Muruwari woman Ashleigh Gardner is hoping to inspire and be a role model for the next generation of indigenous cricketers. (Image: Ryan Pierse and Will Cuckson)

Ahead of the WBBL First Nations Round, Muruwari woman Ashleigh Gardner is hoping to inspire and be a role model for the next generation of Indigenous cricketers

Ashleigh Gardner sits in the Australian women’s cricket team dressing room on a very English looking day in Taunton.

She and her team are about to go out to the middle for the cap presentation where she, along with Sophie Molineux and Tayla Vlaeminck will be presented with their maiden baggy green caps.

Gardner receives baggy green 174. A special one in the pantheon and history of all Australian Cricket.

For all the 642 baggy green caps that have been handed out to Australian men’s and women’s cricket players since they started playing test cricket, Gardner is about to become just the third Australian behind Aunty Faith Thomas and Jason Gillespie to pull on the famous baggy cap.

60 years on from when Auntie Faith pulled on her cap for the first and only time against England at the Junction Oval in St. Kilda in 1958, Gardner became the second indigenous woman to represent her country at the highest level.

It’s something that she cherishes and a label that will stay with her.

“To be only the third Indigenous cricketer to pull on the Baggy Green will be something that I cherish for the rest of my career and life,” Gardner told the Over and Stumps Podcast.

“It’s something that I am super proud of and hopefully going forward there is going to be a number of Indigenous players that can do the same thing.

“Being the second female behind Faith Thomas… Is something to be very proud of and I know my family is very proud of it and so is the Aboriginal community”

Catch the full episode and chat with Ash Gardner on the Over and Stumps Cricket podcast on The Inner Sanctum Network.

Gardner is one of five Indigenous players in this year’s WBBL who this year will hold the inaugural WBBL First Nations Round on Karuna and Yuwibura country in both Adelaide and Mackay.

Joining Gardner are Hannah Darlington, Anika Learoyd, Mikayla Hinkley, and Ella Hayward who will again be leaders among their franchises on the field this week and mobs back home as proud Indigenous leaders in a celebration of culture and sport across the action-packed weekend.

WBBL First Nations Players
The five WBBL First Nations players were all in attendance at the launch of the inaugural First Nations Round. From L-R: Mikayla Hinkley, Anika Learoyd, Ash Gardner, Hannah Darlington, and Ella Hayward. Image: Sarah Wildy

Speaking as to why there have only been so few international Indigenous cricketers that have come before her, Gardner offered a simple yet striking answer.

“I guess you can’t be what you can’t see,” She said

“There hasn’t been enough Indigenous cricketers playing at a high level, so there hasn’t been that willingness for kids to want to be cricketers and want to be like someone.

“In comparison to the AFL and the NRL where there is such a high number of Indigenous athletes. Those kids have someone to strive to be like and they want to be like those people”

Gardner pointed to key factors such as accessibility and funding as to why there have been so few Indigenous cricketers reaching the high levels of State and International cricket.

“The more cricket grows within those communities is when we’re going to see more young Indigenous kids representing their states, their country,” she said.

“There’s so much untapped potential out there in the regional areas of Australia that, Those kids will never get seen.

“Because they don’t have access to facilities, they can’t just drive down to the city and go to their local nets and things like that”

“I hope that over the next five to ten years there is more work and time put into those Indigenous communities to get them, and give them the opportunities to be seen, to give them that opportunity to represent their state which sometimes, in the past, hasn’t been able to happen”

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Off-field, Gardner is using her profile and platform as an Indigenous leader to help encourage young Indigenous people to not only pick up a cricket bat but reach their potential in whatever path they may choose.

Launching her own foundation in 2020, The Ashleigh Gardner Foundation is all about empowering Aboriginal youths and helping Indigenous kids find their right paths whether it be through sport, music, or the arts.

“It’s all about empowering the Aboriginal community and in particular, we’re targeting primary school kids,” she said

“We feel it was important to target those kids because we felt we could have some sort of influence over them. They’re probably not set in their ways or have differing opinions …. And we can help lead them in the right direction.

“Through education, sport, and the arts, we want kids to first finish school, that’s our main thing, we want them to have a really good education.

“The way that we want to do this is by supplying a breakfast club. Monday and Friday to bookend the week and then hopefully get them to school Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and create this environment that schools are safe and an enjoyable place to go.

“but also encourage them with a healthy breakfast and healthy lifestyle”

Catch the full episode and chat with Ash Gardner on the Over and Stumps Cricket podcast on The Inner Sanctum Network.

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