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Our Guest Speaker at our meeting held on 16th March 2020 was Greg de Moore.

 

Greg is the Professor of Psychiatry at Westmead Hospital but in his “spare” time has gained a PhD in History and has written a number of books on Australian History.

Greg gave us snapshot of his background explaining that he was born in Sri Lanka, his name was of Dutch origin and his ancestors came from many different countries – including Scotland.

He spent 12 months working in the Cornell University Medical Centre in New York where he overheard a conversation between two Englishmen talking about cricket and he realised that much of the culture, sport, political systems etc in Australia, came out of the United Kingdom.  It caused him to think about what was “uniquely Australian”.  He identified 3 uniquely Australian assets as being Aboriginal Heritage, flora and fauna and Australian Rules Football.

He lamented the fact that we did not teach Australian History to our children and, to prove the point, he asked who among us had heard of Tom Wills.  No one had.

Greg explained that Tom Wills was Australia’s first superstar sportsman.

Tom Wills was born in in Captains Flat in 1835.  His father, Horatio Wills was a wealthy farmer and was descended from convicts.  Between the ages of 4 and 14, Tom lived in the Grampian area in Victoria spending much of his time playing with aboriginal children.  He learnt their language.

At the age of 14 he went to England where he attended the Rugby School leaning to play both rugby football and cricket.

At the age of 21 he returned to Australia and quickly became captain of the Victorian Cricket team and the Victorian Rugby Team.

Up to this time, bowlers were not permitted to raise their arm above their shoulder, but Tom was instrumental in having the rules changed to permit overarm bowling.  Tom was also one of the small group of people who developed the rules for Australian Rules Football.

Greg explained to us that these rules were set out BEFORE the rules for Gaelic football which dispels the myth that AFL was based on Gaelic football.

When Tom was around 26, Tom and his family left Melbourne to run a sheep farm in central Queensland.  Shortly after their arrival, the entire family, except for Tom who was away at the time, were massacred by Aboriginals in what is now known as the Cullin-la-ringo Massacre.

Tom never recovered from the shock of this event and started to drink heavily.  In 1880 he was admitted to the Melbourne Hospital with delirium tremens, but he absconded and went home where, the next day, he committed suicide.

This was the man that gave Australia one of its unique attractions – Australian Rules Football.

Greg told us that he found the original hospital records of Tom’s admission to the Melbourne Hospital and this was the start of 10 years of research into life Tom Wills during which he travelled to many parts of the world.

These are the Melbourne Hospital Records which started Greg's research into Tom Wills

 

Tom Wills

Tom Wills - perhaps Australia's greatest cricketer.

Burial site for Tom's father in Central Queensland