Four years ago Elsie Seriat sparked a running revolution on tiny Thursday Island in the Torres Strait four that is still going strong.
Many of her aunts who hadn’t run since their school days were among the first to join her group, Deadly Runners.
The concept caught on and today a significant number of Thursday Island’s 2600 residents can be seen pounding its scenic Esplanade.
The island now even has a two-day, annual running festival held in October.
As demand for sportswear and joggers has increased, a dedicated sports shop opened has opened on the island.
“Before 2014 you would hardly see anyone, let alone an Indigenous person, out on the road exercising,” Ms Seriat says.
She was this week awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for her services to the Thursday Island community.
Ms Seriat says she was “obese and overweight” when she first joined marathon great Robert de Castella’s Indigenous Marathon Project in 2014 and tackled the New York Marathon.
The experience set her on a course that has changed her life.
“After I did the program in 2014, after I went back home, I wanted to give back to my community,” she says.
“For me it was like the Foundation has given me so much and I wanted to give back to the community what it had given me, and that’s what I did.
“I didn’t do it to get recognised. I just loved it and loved the ripple effect and the positive things that came out of it.”
Ms Seriat says as well as the health benefits and confidence runners gain, Deadly Runners is a great way for people to meet each other.
“It’s a good way of making new friends and networking,” she says. “We all live on a tiny island. I thought the running was the perfect way for people to meet.”
Two years ago Ms Seriat moved to Canberra to work for IMP’s parent body, the Indigenous Marathon Foundation, and handed the baton for Deadly Runners to others in the community, including her cousin Harold Matthew who last year became the first Indigenous Australian to run the London Marathon.
She says it gives her a sense of pride when she returns to her island home and sees all the people exercising.
This year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list recognised a range of people for their services to Indigenous Australia. They included:
- Kathy Guthadjaka AM for contributions to education and cultural preservation in East Arnhem Land.
- Rishelle Hume AM for significant service to the Indigenous community of WA through developing opportunities, promoting leadership and preserving culture.
- Teresa Lewis AM for service to East Pilbara communities in WA, particularly women and children affected by domestic violence.
- Gayangwa Lalara OAM, Nadia Lindop OAM, Beth Massey OAM and Andrea Mason OAM for their service in the Northern Territory.
- Robert Miniter OAM for his service in WA.
- Darryl Wright OAM for his service to the community in NSW, particularly in the areas of health and welfare and sport.
But the Queen’s Birthday long weekend on the east coast could be a thing of the past if the New South Wales Labor Opposition comes to government next year.
NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley said he would replace the Queens’s Birthday public holiday with a day celebrating Indigenous culture and history.