will be a further two inductees to the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame announced in February 2021.