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Aboriginal Sport Heroes Essay, Research Paper

Despite their small numbers, Aborigines have produced some of Australia s most famous sporting champions. Names such as Catherine Freeman, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, Lionel Rose, Arthur Beetson and the Ella brothers have become legends.

Whether it be in league, hockey, tennis or even squash there have been great contributions made by the either Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders. And it s not only their successes that make their contributions to sport significant, but also how they were able to make those successes under the conditions and opportunities that were available to them. For every Aborigine who makes it to the top, there are thousands who could have made it but never had the opportunity. Many Aborigines have had to compete on uneven playing fields without a sporting chance, having to overcome the hurdles of racism and poverty.

The first mention of an Aboriginal sportsman was in 1835 when Shinney played cricket in Hobart Town. Upon his death, he was beheaded and his head was sent to an Irish museum for preservation. However, recent agitation by Tasmanian Aborigines resulted in his remains being returned and being cremated ceremonially in 1992.

Sport flourished when there was relative freedom from legislative control, however so did genocide. Aborigines began to need protection from the murderous impulses from the settlers. Although today Aborigines don t need to worry about genocide, many still are subject to course racism and on-field sledging.

As time went on, Aborigines discovered their prowess in sport, particularly in boxing, football and running. It gave them a passport to the white man s world, giving them respect and friendship.

Cathy Freeman is probably the most distinguished Aboriginal sports person of all time. At the age of sixteen, she won the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games as part of the 4×100m relay team. In 1992 she became the first Aboriginal track and field athlete to represent Australia at an Olympic Games. In 1994 she won double gold in the 200m and 400m events at the Commonwealth Games. In 1996 she became the first Australian woman to run the 400m under 50sec, and then at the Atlanta Olympics she became the sixth fastest woman to ever run the 400m. She then went on to win back-to-back world championships in 1997 and 1999. However she is not just a fast runner. In 1990 she was awarded the Young Australian of the Year and then in 1998 she was awarded the Australian of the Year becoming the first person to receive both awards. She has become an idol for many Aborigines, showing them what determination can achieve and giving them hope.

Along with Cathy Freeman, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley has become one of Australia s most successful sportswomen and Aboriginal sports person. Starting off with no shoes, equipment or training, Evonne found it very difficult to get into tennis. However after much persistence, she was finally noticed and went on with much success. Her records include seventeen state titles, four Australian singles championships, the French Open, the Italian Open, the South African Open and two -times Wimbledon singles titles.

Rugby Union has seen three of their finest players come from the one family. Garry, Glenn and Mark Ella were of Aboriginal descent. All three brothers played for the Australian Schoolboy s Team in 1977-78, which was known to be the greatest school side to have ever existed. They also played for the Randwick Club in which they were key members of several premierships. Mark Ella is still noted as being the most celebrated Australian rugby player in history, being the only Australian to be inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame. He played twenty-three games for NSW and a further twenty-six for Australia, captaining his last nine. In 1983 he was awarded the Young Australian of the Year to reward his dedication and determination that he invested in his sport. Other Indigenous rugby union players include such people as Andrew Walker, Lloyd McDermott, William Gordon and a more recent Wallaby, Jim Williams.

Rugby League has been perhaps the most successful sport for many Aboriginal and Torres Straight sportsmen. Mal Meninga is probably the most well known Australian Indigenous Rugby League player. In a long career, he played a total of forty-one games for Queensland, five-five tests for Australia (twenty-three as captain), is the only man to have been selected on four kangaroo tours and holds the record for most points in all Tests and State of Origin matches. He played a total of 465 games of which 166 were with Canberra, including four Grand Finals. In 1991 he was awarded Captain of the Year, and is now currently the coach of the Canberra Raiders.

Other prominent Indigenous sportsmen involved in league at one stage or another include Arthur Beetson, Cliff Lyons, Andrew Walker, Anthony Mundine, David Peachey, Wendel Sailor and Nathan Blacklock. Many of these players have also been involved in indigenous rugby campaigns, travelling around different areas holding camps. In these camps, these players have told their stories of how they got to where they are, encourage the youth to play sport and remind them to be proud of who they are.

Boxing is another sport that Aboriginal men have been talented in. Three of the most famous indigenous boxers were Lionel Rose, Jerry Jerome and Tony Mundine.

Jerry Jerome won the Australian middleweight title in 1912, which gave him the honour of being the first Aborigine to win a national boxing title. He had a total of sixty-four fights in which he won five, lost twenty-three and had one no decision.

Lionel Rose gave Aborigines possibly their biggest morale boost ever. In 1968, he became the first Aboriginal batamweight world-boxing champion. As quoted in the book Black Diamonds, From the Todd River in Alice to Redfern in Sydney he represented a hope that their own futures might rise beyond futility . In fifty-three fights he won forty-two and lost eleven. So much was the importance of his contribution to sport, an important film was based around him, called Rose Against the Odds.

Tony Mundine is also a famous boxer. He is the only Australian titleholder in four weight divisions. Like his son, he came to Sydney in search of a rugby league career, but boxing it was to be. Soon after, he became the Australian middleweight champion, Australian Heavyweight Titleholder, Commonwealth middleweight champion, Australian light heavyweight champion, Commonwealth light heavyweight titleholder, winner of the Australasian light heavyweight title and the Australian cruiserweight champion. Of his ninety-six fights, Tony won eighty, drew one and lost fifteen. After he retired, he opened his own gym and now trains young Aboriginal men, including his son Anthony.

There are many more Indigenous people who have contributed greatly to Australian sport. Nova Peres-Kneebone was Australia s first Aboriginal Olympic Gold Medallist with the Hockeyroos, Michael AhMatt was a dual Basketball Olympian, Steve Bowditch was a globetrotting World Champion, Neil Winmar was a great AFL player; the list could go on. However, they all experienced one thing; great difficulties in getting to the levels that they did. From the very beginning, Aboriginal sportsmen and women found it very difficult to participate. At one stage or another, they experienced exclusion from competitions, discrimination within them, and in many cases, gross inequality of chances, choices and facilities. Most Aboriginal people lack what most of their competitors have: money, equipment, physiotherapists, coaches and sporting facilities. As late as in 1989, in NSW there were only four reserves set aside with adequate facilities for indigenous sports people, five in Qld and two in all the other states. This often made it virtually impossible for any of the indigenous athletes to survive. It is due to these difficulties that these athletes achievements are so significant.

Racism has been a major issue in sport also. There have been many debates whether racial sledging is acceptable on the field. Many argue that it is a part of the game, whilst other sportsmen have stated that it is morally wrong and disturbing. Anthony Mundine became well-known for his outcry at racial sledging, often getting the media involved in on-field disputes. However other Aboriginal footballers such as David Peachey and Andrew Walker have made statements saying that its part of the game.

Although conditions are much better for indigenous people today, they are still more disadvantaged compared to other Australians. However, there are now growing institutions to counteract this problem. Such organizations include a Task Force which was established late in1991, which investigated and made recommendations for the advancement of Aboriginal Sport. Talent Identification clinics are conducted throughout South Australia for Aboriginal athletes under eighteen years of age. Many scholarship programs have also been developed which provide access to financial assistance for competition, coaching, training and equipment. The Indigenous Sport Program (ISP) has also been established as a national strategy aimed at improving the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in sport and recreation. It focuses on assistance to the development of indigenous athletes, coaches, sports administrators and trainers. As mentioned before, prominent Indigenous sports people are also getting out into the community and visiting the local youth. There have also been sporting development programs made in memory of sporting heroes, which help towards the development of Aboriginal sport. An example of this is the Lloyd McDermott Aboriginal Rugby Academy .

Overall, there have been many contributions made to sport by Indigenous people in Australia. Without these contributions, Australia may not be so well regarded as a sporting nation. Also, this contribution has led to a greater acceptance of Indigenous people to other white Australians providing a common link. However, there is still more to be done to assist the Aboriginal youth in their sporting conquests. After all, the youth are the future of this country, whether they are Indigenous or not.

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