'Absolutely brilliant': Special touch added to Ashes shirts
Australia to sport Indigenous artwork on playing shirts during the Ashes as Cricket Australia prepares to launch second Reconciliation Action Plan
14 July 2019, 11:00 AM AEST
It’s not much bigger than a 50-cent piece, but a new addition to the shirts of Australia’s Ashes players will be absolutely priceless for a small but immensely proud group of Australian cricketers.
The Test shirts of Australia’s men’s and women’s teams for their respective Ashes campaigns, starting with the women’s Test against England this week and continuing in the men’s series next month, will feature a piece of Indigenous artwork on the collar that has come to symbolise the recent growth of the Indigenous game.
Walkabout Wickets was painted by Indigenous artist Fiona Clarke ahead of the 2016 Boxing Day Test to commemorate the anniversary of an iconic match featuring an Aboriginal XI at the MCG 150 years earlier.
The artwork so captured the imagination that is was then incorporated into the playing strips of the men’s and women’s Indigenous teams for their historic tour of England last year.
And it has now been added to the shirts of Australia’s senior teams for the latest chapter in the game’s most fabled rivalry, the Ashes against England.
"It may be a small gesture, but it’s quite significant," former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie, one of just two Indigenous Australians to play Test cricket, told cricket.com.au.
“It’s just about inclusiveness and I think that’s the key thing for me.
“The fact that Cricket Australia are taking steps in the right direction like this, I applaud them for it. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
While Indigenous Australians have long been underrepresented in cricket, the game is in Clarke’s blood. Her great-great-grandfather was one of the pioneering Aboriginal players who toured England for a series of matches in 1868, a group of brave men who defied the social norms of the time – and a treacherous journey to the other side of the world - to become the first-ever Australian sporting team to play abroad.
Their remarkable tour of the UK, which was retraced last year as a tribute by Australia’s modern-day Indigenous teams, came a full fourteen years before the Ashes were officially born, underlining the deep roots Indigenous Australians have to the bat and ball game.
The addition of Walkabout Wickets to Australia’s Test shirts comes as Cricket Australia prepares to launch its second Reconciliation Action Plan, which is set to include up to 100 commitments from the organisation towards reconciliation and finding common ground with Indigenous Australians.
CA’s first Reconciliation Action Plan was released in 2015 alongside an independent report that analysed the reasons for the dearth of Indigenous cricketers at all levels of the sport, a striking disconnection given the long association Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have had with the game, which dates back far beyond their link to football codes that have long been their sports of choice.
CA and the report’s authors, which included former Australian of the Year Professor Mick Dodson, agreed that cricket had ground to make up on rival codes, with the report pointing to the mistrust of colonialism and entrenched social barriers for the marginalisation of Indigenous players for more than a century.
Since that report was released four years ago, the level of Indigenous participation in cricket has enjoyed remarkable growth; data from CA’s annual Australian Cricket Census outlines an increase of more than 250 per cent in that time to around 70,000 players.
More prominently, the number of Indigenous Australians to have played at the highest level has doubled from three to six, with new faces Ash Gardner, Scott Boland and D’Arcy Short joining a very exclusive club alongside Gillespie, Dan Christian and Faith Thomas, a pioneering female player of the 1950s.
However, Gillespie and Thomas remain the only two Indigenous Australians among the 631 men and women to have owned the most treasured item in Australian cricket, a Baggy Green cap awarded to Test players.
Which underlines both how far the game has to go, and how significant a gesture it will be for Walkabout Wickets to feature prominently at storied English cricketing venues like Lord’s and Old Trafford over the coming weeks.
"Cricket Australia has acknowledged that cricket is an inclusive sport," Gillespie says. "People will argue it’s long overdue, but that’s in the past.
"Everyone talks about the great work Cricket Australia has done regarding inclusiveness with the women’s game, but also the recognition of Indigenous cricket has been great. Recognising that in any small way is a great step forward."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Tour match: Australia v Australia A, July 23-26
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval