Olly Ricketts on the life and times of the extraordinary hero of the 1868 Aboriginal cricket tour to the UK
On 13 June 1868, Dick-a-Dick was carried from the Lord’s pitch into the dressing rooms on the shoulders of a throng of spectators who had adopted him as their new hero. He had scored a grand total of eight runs – which was admittedly better than his tour average of 5.26 – and had not taken a single wicket or catch. Not many cricketers have managed to provoke such a reaction from the usually placid Lord’s crowd, let alone one who evidently wasn’t actually very good at cricket. But then not many people have lived a life so full of incident for such an event to seem like just another day.
Though records are sketchy of births and deaths in the Australian Aboriginal communities of the 19th century, it is believed that Dick-a-Dick was born at some point between 1845 and 1850 in Victoria. What is certain is that in August 1864 he played a central role in an incident which was to become part of Australian and indeed British folklore. On Friday, 14 August 1864 three young siblings – Isaac (9), Jane (7) and Frank Duff (just 3) – went missing in the harsh terrain of the Wimmera, a region in western Victoria. Search parties proved unable to locate the children, not helped by torrential rain which had seemingly removed any evidence of where the Duffs might have gone. As a last resort, their father enlisted the help of three Aboriginal trackers, one of whom was Dick-a-Dick. They began what seemed certain to be a futile search in the early hours of Saturday, 22 August, over a week since the children’s disappearance. Where others had seen only muddy paths and desolate ground, the Aborigines saw vital clues in tiny deviations and splintered twigs, which led them to a clearing in which the Duff children must have spent their first night.