Aboriginal sport


Selected statistics

Year Lionel Morgan became the first Aboriginal person to play rugby league for Australia. He was booed and pelted by objects.
Year an Indigenous All Star team played the best non-Indigenous rugby league players. The venue sold out and gained live TV coverage.
Percentage of Aboriginal Australian adults participating in sport and physical activity. Same figure for all Australian adults: 65%. [12]
Proportion of players in the NRL who are Aboriginal [15]. Same figure for the AFL in early 2011 [9], in 2008: 10% [10], in 1995: 5% [9].
Proportion of Aboriginal players in the State of Origin [15].
Proportion of Aboriginal players in the Test team [15].
Proportion of Aboriginal people of the Australian population.
Proportion of Indigenous State of Origin players in Queensland's players since 1980.

List of linked articles

List of short articles

Sport keeps people out of trouble, self-harm

Aboriginal people have always played sport. Before invasion they knew a broad variety of traditional games, and today many Aboriginal athletes excel in their discipline.

Sport is also necessary for Aboriginal communities as never before. Research has found that sport helps reduce violence, keeps youth out of serious trouble and is essential to counter the moral despair of many Aboriginal people [14].

Depression and Aboriginal suicide rates, escalating in the early 2000s, can be brought down if people participate in sport activities by as much as 25% and 12% respectively [14].

In many communities sport provides a sense of belonging and a feeling of coherence, something to stand for. Providing meaning and purpose, sport takes young peoples’ minds off suicidal thoughts.

If anything else transcends race, intolerance or discrimination, it is sport.—Steve Stacey, Executive Officer Nyoongar Sports Association Malaga, Western Australia [1]

Sport was the first pathway that embraced Aboriginal people and gave them the opportunity to compete on an equal playing field.—Michael O'Loughlin, Aboriginal AFL player [2]

Indigenous Australian Football League (AFL) fact file

This is a small snapshot of Aboriginal AFL statistics in 2008 [3]:

  • The AFL’s Indigenous programs reach more than 87,000 Aboriginal people or 36% of Australia’s Aboriginal population.
  • 25 Australian Football Indigenous academies operate across the country.
  • Four AFL clubs engage with Aboriginal communities: Essendon (Wadeye), Geelong (Gove and Groote), Richmond (Alice Springs) and Collingwood (Katherine).
  • 189 Aboriginal players play AFL/VFL football.
  • 72 players are on AFL club lists, an historic record.
  • Aboriginal football players make up 10% of the AFL competition, another historic record.
  • 14 Aboriginal players have played 200 games or more, 7 more than 250 games, one has reached 300 games (Gavin Wanganeen).
  • 156 Aboriginal players have made their AFL/VFL debut since 1980. Only 23 did so prior to 1980.

Which football code
is the most racist?

Rugby League (NRL)
Australian Rules (AFL)
Rugby Union
Don’t know

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 19/6/2010

AFL clubs employ around 1,300 employees [11]. Out of these

  • only 5 are Aboriginal,
  • only one Aboriginal person is a club executive,
  • none are on club boards, and
  • only 2 out of the 150 coaches are Aboriginal.

Each year in AFL round 9 is the Indigenous Round, a themed round to acknowledge and celebrate Indigenous players. It culminates with the “Dreamtime at the G” clash in Melbourne. The AFL has more on the Indigenous round.

South Australian National Football League logo South Australian National Football League (SANFL) logo. The logo incorporates the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colours. The figure in the bottom right corner is the ‘Kaurna man’ with his shield. He represents the Kaurna people, the traditional owners of the Adelaide region.

Australia’s most successful football club

St Mary’s Football Club is claimed to be Australia’s most successful football club since World War II [4].

It was formed in 1952 in Darwin, Northern Territory. The club is known as the ‘Green Machine’ from the colour of their jumpers. It collected 28 flags and played in 44 premier league grand finals.

St Mary’s Football Club was first created so that Aboriginal and Islander people could have a place to meet and play football, as they were banned from being in the central business district of Darwin after 6pm during Australia’s assimilation policies.

One of the great records of the club is a win of 50 consecutive games in sequence that started in 1994. By March 2011 the club had won 773 of 1074 games at senior level and had never collected a wooden spoon, which equates to a 72% winning ratio over nearly 6 decades [4].

Four spears in the ground

Trevor Jamieson is an Aboriginal actor on stage and in film. Some of his relatives were living a traditional life until the mid-1980s.

Trevor recalls how his relatives wondered about the things they saw when they experienced modern Australia [8].

“They’d see four spears on either end of this field, staked into the ground, and all these people with amazing colourful ochres – that’s what they thought – fighting over a piece of meat, which is the footy.

So they left those tribes alone and they went their way back into the bush. They weren’t going to get involved with this, no way.”

Aboriginal soccer

The inaugural Indigenous Football Festival was held in Townsville, Queensland, in July 2009. It is a first attempt to get Aboriginal Australians to embrace soccer. The festival targeted mainly young socceroos who played matches, attended coaching clinics and team-building activities.

In May 2009 the Borroloola Cyclones, a team of 15–18-year-old Aboriginal youth, became the first all-Indigenous soccer team to play an international match during the Arafura Games, held every two years in Darwin, Northern Territory [5]. Because Aussie rules is the dominant football code in the Territory, soccer is referred to as ‘round-ball’. Borroloola is about 950 kms south-east of Darwin.

Aboriginal sport resources

Movie: Aboriginal Rules Movie: Aboriginal Rules not only introduces you to the game but offers a rare behind-the-scenes look at the grassroots Aboriginal football experience that you may have heard about, but never seen.

Movie: Australian Rules Movie: Australian Rules tells the love story between an Aboriginal teenage girl and a non-Indigenous boy, set in a poor fishing village in South Australia.

Find Indigenous sport books

Browse books about Indigenous sport events and famous Aboriginal sports people: Indigenous sport books

National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy

The National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA) helps Aboriginal children achieve their sporting and academic goals and possibly becoming a sports star in their field.

NASCA is is an Aboriginal-governed, non-profit organisation which was founded in 1995 and set up as a mentoring initiative.

It offers three main programs:

  • Athletes as Role Models tour (ARMtour) is a program where 24 famous Aboriginal athletes visit remote communities in the Central Desert for a week 3 times a year to promote healthy lifestyles and give the children a hands-on sporting experience. Since the ARMtours inception in 1997 many community leaders report higher school attendance rates, increased participation in sport and less destructive and dangerous behaviour among youth [13].
  • The Careers and Aspirations Program (CAP) gives Aboriginal students from across Australia advice on career pathways.
  • The Academy Program offers guidance on post-school opportunities and help with numeracy and literacy skills.

The academy does not run the sports programs but has partnerships with sporting institutions such as NRL, AFL, NSW Institute of Sports, Cricket NSW, Cricket NT, National Women’s Basketball League and Softball Australia [6].

[NASCA] teaches kids not to shy away from being Aboriginal, to embrace it, be proud of it and excel in whatever they do.—Joel McCall, senior student at Marrickville High School, Academy Program participant [7]

National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA)
Suite 1009a, Level 10
MLC Centre, 19 Martin Place
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: 02 9221 8655
Fax: 02 9221 8322


View article sources (15)

[1] 'A sporting goal', Koori Mail 444 p.28
[2] 'Celebration and a commitment', Koori Mail 476 p.90
[3] 'Huge celebration of Indigenous football', Koori Mail 427 p.101
[4] 'Legend lives on', Koori Mail 503 p.95
[5] 'Borroloola Cyclones will play ther part in history', Koori Mail 450 p.80
[6] 'NASCA ready for a big year', Koori Mail 454 p.35
[7] 'Students ready to go on the offensive', Indigenous Jobs Special Report, SMH 11/8/2012 p.31
[8] 'I can tell stories from the heart of our country - Trevor Jamieson', SMH, Spectrum, 2/10/2010
[9] 'McLeod tells UN of victory over racism', Koori Mail 494 p.4
[10] 'AFL's 150th year a worthy celebration', Koori Mail 438 p.80
[11] 'Stereotyping', Koori Mail 521 p.90
[12] '$325,000 to sport', Koori Mail 493 p.77
[13] 'Opening eyes - and hearts', Koori Mail 426 p.83
[14] 'The meaning of life is... sport', SMH 12/12/2009
[15] 'War cry to unit team and country', Sun Herald 2/2/2014

Cite this article

An appropriate citation for this document is:

www.CreativeSpirits.info, Aboriginal culture - Sport, retrieved 28 January 2015