Narrabri will host a remarkable cricket team over the Australia Day weekend.
The Qantas Aboriginal cricket tour of England 1988 team will be heading to Narrabri on Friday, January 24.
And they will be accompanied by some legendary test cricketers, Ian Chappell, Len Pascoe and Peter Sleep.
The 1988 team followed in the footsteps of the first Australian side that played in the UK 120 years earlier. That historic, all-Aboriginal 1868 side was the first Australian team to travel overseas when it played in England.
The 17-man, 1988 side which went to the UK was led by Narrabri’s Les Knox and Vince Copley.
“I’ve searched out and contacted all of my indigenous players around Australia and they’re all stoked to be able to come to Narrabri for a reunion,” said Mr Knox.
He was the assistant manager of the 1988 tour and was instrumental in bringing the side together.
In the book ‘Black Pearls – The Aboriginal and Islander Sports Hall of Fame’ Mr Knox is referred to as “the main instigator in forming the NSW Aboriginal Cricket Association,” which led to the creation of the national side.
“I actually started organising it all the way back in 1983,” said Mr Knox.
“I played a couple of seasons of grade cricket in Sydney and all the teams would say the same thing, ‘you’re the only Aboriginal cricket player we’ve seen’.
“I knew there were a lot out in the bush, but I had to try and find them.
“So I started up a New South Wales Aboriginal Cricket Association team and we started playing matches against sides like North Sydney, Parramatta, Balmain and the Australian Defence team” Mr Knox said.
Mr Knox told The Courier that the selection then grew quickly to the national scale.
“I rang Vince Copley in Canberra who worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and I asked him for some money for gear to get the NSW team going,” said Mr Knox.
“He said it was a great idea and ‘while you’re doing that, make a national selection and we will look to take the team to England in 1988’”.
Before the selection process Mr Knox was able to gain support from a famous Australian captain.
“I rang Ian Chappell after I started organising to have a talk about it,” he said.
“Ian Chappell didn’t know me at all.
“When I briefly explained what I wanted to do he invited me over to Channel 9 to chat.
“We sat down and talked and he was absolute dynamite with his support.
“I found out afterwards his grandfather, Vic Richardson, had met a few of the original 1868 side and that’s why [Chappell] was so interested.”
The selection process took Mr Knox and other selectors across four different states.
“We set up a selection program and I got word out right around the state and the other states through the Aboriginal Affairs departments,” said Mr Knox.
“We used to fly up to Cairns, Brisbane, or down to Melbourne where we’d have selection trials.
“And that’s how we picked the side that went away in 1988.”
The trials saw about 140 players across Australia compete for a place in the 17-man squad.
Mr Knox described the feeling when the tour was given the official go-ahead.
“There’s a documentary called ‘Dreaming of Lords’ and in that there is this shot of me where I just turn and release this big sigh,” he said.
“I was thinking at the time, ‘it is a reality now’.
“I always knew it would happen because things would happen that kept the process going.
“When we had finished that meeting all I could think was – ‘yes!’”
The all-Aboriginal side was provided a warm-up for the tour with a game against Bob Hawke’s Prime Minister’s XI.
That match included Chappell, Dennis Lillie, Len Pascoe, Peter Sleep and the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.
The Aboriginal side won that match at Manly Oval by seven wickets with Mr Hawke dismissed for a duck.
Once the touring side made it to England it was immediately thrown into action.
“We played most of the major centres,” said Mr Knox.
“We had former test players in a couple of matches.
“Gladstone Small played against us in one of the county sides.
“He was a West-Indian cricketer who everyone called ‘no-neck’.
“He was a very good bowler in the Viv Richards-captained side.”
The Aboriginal team was granted special access to major sites and venues during the tour, which Mr Knox regards as some of his favourite moments of the tour.
“Going to some of the historic castles, meeting different people,” he said.
“There was excitement from everyone when we went backstage at the INXS concert at Wembley Stadium.
“And the other one was meeting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
“I was introduced first, I bowed and I shook her hand.
“When we mingled with her afterwards for nibblies, we always referred to her as Your Majesty.”
Sadly, two members of the 1988 touring Aboriginal team, Darrin Thompson from Victoria and Dwayne Breckinridge from Tweed Heads, have passed away.
As previously reported in The Courier Ian Chappell, Len Pascoe and Peter Sleep will be attending the reunion.
The members of the 1988 tour will combine with the Mayor’s XI over the weekend for the traditional cricket match.