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First internationals: all-Aboriginal First XI cricket team captured in time

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A rare slice of Australian cricket history is set to debut on the Sunshine Coast, with the aim of celebrating First Nations achievements and hopefully spark conversations of reconciliation.

Local photographer Claire Letitia Reynolds has collaborated with First Nations director Sasha Parlett to tell the story of Australia’s first international cricket team of 1868 – the all Aboriginal First XI – through portraits and film in their exhibition, WE ARE ONE.

The team was made up of players mostly from Victoria, with team member, Jallacharamin/ James Crow, from the Gubbi Gubbi tribe and Kenilworth Station.

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The film provides a digital documentary approach to a series of vignettes, sharing in truth telling and First Nations history.

The 22 photographic portraits were created with both old school film and digital processes, then printed on fine-art paper Ms Reynolds meticulously hand-dyed from native Australian leaves and bark.

See previous story about Ms Reynolds’ photography: ‘The people you can’t see’: faces of homelessness through a different lens

Featuring current First Nations cricketers, direct descendants of the First XI, and Queensland and Victorian Elders, both competitive and back-yard cricketers, the story is told through the eyes of the players.

“The exhibition is relevant to all Australians,” Ms Reynolds said. “For those who love sport and cricket, to those drawn to arts and culture, the exhibition is unique with all these aspects intertwined.”

The participants in WE ARE ONE are inclusive of all three states, to represent this original team.

The exhibition came about as a response to Cricket Australia announcing in January 2021, it would no longer label its big bash games on January 26 as ‘Australia Day’ tests.

The opening reception features special guests from the 1988 Centenary team that retraced the steps of the original First XI, Michael Mainhardt, Joe Marsh, and Dennis Monaghan, with a surprise interstate guest.

The act of inclusion led Ms Reynolds to investigate the history of Indigenous cricket in Australia and find out why Cricket Australia made the decision to create what she believes is a sense of unity for Australians.

She discovered the journey of The First XI in 1868 by Aboriginal athletes.

“Many people don’t know that, incredibly, this was Australia’s First ever international sporting tour and it’s one that Indigenous Australians are rightly very proud of,” she said.

“Unity is something I feel very strongly about, and every year as January 26th comes around, there is a sense that we aren’t quite getting it right.

“I wanted to create a project that celebrated and focused on the positives.”

Ms Reynolds said she was proud to create a project that can continue the conversations on reconciliation and celebrates First Nations peoples and their accomplishments.

“By making small steps we can contribute to a national movement of inclusivity, racial equality and honesty about ourselves as a nation,” she said.

Ms Reynolds secured exhibition funding in a rare trifactor with arts grants from Sunshine Coast Council, the Regional Arts Development Fund, Arts Queensland and the Australia Council for the Arts.

In a collaboration of sports, arts and culture, partnerships were also made with Cricket Australia and Queensland Cricket

From the Sunshine Coast, the exhibition will travel to the ACT in January and Victoria in February 2023, with the goal to take the exhibition nationally and eventually to England.

Catch the premier on this Saturday, October 22 from 3 – 4pm at Lantana Space Caloundra and the Exhibition from October 21-23 at Lantana Space Caloundra.

For tickets head to: Eventbrite

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