Indelible Indigenous tour drives WBBL star

Rob Forsaith
·2-min read

The highlight of Sydney Thunder young gun Hannah Darlington's cricket career is not a wicket, boundary or victory but the historical insights, cultural experiences and pride associated with an Indigenous tour of England in 2018.

Kamilaroi woman Darlington was part of the squad, captained by Ashleigh Gardner, which retraced the steps of the 1868 Aboriginal tour.

It marked the 150th anniversary of the journey undertaken by Australia's first sporting team to tour overseas - a remarkable story involving a group of Jardwadjali, Gunditjmara and Wotjobaluk men who were essentially smuggled out of Victoria to play cricket on 99 of 126 possible days in the United Kingdom.

Darlington, then a Year 11 student in western Sydney, played at Trent Bridge and sung Australia's victory song in the Lord's dressing room alongside Justin Langer and his charges.

Memories of team mentor and educator Peter Cooley's pre-match addresses, artefacts from the 1868 tour at the MCC museum in Lord's also stand out vividly.

"The whole trip was really one of the most memorable parts of my cricket career," Darlington said.

"Some of those memories I'll never forget. To be honest I don't have any memories of what happened on the cricket field, it was all the special things we took part in off the field.

"Before every game, Peter Cooley would stand around the Walkabouts Wicket silk. He'd express to the opposition, and to us again, about the importance of this tour.

"He was really awesome just in terms of having a yarn to. He was happy to chat about every cultural experience we took part in, but also the history of what we were recreating."

The 19-year-old and teammates will don an Indigenous playing shirt this weekend as part of the WBBL's NAIDOC Week celebrations.

The allrounder made her WBBL debut in 2019-20 and now, as one of five Indigenous players in the competition, finds herself in the role of educator.

Darlington and Thunder teammate Anika Learoyd, who became friends while representing NSW at underage national Indigenous championships, spoke about their heritage during the club's pre-season shirt presentation at the Murama Healing Space.

"That started the conversation and they've been happening since," Darlington said.

"Everybody is worried they are going to do something wrong.

"The biggest thing we've learned is that people want to learn and that's exactly what we want. We want people coming up and asking questions, wanting to know more about the culture.

"From that, they can get more involved. They can do an Acknowledgement of Country, they can partake in Barefoot Circles and know their meaning."

The Sydney Thunder meet the Melbourne Stars at Spotless Stadium on Saturday night.