They Should Make A Movie Of That: Tom Wills: First Wild Man Of Australian Sport

August 24, 2016
With a documentary on Tom Wills just screened on Channel 10, we offer up our picks for a sure-to-be-great movie about one of Australia's most important sporting figures.

9781742375984WHAT’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.

Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Teresa Palmer, Geoffrey Rush

Chris Hemsworth, Liam Hemsworth, Teresa Palmer, Geoffrey Rush

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).

Check out the doco, Tom Wills, on Channel 10’s official site. To purchase Greg De Moore’s Tom Wills: First Wild Man Of Australian Sport, click here



  1. Jason

    Either that or a mini-series. There is so much to this man’s life it would be difficult to give a good go of it in 2 hours! And if something does get made, I hope the filmmaker(s) can avoid moralising the story, propagandising, judging people from this 21st century perch. This story deserves a raw and honest depiction that sticks to the facts.

  2. Lindsay Edwards

    I found this story from 2016 on line and am bewildered why this has not been made into a movie or mini series . It would be of great historical significance and not just for Australian Rules Football and cricket fans.
    There was so much about Tom Wills life that should be told.

  3. Angus

    You guys should contact screen Australia or other Australian producers with this idea and a sketch script based off what you have written here detailing major point on what would be in the movie. I’m sure so many people would be interested and captivated by this amazing story and it’s astonishing it hasn’t hit the screens. Big actors such as Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman have previous endorsed our homegrown game and I have no doubt they’d be interested in participating in this movie plot!

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