THEY were The Invincibles 70 years before Bradman and Co: a team of Aboriginal cricketers that took Perth by storm.
A new book by historian Bob Reece has shed light on an all-but forgotten element of WA’s colonial era, when a team from the New Norcia mission walked 130km to take on the state’s best.
The New Norcians lost their first match against the Metropolitan Cricket Club, with nerves apparently playing a part. But they were competitive and it almost looked like a boilover when they took six wickets from their opponents, who were chasing just eight runs in the second innings.
That they were competitive at all was somewhat of a revelation to the colonials, with most viewing Aborigines as incapable of learning “civilised” pursuits.
News of the game spread fast and when the Aborigines ferried their way to sports-mad Fremantle, the city emptied and The Green where they played was lined with curious onlookers.
Onlookers were treated to a fascinating game. The New Norcians made a terrific start with 68 runs, while the Portsiders faltered and were all out for 30. After a stop for lunch at Caesar’s Hotel there was some loud sledging of the locals by the crowd, which helped to lift their game.
After a moderate second innings from the Aboriginal team, the Portsiders were left to chase 86 runs. They lost 6 for 29, but a solid partnership between Arnott Fransisco and William Owston got them within reach.
The New Norcians’ best bowler—and only colonial—Henry Lefroy was knackered by this stage and the crowd all but wrote them off.
But according to the Fremantle Herald of the day: “The game was now concluded to be over in favour of Fremantle, when a ball well-delivered by Wonola scattered Jose’s timber stack and the Aboriginal had won.”
It was a sensation, and the crowd cheered the Aboriginal team until well after they’d carried captain Wagnola off the field.
The successes kept coming, but while on-field they were winning hearts for their pluck, off-field they still faced appalling discrimination.
Despite their successes, the WACA refused to change its rules to allow them to play in the local competition.
Reece’s book charts the rise of the team and its impact on the locals, and also its sad demise partly caused by clashes between Aboriginal parents and the mission’s priests who’d forced them to sign over guardianship. It also looks at the team’s legacy on Aboriginal people and why so many instead gravitated towards football.
The Invincibles: New Norcia’s Aboriginal Cricketers 1879-1906 is available for $29.95 at New Edition and Bill Campbell’s bookstore, both on High Street.
by STEVE GRANT