The only substantial uncovered evidence of Aboriginal participation in soccer before the 1950s is in the stories of two men: W. ‘Bondi’ Neal and Quilp. Neal played as a goalkeeper on the NSW South Coast and the Northern NSW coal fields of the Hunter Valley for more than two decades between 1903 and 1924; while Quilp played occasionally for the Dinmore Bush Rats in the Ipswich competition in Queensland between 1904 and 1910.
Neal came to prominence in 1909 when he played for a South Maitland representative team against the touring Western Australians. Despite his efforts in goal the team lost 2–0. Maynard records in The Aboriginal Soccer Tribe that after the end of the Peter Bowling strike ‘he left the coalfields for his native South Coast’, and from here, he disappears from the record. ‘Neal is certainly the most famous early Aboriginal soccer player,’ he wrote. ‘But whatever became of this legendary player has disappeared from both the archives and memory.’
This notion of disappearance resonates across Indigenous history and soccer history alike. The tendency of Aboriginal subjects and soccer moments to recede from view means that researching the history of Aboriginal soccer players is like searching for one needle in two haystacks. Fortunately the recent developments in digital and searchable archives have shifted the odds a little in favour of finding the needles. While Maynard was correct at the time he wrote of Neal’s ‘disappearance’, recently recovered archival material expands the story extensively.
If the recently digitized archives allowed a fuller exploration of Bondi Neal’s career, the very revelation of Quilp was facilitated by them. The accompanying photograph of the Dinmore Bush Rats was found in the Trove pictorial archive. Its discovery was as mysterious as it was exciting. Bang in the middle is an Aboriginal man. He is named as ‘Quilp’ and his presence in the photograph sends a frisson through the settled histories of football in Australia.
Dinmore Bush Rats, 2nd Premiers, Ipswich, 1910.
As is the way in the discovery of Aboriginal participation in Australian soccer, many questions were raised by this startling image. Who is Quilp? Where is he from? How does he come to be playing British Association Football? Why is he positioned right in the middle of the photograph? Why the Dickensian name?
Quilp, also known as John Baramba (Jackie) Lynch, was born in the Gulf Country of North Queensland. The earliest discovered reference to him is to an Aboriginal man named Quilp on a charge of drunkenness and disorderly conduct in the Ipswich Police Court in 1901. The article suggests that he was a second offender and was similarly arraigned in 1902.
The earliest reference to his soccer career is to a game between the Reliance team from Dinmore and (Roma Street) Markets, played on the Pineapple Ground on May 28. Confusingly, the report suggests the Quilp, playing for Dinmore, was sent off for backchat and then subsequently scored the winning goal, which became the subject of a protest.
Quilp’s goal for Reliance could be the first recorded goal by a senior Aboriginal soccer player, although it is also possible that as a forward, Quilp may have scored a few before that. He played for the Bush Rats against a combined Brisbane selection in 1908 and also turned out for the Rats against Blackstone Rovers. Each time he was referred to as ‘the ebony Quilp’. He was presented with various badges during the Bush Rats trophy-winning year in 1910 at the end of season social.
Quilp was a man of many other talents, playing competitive quoits in 1908 and boxing as a featherweight in 1909. In 1919 an Aboriginal man named Quilp was employed as a shooter by a noted buffalo hunter, Patrick Cahill. As reported in The Queenslander:
His horse fell and Quilp rolled clear of him. Unfortunately for him, the buffalo was heading straight for him, his head down, its nostrils distended, and its eyes full of murder. Quilp fortunately retained his presence of mind, and when the furious animal was within a foot or so of him, rolled on one side, that escaping by a hair’s breadth. Had the animal struck him he would certainly have met a terrible death.
Evidence also suggests Quilp may have acted as a referee, surely one of the first Indigenous Australians to officiate in any senior sport. In 1919 a correspondent to the Queensland Times wondered where a figure named ‘Quelp’ had got to. In doing so he triangulated some evidential loose ends. He noted Quilp’s buffalo hunting exploits but also revealed his one-time residence in Dinmore and his ‘fame’ as a soccer figure.
Does anyone know where the aborigine ‘Quelp,’ one time of Dinmore (and a famous ‘soccer’ referee) has got to? I have before me a photo of a ‘Quelp,’ who is buffalo hunting in the Northern Territory, employed by a Mr. Patrick Cahill, a native of Toowoomba, and it is uncommonly like old ‘Quelp’ who resided at Dinmore.
The Queensland Times reporter suggests Quilp was an all-round sportsman and competent across physical activities. As a winger on the soccer field, and with the possibility he was named after a contemporary racehorse, we might assume that he was a speedy runner, intelligent, decisive and able. But this is merely speculation and deduction from circumstantial evidence. There are so few concrete facts to present.
Jackie Lynch died in 1930 in Murwillumbah, a celebrated local character noted for his comic banter, foolishness and propensity for harmless mischief. Aside from the Church of England reverend,
It would be folly to consider, even for a moment, that these two half-decent portraits represent anything more than a series of unconnected incidents, rumours or ideas. To see them as even a faint outline might be to imagine too much solidity.
It is tempting for the soccer historian to create useful and convenient myths about the early Aboriginal involvement in Australian soccer. However, to suggest that Aboriginal players had any kind of substantial contribution would be an argument too far. While it is important to recognize their involvement, it is of equal importance that the roles of Quilp and Bondi Neal in the game’s history are not exaggerated and fetishised. They remain, for now, fleeting glimpses of early Aboriginal involvement in soccer.