My mother was my first coach both on the sidelines and in life. We would spend our weekends down at the netball courts where I learnt how to play the game. My mother taught me how to defend my player, use my peripheral vision, how to use my outside arm to deflect and how to pull the ball in strong. The ball was my treasure and I was taught to keep it safe.
I started playing netball when I was seven years old. The love I had for the sport was instant. I could jump high, I was quick, and I loved the feeling of hunting for the ball. Nothing was more satisfying than flying through the air and getting an intercept. The feeling was addictive.
It was not until high school that netball started to become a viable career pathway for me. Netball was my chosen dream and the love I had for the game was bigger than just me; it was something my whole family shared in and continues to share in.
I followed netball pathways from schoolgirls to Townsville rep, onto state – Queensland and New South Wales, plus a couple of Australian teams. I went from under-15s to under-19s to under-21s.
Throughout my entire netball journey I experienced racism. More than any other factor, this led to the end of the career I did not even get a chance to start.
I encountered racist ideologies in every team I had ever been part of. Netball in Australia is the leading sport for women of all ages. Therein, I have come to realise the impact of the netball community culture on the way I had been socially conditioned.
Ultimately, the Australian netball experience conditioned me to silence myself around white women and contributed negatively to my body image.
The racism I experienced came in many forms, and always in waves. Sometimes in the form of micro-aggressions, other times in the form of gaslighting my experiences, and more than a few times in direct language and actions. I experienced ostracising by my teammates and racist remarks disguised as attempted failed jokes.
Most of the time these remarks were heard by coaches and managers in the vicinity and still, there were no consequences. I had my commitment to the game challenged and blamed on whether or not it was a “cultural thing”, all while battling private traumas. This was only the tip of the iceberg.
However, regardless of what I was going through I aimed to play to my highest ability. The objective of any moment I had to train or play was to leverage my performance in order to gain time to deal with my mental health. I was hoping that my talent would allow me the benefit of the doubt.
The reality is, I should not have had to use my talent as a transactional payment for mental health days. Netball had an adverse effect on my mental health, and seven years later I still cannot bring myself to watch the game.
Netball Australia was first established in 1927. Since then, almost 100 years later, only two Indigenous women have worn the green and gold – Sharon Finnan and Marcia Ella Duncan.
In my experience, netball is a much-loved sport of Blackfullas, of all ages and genders. We are quick, we are strategic and our innate ability to communicate non-verbally translates into the game seamlessly. Our style of play is different; it is unique and great to watch.
It is time for Netball Australia and the state netball bodies to take ownership and responsibility for their treatment and actions regarding the perpetuation of discrimination and racial prejudice towards Indigenous peoples.
Reflecting on my experiences now, I believe Netball Queensland did not support me, because they did not know how to and they did not care enough to take the time to figure it out. It was easier to label me the difficult player and usher me out the door. I often think about the success I could have had in the game if I had the support I needed. I often think about the pathways I could have forged for other Indigenous girls and how, maybe, I could have been the support they needed.
To Jemma Mi Mi: I see you, I feel you and you have a lot of support from the mob, keep your head up. To the players currently in Super Netball: your silence and lack of support has been noted. To Netball Queensland and all the other state netball organisations: you are doing yourself a disservice by not including Indigenous peoples in the game.
The game has not grown, and it will not grow the longer we are denied access. You are on our land, just remember that.