Throughout his childhood, Jason Gillespie had a strong awareness of his original heritage.
- The current Redbacks and Strikers coach is the first native to wear the baggy green
- In an interview with ABC Radio Adelaide, he reflected on this legacy
- He praised the Aboriginal players who toured England in 1868 as “absolutely groundbreaking”
But when he made his test debut as a 21-year-old teaway in 1996, the fact that he was the first native to wear a baggy green was not only lost to the Australian public.
Gillespie was not even aware of the milestone.
“I naively assumed I could not possibly have been the first,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“With our rich, multicultural history in our country, with so many people from so many different backgrounds, I assumed there must have been plenty of [Indigenous] cricketers and lots of athletes. “
When he was finally made aware of the fact, Gillespie was, he admits, “shocked” – but that moment of realization was still a few years away.
It was only when cricket journalist Robert Craddock drew attention to Gillespie’s performance that it became a matter of public knowledge.
“He wrote an article a few years after my test and one-day debut and said I’m the first recognized native cricketer, Aboriginal cricketer, for Australia,” Gillespie recalled.
“Because it was not recognized when I first played for Australia, it became big news.”
If Gillespie was anything of a prodigy when it came to fast bowling – he debuted for the Redbacks at the age of 19 – Scott Boland is more of a late bloomer.
But Boland, who is merely the second native Australian man to play test cricket, more than made up for the delayed start by producing one of the most devastating performances on debut in the game’s history.
“[It] is a wonderful achievement, but I also think it shows the strength of our domestic structures in Australian cricket.
“To come in and have such an immediate effect, I think speaks volumes for the health of our cricket system.”
Gillespie, who is now the coach of South Australia’s home team and the Adelaide Strikers in the Big Bash League, was born in New South Wales.
His family moved to SA during the 1980s when his father got a job at the state bank.
“When I was growing up, of course, it was common knowledge in my family and [among] All my friends. “Everyone I knew knew that our family was of Aboriginal heritage,” he said.
“My late father Neil worked in Aboriginal legal rights, he was the CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in South Australia for many years. One of my younger brothers, Rob, is still a field officer there to this day.
As a child, he became “completely and utterly obsessed” with cricket and started bowling against a painted set of stumps on a wall.
“There was no history of cricket in our family, in our extended family at all,” he said.
Within a few years, the teenager Gillespie represented his new state – and that was how he came to acquire his name, Dizzy.
“There was a jazz trumpeter in America many years ago named Dizzy Gillespie. I was selected to play my first South Australian second XI game and we traveled to Victoria,” he said.
“One of the guys just said, ‘Dizzy, after the jazz trumpeter,’ and from that moment on, it just held on. It was that simple, there was no really fancy story.”
Native cricket has a long, albeit often marginalized, history in Australia.
The fast bowlers Jack Marsh and Eddie Gilbert – who famously rejected Sir Donald Bradman in a state battle after hitting a bat from his hands – were among the early pioneers.
The Aboriginal side, which toured England in 1868, was the first Australian House of Representatives – in any sporting endeavor – to leave its home coasts.
“That trip should always have been recognized. Those guys were absolutely groundbreaking,” Gillespie said.
Unlike Gillespie, Boland was unaware of its aboriginal origin until adulthood.
But like Gillespie, he has embraced his family history.
Boland was awarded the Johnny Mullagh Medal – named in honor of the 1868 Tour’s leading player – following his performance in the Boxing Day Test.
“He’s making this test cricket look easy at the moment.”