Regional | Aboriginal

Australia netball picks first Indigenous player in top team in 22 years. Why so long?

First Nations netballer Donnell Wallam recently became the third Indigenous player to make the Australian netball team – the Diamonds - in its nearly 100-year history and the first since 2000.

The last First Nations player to play for Australia was Sharon Finnan-White. Today, she advocates for more inclusiveness in Australian netball and hopes changes are made within the sport to develop young talent.

“I’m really excited to see Donnell get the call-up and another First Nations woman in the Diamonds squad. It’s been a long time coming,” Finnan-White said on Te Ao Tapatahi from her home in Townsville in Australia.

Sharon spent 10 years on the Diamonds team and won two netball world championships. She says it’s always been a challenge for First Nations players to make the national side and is hopeful that she and others can make changes.

“I believe that it’s due to a lack of understanding of first nations issues and barriers that impact on our capacity to be involved not just in netball but in all sports.”

Ad hoc skills development

“There is a handful of member organisations, our state and territory bodies over here that are providing ad hoc skills development leadership programmes for our players but there’s no link to our performance pathways.”

“We need to have sustainable development programmes that are specifically designed by first nations people for first nations players and are delivered in a culturally safe space.”

Australia is unlike New Zealand, where many Māori and Pasifika players constantly make the Silver Ferns each year. She says racism and the small First Nations population in Australia are huge barriers.

“I’ve been working in the indigenous netball space for over 30 years, developing players and engaging with families. A lot of the discussions we talk about are the barriers that they face. The main ones are costs to participate, transport, racism, judgment and shyness as well as feeling unwelcomed in the netball environment.”

Talent untapped

“We have a lack of role models in netball, on and off the court, in administration, board level, at that decision-making level and, evidently, at that elite playing level.”

“Indigenous Australians only make up 3.3 percent of the population and in Australia, we have 26 million people. There is a smaller talent pool to choose from. But that’s not to say that the talent isn’t there. It absolutely is. But it’s not being tapped into or nurtured.”

Two years ago, Netball Australia and its 20 governing bodies, signed a declaration of commitment to do better with first nations' engagement in netball. The formation of a first nations advisory committee was established, and Finnan-White is a founding member.

“It involves guiding and directing Netball Australia in the first cultural strategy and the state of the game review.”