The sportsground is not always a level playing field for Indigenous sporting stars. When Lionel Morgan became the first Aboriginal person to play rugby league for Australia in 1960, he was booed and pelted with objects. Fifty-five years on, Indigenous athletes are no longer an anomaly in the sporting arena, but traces of that hostility remain.
Claude Williams of the Wiradjuri nation supervises sporting programs at the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE). The former rugby and basketball champion had this to say: “I worked for 13 years travelling to different communities around the country and there is still racism, or inequality, in Australia. To a lesser extent in the more densely populated coastal areas – but when you get to the more isolated areas, it’s certainly still there, and it’s still deep-seated.”
Australian football is positioned as the sport of choice for Indigenous Australians. While the Indigenous population comprises less than three percent of the total Australian population, Indigenous players make up nine percent of the national AFL list.
Though AFL is popular within Indigenous ranks, inequality plagues the sport. In 2014, AFL luminary Adam Goodes was named Australian of the Year, in recognition of his efforts to combat racism. Like Morgan before him, Goodes has endured racial abuse on the field. Notably, in 2013, a teenage spectator called the Sydney Swans star an ‘ape’.
“It’s unfortunate that things like that still happen,” said Williams. “[Goodes] took a strong stand – but people have to understand, that kind of thing may go on at every single game.”
Any remnants of racism will be sidelined this week as inner city communities come together to recognise NAIDOC Week, an annual celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Kicking off NAIDOC Week with some Oztag, locals will assemble on Thursday for the inaugural PCYC Community Shield in Rowland Park, Daceyville. The tournament will be contested by around 350 local Indigenous and non-Indigenous youths, aged between 10 and 14.
On Friday, thousands are expected to attend the NAIDOC Inner City Family and Sports Day at the NCIE in Redfern. Williams explained that the event is an important opportunity for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to get together.
“In communities where there are quite a few Aboriginal people, NAIDOC is an important opportunity to connect,” he said. “And for non-Indigenous Australians, it’s a chance to witness and appreciate our culture. NAIDOC brings the whole community together – it’s a good tool for inclusion and, in a way, it reconciles.”
Concerned that her community wasn’t doing enough to recognise NAIDOC Week, Eastern Suburbs PCYC Manager Jean Ford decided to host the Oztag Gala Day.
She explained: “As a parent, and as a member of this community, I felt like I had to stand up and organise something like this – so that our kids can become a bit more culturally aware.”
“I saw that there are only small pockets that actually celebrate NAIDOC in our area,” Ford continued. “In La Perouse, in the Eastern suburbs, there’s a big Indigenous community – they are from the Dharawal tribe.”
The response to Ford’s tournament has been overwhelmingly positive, with 32 teams registering to compete. Of the 350 participating children, 35 percent are Indigenous.
“Sport is extremely important for young Indigenous Australians,” explained Williams. “Particularly young Aboriginal people in isolated areas who have talent. They can move out of their communities and go to a bigger city. Sport can give them an opportunity and a pathway, financially and personally, to enhance their lives.”
Ford added: “Sport teaches kids teamwork – it builds their confidence; it gives them a sense of belonging; and it forms friendships.”
The theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week is We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate.
“In this country, there’s still a gap there – that needs to be filled,” said Ford. “It’s important for kids from a young age to recognise and acknowledge the true owners of this land, and the country that they live in.”
“This is not just something that we have to deal with on the sporting field – kids need to be taught about this in schools,” she continued. “We know everything post-Captain Cook, but we don’t know enough about pre-Captain Cook. If our kids have an understanding of history, and what Aboriginal people went through, they are less likely to resort to racism and discrimination.”
Despite evidence of racism in the professional sporting arena, Williams said that today’s Indigenous youth have access to more sporting opportunity than previous generations.
“It wasn’t around when I was a kid,” he recalled. “But now you just have to go out on the field, or basketball court, or netball court, and if you’ve got talent, you will be noticed. And if you’re better than most, you will get an opportunity – and then it’s up to you.”
By Carmen Cita
NAIDOC WEEK EVENTS
Koori Kids Under 12s Disco: Disco including DJ, face painting, dance competitions, giveaways and food.
Thu, Jul 9, Herb Greedy Hall, 79 Petersham Rd Marrickville
NAIDOC Family Day: Free event from 10am-2pm. BBQ, stalls, music, elders tent, face painting, entertainment & activities for the kids.
Thu, Jul 9, The AMS Redfern 36 Turner st Redfern, In the Carpark
PCYC Community Shield: Oztag Gala Day for boys and girls, for age groups Under 10, Under 12 and Under 14. Join in the fun and participate in the Inaugural PCYC Community Shield Oztag while we learn, respect and celebrate NAIDOC on Sacred Ground. There will be a Welcome to Country & Smoking Ceremony to open the event and who knows, you may even see some 1st Grade rugby league players.
Thu, Jul 9, Rowland Park Bunnerong Road Daceyville NSW 2032
Inner City Family & Sports Day: NAIDOC Inner City Family and Sports Day is a local Indigenous event which has been celebrated in Redfern for over 25 years. FREE rides, entertainment, talent quest, FREE BBQ, information stalls, sporting and craft activities for all members of the community and more.
Fri, Jul 10, National Centre of Indigenous Excellence, 180 George St, Redfern
NAIDOC at Rouse Hill: Join local Darug Elders in celebrating the ongoing connection of Indigenous people to the land at Rouse Hill House & Farm. Hear stories and watch as Uncle Greg Simms showcases traditional wood carving methods. Families can learn the significance of art in Indigenous culture and paint a boomerang to take home. There will be a BBQ and freshly baked scones with native jams available to purchase and eat. Animals on the Move from Featherdale Wildlife park will also be coming along with some special visitors.
Sat, Jul 11, Rouse Hill House and Farm 356 Annangrove Road, Rouse Hill 2152
Burramatta Festival – Come Down To The Corroboree: Join in the celebrations and discover the story of the Darug People – traditional custodians of Parramatta – through ceremony, song, dance, food and the arts. Hear live music from Radical Son, Shannon Williams aka Brotha Black, Yarramundi Kids and Emma Donovan & The Putbacks.
Sun, Jul 12, Parramatta River Foreshore, between Barry Wilde Bridge and Elizabeth Street
Family Fun Day Marrickville: Enjoy facepainting and a performance by Matthew Doyle followed be a light lunch.
Thu, Jul 16, Plumtree Preschool. Jarvie Park, Yablsey Ave, Marrickville