102 x 75 cm
edition of 30
In The Battle of the Wills, Hanks reconfigures an 1870 heroic cricketing portrait of Tom Wills by William Handcock. Adapting the portrait convention of including objects which allude to the sitter’s attributes, Hanks incorporates clues to Wills’ lifelong efforts to straddle the cultural divide.
On the left is Anglo culture depicting Wills as a young footballer in Geelong attire; a Merino ram which symbolises his pastoralist background; a bottle of Victorian stout; and one of Wills’ favourite caps. On the right is Aboriginal culture with fellow cricket player Dick-a-Dick, one of the XI who toured England in 1868. And in the foreground a native Brushtail Possum, whose presence alludes to the Aboriginal game Marngrook (possum skin football) claimed by some to be a forerunner to the AFL code. In the centre is a conflicted Wills.
Wills’ career was marked by controversy as he challenged the establishment over game rules, the amateur/professional divide and other issues. Psychologically scarred by his father’s death at the hands of an attack by Aborigines, he descended into alcoholism, eventually suiciding by stabbing himself with scissors. For Hanks, Wills’ story is grist to the mill – a complex man who could recognise the humanity and athletic skill of Indigenous Australians and was prepared to challenge existing norms in order to play with them.