I was thrilled to hear this week that the shirts the Aussie men’s and women’s Test teams will wear during the Ashes will feature Walkabout Wickets on the collar.
This artwork is very special to all Indigenous cricketers. It featured on the shirts of our Indigenous teams on our tour of the UK last year and to have that replicated at the very top level means recognition of our culture and the role it plays in the game.
I’ll talk more about the significance of Walkabout Wickets later, but I also want to discuss a concept that I think can take Indigenous cricket to the next level – an Indigenous Round in the Big Bash League.
I think this would be a wonderful opportunity for cricket to join the other sporting codes in celebrating and growing awareness about our culture to the wider cricket community and the public.
The netballers have just had one recently and the footy codes are absolutely fantastic at it every year. They all get behind it with the special jumpers, they do the Welcome to Country and the players get involved by getting their boots painted.
We’ve already seen what that could look like from a cricket point of view. We’ve had Indigenous artwork on stumps and on cricket balls and we also had several players, including myself, using bats that had special artwork on them too.
I just think it’d be a fantastic celebration of our culture, a great advertisement for the game and a chance for cricketers to be role models for young Indigenous kids.
I also think the idea helps to break down any kind of racism that might be lingering in Australian sport. You hear a lot about the Adam Goodes situation in the AFL and I think the increased popularity of Indigenous Round does a lot to increase the awareness of our culture and help break down any of those divisions.
An Indigenous Round would also bring some fantastic stories to the surface about the long relationship Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had with cricket.
Stories like Eddie Gilbert, an Aboriginal fast bowler in the 1930s who was so quick he put the great Sir Donald Bradman on his backside before getting him out for a duck. The Don played against some pretty fast bowlers in his career, but he always said Eddie was the fastest he ever faced.
Then there was the group of Aboriginal cricketers who toured England more than 150 years ago, the first Australian team in any sport to play overseas. We honoured them by retracing their steps with a tour of our own last year, which gave us a platform to tell that story better.
These are amazing stories in our game and ones that should be told more often.
The footy codes have always been more popular among Indigenous communities than cricket and I think the lack of Indigenous cricketers at the top level hasn’t helped that. Someone like Jason Gillespie was a huge influence on me growing up and then you’ve got cricketing trailblazers like Aunty Faith Thomas. But they’re few and far between and when you look at how many Indigenous role models there are in the footy codes, it makes sense why they’re more appealing.
But the Big Bash is helping with that; these days we’ve got myself, D’Arcy Short, Scott Boland, Brendan Doggett and Josh Lalor all part of the men’s Big Bash, and then there’s an absolute superstar in Ash Gardner in the WBBL as well as up-and-coming players like Emma Manix-Geeves. That’s why I think the Big Bash is a fantastic opportunity to get the sport out there to Indigenous kids.
Cricket Australia has made plenty of positive steps in recent years and the opportunities available for Indigenous cricketers are far greater than when I first started playing. The National Indigenous Championships are only getting bigger and the standard of competition is getting better every year as well. I think the idea of community rookies in the Big Bash is a great one too; Brendan Doggett was a community rookie with the Brisbane Heat and he’s gone on to be one of the better young fast bowlers in the country.
And having Walkabout Wickets feature during the Ashes coming up is just another positive step forward. The art is the work of Aunty Fiona Clarke, who is the great-great-granddaughter of Jimmy ‘Mosquito’ Couzens, one of those trailblazing cricketers who toured England more than 150 years ago.
Walkabout Wickets is very special and I want to do it justice, so I’ll leave it up to Aunty Fiona herself to explain the significance of the piece.
She says: "Walkabout Wickets is about the 'Cricket Walkabout' stars, past, present and future. The symbol that I have used for the design means ‘MINKGILL’, which means STAR, from the Aboriginal Dreamtime.
"My ancestors would gather all the clans together in the thousands at a special 'meeting place' each year for many cultural reasons, including Aboriginal games. The large circle represents the grounds the 'Walkabout' team played cricket on. The lines between the smaller circles represent the wickets knocked down by my Aboriginal ancestor cricket players, proudly beating the English players at their own game.
"The smaller circles represent the ovals around the globe. The dark brown circles inside the little circles represent the 'meeting place' of the ovals, that past, present and future players play on."