Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s talents and skill in sports are an area where Indigenous people have been widely recognised and acknowledged. Aboriginal people were members of local cricket and rugby teams and were also renowned boxers. Some of the men who boxed in Newtown in the 1920s onwards came from Queensland, suggesting that interaction between Aboriginal people from diverse areas took place in inner city areas like Newtown.
There is one mention of an Aboriginal boy involved in a one-mile race during an informal sports day at Petersham in 1845, but little other detail available. Cricket Twopenny or Murrumgunarriman, born around 1845, was a cricket player mainly known for his bowling skills, but also a batsman who played for Newtown. Reports of his birthplace are conflicting but Ulladulla is frequently mentioned. He toured England with the 1868 all Aboriginal cricket team, which consisted of many players from the Wimmera area of Victoria. Twopenny scored an incredible 9 runs off one hit (scoring a total of 22) against a Sheffield team at Bramell Lane.
He also played against the Victorian Eleven in 1870. Twopenny was married, though unfortunately his wife’s name is not indicated in the newspaper article.After returning from the British tour, he worked at Molong as a gateman, and died in Maitland in 1883. Boxing Aboriginal boxers from NSW and interstate fought at Newtown Stadium, at the Olympia and also trained in Newtown. Newtown was a key place for boxing matches in Sydney at the time and Aboriginal people were prominent in this sport.
Boxing was an important source of income for Aboriginal people when there were not many other options. It was a source of pride and achievement, of winning in a public arena, which did not offer much affirmation otherwise for Aboriginal men. As historian Richard Broome has argued, boxing meant that travel was possible for many Aboriginal men, and it helped boxers build up their confidence in cross-cultural situations too.
Queenslander Jerry Jerome, an Aboriginal boxer fought Segt Ayres (fighting under the name Jack Darcy) in 1914 at the Olympia in Newtown. In this case, Jerome lost, but there were many other occasions on which he won resoundingly. In 1912 he won the national middleweight title. Jerome was born at Jimbour Station, Dalby and boxed from the age of 33, at times with Sharman’s troupe. He was eventually given an exemption under the oppressive Aborigines Act (QLD), which gave him greater flexibility in travelling and fighting, though he eventually ended returning to Cherbourg mission. He also fought at Sydney Stadium and was a talented horse breaker, shooter and runner. Jerome was accused by JW Bleakley (the “Protector)’ of inciting a strike at Taroom in 1916, where the people refused to work unless they were paid in cash.  He was popular and admired by Aboriginal people in Queensland. He died in 1943.
Another Queensland fighter, and relative of Jerry Jerome was Billy Samuels, who listed as fighting against a local competitor at Newtown Stadium in 1923.
At Newtown Stadium a fight was held between Jaro an Aboriginal boxer from Queensland and Bobby Fraser in May, and again in June 1937. Jaro appears to have been a tenacious fighter, and reputedly had be pulled off his opponent and held back.
Alby Roberts an Aboriginal boxer fought in the early 1930s in Newtown. He was a lightweight champion.
Bobby Briggs another Aboriginal boxer, was reported to be working out at Ern McQuillan’s Newtown gym in preparation for boxing matches in 1949.
More recently the boxer Glen Kelly lived in Newtown. He was born 1971 at Surry Hills in Sydney and lived in the area, attending Erskineville Primary School. His family moved to La Perouse and, then Matraville. His brother Kevin is also a boxer. Glen turned professional in 1995 was coached by Jeff Fenech and became an Australian light heavyweight in 1997.
Well known boxer and former rugby player Anthony Mundine was born in Newtown in 1975. His father Tony was a renowned professional boxer, winning titles in four different weight divisions. He established the famous Mundine gym in the 1980s, which is open to all of the community.
Rugby Numerous Aboriginal footballers have played for the Newtown Jets Rugby League Football Club, with matches often held at Henson Park in Marrickville, or Erskineville Oval.
Bruce Olive from the South Coast of NSW played rugby for NSW on nine occasions over the 1958-1963 period. He joined Newtown Rugby League Club (the ‘Bluebags’) in 1964 after playing for South Coast teams and continued to play for until 1967. He combined training at Henson Park with long hours of work as a coalminer. Olive experienced racial abuse on the field, as one of the early Aboriginal Australian first grade players. He said it was difficult to be accepted and that he had to learn to disregard the comments that were directed at him. Reflecting in 2010 on his experiences, in light of the Andrew Johns incident, he felt that within his team, there was relative acceptance and that changes had occurred:
“I was accepted at Newtown – that’s why I went back there for four years,” he says. “And we’ve come a long way since then. People like me and Artie Beetson, them sort of blokes, I guess we opened the door a bit. We made the door a little bit wider.”
Olive now lives in the Illawarra area.
Michael Anderson, of the Euahlayi people from Walgett who was a member of the initial Tent Embassy, played top-class league for Newtown and Wynnum Manly in Sydney in the 1970s. He also played and assisted with the administration of bush football. Anderson said he had often encountered the language used by Andrew Johns in his playing days and it was still used by country players and tolerated by officials. He said this was the cause of many on field fights, and that administration was rife with racism too.
John Chicka Ferguson also played for Newtown. He came to Sydney from Glen Innes (northern NSW) at the age of 26. He was overlooked for selection for national representation on the Australian team, despite his strong performance, but represented NSW in eight games, and Australia in two tests on the 1985 tour of NZ. He also played in the Challenge Cup final for Wigan (England) in a widely celebrated match. He also played in the 1989 Grand Final (Australia) scoring an impressive try in the last minute or so of the match. After taking some time off, he returned to play for Newtown in the 1991 Metropolitan Cup Sevens Tournament, at the first game at Erskineville Oval. An estimated 5 000 people watched this match.
Ray Blacklock came to Newtown to play rugby in 1981. He had previous played with the Penrith Panthers in the 1970s and at Windsor too. He scored 19 tries in 50 first grade matches while he was with Newtown during 1981-1983. He has since pursued a career in art with his wife Heather. In 1992 and again in 2002, the Aboriginal Rugby league Knockout was played at Henson Park. This massive event, where Aboriginal teams from around NSW play against each other started in 1971 and was hosted by Koorie United at Camdenville Oval, St Peters with seven teams playing. The people who began the Knockout (Bob Smith, Bob Morgan, Bill Kennedy, Danny Rose, Victor Wright and the late George Jackson) were closely connected with the area and formed Koori United in response to the growing numbers of Aboriginal people in the city wanting to play. Some of the committee members worked at Marrickville Council and were able to secure some sponsorship. It was also intended to bring people together, and give players a chance to shine in front of talent scouts and outside of their country towns where their talent was often overlooked due to racism.
The Knockout continues to be an important cultural and social event.It moves sites from year to year, to the winning teams town and brings together many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from around NSW. Historian Heidi Norman, of Wiradjuri background, notes that it has much in common with gatherings and ceremonies of previous times for Aboriginal people. She argues that is the Knockout is ‘a vehicle for the continuation and regeneration of cultural traditions.’ Families and communities gather and catch up, remember those who have passed on, and romances reputedly bloom too!