Aboriginal domestic scene from Blandowski’s Australien in 142 Photographischen Abbildungen, 1857 Murray/Darling expedition, by Gustav Mützel
Source: Haddon Library, Cambridge University
What may be the first image of an Australian football game, being played by Indigenous people near modern-day Mildura, has been uncovered by Museum Victoria curatorial staff.
"This is a remarkable image and we at the Museum are delighted to be able to publicise its discovery. If what we are seeing is indeed an Australian 'football' game, involving both marking and kicking, then this image may be the earliest yet known," said Dr Patrick Greene, Chief Executive Officer, Museum Victoria.
The image was uncovered during research for an exhibition focusing on early Victorian scientist William Blandowski and an expedition he led to the Murray River in 1857. Blandowski was the founding curator of the National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria) and a larger-than-life early Mebourne character.
During preparation for the exhibition celebrating the expedition's 150th anniversary, a portfolio of prints held in Berlin yielded an unexpected image – young men kicking and preparing to catch a spherical object.
Museum Victoria's Head of Indigenous Cultures, Dr Michael Green, first noticed the depiction and was astonished at its possible ramifications: "I was looking at the image with my colleagues for different reasons entirely, and suddenly it struck me. Those kids are playing footy! It looks just like the games of 'kick-to-kick' we used to play in the school yard. Look at that guy: it seems like he’s preparing to take a mark."
Blandowski’s notes from 1857 describe the game he witnessed the Yerre Yerre people (now known as the Nyeri Nyeri) playing at Mondellimin, near present-day Merbein: "The ball is made out of Typha roots; it is not thrown or hit with a bat, but it is kicked up in the air with the foot. Aim of the game: never let the ball touch the ground."
The image was created by Gustav Mützel in 1862, and is directly based on Blandowski's 1857 observations.
"Museum Victoria has little expert knowledge of football history, so I’d encourage those who know more to do further research on this image. Given the early date and what it depicts, we have decided to place the image in the public domain for further investigation and debate," said Dr Michael Green.
The image will be on display for the first time in the Museum Victoria-produced exhibition Blandowski’s expedition to the Murray 1857 at the Mildura Arts Centre from 21 September until 21 November.