WBBL First Nations Players

The five WBBL First Nations players 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

The WBBL has launched its inaugural First Nations Round to be held from November 17 to 21. The round will acknowledge, pay respects and celebrate the lands on which cricket is played.

The WBBL has launched its inaugural First Nations Round from November 17-21, which will acknowledge, pay respect and celebrate the traditional custodians of the lands the great game of cricket are played on.

Games will be played on the lands of the Kaurna people at Adelaide Oval and Karen Rolton Oval, and the Yuwibara people at Great Barrier Reef Arena, Mackay.

The Adelaide Strikers and Perth Scorchers will open the round, playing for the Faith Thomas Trophy at Karen Rolton Oval on Wednesday, November 17.

In addition, the Big Bash will also have its inaugural First Nations Round, to be held at venues across the country from January 8-14, culminating in the Strikers and Scorchers contesting for the Jason Gillespie Trophy.

At matches across the WBBL|07 and BBL|11 First Nations Rounds, the league and clubs will showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and ceremony through a barefoot circle, welcome to country and smoking ceremony, and the incorporation of local languages and traditions for an immersive experience for attendees.

Players from the six teams currently in Adelaide gathered on the lands of the Kaurna people on Monday morning for the launch and joined Kaurna elders for a weaving activity and discussions about connecting to country.

It was a special opportunity, one that Muruwari woman and Sydney Sixers WBBL player Ashleigh Gardner was proud to be involved in.

“To have a First Nations Round is obviously really important to me, and to the other First Nations people here,” she said.

“But just to be able to recognise and celebrate our rich and diverse culture, it’s something that I’ve been longing for, for seven seasons now and to finally have it and to have an amazing strip to wear as well.

“It’s something that I’m really proud of – where the Big Bash has gone and hopefully for the next whole time that Big Bash is around – we can keep celebrating the culture.”

That strip was designed by Sydney-based Bidjigal woman Jordan Adler and was launched alongside the Scorchers’ ahead of an Indigenous Match in Perth last weekend.

The Brisbane Heat, Melbourne Renegades, Melbourne Stars, and Sydney Thunder unveiled their Indigenous playing shirts this morning, with the Adelaide Strikers and Hobart Hurricanes to share theirs ahead of the First Nations Round.

The playing shirts are an opportunity to share more about the local culture of the lands on which the clubs are based, and also the First Nations players in the team.

Such is the case with the Sydney Sixers’ design, which represents the tribes of the two First Nations players, Gardner (Muruwari) and Dan Christian (Wiradjuri), and the gathering place of their home ground, the SCG.

Gardner has recently spent more time educating herself on her culture and people, as she wants to feel knowledgeable and confident in sharing more about her people.

“My tribe is the Muruwari tribe, we’re North-West of New South Wales, in the middle of nowhere, and it’s something that’s really special to me.

“I’ve been, over the past 12 to 18 months, really trying to educate myself more, so I’m more confident telling people where my people are from and it’s a journey that I’ve really enjoyed being on.

“There’s certainly plenty more to learn and I’m just leaning on other family members, my mum, and just trying to educate myself more to have a wealth of knowledge I think is the most important thing.

“Obviously, went out to Country this year, which was really special, special moment for my life. And hopefully something that over the next 12 months, I can get the opportunity to do as well.

“To have a little symbol on our shirt (the sand goanna) is really special to show my people that cricket’s backing us and really just showcasing our beautiful culture.”

‘You can’t be what you can’t see’

There are currently five First Nations players across the WBBL|07 teams, including Gardner at the Sixers, Hannah Darlington, and Anika Learoyd at the Sydney Thunder, Mikayla Hinkley at the Brisbane Heat, and Ella Hayward at the Melbourne Renegades.

Gardner hopes the number of First Nations players in the game of cricket will continue to grow, and that young First Nations cricketers will have more role models to strive to be like.

“I guess just showing the wider community that we are celebrating and we are talking about our culture, and to have beautiful symbols like this in all teams, just to show people that there is something to strive for and there is role models that they can aspire to be like.

“And, of course, the number five hopefully grows over the next 10, 15 years and that’s something that I’m obviously going to be really pushing for…

“When I was a young kid, I never thought I’d be playing for Australia or for the Sydney Sixers, so it’s something that hopefully young kids can look at and be like, ‘wow, I can actually achieve those dreams.”

While the number of First Nations players across WBBL and BBL has grown in recent years, there are still challenges to having more First Nations cricketers at the elite level, but it all comes back to having people to look up to.

“Well, there’s a couple of things, but it’s almost you can’t be what you can’t see and there hasn’t been those people for those kids to look up to,” she said.

“You look at NRL and AFL, there’s been such a high number of First Nations players, so they’ve had something to strive to be like.

“They want to be like Eddie Betts or they want to be like certain players within those leagues, wherein the cricketing space there haven’t been those players and hopefully I’m inspiring some people to want to pick up the game of cricket.”

Gardner hopes herself, the other four First Nations women and the male Big Bash players can be the role models young athletes need to pursue the game of cricket.

‘It means a lot’

In her second season, Melbourne Renegades bowler Ella Hayward is making a name for herself, most recently removing the Australian captain Meg Lanning with her first delivery on Sunday.

Speaking to media at the First Nations Round launch, Hayward is proud to see a full round of matches celebrating culture and is especially excited to be a part of it.

“It means a lot. Obviously, it being part of my background. It’s super awesome to see an actual round and so much media and traction around Indigenous culture in cricket.

“It’s really awesome to represent my tribe and my culture…

“So I’m from Jawoyn tribe. That’s my main mob… Melbourne-based mob.”

It’s a busy time for Hayward, she’s also completing her VCE exams this month while on the road for the Melbourne Renegades and was heading back to the hotel from this morning’s launch to continue studying.

“I have completed three (exams) so far and I’ve got two left to go this week, one on Tuesday and one on Thursday.”

The two left are Health and Food Technology, she’s already completed two Maths exams and an English exam, one of which had a one-hour turnaround before she bowled in a match in Tasmania.

At just 18 years of age, she is doing an incredible job at balancing the workload of school and cricket, but having two things to focus on has been a blessing.

“It’s good to kind of have them both to balance, to be honest. It’s just kind of focussing on that one thing at a time.

“When I’m not at cricket, I’m studying or vice-versa. So, it’s good to kind of have that balance to not think about the other one.”

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Speaking of the First Nations Round launch, Cricket Australia’s Inclusion and Diversity Manager Rana Hussain, said the hope of the round “is to frank our commitment to developing our relationship with the traditional owners of the land on which we get to play our game.

“This game has long had a connection to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with the first touring eleven team being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players. Our job now is to make sure the legacy of that 1868 team and their spirit is part of the story of our game and is brought forward with us into the future.

“One way of doing that is celebrating our current Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players, engaging with and amplifying traditional owner voices and cultures.”

The WBBL season continues on Tuesday with a double header at Karen Rolton Oval, where the Sixers will take on the Heat and the Strikers will host the Thunder.

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