Gardner joy at cricket, culture overlap

Anna Harrington
·2-min read

Already a figure whose influence extends well beyond her work with bat and ball, Sydney Sixers gun Ashleigh Gardner is relishing the opportunity to celebrate NAIDOC Week on the WBBL stage.

This is the first time NAIDOC Week and the WBBL have coincided, allowing players to fully embrace the occasion through a range of initiatives - including teams coming together in a Barefoot Circle before each game.

"It's normally through our winter, so unless you're playing overseas you don't get to play cricket through NAIDOC Week," Australia all-rounder Gardner told reporters on Friday, ahead of the Sixers' weekend games against Hobart and Adelaide.

"It's just awesome to be showcasing the culture and that's realistically what NAIDOC Week's all about."

A proud Muruwari woman, Gardner recently set up the Ashleigh Gardner Foundation, which aims to empower Aboriginal children through education, sport and the arts.

While in the Sydney hub, the talented artist has made her mark by painting designs on the shoes of several fellow cricketers. She was midway through her eighth pair - for Hobart's Corinne Hall - on Friday.

Gardner, 23, said cultural awareness sessions had proved "eye-opening" for many of her fellow cricketers and emphasised the importance of ongoing education.

"It's really positive that people are wanting to learn more and just being more aware of what's going on in the world at the moment but more importantly what's been happening in Australia for so long," she said.

"Those raw facts are really important for people to understand and to know about because it is what people are going through or what they went through.

"To showcase that and to educate themselves on those issues is really important."

While encouraged by cricket's progress in her time in the game, Gardner hopes to see it reflected in more Indigenous players reaching the elite level.

"In the long run I would like to just be Ashleigh Gardner, the cricketer that plays for Australia - not Ashleigh Gardner, the Aboriginal cricketer that plays for Australia," she said.

"But I still think that there's a long way to go for that because there is such a small number of Indigenous athletes playing cricket.

"It's on a positive direction, which is really exciting. There's four other girls in this hub (Hannah Darlington, Anika Learoyd, Ella Haywood and Mikayla Hinkley) which is really exciting, there's plenty of male players as well.

"So that's where I would love to see the game go, but I still think it's a little way off."