Ashleigh Gardner. Courtesy of W Sports & Media, 2021.
Earlier this year, cricket allrounder and proud Muruwari woman Ashleigh Gardner became the first Indigenous player to claim Australian cricket’s top honours, the Belinda Clark Award. The award, voted by peers, umpires and the media, crowns her as Australia’s best female player for the last 12 months. Gardner collected 54 votes ahead of Beth Mooney (47) and Alyssa Healy (39) (ABC News, 2022). In an interview with Fox Sports (2022), Gardner says the award was a complete surprise:
“I’m still in shock. To be the first ever First Nations person to win this award is super special not only for me but for my family and my people too.”
At just 24 years of age, Gardner has compiled a list of impressive cricketing achievements. She has captained the women’s Aboriginal XI side, won a T20 World Cup, and most recently turned heads with an 18 ball, 48 run obliteration of NZ bowlers. Having played close to 100 international games, Gardner has now gone from a big hitter to a solid all round performer, with 281 runs at 35.1 across all formats in the past year (ABC News, 2022). In an interview with ABC News (2022), Ash Garnder commented on her experience over the last 12 months:
"I've certainly grown up both on and off the field…I think maturing off the field probably has an impact on my game on the field.”
Ashleigh Gardner. Courtesy of Fox Sports, 2022.
Off the field, Ash Gardner is a powerful advocate for First Nations people and culture. During the pandemic, Gardner used her free time to connect with her Muruwari heritage. In an interview with the Adelaide Times (2021), Gardner describes travelling to Country and being greeted by a smoking ceremony:
“It was a really nice feeling to be able to be welcomed back onto the land and to feel cleansed afterwards and have a sense of healing and just thinking about the people who have come before us.”
In 2021, Gardner launched the Ashleigh Gardner Foundation (AGF), a non-for-profit that aims to provide a healthy start to the school day for Indigenous kids. Through providing a positive experience at school, in the form of breakfast and unstructured play, they encourage kids to complete their education long term. Since the Muruwari woman recognised the significance her education played in helping her pursue a sporting career, she’s become extremely passionate about supporting the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to fulfil their potential (AGF, 2022). In an interview with W Sports and Media (2021), Gardner further discussed AGF’s aims:
“AGF seeks to create a healthy lifestyle for young students by starting their day with a healthy breakfast, while also creating a safe enjoyable place where young kids can feel comfortable and make school feel like an enjoyable place.”
You can learn more about AGF’s programs and donate to their important work here.
It’s wonderful to see Ash Gardner's support of young Indigenous kids, inspiring them to follow their passions, and pursue careers in sport. Let's continue supporting Indigenous women within sport, so they can inspire the next generation of First Nations athletes.
If you would like to read about another female Indigenous athlete whose kicking goals in their sport and inspiring the next generation of Indigenous athletes, check out our previous posts: