Indigenous Wrestling

History of Indigenous Wrestling in Australia

Aboriginal people have practiced wrestling since mankind first appeared in Australia, which according to current scientific estimates is over 70,000 years ago, although the Dreaming tells us that human beings were created in situ and therefore are truly indigenous to the land.  This can be confirmed by various artwork depictions of the sport from around the country, most well over 10,000 years old, which are usually in abstract form and these are mostly misinterpreted by contemporary scholars as being representation of dance. The Mt Grenfell site, about 40km outside of Cobar in Western NSW, has some beautiful depictions of ceremonies done in ochre on rock walls by the Ngiyaampa ancestors more than 30,000 years ago, with many figures looking like they are in poses at the start of wrestling competitions.

One of the earliest European accounts of Australian wrestling is from 1802 when the French Baudin Expedition was stationed in Tasmania.  A midshipman named Jean Maurouard challenged a local Palawan man to a wrestling match, which he inevitably won due to his size advantage and in reciprocation, as an indigenous show of strength, he was later speared in the shoulder; this according to Francois Peron’s journal. Another French expedition, this time under command of Louis Freycinet, witnessed some bouts around Sydney Harbour in 1819 but there are no English reports of Aboriginal wrestling from this era because the British penal colony was in a state of war against the local Daruk Nation and therefore they weren’t invited to ceremonial events in which wrestling matches took place.

In traditional times wrestling served as threefold purpose;

  1. As a way to train young warriors in unarmed combat in preparation for tribal warfare
  2. As a form of public entertainment
  3.  And most important as a peace keeping ritual held during large intertribal gatherings

Different rules existed in the different cultural zones and some of the names of the sport that have come down to us from the colonial period include;

Tur-der-er-rin from the Kulin people of Southern Victoria

Partembelin from the Nyeri Nyeri people of Northern Victoria

Ami from the Jinibara people of South Eastern QLD

Goombooboodoo from the Eualayi people of Western NSW and

Arungga from the kokomini people of Cape York.


Indigenous Wrestlers 

Wrestling Australia has a strong history when it comes to Aboriginal wrestlers being successful at both national and international competitions.


John Kinsela

John Kinsela became the first Australia Aborigine to wrestle at the Olympic Games when he competed in the 52kgs Freestyle division in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Games.  After the Olympic Games John went onto to compete at the 1974 World Championships.

John took up wrestling when his boxing trainer did not show up one day, and the wrestling coach invited him to train. Between the 1968 and the 1972 Olympic Games, John fought in Vietnam with the Royal Australian Artillery.  John was named Commando of the Year in 1981.

John became a much-beloved wrestling coach at the Mount Druitt Police Citizens Youth Club in Sydney, where he taught for several years.


Shane Parker

Shane Parker was active in Wrestling between 2007 and 2011 and competed in numerous national and international competitions.

Shane compete in both Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2007, 2010 and 2011 Oceania Championships, winning 4 Golds, 2 Silver and 2 Bronze Medals.

Shane competed at the Senior World Championships in 2007 in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle and in 2010 in Freestyle.

In 2010 Shane was selected as the first indigenous athletes to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games when he participated in the Greco-Roman 55kg division.  In 2014 Shane was again selected to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games, this time in the 57kgs Freestyle division.


Stevie Kelly

Stevie already had an impressive Judo career when she took up wrestling in 2013 when she started actively competing in both national and international wrestling competitions.   Stevie competed in 5 National Championships, gaining 4 Gold Medals and 1 Silver Medal.

Stevie competed at the 2014 Oceania Championships in the Female 63kgs division, finishing with gold.  At the 2016 Oceania Championships, Stevie competed in the 63kgs Female division and finished 2nd.

Stevie was selected as the Australian representative in the 63kgs weight class at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

In 2016 Stevie was the Australia representative at the Oceania/Africa Olympic Games Qualifier.  Stevie missed out on qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games by one spot when she finished 3rd at the event.


Shantelle Thompson

Shantelle Thompson was already accomplished in Jiu-Jitsu, winning 3 world championships when she started competing in wrestling in 2015.  Shantelle competed in 5 national championships, finished with 3 Gold medal and 2 silver medals.

Shantelle competed internationally at the 2016 Oceania Championships winning gold in the female 75kgs divisions.

Shantelle attended the Africa/Oceania Olympic Qualifier in 2016, Shantelle missed out on qualifying for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when she finished 5th at the qualifier.


Blake Barden

Blake was active in Wrestling between 2008 and 2011 competing in national and International competitions.

Nationally Blake competed at numerous National Championships in the Cadets, Juniors and Senior age class.

Blake competed at the Oceania Championships on 3 occasions and finished with 6 Gold Medals.   In 2011 Blake competed at the Junior World Championships finishing in 27th place.


Stephan Jaeggi

Stephan Jaeggi has 30 years of experience in Wrestling, Grappling and Combat Sports.  Stephan is a former Australian and Oceania wrestling champion and has competed internationally at the Junior World Championships, East Asian Games, Commonwealth Championships, Canada Cup and was a 2 times Olympic reserve athlete.  Apart from wrestling Stephan has competed at the World Sambo Championships, World Grappling Championships and has competed in amateur MMA.  Stephan has been the recipient of an Australian Institute of Sport Scholarship.  Out of being an active competitor Stephan has over 20 years’ experience coaching both youths and adults and has completed his Level 1 Coaching Accreditation.  Stephan is also a well-respected Level 1 United World Wrestling Referee and has officiated at the Oceania Championships, Commonwealth Championships and Commonwealth Games.


First Nations Liaison Officer 

In 2020 Wrestling Australia appointed Stephan Jaeggi as the First Nations Liaison Officer.

If you would like to know more, or you have ideas to share, or you would like to help in this endeavour in some way, then pleased contacted Stephan by sending an email to: