In 1998 the AFL proclaimed the country town of Moyston in western Victoria – where Tom Wills spent his early years – the ‘birthplace of Australian football’.
Ten years later, the AFL’s 150th anniversary book described the story of Tom Wills being inspired to create Australian Rules football after playing marngrook with Aboriginal children as ‘a seductive myth’.
Did the AFL change its mind?
And, if so, has it changed the five signs on the five roads that lead into the town?
The differing opinions focus on whether it can be proved Wills’ vision of an Australian game of football stemmed directly from his early childhood near Moyston, or from his schooling years in England, at Rugby boarding school.
Historian Gillian Hibbins, in the official AFL book The Australian Game of Football since 1858, concluded her argument with ‘Wills and his connection to Aboriginal football is no more than a seductive myth, and wishing it true does not it make it so’.
In September 2013 The Age’s Martin Flanagan wrote: ‘In 2008, in what was basically footy’s version of the “history wars”, the AFL opted for the old Anglo-Australian version of the game’s origins, which meant excising Tom Wills’ connection with Aboriginal football and the Moyston-Willaura club from the narrative. A small, battling club was robbed of its moment in the sun of Australian sporting history. Furthermore, it was told that a story it prided itself on didn’t exist.’
Another historian has pointed out: ‘Given that the Moyston-Willaura Football Club was formed through the amalgamation of the Moyston and Willaura clubs in 2000, and that neither of these townships’ football teams appear to predate the twentieth century, it is clear that there is no link whatsoever between the Moyston footy ground and Tom Wills. Tom died in 1880 and had not lived in the district since 1846 (when he was still a child and over a dozen years before the first football clubs were founded in Victoria). The supposed Tom Wills – Moyston Football Club (later Moyston-Willaura Football Club) connection appears to be a 1990s concoction.’
As for the scoreboard at the Moyston ground, it’s – as far as we know – free of controversy. Flanagan, in the same article as above, noted: ‘In 2006, a bushfire exploded out of the nearby Grampians and tore through the district, leaving a brown carpet dotted with scorched trees. The old vagrant who slept in the scoreboard at Moyston oval departed, seeking less hazardous accommodation elsewhere.’
Here at Scoreboard Pressure we don’t know if the scoreboard (or the vagrant) survived the 2006 fires. What’s there now is a neat and clean scoreboard with the timekeepers’ box next door. (Note the red and green traffic lights.)
The ground is also home, of course, to a monument and information boards about Wills.
The club’s Facebook page has a good pic of the scoreboard in action.