THE AUSTRALIAN cricketers are set to fold away their famed yellow jerseys for the first T20 International against India in Canberra Friday.
Instead, they will sport jerseys designed by indigenous women, Aunty Fiona Clarke and Courtney Hagen, with traditional motifs on a charcoal background — a belated acknowledgement of the aboriginal people of the land with a culture that goes back to an estimated 60,000 years.
On each jersey are golden stars representing the ancestors, a centrepiece ‘Walkabout Wickets’ signifying past and present aboriginal cricketers, green circles of unity and continuity, and blue sinews of rivers and land. On the back of the jersey is recognition of a 152-year-old piece of history with the first aboriginal team to tour England in 1868, standing as if around a campfire.
“I’m pleased CA (Cricket Australia) has decided on the indigenous shirt,” retired pacer and indigenous cricketer Jason Gillespie wrote in response to queries from The Indian Express. “It is my hope that greater acknowledgment of our culture will continue the conversations and learnings for people in our country that maybe do not know much about our aboriginal history,” he said, referring to Australian cricket’s engagement with the country’s rather painful past.
The jersey comes on the back of criticism of the Australian men’s team for not taking a knee during a limited-over series in England in September in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. There was also the encouraging prod from the Australian women’s T20 side, which embraced their own indigenous jersey earlier this year when playing New Zealand.
Cricket writer and social commentator Gideon Haigh reckoned that the trip to England, where the home team’s espousal of BLM starkly contrasted with the cagey Australian reciprocity, was an eye-opener.
“This is a pretty worldly bunch of cricketers who are well-travelled and in tune with what’s happening. They were aware of developments and clearly would not want to be the exception amongst teams. The anti-racism BLM struck a chord, and it was inevitable that an acknowledgement would follow at home,” he said.
“There was a degree of callousness in not taking cognizance in England, so this is a timely gesture. Sport is integral to Australian culture but it is enormously tough to get athletes in their bubbles to step out of that and do this. So it’s good to see,” Haigh said.
The lead, of course, came from the women’s team, with indigenous cricketer Ashleigh Gardner roping in her aunt and inspirational Murrawarri speaker Doris Shillingsworth to carry out a familiarisation programme for the women’s squad.
Shillingsworth in a CA video interaction spoke of the pride felt by the tree-people of Gidgee watching Gardner win Player of the Series with Australia. When asked what the women’s squad could do to help, Shillingsworth said: “Get to know some aboriginal people and find out where they come from… The boundaries of our land are not fences, our boundaries are rivers and lakes and mountains.”
Getting the city-bred, mostly white cricketers to understand the nuances of ‘First Nations People’ — as culturally varied as India’s Santhal are from Gond and Oraon from Munda — has been a repeated challenge echoed even by Gillespie.
Last summer, the Sheffield Shield side Western Australia opened the season with a ‘Barefoot circle’ — a ceremony that included blowing the long pipe Didgeridoo and using clapsticks to ask the ancestors’ souls to join them and walk amongst those inhabiting the land.
And in a YouTube show, indigenous raconteur Tamika Sadler spoke of the need for Australian cricketers to become aware of the history of genocide, introduction of diseases and discrimination. At the same time, international Dan Christian was trolled for speaking about his aboriginal identity, right before leading Nottinghamshire to their T20 title in October.
“There is opposition and adverse commentary within Australia questioning why cricketers need to do this (implying they should just gee-up and play). But Aussie Rules Football has led the way since a lot of indigenous players play the sport,” said Haigh.
According to him, a 2013 census showed indigenous participation in the sport had slumped to 10,000 — concerted efforts from governments has brought it up to 70,000 now.