All of the passion and success of the Koori Knockout is the continuation of a long history of Aboriginal participation in Rugby League.
As early as the 1930s, there were several all-Aboriginal Rugby League sides playing in NSW city and country competitions and in one-off games. Even before this, there were exceptional Aboriginal players who played for majority-white teams.
The first record we have of an Aboriginal man playing football is Gundungurra man, Walter ‘Jacky’ Brooks.
Born at Little Bay, circa 1902 he later lived at ‘The Gully’ with his family. Jacky was known as an outstanding and popular rugby league player in the amateur and representative ranks for Katoomba, NSW.
From 1923, he played with the ‘Federals’ and later the Blue Mountains District ‘Blues’ until at least 1936.
Jacky’s performance attracted glowing commentary: playing for the Katoomba Federals in 1923, the local paper reported that Jacky ‘deserves special mention’, that there was ‘no better sport or more gentlemanly player [who] has donned the Blue Mountains league Guernsey'.
According to Jacky's grandson Jay Brooks, the colours he wore "just so happen to be red, yellow and black".
In 1924, one reporter was so inspired by Jacky’s performance that he recited the poet Tennyson to explain how Jacky ‘electrified the crowd’; later that year he was recognised as the club’s ‘most proficient player’ and inscribed on the inaugural Federals’ shield.
This was originally published in a longer essay by the author "It's bigger than Christmas", Koori Knockout past to present.
Professor Heidi Norman, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Technology Sydney is from the Gomeroi nation of north western NSW and is an award winning researcher and teacher of Australian Aboriginal political history. Heidi draws on the cognate disciplines of anthropology, political-economy, cultural studies and political theory.