Shooting for inclusion with Netball Victoria

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 15 September 2020

RACV partners with Netball Victoria to support Indigenous participation in sport.

As the Melbourne Vixens take to centre court this Sunday in the final match of Suncorp Super Netball's Indigenous round, one Koori teenager will be watching the televised game keenly from home in Melbourne.  

Ashlee Hyde, who plays for the Casey Demons’ under-19s in the Victorian state league, dreams of joining the Vixens in the national competition one day.  “For me, playing netball as an Indigenous woman is about connection and empowerment,” she says.

Netballer Caitlin Thwaites

The Vixens with artist Alice Pepper and her artwork that inspired the team's Indigenous Round uniform.

It is these connections and empowerment that RACV seeks to nurture through its support of Netball Victoria’s grassroots programs for Indigenous, CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) and LGBTI+ players. 

RACV head of partnerships, education and events, Megan Ballantyne, says the programs provide an opportunity for Indigenous girls and women to participate in healthy activity, while also developing general motor skills and increasing their social networks among the Aboriginal community.  

RACV is also the match day partner for the Melbourne Vixens in Sunday’s big game in Cairns against the Queensland Firebirds.  

Shooting for the Vixens will be Commonwealth gold medallist Caitlin Thwaites, who says the Indigenous round is “an incredible celebration and acknowledgement of our first nations people”. 

“I’m really glad that we are seeing so many more initiatives to engage our Indigenous community across the year,” she says.  

“It's not just about this round. While this round shines a spotlight on our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and the contribution they have made and continue to make to our sport, there are great things being done in our Indigenous communities year-round too.”    

At Sunday’s match, the Vixens will unveil a special uniform featuring artwork by East Gippsland Indigenous artist Alice Pepper. Alice says her artwork reflects the healing of the landscape after last summer’s bushfires, with depictions of mountains, bushland, rivers and the sea in her Gunnai/Kurnai country.  

“After the fires there were sprouts of light green in the blackened country and seeing this new sign of life gave a sense of calm and healing,” she says.  

Alice says she grew up playing netball and understands the importance of giving Indigenous girls access to the sport and pathways to excel.  

Netball Victoria’s diversity and inclusion coordinator Sarah Last says her organisation has many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander initiatives to promote the positive impact netball can have to reduce inequality, enhance belonging and reconciliation.  

These include Aboriginal skills-and-drills sessions held across Victoria in partnership with Aboriginal co-operatives, with online content being developed with the Melbourne Vixens during the pandemic, and supporting the Worawa Reconciliation Sports Carnival held in Healesville to encourage sports, cultural and social exchange between participants.   

Ashlee Hyde

Indigenous Casey Demons player Ashlee Hyde.

Netballer Caitlin Thwaites

Vixens netballer Caitlin Thwaites.

“It was such a great experience being around all those strong and inspiring Indigenous women.

Sarah says these programs, which reach 300,000 people each year, help make communities in metropolitan and regional areas more resilient and cohesive.  

Ashlee Hyde has experienced this first-hand, playing for Richmond’s Lagunta Sisters team which competed against other Indigenous teams from around the state in the junior Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association tournament.  

“It was such a great experience being around all those strong and inspiring Indigenous women,” Ashlee says. “Being Indigenous in a sport such as netball allows for these tournaments and it’s a privilege to make connections and friendships with all these other fantastic Indigenous women who lift each other up and encourage everyone.” 

RACV has enjoyed a long-standing partnership with Netball Victoria which has helped grow participation across the state. But Megan says a new three-year partnership will focus specifically on strengthening grassroots programs designed to provide better access and increased opportunities for Aboriginal Australians, CALD and LGBTI+ communities to participate in netball across Victoria.  

“Programs for CALD communities provide an opportunity to bring together multicultural and non-multicultural participants, building a more inclusive and cohesive Victorian community through the enjoyment of sport,” says Megan. 

“There are programs for the LGBTI+ community to promote and celebrate inclusion through training and education and match-day activities.”