Marn Grook: The Game

Marn Grook: The Game
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Thomas Wills and his cousin, HCA Harrison, combined elements of soccer, Gaelic football and rugby union to come up with a concoction that incorporated all the codes and founded AFL in the 1860s. An overview of various codes of football over the years is shown through a montage including: historical photographs of Indigenous players; contemporary AFL match footage; stills of men playing various codes – soccer, Gaelic football and rugby union; and a re-enactment showing Indigenous men playing 'Marn Grook’. Voice-over from narrator Ernie Dingo explains that in the 1840s, Aboriginal Protector Mr Thomas noted that he observed Indigenous men playing a game very similar to what became AFL, and the name of this game was 'Marn Grook’. Summary by Romaine Moreton

Marn Grook gives a good historical and political overview of the AFL and how Indigenous men have used AFL as a way of making a living, or as a political platform to fight for Indigenous rights. 'Marn Grook’ is the Indigenous name of a game very similar to AFL or Australian Rules football, and it has been contended that the AFL game is in fact derived from Marn Grook.

Some of the players and incidents covered in the film include Douglas Nicholls, an Indigenous VFL player who went on to be knighted by the Queen and receive the honour of the Governorship of South Australia, and Nicky Winmar, who became an icon for anti-racism when he famously bared his torso and pointed to his skin in retaliation to racist taunts from Collingwood supporters. The Aboriginal All Stars formed as a result of racism in AFL following the Collingwood incident.

Marn Grook is a very informative documentary, and shows the skills and determination of many Indigenous football players who used sport as a way of overcoming adversity and challenging racism.


Marn Grook synopsis

Marn Grook details Indigenous involvement in AFL since the game’s beginning.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education Notes

This clip shows a compilation of images depicting Indigenous involvement in Australian Rules football over more than a hundred years. It includes black-and-white photographs of players, colour film excerpts from modern games, historical illustrations of early games and a silhouetted re-enactment showing Indigenous men playing the football game marn grook. The voice-over refers to Australian Rules football as an opportunity for Indigenous players to compete equally with non-Indigenous Australians and includes a discussion of the origins of the game.

Educational value points

  • This clip provides one perspective on Australian Rules football, that of continuing Indigenous involvement in the game from its origins to today. The black-and-white photographs of Indigenous players stress a long history while the modern colour film footage indicates continuing involvement. The use of the name ‘marn grook’ in the film title asserts Indigenous identity.
  • Involvement in the Australian Football League (AFL) is presented as a means of Indigenous people achieving on equal terms in Australian society, experiencing equality ‘body against body’. Between 1904 and 1998 there were approximately 100 Indigenous players at the top level. Gaining recognition on the football field enabled players to make a living and more recently to use it as a platform to challenge racism and fight for rights.
  • This clip provides evidence of the existence of an Indigenous football game known as marn grook in the 1840s. The commentary refers to a ‘striking similarity’ between marn grook and the new game of Australian Rules football established in the 1860s. While historians such as Jim Poulter claim football’s Indigenous origin, this is disputed and the account of Protector William Thomas’s observations of a game in the 1840s is left for the audience to interpret.
  • The clip includes commentary referring to the generally accepted role of Thomas Wills and his cousin H C A Harrison in the development of elements of soccer, Gaelic football and rugby union into the new game of football in the 1860s. This is the way the origin of Australian Rules is presented in the official AFL history by historian Gillian Hibbens, who controversially rejects any claims of Indigenous origins of the game as unproven.
  • This clip presents positive images of Indigenous and non-Indigenous players over time. The inclusion of team photographs from the past emphasises the continuity in Indigenous history and an instance of positive and apparently equal interrelationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia’s past. This emphasis on cooperation suggests the film’s 1990s context with its focus on reconciliation.
  • This clip uses a range of visual images, music and sound to create continuity and change. The commentary and the roar of the crowd accompanying the footage from a modern game creates the excitement and speed of today’s Australian Rules football while the re-enactment sequence with its softer music and moving silhouettes of footballers against a blue background of the Australian bush evokes poetically the past game of marn grook and its players.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

CAAMA Productions
Steven McGregor

This clip starts approximately 3 minutes into the documentary.

We see old photographs of various AFL teams.
Ernie Dingo (narration) For Aboriginal people, the game provided an opportunity to compete on equal footing with White Australia where, for the duration of the game, it was body against body and they could be judged on sporting ability alone. They thrilled the crowds with their pace and skill as others do today.
We see footage of modern AFL games.
Ernie The game was founded in the 1860s. Thomas Wills and his cousin, HCA Harrison, combined elements of soccer, Gaelic football and rugby union to create a new game. However, in the 1840s the Aboriginal Protector, Mr Thomas, documented his observations of young Aboriginal men enjoying an activity which bears a striking similarity to today’s game. This game was Marn Grook.
We see recreated footage of Aboriginal men playing Marn Grook.
Mr Thomas The men and boys joyfully assemble when this game is to be played. One makes a ball of a possum skin. It was somewhat elastic but firm and strong. The players of this game do not throw the ball as the white man might do, but drops it and at the same time kicks it with his foot. The tallest men have the best chances in this game. Some of them will leap as high as five feet or more from the ground to catch the ball. The person who secures the ball, kicks it. This continues for hours and the natives never seem to tire of the exercise.