Aboriginal Woggabaliri (Ball Sport)

Woggabaliri is a sport that has been played since an unknown point in history by the Australian Aboriginal Wiradjuri people, located in modern New South Wales. Historically, it was a very simple “keep-up” game with no winner, where the aim was to juggle a ball among players until it hit the ground. The modern rendition of the sport incorporates a basic scoring system.


Origins and History

Blandowski's depiction of Woggabaliri (1857) - Aboriginal Woggabaliri
Blandowski’s depiction of Woggabaliri (1857)

As the Wiradjuri language has no written form, there is no literature to determine a likely date of origin for woggabaliri. William Blandowski (1822–1878), a Prussian scientist who spent some time with the Wiradjuri people, provided an account and a sketch of a sport in 1857 that by all descriptions matches woggabaliri.* This is its earliest literary reference, though the sport in its simplicity could originate decades or even centuries earlier. There is currently no feasible way to determine its date of origin.

*Some sources claim that Blandowski’s sketch depicts the Aboriginal sport marn grook, but his description and the depiction itself do not support that claim.


How to Play

Woggabaliri bears striking resemblance to the modern footbag (“hacky sack”) games. Originally, woggabaliri players would use their feet (and possibly any part of the leg, including the knee) to kick the ball in the air, passing it from one player to another. Blandowski’s description indicates the game would continue indefinitely until the ball touched the ground. Within the modern ruleset, the players are split into two teams, with the goal of each team being to contact the ball as many times as possible (without any player contacting it twice in a row) within a time limit.

Blandowski’s illustration depicts 6 children playing the sport, but there is no indication this was a required number. Much like within modern footbag games, more than 6 or as few as 2 people could likely play.


Equipment

The ball used was constructed of typha roots and wrapped with a possum skin to hold it together. As this ball would not have been very springy, it would be more comparable to a large, light footbag than something like a soccer ball. The ball used in Blandowski’s illustration appears to be about half the size of a soccer ball, though this could have varied throughout the sport’s history.

Bibliography

Blandowski, W. V. (1862). Australien in 142 photographischen Abbildungen nach zehnjährigen Erfahrungen. Gleiwitz: Neumann.

Mathews, R. H. (2012). Wiradyuri and other languages of new south wales. Tredition Classics.