Marn grook is an Aboriginal ball sport played among the tribes of western Victoria, Australia since an unknown point in history. As its only historical documentation is anecdotal, the rules are unclear, though it appears to have shared some characteristics with modern Australian Rules football. Some hold the sport as the primary influence behind the creation of Australian Rules football, however the only piece of evidence behind this claim is unreliable. As such, most historians lend the claim no credibility, maintaining the position that marn grook was a unique, independent sport.
Origins and History
The earliest record for marn grook is a quote from settler William Thomas (1793–1867), who, beginning 1841, watched the Aborigines play the game on more than one occasion. This is the earliest eyewitness account, but by all means the sport could have originated decades or even centuries earlier. As historians know little of the Aboriginal people of Australia before European colonization, there is currently no feasible way to determine its date of origin.
As a side note, some sources claim that an 1857 sketch by Prussian scientist William Blandowski depicts a game of marn grook, which would suggest that the sport was played by Aborigines in modern day New South Wales. However, both the illustration itself and Blandowski’s description of the scene attest that the sport being played was woggabaliri.
How to Play
Eyewitness accounts of the sport could not make out the rules of the game, but do provide some details as to how it was played. Players were not allowed to throw the ball; the only way to pass it was to drop kick it. It appears that when a player caught the ball, they were not allowed to move, or were limited in movement. After catching, they were to drop kick it to someone else. No comment was made on scoring or winning the game, but players who performed impressive catches or kicks were praised. Eyewitness accounts also relate that the sport could feature a large number of players – sometimes up to fifty.
Different tribes would make the marn grook ball with different materials. The most widely used ball was one bound with possum skin, much like the woggabaliri ball. Of the known methods, one of the most notable is the use of kangaroo scrotum wrapped around an unknown structure. These balls, though made of a small variety of materials, were always crafted to withstand its primary means of locomotion; constant dropkicking.
Smyth, R. B. (1878). The aborigines of Victoria: With notes relating to the habits of the natives of other parts of Australia and Tasmania. Melbourne: J. Ferres, gov’t printer.
Hallinan, C., & Judd, B. (n.d.). Indigenous people, race relations and Australian sport.
Reconciliation, A., O’Loughlin, M., Thorpe, I., & Amor, P. (2009). Reconciliation in sport. South Yarra, Vic: MACMILLAN.