Friday, November 14, 2008

Rugby League's confusions over Green

My thanks to North Coast Voices for pointing me to this story.

The story is a simple one. The National Rugby League wanted to celebrate the contribution of indigenous players to the code. To this end, they established the George Green Medal. Each year the medal will be awarded to a rising star of indigenous background playing his rookie year in the NRL or the Toyota Cup.

The move is to be applauded. However, as Andrew Moore pointed out, they should have checked George Green's ancestry. Now here my interest is not in the NRL's mistake, but the fact that the mistake drew out another thread in New England's history.

The critical problem lies in the question of George Green's ancestry. Was he an indiGreengenous Australian?

Andrew notes that the surviving photographs of Green, a highly regarded hooker-forward with the North Sydney RLFC in their premiership years of 1921- 22, establish that he was black, as well as extremely handsome, with immaculate hair always parted neatly in the middle.

Andrew also states that almost every sports historian and rugby league website, from Wikipedia to  Colin Tatz and Douglas Booth, claim that George was Aboriginal. In fact, Andrew suggests, his pedigree is a little murky.

According to Andrew,  Edward George Green's birth certificate shows that he was born on December 17, 1883, the son of Thomas Green and his wife, Hannah McMahon, of Bulli. The place of birth is given as Dalmorton, a locality near Grafton on the old Glen Innes Road (photo), not in the strongly indigenous Emmaville, as some Grafton Dallmorton Road Powerhouse have claimed.

While being born near Grafton may add credence to the view that George was Aboriginal and a member of the large Bundjalung community, Thomas Green's occupation is given as a master mariner. This is not surprising given that in the 1880s Grafton was a major port.

Further, on George's birth certificate Thomas Green recorded his birthplace as St Kitts, West Indies. Though Thomas was not consistent in recording his personal details - on his marriage certificate he suggested he was born in England - Andrew suggests that it is likely, nonetheless, that George Green was of Afro-Caribbean background.

Now this struck me as a fascinating story in its own right. How did Thomas Green become a master mariner. how and when did he arrive in Grafton?

Andrew also notes that George's maternal line did not establish any claim to Aboriginality. Hannah McMahon arrived in Australia from Ireland in 1860 as a 13-month-old baby, part of a Donegal family emigrating in the wake of the Great Famine.

George himself muddied the issue further by telling various people he was a Pacific Islander or Maori.

Andrew claims that mystery can be solved. It seems there were two George Greens from northern NSW, born six months apart. Andrew suggests that the NRL named the medal after the wrong one. Another George Green was born at Emmaville, north west of Glen Innes, on June 24, 1883, the son of Chas Green, a miner, and his wife, Annie Coltern, formerly of Ipswich. This E.G. Green secured work as a mechanic with the Postmaster-General's Department in April 1911,

This George Green was indigenous. Andrew notes that the Green family is still well known among Bundjalung people around Emmaville.Grafton to Inverell

Now here a number of things puzzle me.

To begin with, I was struck by the reference to the Bundjalung people at Emmaville. I have no reason to doubt this, but Emmaville is 188k north west of Grafton. How did Bundalung people end up in Emmaville?

I ask this question because the exact relations between the coastal, Tablelands and Kamilaroi language groups to the west is one of the interesting issues in New England history. I would have thought that Emmaville was on the edge of Kamilaroi territory.

Unless Mr Green from Emmaville was a known Rugby League player, I can also see no reason why he should even have entered the equation beyond pure coincidence. I suspect that here are far simpler explanations.     

No comments: