Provocation Three: Revisiting Contested Histories of the Australian Football League

Roy HayThe Contemporary Histories Research Group is pleased to announce that our third Provocation is now available. For our September instalment, Roy Hay presents Revisiting Contested Histories of the AFL.

Dr Kirstie Close-Barry introduces this new recording:

Australian historians continue to deliberate the origins of the game now known as Australian Rules Football. There is much speculation around the extent to which Tom Wills, the man credited with officially forming the game, was influenced and inspired by Indigenous football games Marngrook or Mingorm. Over the last three decades especially, this has elicited steaming debate from significant contributors, from Geoffrey Blainey to the most recent contributors, Jenny Hocking and Nell Reidy, whose piece published in Meanjin has argued that the debate reflects persistent paradigms that see Indigenous contributions to various facets of society denied. Part of the problem, often, is the scarcity of documented evidence with which to definitively demonstrate Aboriginal influence on the game. This points to the problematic nature of the historical record, and perhaps even the limitations still binding the history discipline as it exists in the western academic tradition.

Roy Hay enters this debate, with a provocation to refer back to the historical record, particularly details pertaining to the life of Tom Wills. Indeed, Wills led an extraordinary life, but one marred by experiences typical of frontier Australia.

For further details please see the following:

de Moore, Greg. 2011. Tom Wills: First Wild Man of Australian Sport. Allen and Unwin.

Hay, Roy. 2016. “Tom Wills Country or How the Legend Has Taken Over”. Footy Almanac. Available at:

Hocking, Jenny, and Nell Reidy. 2016. “Marngrook, Tom Wills and the Continuing Denial of Indigenous History“. Meanjin. Winter.

Judd, Barry. 2016. “Outer Sanctum Podcast #22”. Outer Sanctum. Available at:

Outer Sanctum Podcast #22 with Special Guest Barry Judd. 2016.

Pascoe, Robert and Gerardo Papalia. 2015. “Australian Football as a Construct of the Frontier Contact Zone”. Sporting Traditions. Vol. 32, no. 1. pp. 1-16.


The Provocations series is a series of recordings with members of the group and beyond.

You can catch up on our first instalment, a recording between Professor David Lowe and Dr Filip Slaveski in relation to traumatic memory, mismemory and forgetting; and the second Provocation with Professor David Lowe and Associate Professor Chris Waters, titled The State of Historical Writing About Australia in World Affairs.


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