Netball stars could learn a thing or two from Ash Barty

Three news reports have my attention this week. First, Hancock Prospecting has withdrawn its $15 million sponsorship of Australian netball after becoming caught up in a spat involving players who didn’t think the company was an ‘appropriate sponsor’.

Aboriginal Diamonds player, Donnell Wallam, reportedly didn’t want to wear the team uniform with the logo ‘Hancock Prospecting’ because founder Lang Hancock made disgraceful comments in 1984 about sterilising Aboriginal people. Wallam reportedly asked to be exempted from wearing the logo, which was refused, and the rest of the team decided to refuse too in solidarity.

Wallam may genuinely feel strongly about wearing the Hancock Prospecting name because of things Lang Hancock said in the past and ultimately it’s her choice if she wants to play as a Diamond or not. But the whole point of sponsorship is the sponsor’s logo appears on the uniforms.

My attitude to this is that Hancock died three decades ago and Hancock Prospecting is not him.  Many companies were founded or managed in the past by people who said or did things we regard as unacceptable today. There are Australian companies and iconic brands built off indentured South Sea labour and Indigenous stolen wages. Will they be cancelled?

Today is what matters to me. Hancock Prospecting has an exemplary record of Indigenous engagement and the Roy Hill Community Foundation funds important initiatives for Indigenous communities, especially in education.

More broadly, I’m concerned that young black people are being raised on a narrative that the world is still inherently racist and people and organisations today should be judged by the opinions and actions of their ancestors or people involved in the organisation a long time ago. That means we can never move forward or move past racism, because the past can’t be changed.

I’m also concerned young black athletes may feel it’s on them to protest the past, even to take steps that harm their own careers. My generation — and my parents’ and grandparents’ generations before — fought and won huge battles so young Indigenous athletes could have the same opportunities as every other Australian, and not be held back by discrimination or by the past. And certainly not to feel they should have to hold themselves back. I don’t want to see young Indigenous people still shackled by the racism of history.

Ash Barty was frequently egged on to trash Australia because of her Aboriginal heritage but refused to buy into those narratives. I admired the fact that she focused on her game and on representing her country.  She was, though, also at the top of her game and better positioned to stand up to that kind of pressure.

I feel Wallam’s teammates did her a great disservice by jumping on a bandwagon and helping turn what were initially private misgivings being managed through private discussions into front page news. And the broader media reports that many of the players regard a mining company as an inappropriate sponsor because of climate change shows a huge level of ignorance among them. Roy Hill mines iron ore which is used to make steel that is critical to renewables infrastructure.

The second news item was the Australian War Memorial announcing it will look to depict the violence against Indigenous people committed by British colonists, pastoralists, police and Aboriginal militia.

Reasonable people may disagree on how to characterise the conflict between Aboriginal peoples and British colonists. Some describe this conflict as ‘Frontier Wars’ and others regard the activities as overwhelmingly criminal murders carried out by people without authority. We can and should discuss and debate all of that.

But the purpose of the Australian War Memorial is to honour and commemorate members of the Defence Forces who’ve served their country. Conflicts between colonists and Aboriginal people weren’t that. I don’t believe the War Memorial is the right place to depict the conflicts between people of Australia on Australian soil. Leave the Australian Defence Forces out of the history wars.

And finally — and disappointingly —  ABC’s 4 Corners finally does an expose on the epidemic of violence against Aboriginal women but ignored the huge amount of work done by Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price. One interviewee on the program said there are ‘no speeches in Parliament about violence against Indigenous women’. Try watching Senator Price’s maiden speech. It’s on YouTube.

Nyunggai Warren Mundine is Director of the Indigenous Forum at the Centre for Independent Studies.

Photo: Netball Australia.