Ashleigh Gardner: Indigenous UK cricket tour UK
The Indigenous women’s and men’s cricket teams will begin a UK tour this week. They will be commemorating the first Aboriginal cricket team- and also the first sporting team from Australia - to tour internationally over 150 years ago. I interviewed the Captain of the women's team and cricket all-rounder, Ashleigh Gardner, ahead of this exciting event.
I began by asking Ashleigh what the commemorative tour meant for her on a personal level.
"This tour is one of the more special things to happen in my career so far.
Being able to retrace the footsteps of the first ever Australian team to leave our shores is an absolute honour.
To just top it off, being able to lead my nation and represent my culture at the same time, is like nothing else.
There are a variety of historical accounts of the original tour. I was keen to ask Ashleigh how the 1868 tour is regarded by indigenous players today.
"The 1868 tour was obviously quite tough for those players.
They didn't have the luxuries that we have now – something as simple as being able to fly on a plane to the destination and getting treated the way we do.
They are sporting pioneers in our eyes, and we owe absolutely everything to keeping this legacy alive and making sure we cherish every special moment of what those players did for our country."
During the 1868 tour, Bripumyarrimin (King Cole) tragically passed away and he is buried in East London. Both Aboriginal squads will visit his place of rest to pay their respects. I asked Ashleigh what this visit would mean for her.
"Being able to visit where King Cole is rested will be an emotional but special time on tour.
I think people will truly appreciate what they did to play for their country and we will have him in our thoughts the whole tour."
The team will be wearing uniforms that include the commemorative artwork entitled ‘Walkabout Wickets.’ It tells the story of both the 1866 Boxing Day match and the 1868 tour. The artwork was designed by a relative of one of the original players, Aunty Fiona Clarke. I asked Ashleigh to tell us about her.
"Having Fiona Clarke design our uniform is extremely special because she has that immediate contact with the first team that left our shores.
She is really passionate about cricket and what the players are doing for our culture.
She’s an awesome artist who is a great advocate for us as players. People look at someone like her and know the hardships she has been through and the person she is today."
This is the very first indigenous women's cricket tour to the UK. I asked Ashleigh to explain how young women feel encouraged and welcomed in cricket.
"Cricket as a whole is continually growing and, for female cricketers, it’s becoming a sport every young kid wants to play.
For indigenous females that want to take up the game of cricket I always highly recommend it from a social aspect and a competitive aspect.
There are no limitations in sport anymore, so if you work hard enough you will be able to achieve anything you set your mind to."
London has seen many indigenous women in leadership roles visit this year. As a sporting leader, I wondered who Ashleigh was inspired by.
"I’ve never really before had many female leaders to look up to in the sporting world but I guess you could look at someone like Cathy Freeman who had to overcome controversy and still managed to be the best athlete she could. I like athletes who turn hardships into success, just like she did."
Images with thanks to Cricket Australia