Children and adults alike demonstrated their agility and athleticism in an array of sports, games and recreational activities. They enjoyed racing one another through the bush or along a beach, while wrestling was popular. Hide-and-seek was played by the children. Climbing trees and rocks was another favorite pastime. In the Melbourne area, they played a game where a possum hide was kicked like a football. The game is said to have inspired Tom Wills, who invented Australian rules football in the 1850s.
More than a thousand miles away in the Brisbane area, a ball game was played using a ball of grass covered in kangaroo skin. Sides were picked and the ball was thrown into the air and caught, the object of each side being to keep the ball to themselves. The side which had more possession of the ball was declared the winner. Another ball game involved two teams of combatants armed with waddies, each team aiming to hit the ball through the defense of the other, a game not unlike hockey.
They participated in bowling games. One game was where a bark disc, about a foot in diameter, was bowled across the ground. Often boys, and sometimes men too, lined up on each side eight or nine yards from the disc and threw small spears at it as it rolled past. This game was good practice for hunting in the bush.
Both sexes engaged in swimming and water sports. In hot weather, they would spend several hours in the water. Aboriginal children were taught to swim as toddlers, something which has gained increasing acceptance in modern society only in the last few decades. Most Aborigines were consequently strong swimmers. Apart from swimming races, the Aborigines competed to see who could stay underwater the longest without surfacing for breath. Alternatively, they would dive for white stones. This entailed picking a spot where the water was about ten feet deep and throwing in the stones over a wide area. The one who retrieved the most stones was the winner.
Aboriginal girls had a fascination for dolls, copying their mothers in the art of caring for the young and unwittingly learning skills important to them in later life. Dolls were made from wood or bark, or sometimes from furry skins and occasionally from stone. A face might be painted on a doll and a necklace put around its neck.
Boys, when not engaged in more strenuous exercise, played with spinning tops made of stone. They had toy boomerangs which were hurled from the hand, looped through the air and returned to the thrower. A smaller object made of two pieces of wood tied crosswise, traveled through the air in the same manner as a boomerang.
Dancing and skipping were favorite pastimes. Children would simulate a corroboree dance or imitate the movements of animals. Often when Aborigines were lazing in the shade after a swim or a meal, one or two young men would jump to their feet and start to mimic a kangaroo, an emu or a man hunting. For the amusement of onlookers, these men would then throw balls of mud at each other until both were covered in it.
Skipping, for which they used a length of vine, was enjoyed by Aborigines of all ages. Some of them were most adept at skipping, jumping over the rope for an eternity without tripping. At other times, children would fill bark containers with pebbles, shaking them to provide the beat to a song. They played a game like cat’s cradle, where the Aborigines used string made from human hair or shreds of bark to make shapes resembling animals, trees and so on, by wrapping the string around their hands and feet.
Tribal fights were often organized. These were like a series of matches between individuals rather than all-in brawls or wars. A ring would be constructed of sticks and the first two combatants would enter this area. In turn, they threw spears at each other from a distance and would try and defend themselves with shields. When a contestant was down, his friends would rush in to assist him, and the other man was the winner. Fights between a number of other contestants would follow. Sometimes there were old scores to settle. A hunt often followed a fight. When a general battle between rival groups lasted several days, it was necessary to halt hostilities temporarily while food was obtained.