Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

It’s been 21 years since a native netball player played for the Australian Diamonds.

The last representative was Sharon Finnan-White, one of only two native players to have ever worn green and gold.

“I have heard many stories of unconscious bias and bias against our players as they go and line up for selection at the representative level in associations,” Finnan-White said.

“Many stories of racism.

“That kind of environment is not accommodating to anyone, let alone our own people, so it rejects many of our players.”

Netball Australia acknowledged that the sport has fallen short and when the only native player in Super Netball, Jemma Mi Mi, was left out of the court during the Indigenous Round in 2020, the national body was forced to take action.

Three netball players lean on the bench during a match
Jemma Mi Mi, center, was left on the bench throughout the match during the Queensland Firebirds’ Indigenous round win over Melbourne Vixens in 2020.(Getty: Albert Perez)

A commitment statement was signed by 20 of the sport’s top bodies, which remain committed to making a change and breaking down barriers to better understand the indigenous peoples and get them more involved in the game.

Creating a path for young, indigenous netball players

The result of this controversy in court fostered a relationship between Finnan-White and Aunty Roma Pregarc, who is based in Brisbane.

They collaborated to develop an “Indigenous Diamonds Pathway Program” in Queensland and mentored young, promising talents.

Two native women smile at a picture
Sharon Finnan-White and Aunty Roma Pregarc want to see more native players in Super Netball.(Delivered by: Sharon Finnan-White )

The initial squad consists of more than a dozen young netball players from Alice Springs to Palm Island, who train in Townsville three times a week, ahead of their debut in a local Premier League next season.

Kyanne Priestley took four flights over two days to travel from her home in Alice Springs just to train before the season.

The 16-year-old is currently looking at boarding schools in Townsville to continue to be part of the program.

“I feel like a lot of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander girls are being overlooked, so I feel like this is an opportunity for all of us girls to go up,” Priestley said.

Teammate Tarna Stewart is a local from Townsville and said the first few weeks of training have already boosted her confidence.

Three young native netball players smile for a picture
From left, Jorja Triffet, Kyanne Priestley and Tarna Stewart are among the young netball players participating in the Indigenous Diamonds Pathway Program.(ABC: Brittney Kleyn)

“Ever since I was six, I’ve not seen it [many] Indigenous people play [Super Netball], “said the now 16-year-old.

Her mother, Naomi Stanley, has seen the benefits on her own.

“Sharon has been a great role model for them, letting them know where to go from here and where to go, move up, more forward,” Naomi Stanley said.

Culturally safe environments for native players

Finnan-White and Aunty Roma’s goal is not only to offer native players elite coaching, but also to do so in a culturally secure environment.

The former diamond fears that native netball players are not evolving to elite levels for several reasons, including intergenerational trauma.

“It’s important for the netball community to understand the historical events that caused this trauma and how it profoundly affects all aspects of our lives,” Finnan-White said.

An all-indigenous side in Super Netball

Finnan-White has set himself an ambitious goal of promoting enough talent to an All-Indigenous team in Super Netball within the next five years.

Early conversations have taken place with stakeholders, but the former Diamond said systemic change and funding are needed to make her dreams come true.

“We want the team to be based here in North Queensland because we have a lot of deep talent to draw from in this region,” she said.

“I think as long as we lay it out and put it on the table, then we hope someone will join us on this journey and help us create a legacy.”


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