I was in year 8 when my education about Indigenous Australia really began. My best friend at the time was Indigenous and taking flak from a few of our classmates about the stolen generation and the government policies that underpinned it. “I don’t know what people are complaining about,” they said. “The government was just trying to give those kids a good education.”
The insensitivity of those comments struck me hard, but not nearly as much as the passion, clarity, dignity and strength with which my mate responded. “They were literally tearing children away from loving families,” she said, the conviction in her voice clear. “How can you not see the problem with that?”
To that point, my exposure to the issues confronting Indigenous Australia had been limited. I had absorbed the occasional lesson here and there, hanging out with my Indigenous mates in the south of Adelaide. But in terms of formal education? Hardly anything. Our textbooks were full of Captain Cook and the first fleet, but almost nothing of the 50,000 years of Australian history that preceded them.
I took my best friend’s side at school that day because she was my best friend. Now, when I look back on that moment, I wish my support had been motivated by an understanding and empathy for the injustices experienced by Indigenous Australians over centuries, not just a sense of mateship on the day.
As a nation, we need to be much better when it comes to educating ourselves about the true history of this land and the people who have called it home. When you’re a kid, you don’t challenge the curriculum placed in front of you. You figure that if they’re teaching it, it must be right. I know now that it’s entirely inadequate when it comes to our First Nations People.
How is it that so many Australians are ignorant to the experiences of Indigenous Australia? How can we know so little about our own people, culture and heritage? How can we make meaningful strides towards reconciliation while our own education system brushes over a few millennia of lived experience.
We still have a long, long way to go on the education front but, in the spirit of Naidoc week, it has been encouraging to be involved in discussions with players across the WBBL in recent weeks about Indigenous Australia, the Black Lives Matter movement and issues pertaining to racial inequality.
Conversations about taking the knee were confronting and uncomfortable for some people, and that’s OK. Everyone is on their own journey. But the very fact those discussions happened, and every team felt strongly enough to kneel or form a barefoot circle, demonstrated a commitment to better understanding racism in society and shining a light on it.
I am proud that the Australian women’s team has taken a strong position on understanding and connecting with our Indigenous culture in recent years. Through the leadership of Meg Lanning, Matthew Mott, Rach Haynes and Ash Gardner, we have strived to better educate ourselves and, in so doing, raise awareness in a meaningful and enduring way.
Ash has been amazing. She knows the questions I ask her come from a good place and a desire to deepen my own understanding and empathy. She has shared with us her real-life experiences and hosted discussions with members of her family. The lessons she has imparted have made me more confident discussing issues related to Indigenous Australia in the media which, I hope, promotes more public discussion.
We don’t want this to be a once-a-year conversation around an Indigenous round, a dedicated match (like the Faith Thomas Trophy, which the Strikers and Scorchers compete for), the wearing of Walkabout Wickets artwork, or even Naidoc week. As wonderful and important as each and every one of those initiatives are, our ambitions is for the discussion to never end.
That’s how meaningful change begins.