Read the transcript for Episode 9 of the Voice of Real Australia podcast: Pale, male and stale: Where are all our Indigenous cricketers?

Tom Melville 00:00

Hello, I'm Tom Melville. Welcome to voice of real Australia. Each episode we bring you people, places and perspectives from beyond the big cities. Cricket is Australia's favourite game. It unites us. Unlike during the winter, when we break off into different groups for six months to support our chosen footy code, in summer we're brought together by cricket. But there's a growing sense that despite being Australia's national sport, our national identity is not reflected in the diversity of people who actually play the game at all levels. Indigenous representation in particular has always been lacking -- only a handful of people who identify as Aboriginal have ever played Test Cricket. And that's despite the fact that First Nations people were the first to represent Australia in any sport with a cricket tour of England in 1868, and despite Indigenous fast bowler Eddie Gilbert famously getting Don Bradman out for a duck. First Australians have a long and complicated relationship with cricket for a host of reasons and haven't picked up the bat and ball in the same way they have taken to other sports, notably AFL and NRL. In footy there's actually an overrepresentation of First Nations athletes, when compared to population. So why isn't that the case for Cricket? And what's being done to change that, to make sure Australia's national past time reflects the countless stories and experiences which make up this country?

Tom Melville 01:20

I'm in Campbelltown in Western Sydney -- custodial lands of the Dharawal people -- on a muggy November morning. Uncle Ivan, a well-known Aboriginal elder from the area, is welcoming us to country with a traditional smoking ceremony. He has a curved length of timber in his hands, filled with smoking eucalyptus leaves, and he's going around a circle made up of about 50 barefoot cricketers. A man playing the didgeridoo follows.

Jack Hartigan 01:50

Name's Jack Hartigan. I'm 17 years old from Newcastle and a Gundungurra man.

Tom Melville 01:55

Jack is a good player - he's captaining the Sixers team today. There's a lot of buzz around him, and hope that he'll go far. Moments before we chat, he holes out to midwicket for a low score. He's disappointed in himself, especially with the talent spotters watching. He's got Gundungurra heritage and his grandfather was president of Hamilton-Wickham Cricket Club in Newcastle for decades. He says cricket is in his blood.

Jack Hartigan 02:16

Pop, always played cricket and was president of one of the local cricket clubs for 40 years. So cricket was always in the family, then using a bat in the backyard with dad since I was about two and then first started playing properly when I was about seven or eight.

Jake Ballnave 02:31

My name is Jake Ballnave and I am the community impact specialist for the Sydney Thunder.

Tom Melville 02:35

Jake helped organise today. He tells me a little more about the event.

Jake Ballnave 02:39

Today we're at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander T20 cup here at Raby Sports Complex out in Western Sydney. So today we've got men's and women's teams from both Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers regions. So you've got Indigenous players from from all across the state coming together to play a carnival of cricket but also to celebrate their cultures. And we're very lucky to be playing during the rescheduled NAIDOC week, an amazing opportunity for us to celebrate the First Nations people and use cricket as that vehicle to bring the different cultures or the different tribes together.

Tom Melville 03:10

So where've the players come from?

Jake Ballnave 03:12

From all across the state, we've got some players that have traveled from Dubbo from Tamworth from down the south coast to Canberra. Yeah, it's amazing to be able to bring people together through this initiative. Yeah, it's an amazing opportunity for them to showcase their crickting skills as well.

Tom Melville 03:27

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander T20 cup has been running for four years now in its current form. Before then, New South Wales would send one Indigenous development team to Hobart but today there are enough players to field four teams - two men's, two women's - from the Sydney Thunder and Sydney Sixers Indigenous development pathways.

Julie Muir 03:50

I'm Julie Muir and I'm the captain of the Sydney Thunder team. Proud Wiradjuri woman,

Tom Melville 03:55

Julie Muir is skippering for the Thunder today. Earlier in the year she captained the NSW Women's Indigenous team to a remarkable 13th title at the National Indigenous Cricket Championships in Alice Springs. She's local to the area, but her teammates have come from all across the state to play today.

Julie Muir 04:11

A few people have traveled quite far. I think some of the girls got here like 10 o'clock last night. So I think five hour trip someone said so yeah.

Tom Melville 04:19

That's commitment to the game.

Julie Muir 04:21

Definitely, definitely commitment. And not only that, they get to see their friends and with this COVID happening at the moment, it's good as to be around your friends and your family.

Tom Melville 04:29

Jeff Cook is the Indigenous NSW and Australian men's cricket coach. He played first class cricket for years in England. He actually has Indigenous heritage himself, but only found out after he retired. He's here mentoring the players and keeping an eye out for new talent. Jeff says days like this are extremely important for players wanting to get noticed and take their careers further.

Jeff Cook 04:49

to stepping stone into the New South Wales side. So it's a concept of pretty much of talent identification. See who's coming through any new talent, that sort of thing. Then that stepping stone into our New South Wales indigenous men's team, which we go to Alice Springs every February set for this year, obviously. And then that's a, that's a stepping stone into the cricket Australia pathway.

Tom Melville 05:11

Events like this T20 Cup haven't always been easy to put on. Jeff says there simply weren't the numbers before.

Jeff Cook 05:17

I think with cricket, before T20 especially, where it goes all day was a bit of a turnoff, especially for parents. Your winter sports are 80 minutes, 90 minutes. So we've had to win that over. And I think the T 20 concept I think the brands are the Sixers and Thunder have really enhanced that. And like in recent times we've played against the Hobart Hurricanes in Orange. I guess it is a battle. But I think we're winning the battle at the moment.

Tom Melville 05:44

And that's because of programmes like this and also to T20 itself.

Jeff Cook 05:49

Yeah, I think T20's just change the world, hasn't it? I think the programmes and the investment, especially that Sydney Thunder have made over a lengthy time now has really enhanced our images, indigenous sportsmen in the cricket space. And I think for the Sydney thunder, I think they're getting a hell of a lot of traction out of it as well, which is great. Like we've got a sponsor this year. All those sorts of things are really beneficial

Tom Melville 06:12

From the atmosphere at the park I can tell the players are excited and nervous to be here. Jack Hartigan says it's good to see Indigenous players coming together.

Jack Hartigan 06:20

It means a lot to have the best young indigenous talent from all over the state come together and be able to play together. It's pretty special, especially coinciding with NAIDOC week this year me ans a lot to us and everyone here. Yeah, just feel very lucky to be a part of it.

Tom Melville 06:33

For Julie Muir the fact that there are different Indigenous focussed pathways into the sport is having a positive impact.

Julie Muir 06:39

You know, it's fantastic that we get to see this young talent, especially from country areas. So it's really good that we can actually identify these young ones and get them to join this beautiful game of ours.

Tom Melville 06:48

So I understand, I mean, less so in the women's game, but Indigenous representation at all levels hasn't been as fantastic as it potentially could have been. Is that changing? What do you think that is?

Julie Muir 06:59

Yeah, it's definitely changing. And it's changing due to the fact that we've got these programmes that are running from these state cricket and also our national Indigenous cricket carnivals, you know, we've got the likes of Ashleigh Gardner, we've got Hannah Darlington, and now young Anika Learoyd have all just been fantastic through those programmes. And they've got the opportunity to play for the Sixers and the Thunder and New South Wales as well. So it's fantastic.

Tom Melville 07:20

Today is in some ways a celebration of culture. It's heartening to see so many people here playing the sport they love, and it looks like it has been a success. Jeff Cook again.

Jeff Cook 07:30

When we first started, we were lucky to get a dozen players, I think, out at Orange. And that's grown. I think the registrations this year were up around the 40 mark, when you include with those New South Wales players, on top of that, we're close to 60 to 70 players, and the target age group for this concept is under 23. And if we're getting roundabout the 50 mark of under 23 players Well, I think we look good for the future.

Dr Bill Fogarty 08:05

Anecdotally, you kind of hear that, you know, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aren't interested in cricket and that's just not true at all.

Tom Melville 08:11

I meet Dr Bill Fogarty in his office at the Australian National University in Canberra. He's spent his career researching Indigenous education and service provision. Several years ago, he had the same question I have - why aren't there more First Nations people playing professional cricket?

Dr Bill Fogarty 08:26

Well, one of the reasons I did this with my colleagues, Professor Mick Dodson, and Corinne Walsh, basically, Mick and I, in particular, were working on lots of different things around, you know, land rights, education, health, kind of big ticket stuff. But as we move through the country, people knew that we really love cricket. And we, of course talk cricket whenever we got a chance and, and lots of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would talk to us about this question. This question kept coming up, why aren't more First Nations people playing cricket in Australia? And it just kept coming up and it kept niggling at us. You know, and being researchers when you when you start to get a niggle, sometimes you just can't help yourself and you just want to find out. But we also felt that there was something to this story, we sort of wanted to help I suppose.

Tom Melville 09:14

The result of that niggle was twelve months of travelling around Australia, hundreds of interviews in every state and territory from local community players and kids right up to the Cricket Australia Chief Executive at the time, James Sutherland. In 2015 Bill, Professor Dodson, and Corinne Walsh produced a report called "For the Love of the Game", and what they found surprised them.

Dr Bill Fogarty 09:35

I remember being in Cairns, and we'd send out a bit of a message that we're going to be at a certain location and anyone who wants to come along and talk about Indigenous cricket is welcome. And you know, we're expecting sort of four or five people to rock in, I think in Cairns there was about 70 people rocked up to want to talk about Indigenous cricket. And one of the really surprising elements for me was how many of them weren't actually playing, but that they wanted to play or that they had wanted to play The kids want to play or they want to be engaged in the game in some way or another. For a lot of the people that we talk to, they were really keen to get behind First Nations players being part of the game, there was just so much love of the game. And it did shock us a little bit.

Tom Melville 10:15

Bill and his colleagues went on to make a number of recommendations. Some of which governing bodies have taken on board. One stand out is the creation of outreach programmes, specific to Indigenous communities. Bill says clubs need to be proactive.

Dr Bill Fogarty 10:28

Cricket as a game, and its kind of legacy, which is quite colonial, has historically been really racist. I'd say at its base. And resetting that discourse with First Nations communities in Australia to make it a welcoming game. I mean, one of the things we found was that cricket generally sort of thinks well "everyone's welcome to play cricket". And you can say that, but what people in communities were actually hearing was, "yeah, everyone's welcome, but probably not us". You have to actually reach that olive branch out specifically to First Nations people. And say "we want you to be part of this game. We need you part of this game". The talent that people bring the different ways of playing. We saw some of that on show around the country. And we're actually absolutely flabbergasted about how much interest there actually is out there. It's just about making sure that the elements both structural and local, come together in a way that enables access, particularly for the youth.

Courtney Hagen 11:25

My name is Courtney Hagen. I'm the Indigenous engagement specialist at Cricket Australia.

Tom Melville 11:29

Courtney Hagen is a Butchulla and Gubbi Gubbi woman, from the northern Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Her job at Cricket Australia is, essentially, to get more Indigenous people playing cricket. When we spoke, Melbourne had just come out of lockdown and she'd just had her team's first match back. She's a long time lover of the game.

Courtney Hagen 11:47

Um, I've involved in the game in many facets, coaching, officiating, but mostly as a player. Growing up I started cricket when I was about six or seven in Kanga cricket, which shows my age now and I've participated at various levels. The highlight being in the captaining the Queensland Indigenous team at the National Indigenous Championships and I still play here in Victoria in the Premier first league for Carlton Brunswick Cricket Clu.

Tom Melville 12:14

Cricket Australia quickly took on board many of Bill and his colleagues' recommendations - notably, focusing on youth and grass roots outreach programmes. As I saw in Campbelltown at the T20 event, some promising early results are starting to trickle through. Courtney, on the other hand, got into cricket by chance.

Courtney Hagen 12:31

I lived in a small country town that was also an Aboriginal community called Cherbourg. And I had cousins and relatives and we sort of went between the two places, but for me, I wasn't allowed to play football I really wanted to play rugby league I have a big rugby league family but out there there was no girls teams plus I was just not allowed to so I think one afternoon because my mom's a teacher she needed us to be doing something after school and there was Kanga cricket on and I had a quite a little bit of a knack for it. I wouldn't say talent, but I like to jump in with the boys and and play that and it was just a game where I think there was so not a lot of fighting and it was quite a gentle space. I was the only girl that played in the team, but I felt really yeah supported and just just loved it. From then on. I also played other sport but cricket seems to be one that I've circled back to as an adult.

Tom Melville 13:20

Cricket Australia aims to make cricket the sport for all. It's Courtney's job to make this a reality for First Nations people keen to pick up bat and ball. She says their responsibility goes beyond sport because of cricket's status as the global game.

Courtney Hagen 13:33

Cricket Australia's mission is to be a sport for all and in that wording itself it means acknowledging and also respecting everyone's fundamental human rights as participants of the game, but also outside of the game, being a sport that's recognised as the national identity of Australia, you know, you think of Australians and you think of bronze, tanned surfers playing beach cricket, usually. So for us, we have that extra responsibility to be advocates and respectful to our First Nations culture. And that means not just inclusion, but celebrating and championing for the sport. You know, this game is traditionally one of the most colonial sports in the world. So we're trying to undo some of that stereotype in that relationship that game has with the country and with our First Nations people, by also telling that story of our deep, rich, cultural sort of contribution to the game, which I don't think we've told enough historically and therefore, you know, has created that sort of not a divide necessarily, but more of a lack of representation at a higher end, not just a participation level, but also an employment level as well.

Tom Melville 14:37

Indigenous Australians have a relationship with cricket which stretches almost as far back as the first fleet. But the kind of celebration of cricket and culture I witnessed in Campbelltown is a shockingly recent chapter in an often dark history. Records suggest by the 1850s, cricket was being played amongst First Nations people around the colonies after it was introduced to them by pastoralists and the managers of missions. In 1868, cricket was widespread enough in Indigenous communities that a team from the Western Districts of victoria was selected and sent to England, in what would be the first sporting team of any kind to depart Australia for foreign shores. Dr Bill Fogarty, again.

Dr Bill Fogarty 15:16

I'd say that some of the reasons why the tour went ahead were probably a little bit dubious, they were seen as a little bit of a, an oddity, I suppose. And there was some pretty dubious financial interests hoping to capitalise on taking the players over. They had some deaths on tour. It was plagued by financial mismanagement. So yeah, I'd say, definitely not a high watermark. I think indigenous crickets come a long way since that reasonably difficult beginnings. Even into the early 20s. Like right through to the early 20s that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had quite a large presence in the game. I mean, you don't want to overstate their presence, but certainly people were very active in cricket. And then that changed as policy changed.

Tom Melville 16:01

Only one player identifying as Indigenous has ever donned the baggy green and walked out to play a test match for the Australian men's team. Jason Gillespie has Gamilaraay ancestry on his dad's side. Since his retirement in 2006 there's been no one. One of the most pressing issues the game faces is prejudice, particularly racism. It remains prevalent throughout Australian sport and society, and cricket is no exception. Courtney says cricket lags behind other sports when it comes to proactively changing that culture.

Courtney Hagen 16:32

I think it's a reflection of history and colonialism in Australia, you look at the way that our Aboriginal athletes that have participated in the game were treated. I mean, for a great example, the Eddie Gilbert story is one that I always draw back to and he's probably one of the only bowlers that have gotten Donald Bradman out for a duck. And that's why Donald Bradman's average is under 100. Yet he didn't get to play for Australia. And he was treated pretty poorly to the point where he had some you know, real mental health issues as a as a fallout. And when you think about that, in comparison to other sports that have sort of had a lot more involvement in First Nations culture or having more First Nations athletes in their representative teams such as AFL, which obviously we all know has stemmed from an Aboriginal game called Marngrook. In comparison, I think those other codes have done a great job to break down that those stereotypes I think cricket still lagging behind quite significantly. But we've come a really long way these last three years have been a giant push.

Tom Melville 17:33

First Nations Australians were the first people to represent the country in cricket. But despite this early involvement, practices of exclusion and racism soon pushed them out of the sport. Bill says officious Protectionist policies in the early twentieth century were a huge barrier.

Dr Bill Fogarty 17:47

Protectionism came in as a policy in lots of different states around the turn of the century. Basically, the idea was that at that time, there was kind of a prevailing philosophy that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were going to die out, you know, talk about smoothing the dying pillow. And so there was a lot of policies enacted under the auspice of protecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But their actuality was that they completely disenfranchised Aboriginal communities and disempowered them, they employed Protectors, who were government bureaucrats, who basically controlled nearly every aspect of an Aboriginal person's life. And that included of course, being able to travel to play cricket. So what we saw during that time was that cricket, which often was played between towns or between regional areas, suddenly you saw that stop, for Aboriginal people they couldn't get if they did want to play, they had to get permission. And there's plenty of cases that we've documented about people not being able to travel, whereas football, on the other hand, was played intra-community. And so football became a much more doable thing. So that we saw the rise of football and a kind of a sliding of engagement in cricket

Tom Melville 18:59

Protectionism officially ended in the 1950s. What followed was known as the assimilation period - a policy predicated on forcibly whitewashing First Nations people into so-called mainstream society, and ignoring their rights, culture, language, and their origins as the first people of this nation.

Dr Bill Fogarty 19:17

If you rock up at a club, and you say you want to play cricket, and you're Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander during the assimilation period, you're expected to actually deny your, your ethnicity, your background, your culture, your heritage, to sort of become someone who you're not. And people aren't going to do that. First Nations people have been very clear on that since day one, you know, they won't relinquish who they are, and neither should they and yeah. So the element there is very exclusionary.

Tom Melville 19:45

And I wonder you mentioned in early in the report about cultural barriers within Indigenous communities. "Oh, don't play cricket this white man's game?" Is that still the case? Or was that specific to a moment in time?

Dr Bill Fogarty 19:55

I think it's still a challenge. I think that it's got a historical base and it's probably still got contemporary base to you know, racism in Australia runs deep. And it's, you know, possibly not as overt as it was during protectionism and the assimilation period. But that doesn't mean that racism is not here. I mean, we've seen that in Australia consistently. So there's no reason why that still not there at a club level. And I think that's where the real challenge is, and, you know, cricket, Australia and state and territory cricket associations can lead the way in changing that discourse. But at another level, you know, it really comes down to local clubs, reaching out to their local Aboriginal communities and saying, we want we want you to be a part of this, you know, we need you to be part of the game and it sounds like such a small thing, but it's actually a huge thing and make a massive difference.

Tom Melville 20:43

While Ash Gardner played her first test match during the women's Ashes in 2019, there aren't any First Nations athletes representing Australia in men's Test cricket right now. That said, a number of good players have come through and represented their country in the shorter formats of the game.

Dan Christian 20:58

Daniel Christian, all rounder play cricket now for the Sydney sixers in the BBL.

Tom Melville 21:04

Dan Christian is from Narrandera in the Riverina region of New South Wales, a few hundred kilometres west of Canberra. When he walked out to face the west indies in his Australian jersey in a T20 in 2010, he was just the sixth indigenous men's player to do so in any format. Dan's spoken about racism in sport in the past, and had to put up with people saying he didn't look particularly Aboriginal. But he's optimistic that the culture in cricket is changing.

Dan Christian 21:29

Nothing to do with race for me, personally. And so I have been lucky in that respect. I'd say that 99% down to the color of my skin I guess. I came out like mum, basically I've got fair skin like my mum, rather than the darker skin like my old man. So I haven't been subjected to any, yeah, discrimination from that perspective in terms of missing out on anything or having any barriers to be able to push my career forward. It's more casual racism that seems to exist a lot in Australian cricket. Thankfully, that's all being spoken about more often. And I've been called out more often people just know that it's not acceptable. When I first started, it was just, you know, there are all sorts of jokes about, you know, the 2% home loans and those kind of just absolutely rubbish, which is, when you're a kid and you're trying to make your way you just haven't, you haven't really got the guts to stand up to it, you know, against the you know the older guys that. Those kind of things were just commonplace

Tom Melville 22:19

Courtney from Cricket Australia says a lot of progress has been made.

Courtney Hagen 22:22

We've broken down that that pale, male and stale stereotype that came along with cricket, we have a lot more opportunity for cricket to be played for people of all different backgrounds and abilities. Cricket's not just a game for old white guys, it's a game that everyone can play further than just your backyard. So it's an opportunity for people to participate from all walks of life in all different ages and backgrounds.

Tom Melville 22:46

But, Dan says there's more that can be done, and that other sports are leading the way while cricket lags behind.

Dan Christian 22:51

Something as simple as just having a an Indigenous BBL Round. I've been trying to get Cricket Australia to do that for a long time now. And there's been a few teams that have jumped on board and and done that which has been wonderful Indigenous team jerseys and yeah, do a whole sort of week celebration around it, which is, which is fantastic that the individual teams are getting on board with that. But Cricket Australia still haven't done anything. So that's been disappointing from my perspective. When we see it in the AFL in the NRL, there's a real celebration of Indigenous culture and then also more Indigenous players within their sports. So it's disappointing that we haven't we haven't really gone down that path yet in cricket. So I think that's the kind of thing that I feel like I've taken on responsibility, along with a few other guys to really keep trying to push that.

Tom Melville 23:32

Dan's cricketing story is a common one - mad about the game from a young age, backyard cricket with his vast extended family, and discovering he had a talent for it. When he was a kid none of the Indigenous pathways which are around today existed. It wasn't until 2001 when he played in an exhibition match - the ATSIC 11 versus the Prime Minister's 11 - that anything was made of his heritage.

Dan Christian 23:54

I'd say the majority of our young kids end up playing the footy codes. The really talented ones end up end up going to the NRL or the AFL, they're the main two I'd say crickets never really been, crickets always been the summer sport, I think, but never, but never been seen as something that could be taken seriously by Aboriginal people and been a viable career path, I guess. And I'd say that's probably lack of role models. When you look at, you can talk for a week about the amount of AFL ones or the amount of NRL ones where you know, young kids can grow up and idolise, whereas cricket, we've never really had that in Australia.

Tom Melville 24:34

Dan's point is a good one, there are few role models in the sport. He's one of the main ones, and the women's game has always been a bit better for Indigenous players - Faith Thomas became the first Indigenous player to represent Australia in any sport when she walked out to bat against England in a test match in 1958, and Ash Gardner is a star for today's spectators. But those role models have been few and far between and I suspect that's because there weren't enough players for the superstars to shine through. Like Dan says, the highly talented Indigenous athletes have gone elsewhere. Role models are part of the solution, no doubt, but paradoxically... young players need to be motivated to become those role models. A key recommendation in the For the Love of the Game report was to have specific, targeted programmes for Indigenous kids. And you've got to make them free or cheap, because cricket's initial cost presents yet another barrier -- you need a lot of gear and equipment for cricket compared to playing, say, soccer. So I've come to La Perouse, in the south eastern suburbs of Sydney. It's a warm afternoon, cloudy. There's a bit of rain forecast, but hopefully the kids will get a bit of cricket in before that hits. This is an Indigenous focussed Cricket Blast programme, put on by Cricket NSW as a way to get First Nations kids playing the sport. Judging by the chaos in the background, it's going well.

Samad Shaikh 25:53

Really what we're trying to do is just to introduce cricket to this part of Sydney, it's rugby league heartland. But you know, one of our goals is to try and make cricket as available as possible to every little boy and girl. There's a strong Indigenous community in this area. And this is one of our key pillars at creating New South Wales in Australian cricket is to is to make it more accessible to everyone of all backgrounds in communities. That's what we've be doing.

Tom Melville 26:18

Samad Shaikh is the coach here. There are ten or so kids here today and there's a lot of excitement because they've just received their jerseys and bats. The jerseys sport a goanna design created by 16-year-old Dharawal man, Billy Reynolds, they look great. The programme is free for Indigenous kids from 5-7 year olds. To me, this seems like the most fertile ground for redressing some of the imbalances at the top level of the game.

Samad Shaikh 26:43

I'm also learning in this experience about Indigenous culture and community. It's something that I haven't, you know, been exposed to in my professional life. So understanding the communities in this area, what are some of the challenges that they face, but also how to overcome some of the obstacles and make things more accessible to them. But also understand a little bit about, you know, what their day to day is, it's been a very eye opening experience for me personally, and my vision or if you like, for lack of a better word probably would be just just to have a bit of consistency and longevity in cricket in this area. And if we can achieve that, then I think you know played a small part in kids getting access to other sports, which would be outstanding.

Tom Melville 27:27

These sorts of programmes are clearly working, at least in terms of Australian cricket's goal to be a "sport for all". In 2013 there were just eight-and-a-half-thousand first nations kids playing cricket. In 2019, that number was nearly seventy-thousand. A key change has been investment from the top. And according to Samad, at least in this part of South eastern Sydney, the parents are on board.

Samad Shaikh 27:49

The parents have been very supportive. They've been on the WhatsApp to each other. They've got out parent WhatsApps with other parents in schools, just informing each other about the cricket programme and the benefits of it. And how much of a good vibe there is here on Wednesday afternoons at the moment. They're keen to learn about what options are available to their kids, all of the parents so far that I've met have been very supportive of whatever their child enjoys, they want to help support them. So whether that be cricket or Rugby League, or AFL or soccer or whatever it may be. In this case, cricket has been really well received. So we're really pleased with the level of support the parents have shown.

Tom Melville 28:24

I got a chance to chat with some of the parents as they were waiting to pick their kids up. One thing that kept coming up was that they didn't know how they'd keep their kids in cricket. Were there any programmes in the area? Would this one even run again? But something more fundamental struck me. These parents aren't necessarily interested in the politics, or questions of disparity in sport. They're interested in their kids, and giving them a chance to run around and get out of the house in the afternoon. Their health and happiness. One parent said to me it wouldn't have mattered what sport was happening at this oval on a Wednesday afternoon in early summer -- soccer or Auskick or whatever -- they'd have been here. For Cricket to become a "sport for all", what it needs to do most is be here, on ovals like this one all around the country. Racist policy put the barriers in place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders pursuing careers in professional cricket. This fostered a "stale male and pale" culture that kept them excluded. This disparity in cricket, compared to other sports, comes down to an historical lack of action on the part of governing bodies. But it means these bodies also have the power to redress the imbalance. And it seems they've made that commitment, and it's working. And on this cloudy afternoon, out on the pitch, these kids seem to be relishing in it.

Tom Melville 30:02

That's it for this episode of Voice of Real Australia. Thank you so much for listening. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen. I'll be back in two weeks. If you like the podcast please share it with friends and give us a five star rating on Apple Podcasts. Everyone has a story to tell, If you'd like to share yours, email voice at aust community media dot com dot a-u... that's voice at aust "a-u-s-t" community media dot com dot a-u. Our Facebook page is Facebook dot com slash voice of real Australia. Voice of Real Australia is recorded in the studios of the Newcastle Herald. It's produced by Laura Corrigan and me, your host, Tom Melville. Our editors are Gayle Tomlinson and Chad Watson. Special thanks this week go to Josh Callinan, Renee Valentine and Janine Graham. This is an ACM podcast.

This story Voice of Real Australia Episode 9 Transcript first appeared on Newcastle Herald.