On the 150th anniversary of Australian Rules Football, a small town in western Victoria clings to its challenged claim as the birthplace of the nation’s football code.

Story By John Dunn

Peter Crauford stands in the garden of his gracious and historic hilltop homestead “Lexington”, near Moyston in western Victoria, and looks down the slope to the flat lands below where his black Angus cattle are grazing. Noticing the very level paddocks, he observes that it would have been a fine place for ball games. Peter is relatively new to this property, which he bought two years ago, but he is well aware of its background as one of the first established properties in the area and its claimed connection with the beginning of Australian Rules football. Horatio Wills, an early settler, established Lexington after travelling more than 1000 kilometres from the Molonglo Plains, near what is now Canberra, with his family and stock in 1840. He had 5000 sheep and 500 cattle, and after hearing of the lavish descriptions of southern Australia by Major Thomas Mitchell, Wills followed his exploration and headed south. While Wills did much for early settlement in New South Wales and Queensland, as well as Victoria, it is his son Thomas who is best remembered – as one of the instigators of a game that was to become the nation’s own football code and its most popular sport. The Australian Football League (AFL), now played extensively in every state and watched by millions, has in the past credited Thomas Wills as one of its founding fathers. In 2008, while marking its 150th anniversary, it has taken another look at that assessment. Moyston, allegedly named after a town in Northern Ireland from where many migrants came looking for gold, did not really figure in those celebrations. However, that has not prevented this tiny settlement of some 100 people, a store, a church and a hall in the foothills of the Grampians, 14 kilometres west of Ararat, from laying claim to what it believes to have been a significant role. The town maintains it is ‘the birthplace of Australian Rules Football’, and has perpetuated that claim with the establishment of a park, housing a rotunda and a granite monument documenting its links. An oval-shaped rose garden depicting the shape of both the ball and the grounds on which the game is played has also been built.

This story excerpt is from Issue #62

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2009