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Keeping the Faith: How Thomas's legacy is living on
Australia's first national Indigenous sportsperson is continuing to inspire the country through the likes of brilliant allrounder Ashleigh Gardner
Laura Jolly previously wrote for News Corp Australia and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, and is now cricket.com.au Women's Cricket Editor providing dedicated coverage to all aspects of the women's game
Ahead of the 2020 Women's T20 World Cup, we take a closer look at some trailblazers who were crucial to the development of women's cricket in Australia
Some 61 years separate two significant points in Australian cricket history, but the two women at the heart of those moments are very much united in one exclusive club.
When Ashleigh Gardner joined Faith Thomas as just the second Indigenous woman to play Test cricket for Australia in Taunton last July, she was doing more than donning the Baggy Green.
Gardner was breaking down barriers, and offering hope and inspiration to a rising generation of young Indigenous cricketers, though she concedes none of it might have even been possible had it not been for the pioneering ways of Thomas.
And while the ever-increasing spotlight on the women's game in Australia means Gardner's feats are reported and broadcast for the world to see, the trail that was blazed by Thomas remains one that is little known.
"I've been lucky enough to meet her and to listen to her journey and her story," Gardner told cricket.com.au this week, ahead of Australian Cricket's inaugural Reconciliation Round.
"I consider myself so lucky to be in the position I'm in today and she's definitely been a trailblazer in Australian cricket.
"I think her story is almost an unknown story, not many people know about her, or realise she was the first.
"She was the first Aboriginal cricketer to get a Baggy Green and I think that's a pretty significant thing, given there's only been two more since then (Gardner and Jason Gillespie).
"She's paved the way for a lot of aspiring Indigenous cricketers."
When Thomas (née Coulthard) walked out on to Melbourne's Junction Oval on February 24, 1958, she carved out a unique place in Australian history.
Taking the field for her first – and only – Test match against England, Thomas wasn't just the first Indigenous woman to represent Australia on a cricket field, she was the first picked in any national sporting team.
Her international career lasted just one week – as she joked in an interview with The Guardian in 2016, "I always say that I hold two records. I think I'm still the fastest woman bowler ever. And I think I also might have been the biggest flash in the pan ever" – but her impact was not about longevity or numbers.
Moreover, the six overs Thomas sent down marked a line in Australian history, defining a legacy from which others continue to draw inspiration to this day.
Thomas, now 86, grew up at the Colebrook mission in South Australia's Flinders Ranges.
There, children played cricket on a dirt road – sometimes improvising with a rock if a ball wasn't available – using homemade bats.
There was no progression through the ranks of underage cricket that is now the typical story of the representative player. Thomas finished high school in Adelaide and then studied midwifery and general nursing, becoming one of the first Indigenous nurses in South Australia.
It was there she again crossed paths with cricket, when a female colleague invited her to come and join her team's next game.
"She said, 'I'm a bit wild I have to work tonight, because I couldn't get out to cricket practice'," Thomas told cricket.com.au in 2015.
"I said, 'women play cricket?'
"She said, 'yeah, you interested?'
"So I went out with her and that was it."
In her second game, Thomas took a hat-trick. Coming off a run-up of just four steps, she took batters by surprise with her explosive pace.
It took just three club matches before Thomas – whose natural talent was evident, as were the skills she'd picked up as a child – was chosen to represent South Australia, and her Australian call-up came the following summer.
She was picked to go to England and New Zealand with the Australian team following that debut, but ultimately she decided her nursing career was more important. In the early 1960s, married and eight months pregnant with her son, she played her final club game.
Gardner's debut in Baggy Green last July realised what has been a long-held hope for Thomas.
"I'd just love to see an Aboriginal kid running around out there, because I know they've got the potential to do it – I've seen it," she said in 2015. "It's amazing what they've got these days to achieve their full potential. There's nothing really there to stop them."
Gardner, who made her limited-overs Australian debut in early 2016 and who is extremely proud of her Indigenous heritage, has met Thomas on multiple occasions.
But – highlighting how Thomas' feats have remained in the shadows for so long – Gardner admits to being unaware of her story until their first meeting.
"It wasn't until I first found out about making the Aboriginal side that toured India and she came down for the launch," Gardner said.
"She was telling lots of stories and it was quite eye-opening, hearing what she went through to play a sport she really loved.
"To hear where she was from and the challenges she faced, I'm so thankful I have met her.
"She's someone I'll look up to for the rest of my career."
Now, Gardner is well aware of the role she can play in sharing the Faith legend, and in ensuring their Baggy Green club does not remain at just three members.
"It had been a dream of mine, to receive that Baggy Green," Gardner said.
"To be only the third ever Aboriginal player to do that is a big honour and something I'll keep close to me.
"It's a really exciting time to be where I am at the moment and I'll never take anything for granted."
Read more in our 'Trailblazers' series