And now the search is on for photographs, sporting clothes, trophies and other memorabilia for an exhibition highlighting their achievements.
The Richmond River Historical Society, in conjunction with Southern Cross University, is holding an exhibition ‘Goories playing sport’ to coincide with the Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout Carnival in Lismore over the October long weekend.
Dr Adele Wessell, Southern Cross University historian, said they were looking for people in the region, from Tweed Heads to Grafton, to loan or donate material for the exhibition.
Dr Wessell will also be working with students and colleagues John McPherson, Jo Kijas, Leonie Lane and Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples to record the stories of Indigenous people. Ros Sten, Aboriginal student liaison officer from Lismore TAFE has been crucial in putting the team in touch with local people and there has been a lot of support in the community for the exhibition.
“There have been a whole lot of Indigenous people who have either succeeded at representative level or have taken a leading role in encouraging local players. People often overcame really big obstacles and have gone on to be very successful,” Dr Wessell said.
Many Aboriginal people achieved sporting success without the luxury of sports facilities or specialist training and in the face of blatant racism.
“One of the common themes we have found is community and family support, and sport was very important in strengthening these things,” Dr Wessell said.
“Sport also provided a means of social mobility for Indigenous people.”
Dr Wessell said while some of the Indigenous sports people were known nationally, there were often few photographs or memorabilia.
“We are hoping that we will be also be able to establish a travelling exhibition to take to other parts of the Northern Rivers region,” she said.
Among the local sports identities are:
Jack Marsh, born in the Clarence River district in 1874, was rated the fastest man in the State over 75 yards. As a specialist fast bowler he played six first-class matches for NSW from 1901 to 1903, but wasn’t picked for an English tour because of his Aboriginality. In 1902 a visiting English team refused to play against him. He did play against an English side in 1903-04 and took five wickets for 55 runs. He was banned from the Sydney Cricket Ground and died tragically in 1916 when he was bashed to death.
George Green was the first Indigenous Australian to play professional rugby league. He was born in Grafton in the 1880s and played for Eastern Suburbs, North Sydney and Newtown.
Sam Anderson scored over a hundred centuries in district cricket in northern NSW and played for Queensland Country in 1906 and 1911. On September 28, 1928 at a game in Lismore, Sam caught Donald Bradman out for a duck. He was known as the ‘Bungawalbyn Crack’ and ‘Prince of Darkness’. At the age of 70 he scored 77 in a district match.
Tony Mundine was born in Baryulgil in 1951. He went to Sydney for a rugby league career and then switched to boxing. He is the only Australian titleholder in four weight divisions.
Joanne Lesiputty, born in Murwillumbah in 1966, played for Australia in softball in the youth girls world championships in the US in 1985. She also played indoor cricket for Australian in 1989 and netball for the all-Aboriginal team that toured the Cook Islands in 1987.
Anyone who has photos or memorabilia they would like to loan or donate for the exhibition should contact the Richmond River Historical Society on 66219993 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Material can also be sent to or left with the Richmond River Historical Society, 165 Molesworth Street, Lismore with items clearly labelled.
Photo: Jack Marsh, front row second from right, was a member of the 1902/03 NSW cricket team. Jack was born in the Clarence River area in 1874.
Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.