L.Wills Cooke, grandson of Tom Wills' brother Horace, has told journalist/author Martin Flanagan, & a public meeting of Old Melburnians FC (ex Melb. Grammar students -this school played against Scotch in the famous game organised by T.Wills in 1858) that his mother told him of this family legend - Tom Wills, as a young child in the isolated Moyston area, played Marngrook with aboriginal children.They say rounders which is still played in a huge variety of different ways at schools is a forerunner to baseball, rounders was a English game, they still play a variety of rounders at the primary school across the road, markings around the basketball courts
Basketball is pretty much American.
Ball games have been happening for thousands of years, everything is related, but to say that Tom Wils was not somehow influenced by Marngrook and Aboriginal culture is bizarre, he was the only white child in a district where local Aboriginals still practiced thousand year old customs, he spoke their language and played with them.
He would have been influenced in a variety of ways he probably did not even realise, let alone reflecting on his childhood in later years.
(The ball, made of possum skin, tied up with kangaroo sinews, & stuffed with charcoal, was kicked high in the air between two groups of aboriginals, who faced each other in 2 lines. The winner was the person who was able to catch the contested high ball, without it touching the ground, the most times).
Wills was so fluent in the Western Vic. Aboriginal dialect that, 20 years later after leaving that district in 1845, when he returned, he was able to recall & speak to the Aboriginals in their dialect. VERY COMPLICATED dialect conversations re cricket rules & coaching cricket skills for their tour of England!
These Aboriginals embarassed the Hamilton white cricketers by defeating them in a cricket match, prior to the English tour. The Hamilton cricketers then challenged them to a Victorian Rules match for "revenge"-but they declined, as their train was leaving for Melb. the next day.
Wills NEVER trained these Aboriginals in Vic. Rules. However, the West Vic. district whites obviously believed (which has PROFOUND implications) that the Marngrook they had witnessed in Western Vic. would have enabled these athletic Aboriginals to play a genuine "fair"contest of Vic. Rules ie there was some overlap in skills between Marngrook & Vic. Rules (but no tackling in Marngrook).
Marngrook was also witnessed by Europeans in other parts of Victoria -including very close to Melbourne, up to c.1870 (Incidentally, Aboriginals were seen & recorded by europeans playing Marngrook in what is now called Collingwood in the 1860's - fairly close to where Vic. Park currently stands!).
In historian David Thompson's important new book "The Rules That Made Australian Football" Walla Walla Press, NSW,2013, pg19, Thompson quotes historian Jim Poulter, who quoted 1850's Warrandyte (c. 30 kms NE of Melb.) settlers seeing"...a spectacular game of native football that involved players leaping high into the air onto each others backs in order to catch the ball...the athletic displays of the footballers (Aboriginals playing Marngrook -my words), men and women, were met with much excitement and cheering from hundreds of onlooking natives, settlers, and gold miners... this was 1852...".
The 1859 Melb. Rules allowed a FREE kick for a mark, if the kicked ball was not touched by another person first- thus placing great importance on catching. (otherwise, the round ball could NOT be picked up off the ground, only dribbled ala soccer).
The 1858 Rules of the "chaotic " football games that occurred then in Melb. (following Wills'famous 1858 letter to Bells Life), with much disputation amongst the players over the "agreed"rules, sometimes causing "fisticuffs", have not survived.
Thompson writes at pg.90 "The mark was the CENTRAL (my emphasis) element of Australian football, this practice being recorded at the FIRST (my emphasis) interclub (properly formulated- my words) match between Melbourne and South Yarra in 1858...".
At pg.91, Thompson writes"...there is some evidence that the settlers watched games of marngrook (in Melb. environs -my words). William Kyle, who lived in Melbourne (in the1850's-my words), recalled that game (marngrook-my words) with its spectacular high catches, was frequently played and witnessed by european spectators. It seems MORE than a COINCIDENCE (my emphasis) that Australian football featured similar catching methods. It seems likely that some future Aust. footballers had watched and approved of the way that Aborigines leapt for a catch introducing this technique to a new game...".
We are unlikely to ever know for certain why the MARK/FREE kick was the CENTRAL, distinguishing element of the Melbourne Rules of 1859 (its potency emphasised by the lack of an offside rule).
And we will never be certain what motivated its early white proponents to attempt this"suicidal" dangerous feat (People in the 19th century could, & often did, die from complications of broken bones then, no antibiotics for infections. Some believed high jumps were too dangerous,& should be banned).
Spectacular high marking was a very rare feature of Vic. Rules until popularised by Charles "Commotion"Pearson in the 1870's (Many female spectators then would shriek out in fear when Pearson flew for a mark, thinking he would severely injure himself on landing in these hitherto rare jumps. Thus the females caused a commotion, hence Pearson's acquired famous nickname).
The 1859 Rule makers never gave reasons as to their prime influences (except for Wills famously saying 'We decided we should have a game of our own', & 'Melb. grounds were too hard for the Rugby school game'). Commotion Pearson never explained what influenced him to regularly attempt "suicidal"leaps to mark the ball (nor the other, earlier, irregular high leapers).
What we can be certain, though, is that some of the most vociferous, current opponents of the marngrook connection to Wills/ other early rule makers (direct or subconscious connection) in 1859 (& marngrook's connections to jumping players from 1858 -1870's) come from devotees of RL, RU, & soccer.
And for the same reason that soccer supporters are trying to usurp & monopolise the words "Australian Football" for their code.
And for the same reason that RL, RU, & soccer devotees refused to call our code "Australian Football"-its correct name since the 1880's; but deliberately called the code "Rules", or "Aussie Rules"; or "'the Melbourne/ Victorian game"; or "aerial ping pong"; or "gayFL". etc.
Must deny/obfuscate/divert/ignore its "Australianess"- & the great pride many Australians have in our Australian game.
And thus they argue that AF is simply a slight variation, & direct lineage, of ancient English school/folk games.