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Johnny Mullagh Medal lives on through the descendants of his teammates

Andrew Mathieson -

Counting down the days like it's Christmas, a precious gift clasped in her hand is not to be given away but until past Boxing Day.

But for Dr Vicki Couzens, a proud Keerray Wooroong Gunditjmara woman, marking the dates off the calendar has less to do with just presenting the John Mullagh Medal within the next day or two.

"I haven't been to the Boxing Day Test before, so this is a first," she told the ABC.

"Not just to present this medal with my youngest sister, Lisa, either.

"Our dad played a fair bit of cricket and so has her sons in her family."

The cricket bloodlines run deeper than just an Elder of their mob and his grandsons.

Skip a century or thereabouts, and she can talk about her great, great grandfather.

James Couzens, also known as Jimmy 'Mosquito' and under his traditional Indigenous name of Grougarrong, was a member of the notable 1868 Australian Aboriginal touring party to England.

So was his brother, Johnny Couzens, or Zellanach, a teammate of the great allrounder Johnny Mullagh (Unaarrimin), the nation's first genuine superstar before Australia was a nation of the growing sport in the colony of the day.

They were both pioneers, just by their sheer presence, before the Chappells or the Waugh brothers were.

Like the history those more famous names of cricket carries, the Couzens siblings started a new tradition for a people that weren't supposed to play but were still good enough to beat much of the English at their own game.

"You kind of take those stories growing up as a child for granted, and then you realise as you get older the impact of what that actual story is about," Couzens says.

"When we grew up, dad was telling us about the cricket team and how we are related to them through our grandfathers, and it's kind of special."

Slowly the myths and tales are turning into living, breathing history that predates the inaugural Test match between the same two countries nine years later.

That story of the Black Cockatoos has not only been kept alive but grown in stature in recent times.

That came about after Cricket Australia announced it was rewarding the player of the match at the birthplace of Test cricket with the inimitable Indigenous medal from 2020.

"If we're not preserving and saving (our history), we're losing so much," she adds.

Australia's second Indigenous Test star, Scott Boland (after Jason Gillespie), was not only the first Australian but also the first Indigenous player to win the Johnny Mullagh Medal in just its second presentation.

While Boland is carrying the drinks against Pakistan and is out of contention for this season's honour, there is always enough Blackfullas to wave the flag on the other side of the fence.

The award has brought many of the descendants of the 14 Aboriginal players together each year for the MCG Boxing Day Test in a celebration of a past once never known.

"To be there after my cousin Fiona did the design for the Australian shirt and Richard Kennedy, another descendant, I've met at other times, but to catch up and yarn (at the Test) will certainly do that and create opportunities for telling those stories," she says.

"I'm looking forward to catching up with the other descendants at the cricket."

Meanwhile, Couzens shows off the medal to the TV cameras, where her smile is proudly beaming, looking it up and down at the inside the commemorative case the medal stands out from.

The design is actually based on the belt buckle that Mullagh wore on that tour 155 years ago, with a faded black and white photo of the Aboriginal players inside the buckle.

Couzens is anxiously waiting to be the new presenter for Mullagh's fourth medal in between the different cricketing descendants.

"It's really a great honour – we are really appreciative of that opportunity," she says.

She can also relate from her speciality work on possum cloaks, cultural reclamation and preservation, education, and the languages of First Nations people.

They don't exist without sharing and reviving the narrative, a fact Couzens values.

"I think that's really important – the legacy and the story – that is coming more and more to people's attention, as we're made aware," she says.


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