Not so many years ago, indigenous cricketer glen Martin was, as he recalls it, a dazzled kid waiting after cricket matches for players' autographs. Ever since, the 19-year-old fast bowler has toiled to achieve his goal of playing for Australia. Last week Martin found himself in the autumn sunshine bowling to Australian captain Steve Waugh in front of the Prime Minister. Afterward, he laughed, then said: "Today has made me want to strive for more."
The inspiring occasion in a match between P.M. John Howard's XI and a team representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission chairman Geoff Clark. Watching from the fence at Canberra's Manuka Oval was 15-year-old Neal Penrith, whose parents had made the four-hour car trip from southern New South Wales just so he could see other up-and-coming Aboriginal cricketers. "My young fella's dream," said his mother Roslyn, "would be to get out there next year."
Jack Kennedy, 82, knows about such dreams. In 1868, his great-grandfather, an Aborigine from Victoria named Dick-a-Dick, was part of the all-Aboriginal team that became the first Australian squad to tour England. They won 14 of their 47 games and drew 19, but faded into obscurity on their return to Australia. Since then, indigenous people have not featured in cricket as they have in other sports. To Kennedy, that doesn't make sense. "They're all good cricketers, black and white," he says. "They should be playing together."
Last week he was there to see them do just that. The match, proposed by atsic to honor the 1868 team and promote young talent, injected goodwill into the often frosty relationship between the cricket-mad Howard and the nation's peak indigenous body. The mood was jovial: atsic's Clark donned his team's uniform, ferried drinks, and offered the P.M. wagers on the result. While Howard stayed in a dark suit and refused the bets, atsic insiders say the initiative has already improved the relationship.
For the record, the atsic team won by seven wickets. But many in the smallish crowd felt they were watching more than a sporting contest. "I want Australia to be united, and part of me is here because I wanted to show that," said Canberra resident Bill Miller. Black and white children queued for autographs from indigenous sports stars like Olympian Nova Peris. "It's the one-on-one interaction between people that really moves mountains," said Aboriginal community figure Audrey Kinnear, who was in the crowd.
Though it had the trappings of a regular day at the cricket-the homemade sandwiches, the children in the stands using a bin as a wicket-at this event, sport was a mere backdrop. Conversation and casual interaction, the building blocks of reconciliation between indigenous and other Australians, arose naturally as the crowd mingled. Some doubted the camaraderie would make much difference. "I hope they have a lovely day, but it's a different world out here," said Mike Popple, community clerk at Wugularr, in the Northern Territory. "We're dealing with life-and-death issues." But even a cricket game can help, said Pattie Lees, an atsic regional councillor from Queensland: "It implants a vision that there is some opportunity for people to participate."
At the very least, the match sent out small shoots of inspiration. Glen Martin now wants to use his success to inspire other children in Torres Strait: "I want to be a role model for them, and today was a big step for me toward giving them some confidence." Neal Penrith's shy words said more than any of the day's speeches: "I watch them and think, if they are doing something good I think I can do something better." This is the hope for reconciliation: harmony through quiet moments of confidence and cooperation.