WHAT’S IT ABOUT? His name might not be as instantly recognisable as Sir Donald Bradman or Roy Cazaly, but Tom Wills played an even greater role in the development of Australian sport. In his rollicking biography, Tom Wills: First Wild Man Of Australian Sport, Greg De Moore tells of a man who bounced violently from triumph to tragedy, riding an indomitable pioneering spirit that would place him as a true Australian icon, if not for his ignominious end. Wills grew up in rural Victoria, where he developed a keen fondness for the Aboriginal communities that lived nearby. After being schooled in England, Wills returned to Australia as a cricket and rugby player of great promise. He was made secretary of The Melbourne Cricket Club, where he called for the development of a football code to keep cricketers fit during the off-season. In 1859, after founding The Melbourne Football Club, Wills and three other club members codified the first laws of Australian football, birthing what would become the great game of AFL. It is rumoured that Wills was influenced by “marn grook”, an Aboriginal football game that he is believed to have played with his friends in the local indigenous community. Ironically, the course of Wills’ life would be tragically derailed by the horrors of The Cullin-La-Ringo Massacre, the largest killing of white settlers by Aborigines in the history of Australia. Wills was one of six men who survived the massacre, but it haunted him for the rest of his life. He went on to other sporting achievements, and coached Australia’s first Aboriginal cricket team (who played an historic match in 1866 in front of 10,000 spectators), but Wills was plagued by alcoholism, and eventually committed suicide – by stabbing a pair of scissors through his heart – in 1880.
WHY WOULD IT MAKE A GOOD MOVIE? This story has it all: a flawed maverick hero in Tom Wills (a descendant of convicts with a habit of dodging debt collectors, but also a man who helped push forward the cause of Aboriginal Australians immeasurably); a rich subtext pulsing with the tension between white and black Australia; an horrific central incident in The Cullin-La-Ringo Massacre; and a host of fist-pumping, feel-good moments that never become sentimental because of the dark clouds of tragedy that hang over the story.
WHO SHOULD MAKE IT? With the smash hit, The Sapphires, debut feature filmmaker, Wayne Blair, proved adept at telling a sprawling, wide-canvas, tonally shifting story punctured with rage and sadness. They’re the perfect qualities needed to bring this big, largely unheralded slab of Aussie history to the screen.
WHO SHOULD BE IN IT? Burgeoning international superstar, Chris Hemsworth, boasts the charm, charisma and pulling power to play Tom, while flashy supporting roles could go to Geoffrey Rush (as Tom’s deeply religious, keenly nationalistic father, who was killed at The Cullin-La-Ringo Massacre); Liam Hemsworth (as H.C.A Harrison, Tom’s more upstanding cousin and fellow sportsman, who co-codified Aussie Rules, and later received most of the credit for it); Jai Courtney (as James Thompson, Tom’s friendly sporting rival); and Teresa Palmer (as Sarah Barbor, Tom’s wife).