This weekend, Harrow, population 110, will shine a light on the home-grown Indigenous cricket team which made history in 1868 as the country's first international touring sporting team, only to return home to virtual obscurity.
On Sunday, modern cricketing greats Steve Waugh and Graham Yallop will be invited to toss the coin for the annual Johnny Mullagh Championship Cup which celebrates the achievements of Mullagh and the south-west First Nations men of the First XI that he captained.
A keen photographer, Waugh is in town to capture images and footage for a new book and associated documentary entitled The Spirit of Cricket: Australia, following an earlier project based on India.
As the first Australian Test players and captains to attend the Mullagh Cup, there's an air of anticipation Waugh and Yallop will pad up for cameo appearances in the contest between the Indigenous Mullagh XI side and the regional Glenelg XI reigning champions.
Their presence on the Harrow oval that bears Mullagh's name, and a growing public interest in the two-day event which is now in its 28th year, has given organisers faith that years of championing the First XI are finally paying off.
Junior cricket matches, a big hit and classic catches competition, the Fighting Gunditjmara dance group, willow bat making displays, an evening concert, helicopter rides and an electro fishing display are on the program for what organisers, the Harrow Discovery Centre committee of management and the Pigeon Ponds Cricket Club, are billing as a feelgood family weekend.
First X1 descendants, including artist Aunty Fiona Clarke who has painted a bat for the Big Hit perpetual trophy, and Uncle Richard Kennedy will be interviewed by visiting artist Claire Reynolds as part of a photographic and video project entitled We are One.
Despite its small size, thinking big has never been a deterrent for the little wool and cropping town on the edge of the Wimmera. On April 2, Harrow will host Black Cockatoo, an acclaimed touring play based on the Johnny Mullagh story, while an eight-part television series about the First XI is also in production.
Harrow's Discovery Centre incorporates an extensive award-winning Johnny Mullagh interpretive museum and impressively, a Donald Bradman collection claimed to be the world's largest.
Donated by an anonymous benefactor, the collection features the bat used by Sir Don in his infamous 1948 farewell Test duck. Coincidentally, it also includes a signed Shane Warne wide-brim Test hat which he was known to favour over the baggy green.
In a major coup, the centre will this weekend unveil its latest acquisitions of a boomerang and two clubs that belonged to Mullagh.
Centre manager Josie Sangster said the priceless artefacts had only recently come to light and were donated by the descendants of the Edgar family who ran nearby Pine Hill Station where Mullagh worked for much of his life.
"They were retrieved from his dwelling after he died and were in the bottom of a wardrobe for years. They're in perfect condition," she said.
Ms Sangster said the artefacts, which had been cleansed in a smoking ceremony and approved by local elders, would go on display on Saturday after a launch combining that of the centre's new state-of-the-art virtual reality tour and educational website.
Locals and the Indigenous community have long known and treasured the story of Harrow's favourite son Unaarrimin, a member of the Jardwadjali people given the white man's moniker of Mullagh after his birthplace on Mullagh Station just north of Harrow in 1841.
A public monument, along with a statue at Harrow's Mullagh interpretive centre stand in his honour.
But Josie Sangster feels Mullagh deserves more.
"Johnny Mullagh should be immortalized in bronze. What else has a bloke got to do to get himself immortalized in bronze?
"I think the whole team deserves bronze statues in an avenue at the MCG."
Learning to play cricket as a lad with the stockmen at Pine Hills where he was a station hand, Mullagh had a natural aptitude for the game.
He was the star allrounder of the 1868 Indigenous side which played 47 matches during the gruelling year-long tour of England.
Considered by spectators to be as good as any English batter, Mullagh scored 1698 runs at an average of 23.45, bowled 1877 overs with 831 maidens, took 245 wickets at 10 runs apiece and even took his turn at 'keeping.
The First XI proved themselves to be much more than a mere colonial curiosity with their strange given white names. Along with Mullagh, there was Dick-a-Dick, Sundown, brothers Jimmy Mosquito and Johnny Cuzens, Red Cap, Bullocky, King Cole (who died on tour), Twopenny, Jim Crow, Tiger, Peter and Charley Dumas.
Against intermediate-level English amateur teams, they managed 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws.
Back in Australia, Mullagh played professionally with the Melbourne Cricket Club for a short time and represented Victoria against a touring English side in 1879.
He returned to work at Pine Hills where he lived simply in a rabbiter's shack and continued to play local cricket until a few months before his death aged just 50 in 1891.
It would be 152 years before recognition came for Mullagh's contribution to the sport with his induction into Cricket Australia's (CA) Hall of Fame in 2020.
The overarching tribute came a year later under CA's reconciliation action plan when the Boxing Day Test player of the match award was named the Mullagh Medal.
Its 2021 recipient, Indigenous player Scott Boland has a strong spiritual link to Harrow and the First XI. In 2018 he was part of the 1868 commemorative team which toured England for the 150th anniversary.
Ahead of the tour, Boland and his fellow team members including brother Nick, made an emotional visit to Harrow, which was the original First XI's training base. On Sunday, tour manager for the commemorative side, Paul Stewart, will pad up for the Mullagh XI.
Josie Sangster said the introduction of the Mullagh Medal and the Scott Boland connection had helped foster a greater awareness of the First XI story and interest in the Mullagh Cup.
"There's a new level of understanding and recognition of the enormity of the story of these men and how courageous they were. They were an inland tribe of people putting their trust in someone else, going to a far-off land where they were considered savages, but they let their bats and their skills do the talking," she said.
"We are enormously proud of this story and we owe it to them to keep it alive."
Johnny Bell, whose late father and Indigenous activist Wayne 'Swisha' Bell was one of the driving forces behind Harrow's Johnny Mullagh Cup, co-ordinates the Aboriginal team.
"It's not just a game anymore. I see it as the home of Aboriginal cricket. We are really proud of the cup and we're pushing people to come and support it," Mr Bell said.
In a tribute to his father's passion for the cup, Mr Bell's 15-year-old niece and Swisha's granddaughter artist Saige Bell has designed this year's team shirts depicting the stories of 'Swisha's Dreaming'.
As a young boy of about 12, visiting Harrow with his father for the first time, Mr Bell said it was the sight of the town's public memorial to Mullagh that most impressed him.
"I remember looking around Harrow and I didn't know of any Aboriginal people who lived there at that time and I thought that the legend of Johnny Mullagh must have been pretty special for the township to embrace him as they do and celebrate his life," he recalls.
Melbourne-based junior cricket coach, former youth worker and pastor, Marcus Curnow has been involved in the Mullagh Cup since he first brought a group of disadvantaged city kids along about 15 years ago.
This weekend 60 youngsters and family members from his Barkly Street Uniting Cricket Club will join the campers beside the Glenelg River at Harrow for their end-of-season trip.
For Reverend Curnow and his charges however, it's not just a fun weekend, but a learning tool for valuable life lessons.
"It's a pretty special event that has the power and the story to make us think beyond ourselves," he said.
"There's a lot of storytelling and learning around the edges of a fun weekend.
"It's a really powerful story of reconciliation and not a story that a lot of Australians have known.
"It certainly helps my families connect with something that's living and real."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.