We have always played sport, in the past using available materials like possum skin, paperbark and pandanus. Today there are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander champions in just about every sport played in Australia, not just in the better-known areas of the football codes, athletics and boxing.
Sport has provided us with opportunities to pursue success on an equal basis with other Australians. We’re inspired by sport, and our younger people revere our champions and aspire to be like them.
Bullocky (traditional name: Bullchanach), the wicketkeeper-batsman for the Australian Aboriginal cricket team tour of England in 1868.
Photo courtesy P Tatz.
Australia’s first sports group to tour overseas was a team of Aboriginal cricketers. They had been taught cricket by pastoralists in western Victoria’s Lake Wallace region. That they toured at all is surprising.
Despite racism, rigid control of their lives from the missions and rumoured exploitation and illness, the players arrived in England in May 1868. They had 14 wins, 14 losses and 19 draws. One player, King Cole, died on
tour and two players, Sundown and Jim Crow, were sent home, ill. It was to be the last such tour. A year after their return the Aborigines Protection Act 1869 came into being. Had it come into force twelve months earlier, the team would not have toured because of concerns for their well-being.
Source: The Little Red Yellow Black Book: An introduction to Indigenous Australia (second edition), AIATSIS.
Surfer Melissa Combo with her father, Lee.
Photo courtesy Alan Rich, Photo © Alan Rich Films.
Melissa Combo’s surfing career began at the age of 13. By 18 she had competed at the open women's division at the Billabong Indigenous Surf Classic in Fingal. Now 30, Combo is still surfing and last year travelled to Hainan Beach in China to compete in the Swatch Girls Pro longboarding competition.
Back home in Ballina, NSW, Combo is the co-ordinator of the Aboriginal respite program at St Andrew's Retirement Village and also hopes to inspire more Indigenous kids to get involved with surfing.
‘Surfing gets you fit and healthy, gets kids out of the house. It's taken me to places you'd never imagine. I've been travelling the world since I was 17, all through surfing.
‘Seeing the world has educated me a million times over. I really want to encourage Indigenous kids back home. I want to start some surf schools, get them into the water, get them out of trouble.’