Harrow is a small town situated half-way between Melbourne and Adelaide, and the Johnny Mullagh story is a proud part of its history.
The local museum features the history of Mullagh and his first XI cricket team, the first ever Australian sports team to tour the UK, and contains a life-size bronze statue of him.
He was born in Australia in 1841 on Mullagh Station, a member of the Jardwadjali people, about 16 kilometres north of Harrow, and learned to play cricket whilst working on the adjoining Pine Hills agricultural property. His traditional name was Unaarrimin (he was given the name ‘Mullagh’ to identify him with his place of birth).
In 1868 Mullagh was the star of the team, which was made up entirely of Indigenous players.
He played 47 matches on the 1868 England tour, scoring 1698 runs at an average of around 20 on pitches that were often treacherous. Spectators considered him the equal of any English batter. He also bowled 1877 overs, 831 of which were maidens, and took 245 wickets at 10 apiece. He was a skilful all-rounder, being a right arm bowler and right-handed batsman.
Mullagh participated in two all-Aboriginal tours of England in the 1860s, and won admiration and respect from the European community at a time when Aboriginal people were generally not accorded much respect.
Johnny ‘Unaarrimin’ Mullagh died in 1891 and was laid to rest in Harrow Cemetery. The headstone over the grave in the cemetery was erected using funds from a public appeal. The Hamilton Spectator described him, in his obituary, as “the [W.G.] Grace of Aboriginal cricketers”.
The inscription on Mullagh’s tomb reads ‘world famed cricketer’ and despite a life lived largely in seclusion, that was what he was. His memory is treasured by those in Harrow, where new generations are brought up on his story at a dedicated museum. As a prodigious sporting talent, Mullagh’s star remains undiminished — a reminder of the importance of role models and the value of sport.
The Hamilton Spectator sponsored a district subscription for an obelisk to his memory at the ‘Mullagh oval’ in Harrow.
Every year on the Victorian March Labour Day long weekend, a team of Indigenous cricketers and a team drawn from the local cricket association, come together at Harrow for the honour of winning the Johnny Mullagh Memorial Cup.