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The Long and the Short of BBL's First Nations Round

Andrew Mathieson -

In only the third time cricket's Big Bash League has honoured Indigenous cultures – after regularly missing their turn throughout the first decade of the T20 competition – attitudes are seemingly changing fast.

It's something that D'Arcy Short, the domestic format's early batting sensation, is only too happy to finally see and hear now in his new run for the Adelaide Strikers.

Short's own tale of belonging to the Mitakoodi mob is one that relatedly plays out in a once past Indigenous involvement in the game: hidden away and not spoken about.

For decades of the last century, that 1868 Aboriginal tour of England was cast aside to almost never to have existed.

Their history books were covered under the dust of time in the public.

But the colour of the modern-day Big Bash has a way of reaching out and reconciling.

That in turn has the men's and women's leagues celebrating the First Nations round after following the leads of a number of popular Australian sports and competitions.

Short, who began as a chiefly unknown left-arm wrist spinner on the Australian scene before becoming a hard-hitting opening batter for the Hobart Hurricanes, now walks on to the field ahead of its second First Nations round with a real spring in his step.

"I'm always proud to walk out and play cricket, but I'm even more proud to be able to introduce the Strikers' Indigenous shirt and be playing in front of crowds wearing it," Short told AAP.

"As an Indigenous player, it shows (other) young Indigenous people playing that there is a pathway in cricket."

For Short, this year's First Nations round was additionally special to play for the Jason Gillespie Cup between the Adelaide Strikers and Perth Scorchers named after the first Aboriginal man to play Test and one-day international cricket for Australia.

The motivation for his Strikers teammates was also there too, but from the inside of a dressing room among listening to the tactics of their coach – the same Jason Gillespie.

"You don't need much more emphasis in terms of wanting to win Big Bash games and make the finals," Short said.

"But adding that on top is good recognition for Jason, and it's right that we have this award named after him."

Short became Australia's first Indigenous T20 cricketer in 2018, one of only the three Aboriginal male players and two females, with Gillespie, Scott Boland and Ashleigh Gardner succeeding Faith Thomas to represent the nation across any three formats.

That rare bond remains with the 33-year-old, made more special while considering he plays under the watchful eye of the Gamilaraay man.

The descendant of a Yugambeh Apiscal ancestor only was told about his Aboriginality when Short was a teenager and he hadn't debuted on a national level.

His nanna was reluctant to reveal the family heritage to him over her own experience of the day that was buried in racism.

"We only found out because we gave her a few rums once, and she decided that was the thing that she wanted to tell us," he said.

Since then, the star cricketer and his humble family have been trying to find out more about their Migunberri (Mitakoodi) lineage and the circumstances behind their story.

Short wants to educate the cricketing world of Indigenous contributions to the sport that include the Johhny Mullaghs, the Eddie Gilberts, and even more of Faith Thomas.

"Showing people that I'm Indigenous, I want to get that out as much as possible to try and help people understand the culture," Short said.

"Even though, I am still trying to figure it out and understand the culture myself."

The eight consecutive Big Bash matches that formed the lengthy home-and-away First Nations round ends on Thursday night.

All clubs have worn each of their own customised uniforms designed by established Indigenous artists or, in some cases, the few Indigenous heroes playing in the teams.

Last year the National Indigenous Times asked Short what else could be done to better embrace Indigenous culture and understanding across every game of top-end cricket.

He believed simply there should be "Indigenous playing tops for every game".

Cricket Australia has gone part of that way ahead of its 2023-24 summer season when Walkabout Wickets artwork incorporated a First Nations design on the national side's shirt's side panels.

"I'm very biassed in this," Short said.

"I think it'd be really something that it's never been done before and be great to see.

"I think it's just a stepping stone and we've still got a long way to go."

The spectacular yet traditional Big Bash designs that have told the stories of multiple past mobs that are connected to distinct areas of the six cities took off last season.

One of the biggest supporters of the Indigenous shirts has been Melbourne Renegades stalwart Kane Richardson.

The non-Indigenous fast bowler has campaigned to allow each club to don their own First Nations uniforms as a permanent playing strip every game, every year.

Richardson has since befriended Essendon icon and outspoken Torres Strait Islander, Michael Long, who instigated a new Long Walk for the Renegades' First Nations home game, and retired Indigenous player Josh Lalor, who both have guided his views.

"To be honest I want to wear this all-year round because it looks awesome, but I feel the main thing we've tried to emphasise in this team is not to make it a jersey we put on – we want to learn more about it," Richardson said.

"We have got guys that come here from overseas – we want to leave them with a bit of education.

"We all need to learn more about it; we just had a presentation from Josh Lalor, who played in the past for us and is a proud Indigenous man.

"I think it's okay to feel like you don't know everything, but we have this appetite to want to know more … but as Michael (Long) said, hopefully this is something that just keeps growing and getting bigger.

"So if we wear it all year round that would be even better."

The First Nations round has also included the barefoot circle and also the ochre hand ceremony to accompany the acknowledgement or welcome to country preambles.

The local languages to each host city has been incorporated where possible along with immersive music and art experiences for attending fans.

But Lalor, who last played his 65 T20 matches in the 2020-21 season at the Renegades, wants Cricket Australia to do more – and not just for the Big Bash League.

"We are just scratching the surface as a sport, while we have taken huge foundational strides within the last decade and started to create tremendous momentum," he said.

"I think there's still a lot further to go and hopefully cricket Australia sort of embraces that continues to embrace that fully and make a positive contribution to Indigenous Australia."


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