The Game of Marngrook


Marngrook is without question the oldest football game in the world. It was a precursor to Australian Football, which is the oldest codified football game in the world.


Marngrook was played throughout Aboriginal Australia and the more than 300 language groups originally had their own name for the game. These for instance included names such as mingorm, mangoort, yoomkoort and pultja. However the Woiwurung word for football in the Melbourne area is Marngrook and it is now the universally accepted name for this traditional football game.


The rules of Marngrook were the same throughout Australia and only the composition of the ball might vary. The ball most commonly used was a possum skin stuffed with powdered charcoal,fur or dried reeds and stitched up with kangaroo tail sinews. The ball, also referred to as a marngrook, was usually about the size of a grapefruit.

Marngrook was a socially inclusive game which both men and women played together. There were also limited children’s versions of the game to foster the essential skills of Marngrook, but only those who had reached their adult initiation stage at early teenage were allowed to play the adult game of Marngrook. The children’s versions of the game were amazingly similar to the modern schoolyard games of ‘kick to kick’ and ‘markers up’ and had the same function.

'Bidi' was the kick to kick game where two groups of children would kick the ball to each end and compete for a mark. ‘Parndo’ was the markers up version where the children gathered in a large circle and one child at the centre kicked the ball straight up in the air. The children would then rush in and compete for the mark. The child who caught the ball or otherwise grabbed it first would wait for the circle to re-form and then kick the ball in the air again.


'In 1856 the Blandowski expedition travelled to the Mallee area which by that time was the last outpost of intact tribal life in Victoria. The engraving clearly shows a group of young boys playing Bidi, the kick-to-kick game that taught Aboriginal children the kicking and marking skills of Marngrook.'

From early colonial settlement in Australia multiple records were kept that detailed the indigenous cultural practice of Marngrook. One of the richest accounts of early settlement exposure to Marngrook culture comes from James Dawson’s personal record from the 1840’s.

"One of the favourite (Aboriginal) games is football, in which fifty, or as many as one hundred players engage at a time…….The players are divided into two sides and ranged in opposing lines which are always of a different ‘class’ – white cockatoo against black cockatoo, quail against snake etc.

Each side endeavours to keep possession of the ball, which is tossed a short distance and then kicked in any direction. The side which kicks it the oftenest and furtherest gains the game. The person who sends it the highest is considered the best player.”

The history of Marngrook is found at Sharing Heritage in Kulin Country

For the detailed rules on 'How To Play Marngrook' please Contact Jim Poulter

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