Boomerang and bat by Mark Greenwood

cover image

Ill. by Terry Denton. Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781743319246
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended, Aboriginal themes, Aboriginal cricketers, Cricket. Subtitled, The story of the real first eleven, a cricket player or spectator will know immediately what this is about. For others, the illustration on the front cover will be enough to pique their interest and see what the themes will be. Whatever the immediate impact of cover and title, readers will quickly open this beautiful book to read the story or an amazing group of Aboriginal cricketers who toured England in 1868.
1868. The date astonished me, after all, European settlers had only been here eighty years, and for a group of Aboriginal cricketers to take the game on an tour England is breathtaking. Initially they were not allowed to leave Australia, but their manager, Charles Lawrence, got around that problem, secretly getting them on a ship in Victoria before sailing to England aboard the Parramatta out of Sydney.
They wowed the players and spectators across England, but they played so many games they became ill and when one of their team, King Cole died, they returned to Australia, unheralded.
The detailed illustrations show the team in all its finery, playing on the fields of England, defeating the teams they played against. Some hints of racial tension are shown and the text shows the huge pressure they were under to perform, as they not only played cricket matches, but put on entertainments after the match with their boomerangs and shields. No wonder Lawrence was keen to get them to England.
But the dismay the readers will feel when they come to the end of the book and realise that this group of young men were not recognised in any way will hang heavily, particularly when compared with the money heaped upon today's cricketers. It is galling to compare the two, but that comparison came immediately to my mind.
It seems that these men simply returned to their lives on the stations from where they came, while their talented captain, Johnny Mullagh played on. Apart from the sporting theme, many discussions could emanate from this book: Aboriginal participation in sport, rewards for being top players, racism directed at Aboriginal players, the test series today and so on.
Another book about Johnny Mullagh, Knockabout cricket by Neridah McMullin (Scholastic 2015) could be readily used with Boomerang and bat. The two would make an interesting pairing of the theme offering differing styles of presentation. Both are a 'must have' for any school library giving a different view of Aboriginal participation in sport. And they sit well alongside the two published about the early days of football, Kick it to me by Neridah McMullin (Scholastic 2012) and Marngrook by Titta Secombe (Magabala Books, 2012).
Fran Knight