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‘We bear witness to and are deeply sorry for the grief’: CA acknowledges evidence Tom Wills may have taken part in massacres of Indigenous people

Cricket Australia has expressed its “deep sorrow” for the grief of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people following evidence suggesting early cricketing great and Australian Rules co-founder Tom Wills may have taken part in reprisal massacres of Indigenous people.

Key points:

  • A newly discovered 1895 article quotes Tom Wills saying he and others “killed all in sight” when they found a band of Aboriginal people
  • Wills was one of Australia’s earliest star cricketers
  • Cricket Australia says it will talk to Indigenous advisers over how to respond to the allegations

The AFL has also acknowledged

Wills was quoted in the Chicago Tribune story, referring to joining a group of “good men and true” who rode out to find the band of men responsible for the deaths at Cullin-la-ringo.

“If you ever saw men set out to kill it was these. There was ‘death to the devils’ written on every face,” Wills was quoted in the article before saying the group caught up with a band of Aboriginal people.

“I cannot tell all that happened, but know we killed all in sight.”

Wills also spoke of shooting dead an Aboriginal man who he said had stolen Wills’s prized Zingari cricket jacket during the Cullin-la-ringo massacre.

Five years after his father’s death and the reprisal massacres, Wills coached the trailblazing Aboriginal cricket team of 1866, who would later become the first Australian team to tour England.

A statement from Cricket Australia said the organisation was “deeply sorry for the grief this conversation may cause Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people” and said its next steps would be decided by its National Aboriginal Advisory committee.

“We are currently digesting the news that has uncovered evidence suggesting Tom Wills’ participation in the mass murder of Gayiri people during the attacks that followed Queensland’s Cullin-la-ringo massacre,” the Cricket Australia statement said.

“We bear witness to and are deeply sorry for the grief this conversation may cause Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We acknowledge and honour their elders past and present.

“This story is part of the journey our nation is on, of understanding and reconciling our collective history. We are committed to leaning into the traumas of the past, listening and learning so that we can be better. We commend the researchers for their work and are eager to learn more.

“Ultimately, this is about grappling with who we are, not only as a sport, but as a nation. We as an organisation firmly believe that Reconciliation is for all of us, and is the way forward. We as a sport are committed to playing our role in that pursuit.

“We will take some time to work with and be advised by our National Aboriginal Advisory Committee, as well as other experts to consider our next steps.”

An AFL spokesperson gave the league’s position.

“We acknowledge the information that came to light yesterday and the trauma associated with historical events that occurred in Australia.

“We will now seek advice from those with knowledge of the available evidence as well as from the communities whose trauma this speaks of.”

Sporting bodies urged to not ‘whitewash’ history

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria also responded, urging the AFL and Cricket Australia to not “keep trying to whitewash our history”

“Recognising and accepting the brutal reality of invasion is the first step towards healing and creating a better future together,” said a statement from First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria co-chair Marcus Stewart, a Nira Illim Bulluk man.

“That’s the importance of truth telling.

“We need to reckon with the past injustices, address the ongoing racism and find ways to create a fairer future together. That’s what Treaty is all about.”

“Whether your family has lived in Victoria for five years or 50,000 years, truth-telling and Treaty has the potential to bring us closer together, but we can’t do that if our politicians and institutions, including the AFL and cricket Australia, keep trying to whitewash our history.”