Indigenous Cricket Australia advisor wants Australia Day match despite Ash Gardner criticism


A member of Cricket Australia’s Indigenous advisory committee insists a match should be played on Australia Day, despite criticism from star all-rounder Ash Gardner who said having to play on January 26 ‘didn’t sit well with her’.

As the Aussie women’s side prepares to play on the national holiday and the country plunges into yet another fierce debate about whether January 26 should be celebrated, Indigenous advocate Justin Mohamed has had his say.

The Gooreng Gooreng man, who has had a distinguished career in reconcilitation and Aboriginal justice, is a member of Cricket Australia’s Indigenous Advisory Committee (NATSICAC).

After Gardner slammed January 26 – the date the First Fleet arrived in Sydney – as a day celebrating ‘genocide, massacres and dispossession’ on Sunday, Mohamed voiced a different view.

Indigenous cricket star Ash Gardner recently posted a defiant message that she did not want to have to play on Australia Day, given it celebrates ‘genocide, massacres and dispossession’

While he praised Sydney Sixers sensation Gardner for the courage it showed to post the divisive statement on social media, Mohamed believes in a different approach.   

‘At the moment the debate is about celebrating Australia Day on the 26th, should it happen? Should it not happen? Should the date be changed to have a date that’s more inclusive? But the 26th will still be a very important date in the history of Australia and what happened that day,’ he told The Australian. 

‘As an Aboriginal, I wouldn’t want to lose the significance of what the 26th is and what it played in the history of Australia. 

‘A sporting event or on an event like an international game could provide a platform to provide the education, the true history of what happened and so people don’t forget the significance of the day,’ said Mohamed, who stressed he was not speaking for the rest of the NATSICAC members.

A member of Cricket Australia's Indigenous advisory committee, Justin Mohamed, believes games should be played on Australia Day, despite some objections from players

A member of Cricket Australia’s Indigenous advisory committee, Justin Mohamed, believes games should be played on Australia Day, despite some objections from players

Indigenous star Ash Gardner, the No.1 ranked T20 allrounder in the world, smashes her trademark slog sweep shot in a WBBL match for the Sixers

Indigenous star Ash Gardner, the No.1 ranked T20 allrounder in the world, smashes her trademark slog sweep shot in a WBBL match for the Sixers

The West Indies are set to travel Down Under again for next summer’s season, and Mohamed said it could be an opportunity to educate them, and the Aussie side, on First Nations people.

The NATSICAC meets every year to discuss scheduling.

Both the BBL and WBBL now have Indigenous rounds, while before each home series the Australian side – of both genders – does a Barefoot Circle with their opponents to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land.

The West Indies participated in that at the start of November’s Test series, before then taking a knee prior to each game to acknowledge their own battle to combat racism. 

West Indies and Australia players participate in a Barefoot Circle prior to the Test series between the two sides in November. The Indigenous practice has now become commonplace in Australian cricket

West Indies and Australia players participate in a Barefoot Circle prior to the Test series between the two sides in November. The Indigenous practice has now become commonplace in Australian cricket

No BBL matches are scheduled to be played on Thursday, just the Aussie women’s side’s second T20 match against Pakistan.

While Mohamed clearly believes playing cricket can be a valuable experience for Australians of all backgrounds, Gardner is defiant in her opposition to the idea. 

The 25-year-old, whose mother and ancestors come from north-western NSW, will play on January 26 in the second game of the series, but said it ‘didn’t sit well’ with her. 

Ash Gardner (right, pictured before captaining the Governor General's XI against Pakistan earlier this month) has been scathing of Cricket Australia's decision to schedule a game on Australia Day

Ash Gardner (right, pictured before captaining the Governor General’s XI against Pakistan earlier this month) has been scathing of Cricket Australia’s decision to schedule a game on Australia Day

‘As a proud Muruwari woman and reflecting on what January 26 means to me and my people, it is a day of hurt and mourning,’ the world’s no. 1 rated allrounder posted on social media on Sunday.

‘For those who don’t have a good understanding of what the day means, it was the beginning of genocide, massacres and dispossession.

‘Unfortunately this year the Australian women’s cricket team has been scheduled to play a game on the 26th of January, which certainly doesn’t sit well with me as an individual, but also all the people I’m representing.

‘When I take the field for this game, I will certainly be reflecting and thinking about all my ancestors and peoples lives who changed from this day.’ 

Muruwari woman Ash Gardner began doing Indigenous dot paintings during Covid so she can learn and experience more of her culture

Muruwari woman Ash Gardner began doing Indigenous dot paintings during Covid so she can learn and experience more of her culture

It was a combative response to Cricket Australia scheduling an international match on Australia Day, though it’s believed it was simply to ensure the final game of the three-match series could be held on a Sunday. 

The game’s governing body, which has introduced a raft of pro-Indigenous policies and practices in recent years, acknowledged January 26 could be a date that is traumatic to First Nations peoples. 

‘Cricket Australia acknowledges 26 January is a day that has multiple meanings and evokes mixed feelings in communities across our richly diverse nation,’ a statement from the organisation read. 

Her assertions were somewhat backed up by Aussie legend Jason Gillespie, who was the first Indigenous male Test player. 

A veteran of 71 Tests, Gillespie is now a highly regarded coach with the Adelaide Strikers and South Australia, and the Kamilaroi man is also an advocate for Indigenous people. 

Proud Indigenous man Jason Gillespie, pictured wearing the Striker Aboriginal training jersey, believes January 26 should not be celebrated

Proud Indigenous man Jason Gillespie, pictured wearing the Striker Aboriginal training jersey, believes January 26 should not be celebrated

‘A day in which all Australians can celebrate would be my preference,’ Gillespie told News Corp on Sunday.

‘What a lot of people don’t realise is that history shows Australia Day has not always been celebrated on January 26. The conversations need to continue to explore an alternative.’

For their part, Aussie skipper Meg Lanning and the entire Aussie team is clearly backing Gardner, and ‘wrapping their arms around her’ as the old sports cliche goes. 

The side will wear their Indigenous jersey and do a number of Indigenous initiatives on gameday in Hobart, while they are also going on a ‘cultural tour’ of Tasmania on Wednesday, no doubt to learn more about the tragic history of Indigenous peoples in the Apple Isle. 

Lanning said it was never a matter of Gardner boycotting the game, no matter how strongly she feels, and the side was proud of her leadership for First Nations peoples. 

Sydney Sixers and Perth Scorchers WBBL players form an Indigenous Barefoot Circle - an initiative Ash Gardner helped introduce

Sydney Sixers and Perth Scorchers WBBL players form an Indigenous Barefoot Circle – an initiative Ash Gardner helped introduce

‘She’s (Gardner) going pretty well. Obviously putting out her feelings and views on the issue is a brave step,’ the recently-returned skipper said ahead of the first. 

‘She’s been a great leader in our group and also out in the community on issues First Nations people face. 

‘She’s given us amazing insight into what impact the day has on First Nations people. I think she’s been really brave, and we’ll just go out there and play and do what we can control.’ 

The Aussie skipper said the side would be using the opportunity to learn more about Indigenous culture, and were firmly behind Gardner’s desire not to play on Australia Day.

Meg Lanning (right) celebrates a wicket with Ash Gardner (left) in the third game of Australia's ODI series against Pakistan. The Aussie skipper said the team was right behind their Indigenous star

Meg Lanning (right) celebrates a wicket with Ash Gardner (left) in the third game of Australia’s ODI series against Pakistan. The Aussie skipper said the team was right behind their Indigenous star

We’ve had a lot of discussions as a group around the game on Jan 26. I’d like to say that we’re fully supportive of Ash and her stance and her feelings and views around it,’ Lanning told reporters.

‘It’s something that we can’t control in terms of the scheduling and playing on that day, but something we would like to do is acknowledge is the sadness and grief that day brings for First Nations people.

‘We’re going to try to use the opportunity we have to educate ourselves and try to create a better understanding of what it means and their culture. It’s a really united front in the group and we all support Ash and her feelings around the day,’ said Lanning.

Australia’s three-match T20 series against Pakistan begins today before the Australia Day clash, with the final game set to be played on Sunday in Canberra.