Neridah McMullin is the author of a number of inspirational books about the people who have shaped Australia’s sporting history.
Her latest book, KICK IT TO ME tells the story of Tom Willis (known as the father of Aussie Rules football) and how indigenous Australians and their game Marn-grook shaped and influenced the game that is played throughout Australia today.
As Eddie McGuire, president of Collingwood Football Club says in the Foreword of KICK IT TO ME,
We have begun to realise what Tom Willis knew all along – the historical inhabitants of this country have put the “Australian” into Australian Rules.
Today at DeeScribe Writing, Neridah takes us through her research and writing process and gives us tips on writing about your hobby or passion.
1. Where did the inspiration for your new book come from?
I’m a big Collingwood fan and in 2007 Eddie McGuire spoke at a function about the life of Tom Wills, his influence on the first set of rules for Australian Rules Football and how he lived his life.
Tom Wills was the son of a squatter in Western Victoria in the 1840’s, growing up on a pastoral station called ‘Lexington’.
In these hard working days, the children of squatters were pretty much free range and did whatever they wanted.
Tom befriended the children of the local Djab Wurrung tribe and wandered freely throughout their camp. He spoke their language fluently; he knew all their clapping songs and joined in their corrobborees. And he watched, and learned and played marn-grook – the ancient Aboriginal game.
Tom was 10 he went away to boarding school in Melbourne and England, returning at 20 years of age. He proceeded to play a lot of cricket. Cricket was hugely popular, and inter-colonial rivalry was massive.
But in between cricket season, Tom wanted to do something else and wrote to a local sporting magazine quoting these famous words “We shall have a game of out own” and so it was that the first set of rules for Australian Rules Football was written; the game we love was borne, a game that is now the biggest spectator sport in Australia. And I’m so proud of this.
I found it fascinating that most people from early colonial Victoria saw themselves from their country of origin e.g. they thought of themselves as English or Scottish or Irish. But Tom Wills identified himself as being Australian and he wanted to create something uniquely Australian.
Tom was an ordinary guy who did something extraordinary. Is aussie rules like rugby? No! Is it like Gaelic footy or Gridiron? No! It’s unique.
There is no doubt in my mind that Tom Wills never forgot the joys of playing marn-grook
So just to fill you in, marn–grook was a game of kick to kick. It was all about long kicking and fast running with the ball, and it was also characterised by speccy’s. Sound familiar? High flying, aerial, acrobatic marking of the ball. So here is the connection – the speccy; a signature of ‘aussie rules’ footy.
Marn-grook didn’t have goals or points, so the influence of other sports can be also seen here.
But you only have to watch any of the Aboriginal boys in the AFL play footy to see how natural the game is to them. How easily they move the ball, take speccys and kick these amazing goals.
And that’s what happened, after Eddie spoke at this function, I started to watch Leon Davis more closely. Then I started to watch other Indigenous players at other clubs, the likes of Alwyn Davey and his brother Aaron. In fact, I now follow all the Indigenous players. They’re amazing.
Leon Davis had a stellar year in 2007 and I remember I used to sit at the footy and laugh with disbelief watching him – he was so amazing.
Today, I really admire Paddy Ryder from the Bombers, Adam Goodes from the Swans and Liam Jurrah from the Demons. I also admire their individual stories, where they have come from and the journey they had to make to play AFL footy. It’s tough for them to leave their homes and families; they do an awesome job.
2. Why is “Kick It To Me” important to you?
To me, it’s an acknowledgement to Indigenous Australians that they are a huge part of the great game of ‘aussie rules’.
It’s also about acknowledging Tom Wills; not only a fine sportsman but as a humanitarian as well.
To live peacefully and respectfully is all about tolerance and I believe sport crosses that cultural divide.
3. How long did it take to research?
I’m a research scientist by trade so I feel really comfortable doing research. I’m systematic and quite obsessive about it – I love it.
The research for this book took about three months (fitting in with family demands). I really like to seek out all sources of information and immerse myself in them.
4. Can you tell us what was involved in the research process?
I read several books, including biographies and Tom Wills father’s journal (Horatio Wills). I visited the State Library, and interviewed several people in the process. Academic and writer, Greg De Moore wrote the book ‘The Tragic Rise and Fall of Tom Wills’ and I just loved this book. I contacted Greg and he was super helpful, even reading my manuscript for me and suggesting improvements. I wanted it to be historically accurate, so his input was invaluable.
Martin Flanagan, a senior football writer at The Age, was also a big help. He wrote the book ‘The Call’ and it’s a cracker for footy fans.
I visited Melbourne Football Club Archives (Tom Wills formed the Melbourne Football Club) and my publisher, Bernadette Walters, and the artist for my book, Peter Hudson, and I made a day trip to visit ‘Lexington’ Station in Moyston in Western Victoria. The current owners, Peter and Elizabeth Crauford were very generous with their time. The ‘Lexington’ homestead is very charismatic.
It was inspiring. The homestead has a door architrave with notches for the heights of all the Will’s children growing up. It was a visceral experience, you could literally feel the history all around you.
5. Do you have any research tips for new writers?
Yes, delve deep and keep good records and references. If you’re writing historical narrative you may need to substantiate it. I once lost some information I found on the internet and it took me months to find it again! It gave me nightmares.
Always acknowledge people, sources and references. It’s respectful and it’s just the right thing to do.
6. This is not your first book on football? Do you have any tips for writers about how you combined your passion for the sport with your love of writing?
I’ve written three Chapter Books for the Collingwood Football Club. These books follow a generation of a family who experience the highs and lows of following the Pies. The books document the clubs wonderful history. Some of the stories are gory, some are funny and others are inspiring and tragic. All footy clubs have these wonderful stories.
My advice is to write from the heart, it’s always genuine then.
Planning is important when writing more than one book, so having an angle to approach each one with works well.
7. Do you have any other books planned on this topic?
My third Collingwood book is due out later this year. It’s called ‘Collingwood Forever’ and is set in the 1958 Grand Final. It’s when the Pies beat the Melbourne Football Club, preventing them from winning four premierships in a row and equaling Collingwood’s four premierships set in 1927 – 1930. I love this story as many of the players in this team are still with us. They were never meant to win it. They were a young team and on the morning of the grand final it started to rain. It rained and rained all day, so this changed the way the game could be played. Funny things can happen on Grand Final day. This story also features the great Phonse Kyne speech to the players at half time; “the eyes of a generation are upon you…” Sterling stuff!
I also have a cricket story coming out later this year too…
I think it might be time for me to write.
Thanks so much Neridah for visiting DeeScribe Writing and sharing your insights and inspiration.
Check out Neridah’s KICK IT TO ME book launch on Youtube.
Friday Feedback is back at DeeSribe Writing this week so feel free to come back then and share your feedback and tips.