Playing long balls into empty space since 2012.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Quilp of the Bush Rats

In 1952 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article on an Indigenous soccer player that raised more questions than it answered.

James Mulgrave, a 19-year-old aboriginal, may soon be playing first-grade Soccer for the Bankstown club.

Only two or three aborigines have played in major Soccer in N.S.W. during the last 20 years. There is none playing major Soccer in the State at present.

The president of the Bankstown club, Mr. Jack McFarlane, saw Mulgrave playing first-grade Soccer for Blair Athol against Ipswich recently. He was so impressed by Mulgrave's play at centre-half that he immediately offered to bring him to Sydney.

Mulgrave practised with the Bankstown second-grade side on Wednesday night and showed promising form.

He is staying at Mr. McFarlane's home at Bankstown until he can find somewhere to live permanently.

Sydney Morning Herald 19 July 1952, p8.
Who were the two or three other Aboriginals to play the game in the period outlined? Were there Aboriginal players in other regions at other times? What is the process by which James Mulgrave, an Aboriginal player from inland Central Queensland, came to be playing first grade soccer in Queensland in 1952? The questions are generated because the article seems so out of phase with our contemporary preconceptions about the history of football in Australia: surely Indigenous Australians had little affinity with the round-ball game.

Indeed, about the only substantial and published evidence of Aboriginal participation in soccer before the 1950s is in the story of W. 'Bondi' Neal who played as a goalkeeper on the NSW South Coast and the Northern coal fields of the Hunter Valley for nearly 10 years between 1903 and 1912. The highpoint of Neal's career came in 1909 when he kept for a South Maitland representative team against the touring Western Australians. Despite his heroic efforts the team lost 2-0. Around 1912 "he left the coalfields for his native South Coast" and disappeared from the record. John Maynard in his The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe claims that "Neal is certainly the most famous early Aboriginal soccer player. But whatever became of this legendary player has disappeared from both the archives and memory." (John Maynard, The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe: A History of Aboriginal Involvement with the World Game (Magabala, 2011), p40.)

This notion of disappearance is an important one. It is a term that resonates across Indigenous history and soccer history alike. The tendency of Aboriginal subjects and soccer organisations to recede from view means that researching the history of Aboriginal soccer players is like searching for a needle in a haystack. Fortunately recent developments in digital archives have shifted the odds a little in favour of finding the needle. For example, the following image was found in the Trove pictorial archive. It is as mysterious as it is exciting. Smack bang in the middle of this fantastic photograph of the Dinmore Bush Rats (is there a better name in Australian sport history?) 1910 2nd Premiers, is a man who appears to be Aboriginal. He is named as Quilp and his presence in the photo sends a frisson through the settled histories of football in Australia.

Dinmore Bush Rats, 2nd Premiers, Ipswich, 1910.
Top row: W. Lucas, W. Pioch, G. Humphrey, D. Potts, N. Randolph. 2nd row: C. H. Jones (Vice-president), J. Potts (Vice-president), G. Skellern, Quilp, A. Nunn, W. Dawes (Treasurer), J. Tedman (Vice-president). 3rd row: W. Jordan (Secretary), J. Burns, J. Staafford (Patron), E. Dawes (Captain), G. Jones, M. Bailey (President), W. Thompson, A. Stewart (Vice-president). Front row: M. Reichart, W. Tait, H. Randolph, H. Hainsworth (Vice-president).

As is the way in these matters, so many questions are raised by this startling image. Who is Quilp? Where is he from? How does he come to be playing British Association Football? Why is he smack in the middle of the photograph? Why the Dickensian name?

While it is hard to answer any of these questions, perhaps the source of his name is easiest to gesture towards. A Quilp is a bird found in the region around Quilpie (so-named after the bird in 1917). Daniel Quilp is a villain in Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop. Quilp was also the name of a prominent Australian racehorse in the 1890s. My money's on the racehorse! Answers to the other questions will have to wait.

A cursory glance at the Trove digital newspaper archive reveals one reference to a soccer player named Quilp, playing for the Reliance team from Dinmore in 1904. Confusingly, it suggests the Quilp was sent off for backchat and then subsequently scored the winning goal (which became the subject of a protest).
Quilp began talking to the referee and was ordered off the field. The game now was very fast and Hunter was playing well is also was Roberts and Salisbury. Verrol in goal as per usual was very clever in clearing his goal line. The Reliance got away, and Quilp had a shot at goal. To the spectators it did not seem as though they scored, but the referee gave a goal to Reliance, who were now 1 to nil. No further goals were scored, and at call of time a protest with regard to the above goal was lodged.

The Brisbane Courier Monday 30 May 1904 p 6
It is possible that this is the first recorded goal by a senior Aboriginal player in Australian soccer, though it is also possible that as a forward (winger) he had scored a few before that.

Patrick Cahill, buffalo hunter, farmer, and
protector of Aboriginals.
Quilp's employer and companion.
Quilp also played competitive quoits in 1908 and boxed as a featherweight in 1909. In 1919 an Aboriginal man named Quilp was employed as a shooter by a noted buffalo hunter, Patrick Cahill. In one instance he was lucky to escape death. As reported in The Queenslander:
His horse fell and Quilp rolled clear of him. Unfortunately for him, the buffalo was heading straight for him, his head down, its nostrils distended, and its eyes full of murder. Quilp fortunately retained his presence of mind, and when the furious animal was within a foot or so of him, rolled on one side, that escaping by a hair's breadth. Had the animal struck him he would certainly have met a terrible death.
A recent discovery shows that Quilp may also have acted as a referee, surely one of the first Indigenous Australians to officiate in any sport. A writer in the Queensland Times, 14 February 1919 wondered where a figure named 'Quelp' had got to. In doing so he noted Quilp's buffalo hunting exploits but also revealed his 'fame' as a soccer figure.
Does anyone know where the aborigine "Quelp," one time of Dinmore (and a famous "soccer" referee) has got to? I have before me a photo of a "Quelp," who is buffalo hunting in the Northern Territory, employed by a Mr. Patrick Cahill, a native of Toowoomba, and it is uncommonly like old "Quelp" who resided at Dinmore.
A portrait of Quilp illustrating
article on Patrick Cahill's death in 1923.
The photograph may have been taken in 1919
Truly remarkable.

So Quilp may well have been an all-round sportsman, competent across activities, a speedy runner (going by his position on the soccer field and the possibility he was named after the racehorse), intelligent, decisive and physically able. But already I feel I am speculating and deducing too much from circumstantial evidence, having run out of concrete facts to present.

More research needs to be conducted on the stories of Indigenous footballers in the past. The shadowy stories of Quilp, Bondi Neal and James Mulgrave (and the unnamed Aboriginal players mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald) are made fascinating and powerful by their strangeness. It is pleasing to think that in years to come research might reveal these stories to be more run-of-the-mill than they appear today.


In the "Queensland Times" on Friday a paragraph appeared relative to   the posing of Jacky Lynch (aboriginal) at Coolangatta for a photographer. Jacky Lynch is the well-known aboriginal who lived at Dinmore many years ago under the name of Quilp (writes our Bundanba correspondent). Quilp was at one time a keen footballer, and I think he played in some of the minor football matches with the Dinmore Bush Rats' Club. Quilp was formerly employed by the late Mr. Asburn, a well-known butcher of Ipswich, and whose home was at Riverview,  where the Salvation Army Boys' Training Farm is now situated. Quilp was brought down from out West when a little boy by the late Mr. Asburn and lived for many years with him. After Mr. Asburn's death and the removal of the Asburn family from Riverview, Quilp went to live at Dinmore and worked at various callings in the district for a number of years. Finally, some years ago, the police, acting under instructions from the Home Secretary's Department, removed Quilp to the aboriginal settlement at Barambah. About eight or 15 years ago Qulip went to Tweed Heads. and he still lives at the blacks' settlement on the Tweed River. Only last Christmas holidays the writer was talking with Jacky Lynch in the main street at Tweed Heads and called him by his old name, "Quilp," and he entered into earnest conversation about old residents of the Dinmore and Bundanba districts. Queensland Times 28 January 1929. p 6

Popular Aboriginal Dead. John Barama Lynch, popularly known to thousands of Tweed residents and visitors as "Jackie" Lynch, died on Wednesday, at the age of 63 years. Jackie, who was born in the Gulf country, was a full-blooded aborig- inal, was gifted with an exceptional sense of humour, and brilliance in repartee. Many whites who endeavoured to "take a rise" out of him found him more than their equal in a verbal skirmish, his inimitable native wit almost invariably routing an opponent. The Brisbane Courier 25 January 1930 p 20

John Baramba ("Jackie") Lynch, a Queensland aboriginal, and one of the best known identities of the Tweed district, has gone to the happy hunting ground of his forefathers. At the age of 63 years, he died in Tweed District Hospital, Murwillumbah, on Wednesday night. "Jackie" was born away up in the Gulf country, but was taken to Brisbane when a lad. He was popular with many Ipswich residents, to whom he was well and favourably known in connection with the pottery works, in which, it is understood, he held a position as foreman. For the rest 15 or 16 years, "Jackie" had lived at the Twin Towns, but previously he was a resident of Murwillumbah for many years. The remains were interred in the Church of England cemetery at Murwillumbah on Thursday, the Rev. W. E. Wrexal-Holborrow officiating.  Northern Star 25 January 1930 p 8


  1. I cant seem to find any additional records for Quilp in my archives.

    Dinmore Reliance were formed in 1891 and merged with the Bush Rats in 1905.


  2. Have to agree with you - the Bush Rats is a fabulous Aussie moniker.

  3. Name comes from their occupation, working in mines in the bush