Until 2016, Australia’s first sporting legend and the father of Australian football - Tom Wills - lay in a crumbling gravesite in Warringal Cemetery in Heidelberg, Melbourne.The Tom Wills project, an initiative of Marius Cuming, Phil Dimitriadis and John Harms, aimed to restore Wills’ final resting place to a condition befitting his status in our sporting history.
With the blessing of the Wills family, the required funds (approximately $15,000) were raised to renovate and restore the gravesite of our first cricketing hero, who also gave Australians our own spectacular game.
Wills played football matches for Melbourne and Geelong as captain and coach. He was also MCC secretary (1857-58) and led Victorian intercolonial cricket teams against New South Wales.
He was a champion cricketer of his era, and coached and captained the first Australian Aboriginal cricket team in 1866-67, which went on to tour England in 1868.
Wills is perhaps best remembered as the man who initiated the first code for Australian Rules Football in 1858.
It was Wills’ historic letter to Bells Life in Victoria, written on July 10, 1858 and demanding ‘A game of our own…played in the winter months to keep cricketers fit’, that was a catalyst in Australian football development. Indeed, he was a member of the committee that drew up the first rules of the game the following year.
MCC funded the creation of the previous gravestone more than 40 years ago. Given that involvement, and Wills’ MCC connection as a past secretary, the club supported this project and encouraged members to make a small donation if possible.
In a very short time the full amount of $15,000 was raised and the renovated headstone was unveiled on September 15, 2016.