The very first steps taken towards what would become international sport’s most enduring rivalry are ones John McGuire will always feel humbled to have walked in.
Fourteen years before cricket battles between Australia and England became known as “The Ashes” in 1882, a bunch of semi-tribal indigenous players became the first sporting team to leave this nation’s shores in a tour which ignited the game’s combat between its two powerful nations.
Coinciding with Australia’s bicentenary, 120 years later in 1988, McGuire was then chosen to captain an all-Aboriginal team which would also tour England to retrace the path of their cricketing forefathers.
“They were actually smuggled out of Australia on a little boat called the Parramatta at Queenscliff, near Geelong,” McGuire said as Ashes hostility were about to resume in Perth.
“Our passage to the UK was much more comfortable.”
The recreated tour was comprised of 27 matches against English teams at grounds including iconic Test arenas such as Lord’s, Old Trafford and The Oval. The original team had been largely taught to play cricket by white farmers in western Victoria and were widely feted by curious English fans.
McGuire, a talented dual sportsman who played in East Perth’s 1978 WAFL premiership and also made 10,003 runs as a stylish left-hand batsman in WA grade cricket, smashed two centuries during the tour.
But the 59-year-old said his run-making paled in significance against the true meaning of the tour.
“It was significant, poignant and we did a fantastic job in terms of playing the game and being terrific ambassadors for Australia,” he said, sporting his baggy green Australian cap.
“To embark on a tour that recognised and retraced the steps of the first Australian tour was just a marvellous opportunity.
To be contemporary cricketers playing the game, as the English do, on the grounds that are synonymous with Test cricket and cricket as a major sporting game, was just a fantastic chance to show our skills, to represent our country and to represent our people.
“That first representative team is not recognised as well as it should be. Particularly the rivalry that has been established over a long period of time with England, it really paved the way.”
McGuire became the first Aboriginal to score a century in a national senior cricket team when he was run out for 126 in lead-up game to the tour at Harrow, which was home to the 1868 travelling squad’s brightest star, Johnny Mullagh.
He also then had to face the bowling fury of Dennis Lillee when he led the team against Bob Hawke’s Prime Minister’s XI.
“We made a pact that we wouldn’t get Bob Hawke out,” McGuire revealed.
“Then some clown who was fielding deep on the square leg boundary actually took the catch and we were pretty angry with him.
"But playing against the names and the guys that I mentioned gave us a really good standing, I think, and just indicated where we were at as cricketers against some legends of the game who could still play.”