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Saturday, May 1, 2021


Life hasn't dealt Australia's indigenous population a fair hand over the past couple of hundred of years or so, and they still find themselves on the bottom rungs of the nation's ladder, facing discrimination, poverty and a lack of opportunity in many areas. Indigenous athletes have found success in a number of sports down the years, but they remain less prevalent than they perhaps should be.

Since the end of the Second World War, and particularly since the 1960s, indigenous (in other words, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders) athletes have been coming increasingly to the fore in Aussie Rules, both Rugby codes, boxing, track and field and, belatedly, in football, though the road has been a long one for the country's indigenous sports men and women. At the end of the nineteenth century, a majority of the Aboriginal population lived in segregated areas of Australia, having been driven from their ancestral lands, from where their lands had been taken over by waves of immigrants from 1788 onwards, to more isolated swathes of the country. Because of their isolation, Aborigines were often ignorant of developments elsewhere in Australia, not least on the sporting front.

They and the Torres Strait Islanders, who, unlike many Aboriginal peoples, were not singularly dispossessed of their land, had their own sports, though, and many of them. Ball sports were very popular, though very few resembled modern-day football. Tjapu-tjapu, which was played by the Djinghali people (though the word 'tjapu-tjapu' - 'game of football' - comes from the Pitjantjatjara-Yankunytjatjara language) of central Australia was what we would classify today as a group game of keepie-uppie.

Millim baeyeetch was played in what is now modern-day Victoria, and, players were divided into opposing teams. At the end of the game, the beiin (player) who kicked the ball the highest was considered to be their equivalent of the man of the match, and was given the ball to keep until the next game by burying it in the ground.

There are other ball games, but the best-known of them all is probably marn-grook, which is considered by many to be the ancestor of Aussie Rules, or at least was a factor in the sport's development. That remains unproven, but one can see how the connotation was made: Marn-grook ('game of ball') was played all over south-eastern Australia and was extremely popular in Victoria, and (like Aussie Rules) involved a ball - often made of possum-hair twine - being kicked high into the air in order to be athletically caught. 

 Drawing by Gustav Mützel (in Berlin 1862) based on Blandowski's 1857 observations of a scene near present day in Victoria.

 An illustration of an Aboriginal football game - perhaps marn-grook - being played as part of a larger illustration, "Aborigines of Australia - Domestic occupations in 'summer season' on the Lower [??] Murray River" (1862), drawn by Gustav Mützel and based on the studies of William Blandowski, which were carried out in 1857

But, there was generally little or no room for either Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders in the growing sporting world of the colonies which would combine in 1901 to form the Commonwealth of Australia. They remained isolated from mainstream colonial society as a whole, but a few cases of indigenous athletes taking part in colonial competition did crop up. Charles Samuels was one: the Kamilaroi man ran the irregular-sounding distance of 134 yards in 12.5 seconds at an event in Botany in 1888, and has been acclaimed as Australian champion on more than one occasion, the first after having won 100 and 300-yard races in 1886. He has also often been described as the best runner ever to have come out of Australia.

Just four men of Aboriginal background have ever won the famous 120-yard Stawell Easter Gift foot-race (held in the Victorian village of Stawell, the first being Dimboola native Bobby Kinnear in 1883, also with a time of 12.5 seconds. Kinnear (born in 1851) had an interesting early life, to put it mildly: a member of the Yarra-Yarra tribe, he was apparently taken from his parents after his father threatened to kill him and thereafter spent much of his life living at the Ebenezer Mission Station at Antwerp, a tiny village in north-western Victoria. Not much is known of his life until his death in 1935, apart from he and his wife raising three sons. 

The second, Tom Dancey, was born in Queensland sometime around 1888 and spent most of his early life working alongside his brothers at various sheep stations in the area. He won the race in 1910 after hitting the front in the final 50 yards, right when it mattered most, and was handed a trophy and the then not inconsiderable sum of 1000 pounds. However, there is a story that Dancey was relieved of his prize money by his trainers and assorted hangers-on and returned home to the Queensland village of Dirranbandi with little more than the Stawell Gift trophy and the clothes on his back. He died in Dirranbandi in 1957 and was laid to rest in an unmarked grave; thanks in no small part to the efforts of his niece, an appeal to rectify this quickly gathered pace, and a headstone was finally erected over Dancey's grave in 2011.

There were a number of others, of course: Johnny Murtagh, one of Australian cricket's earliest stars during the 1860s and 1870s, who fought tirelessly for Aboriginal rights and died in 1891; Jack Marsh, the first Aboriginal cricketer to play first-class cricket, representing New South Wales on six occasions; and early Aussie Rules star Joe Johnson, who was the first Aborigine to play in the Victoria Football League during the early 1900s.

But football? There were at least two Aboriginal footballers who managed to escape from the segregation propagated by the colonies and prolonged by the new Commonwealth of Australia, which came into being in 1901. The first was a chap called Quilp, who played in Queensland for Dinmore Bush Rats. According to The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe (John Maynard, 2011), information on him was scant. He seemingly came and went in the blink of an eye and remained a man of mystery. However, in recent years, more has been discovered about him and his playing career.

Quilp first appears in articles in the Queensland Times in May 1904, when he was playing for another Dinmore side, Reliance, in a cup tie against Markets FC. He had apparently been sent off, presumably for dissent, but later returned to the field of play where he scored the winning goal, much to the bemusement of the spectators, who were seemingly of the mind that the ball didn't cross the line. A protest was made at the final whistle, which was dismissed by the then Queensland British Football Association a few days later. However, it appears that two Reliance players who had "misconducted themselves" against Markets received bans from the the QBFA: a V. Bognuda (?) received a month-long ban, whilst "Quilp, aboriginal, being disqualified for the season."

He later joined Dinmore Bush Rats, a team which were founded in 1888, and Quilp appears in a squad-photo dating from 1910 under the name Jackie (Quilp) Lynch. The Bush Rats had a very successful year in 1910, winning the Brisbane Senior Challenge Cup and the Junior Challenge Cup - Quilp was a member of the winning Junior side, which also lost in the final of the West Moreton Junior Challenge Cup. (It was the only match the Junior side lost all season.)

According to an article which appeared in the Queensland Times in January 1929, Quilp was originally from somewhere west of the region of Brisbane and Ipswich, between which the tiny village of Dinmore is situated, and was brought to the area by a Mr. Asburn, a well-known local butcher, when he was a little boy. The Asburns lived in Riverview, another small village next to Dinmore, and Quilp "lived for many years" with them until Mr. Asburn died and the family left Riverview. Quilp then moved the short distance to Dinmore, and it was noted by the author of the article that "Quilp was at one time a keen footballer, and I think he played in some of the minor football matches with the Dinmore Bush Rats' Club." 

He was certainly part of a makeshift Bush Rats team which took on a Combined Brisbane XI in August 1908 at the Pineapple Ground on South Brisbane's Kangaroo Point. The match finished all-square at 1:1, with several juniors and the 'ebony' Quilp replenishing a depleted squad for a match which the Queensland Times described as "a friendly one, engaged in with the view of giving a stimulus to the 'soccer' game in the metropolitan area."

Quilp stayed in Dinmore for a number of years, working for different local firms, even becoming a referee of some renown (and is referred to as "the ebony umpire of 'soccer' rules at Dunmore" in a 1911 article in the Queensland Times), until "the police, acting under instructions from the Home Secretary's Department, removed Quilp to the aboriginal settlement at Barambah [now modern-day Cherbourg]." 

Quilp's was one of almost 2100 forced removals of Aboriginal people carried out in the name of the Australian government between 1905-39 to what was the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement; the name of the settlement itself changed to Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement in 1932 before it was changed to plain old Cherbourg in 1986. It seems that Quilp spent some time hunting buffalo in the Northern Territory in 1919 before moving to Tweed Heads, in the extreme north-east corner of New South Wales, and, apart from some tales being told of his wit and repartee - and the odd brush with the law - there his footballing story seems to peter out. 

He appears to have died in Murwillumbah on 22 January 1930, aged 63. In direct comparison to the eulogies which appeared in the local press following his death (though the language used would not be tolerated now; it is difficult to know how to react to newspaper articles which described Quilp as a "darkie"and "Abo"), only three or four people turned out to witness his funeral and internment. 

Dinmore Bush Rats FC team-photo, 1910. Quillp (Jacky Lynch) is seated in the middle of the second row. (Photographer unknown, but the photo is held in the collection of Ipswich Libraries, Ipswich City Council, Queensland)

The second Aboriginal footballer was better-known; at least, more records of his footballing exploits exist than do those for Quilp, whilst comparatively little is known of his life off the pitch. His name was Bondi Neal (died in July/August 1953?), and he somehow managed to escape the segregation of the Aboriginal reserves and found work in the Hunter Valley minefields, situated to the west of the New South Wales city of Newcastle. Neal was described by the former Ausralian Football Federation historian Sid Grant as "part Aboriginal [and a] keen, versatile sportsman..He once threw a cricket ball 66 yards with both hands."

He arrived in the Hunter Valley, somehow, in 1904, and from whence he came is unrecorded, though it is mentioned here and there that he came from the South Coast region of New South Wales. He found work almost immediately in the mines, and a football club in the mining settlement of Pelaw Main. He and the newly-founded Pelaw Main club reached the final of the Newcastle competition later in 1904, losing 1:0 to Broadmeadow. He and his team-mates gained a reputation as formidable opponents, and won the Newcastle competition in 1907, eventually defeating Wallsend Royals 4:2 after extra time in an absorbing final which had finished 2:2 after 90 minutes.

A year later, in 1908, Neal moved a mile or so up the road to the neighbouring town of Kurri Kurri , where he not only played football, but cricket, and both codes of Rugby. It was while he was at Kurri Kurri that his form, consistently good over the years but especially so in 1908-09, ensured that he was selected to play for a Coalfields select against a visiting West Australia side at Maitland's Albion Ground in early May 1909. The visitors won by two goals to nil, but Neal excelled himself in his first representative match, saving at least five goal-bound shots. 

It was also almost certainly the first time that a member of the indigenous population had played in a representative football match. He stayed at Kurri Kurri until 1910, when he moved to Weston, another small town a mile or two to the west of Kurri Kurri, and played for a club there. But, which one? At least three teams were founded in the village in 1907: Weston Advance, Weston United and Weston Albions. Weston Bears, who exist today, also claim their foundation to have taken place in 1907.

The story goes that he left Weston in 1912 and moved to his native South Coast region, but it seems that he only made it as far as the town of Balgownie, just to the west of Wollongong, some miles to the south of Sydney, and was actually playing for the Balgownie Rangers club as early as 1911. (Another contradiction presents itself..) He also appears in a Balgownie Rangers first-team photo from 1913 under the name B. O'Neill.

Playing for Woonona, Neal represented the South Coast FA in a match on 23 April 1921 against what the Illawarra Mercury described as "a metropolitan team from Sydney"; the Sydney publication Arrow named the opposition as Metropolis. Whatever the opposition were called, the South Coast lost the match, played at Woonona, by 2 goals to 1, the correspondent writing for the South Coast Times and Wollongong Argus mentioned merely that "Neal, in goal, is easily our best goalie."

He was called up again by the South Coast FA for their game against Queensland on June 8, also at Woonona, but only as one of the reserves. (The South Coast won by 4 goals to 2.)

He was due to play for the new Wollongong United club at the beginning of 1923. It would be his fourth club in as many years, so claimed an article in the Illawarra Mercury; he had played for Balgownie, Corrimal and Woonona, and evidence seems to point to him playing for Balgownie in 1922.

In September 1923, according to an article in the Bundaberg Mail which was reproduced from an unnamed 'Sydney journal', Neal was apparently still playing football at the age of 42, and keeping goal for Woonona. (Perhaps the move to Wollongong United fell through.) 

The article tells a little of his early life and of his ancestry: his father was a Scotsman, his mother 'a half-caste'. He was born in the back country of New South Wales, probably in 1881, and he was apparently blessed with an ability to jump higher and farther than most; his friends christened him "Banda", which was the Aboriginal word for kangaroo, so the article claimed, and his nickname was then later anglicised to "Bondi."

Neal had been a promising runner, and had taken up rugby in around 1903, playing "first-grade" standard in the Newcastle district. He then began to play football, "and he achieved a like success", as we have seen. The contributor of the article was of the opinion that at "42 years of age, he [Neal] is still a fine footballer, and one of the most popular footballers in the district."

This would seem to contradict a little of what had previously been known about Bondi Neal; according to John Maynard, he had played four sports when living in Kurri Kurri, but the implication was that he had taken up football when he arrived in Pelaw Main in 1904 and the other three only after he moved to Kurri Kurri in 1908.

Neal was living in Wollongong and seemed to have retired from playing football by Christmas 1926, when he had apparently suffered "painful injury to his head and back" due to flying coal whilst working down Scarborough mine; he had also suffered an injury to his hand earlier the same day. He also appeared to do a little refereeing from time to time. The trail then goes pretty much cold after this regarding Bondi's sporting exploits, though one of his former clubs, Balgowlie Rangers, were planning to organise a benefit match for him in 1949. 

Bondi Neal, or, to give him his full name, Walter Ernest "Bondi" Neal, died in Wollongong District Hospital on 31 July 1953. He was survived by his wife and five of his six children. His obituary in the Illawarra Mercury (which spelled his surname as "Neil") mentioned that "In his younger days Mr. Neil was very interested in the sporting activities of the district including soccer, cricket, Rugby union and boxing."

That which appeared in the South Coast Times & Wollongong Argus was rather more expansive, saying that he was active in five sports (cricket, football, boxing, Rugby Union and Aussie Rules) and that he had played football until he was 69 years old, describing him as possessing "one of the most colourful sporting identities of the South Coast." He had amassed almost a hundred medals and awards through the years, and appeared in representative teams in at least three sports. He had also spent a large part of his working life at Scarborough mine.

Both obituaries stated that Bondi Neal was 89 years old when he died. This stands in sharp contrast with what was published by the Bundaberg Mail back in 1923, which would have made him around 73 when he died. This confusion over Bondi Neal's age when he died is a perfect example of the type of problem faced by football historians everywhere, especially when trying to fill in the white areas still prevalent on the map of early football.

On the other hand, we can be reasonably confident that there was only one Bondi Neal, and, indeed, only one Quilp. Most of the information mentioned in this article has only come to light in the last ten years or so, and some of it only in the last couple of years, not all of it flattering in Quilp's case, at least. Although this article is extremely imperfect and will leave behind just as many questions as answers, it is just the latest stage in a work in progress on the lives of both gentlemen, and someone else will come along and take up the story from here (I hope). 

Although there is surely much, much more to discover about both men, every new morsel of information helps give a slightly more complete picture of both of their lives, as well as, for better or worse, providing another tiny window into the intolerance faced by the indigenous peoples in early twentieth century Australia. Neither man was among the first Aboriginal sports men and women to take part in modern-day sport, but they did help blaze a trail, however short, however thin, for indigenous Australian involvement in football.


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Most of the information included in the above article comes from a limited range of sources, some of which provided the inspiration, if not a lot of material, for the article:

"Football Barriers - Aboriginal under-representation and disconnection from the 'world game' (John Maynard, 2009; p. 39-56, "Soccer & Society", Routledge)

"The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe: A history of aboriginal involvement with the world game" (John Maynard, 2011; Magabala Books)

"The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe" - book review by Chris Hallinan (2014; "Soccer & Society", Routledge)

"The Containment of Soccer in Australia: Fencing Off The World Game" - Chris Hallinan, John Hughson (2010, Routledge)

Much of the information was also found using the Trove newspaper archive resource:

Information was gleaned from archive material available on Trove from the following publications, amongst others: Queensland Times; South Coast Times & Wollongong Argus; Illawarra Mercury; Bundaberg Mail

Essential to the story of Quilp and Bondi Neal is the below article, written by Ian Syson:





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