Indigenous Sports are Thriving!

2021 was an incredible year of achievements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sports men and women. From the representation of Indigenous athletes at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, to the massive achievements of Patty Mills, and most recently Ash Barty, First Nations peoples are continuing to stand out as some of Australia’s most talented athletes. First Nations athletes are also excelling in Indigenous All-Star NRL and basketball games, which are gaining fast recognition across the nation.

Indigenous kids playing footy Indigenous kids playing footy. Courtesy of Ngurra Kujungka, 2022.

Here’s some of the top Indigenous sporting achievements and highlights from the last 12 months:

Indigenous representation at the Tokyo Olympic Games

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games saw the largest number of First Nations athletes to ever be selected for the Australian Olympic Team, with 16 Indigenous athletes competing across 11 different sports. One of the key achievements was in basketball, where the Boomers claimed the nation’s first ever medal in the sport, winning bronze. The captain Kokatha, Naghiralgal and Dauareb-Meriam man Patty Mills also made history by becoming the first Indigenous Australian sportsperson to become a flag bearer at the Olympic Games (NIT, 2021). 

Mills celebrates bronze win at the Tokyo Olympics. Courtesy of Fox Sports, 2021.

Patty Mills won the Don Award

At the end of the year, Patty Mills also went on to be awarded Australian sports' highest honour, the Sport Australia Hall of Fame Don Award. The Don Award is given annually to an Australian athlete or team who has most inspired the nation through performing exceedingly well in their sport, and leading by example. The Indigenous NBA player received the award for his sheer determination that led the Boomers to winning a bronze Olympic medal. As a prominent figure in Australian sport, Mills is a spokesperson for Indigenous communities and does incredible work through his non-for-profit, Indigenous Basketball Australia (IBA) (Basketball Australia, 2021).

You can learn more about the IBA here.

Ash Barty won the Australian Open 2022 Women’s Singles Title

Ash Barty wins Australian Open Ash Barty winning the Australian Opens 2022 Women’s Singles Title. Courtesy of Sporting News, 2022.

At the beginning of this year Ngarigo tennis player Ash Barty won the Australian Opens 2022 Women’s Singles Title. She became the first Australian to win the title since Chris O’Neil in 1978. Following her victories at Wimbledon last year and Roland Garros (the French Open) in 2019, Barty has joined Serena Williams in becoming the only active women players to win Grand Slam titles on all three surfaces (The Guardian, 2022). Through her platform as a sports champion, Ash Barty speaks about her Indigenous heritage and gives back to her community. She’s a true leader, and will continue to inspire future generations of First Nations kids to follow their passion in sports. 

The NRL Indigenous All Stars teams battled it out in Sydney

Indigenous All Stars First Nations cultures coming together. Courtesy of NRL, 2022.

Most recently, the annual Indigenous NRL All Stars match was held in Sydney. The Indigenous men’s and women’s All Stars teams hosted the Māori All Stars on Darug Country at Parramatta Stadium. The incredible meeting of First Nations cultures included a range of cultural protocols, ceremonies and dance performances (ABC News, 2022).

The game day began with a smoking ceremony from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander NRL teams. This ceremony was a way of cleansing the space and paying respects to the elders both past and present whose land they were meeting on (ABC News, 2022).

The mens Indigenous and Māori All Star teams in actionThe mens Indigenous and Māori All Star teams in action. Courtesy of Sky Sports, 2022.

The Māori teams held their traditional welcome earlier in the week at the Sydney Zoo. There they also held a smoking ceremony and a karakia (prayer), which was performed as a ritual chant of welcome. Throughout the game night various cultural performances took place, including, for the first time, a special joint performance by Aboriginal dance group, Muggera, and Māori dance group, Te Aranganui (ABC News, 2022). 

The men's game was close, but in the end the Māori All Stars defeated the Indigenous All Stars 16-10. In the women's game the Indigenous Women’s All Stars did incredibly, defeating the Māori Ferns 18-8. The players were met with tricky wet weather conditions, but this didn’t deter any of the teams who put their all into the game (NRL, 2022).

As you can see, through all areas of Australian sport First Nations athletes are excelling tremendously. We can’t wait to see the continued growth of Indigenous athletes and sporting events this year. Keep your eyes peeled for news of the Indigenous Nationals (Indigenous Tertiary Education Student Games), the National Indigenous Basketball Tournament and the many other tournaments and championships Indigenous sports people will be competing in. 

Keep an eye out for our upcoming post about the feature documentary Araatika! Rise Up! (2021), which follows former Indigenous NRL star Dean Widders’ mission to create a war cry for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teams for the Indigenous NRL All Stars pre-games.