Mercedes Kirwin, goal defender and keeper, is proud to represent her culture through netball. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Teenage Wakaman woman Mercedes Kirwin lives and breathes netball — she wants more opportunities for young people to represent their culture through sports in regional Queensland.
The 14-year-old has been a netballer for half of her life, following in her mum’s footsteps.
The central Queenslander has been selected to play for the Australian Indigenous Budgies for the second year in a row.
“This is an amazing opportunity, I get to represent my culture and get to meet new people that are Indigenous as well,” Mercedes said.
“I think it’s really important that young kids start to get involved and learn more about their culture and especially representing sports.
“I get to prove to everyone that Indigenous sports is just as important as all other sports.
“It makes me feel really proud of what I can show people and what I have, and it’s just fun to play.”
Poppy Sandilands and Mercedes Kirwin hope to inspire more young Indigenous people to represent their culture through sports. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Mercedes, who also plays touch football, hopes to inspire other young Indigenous people to celebrate their culture through sports.
“Don’t be afraid to try new sports or keep going if someone tells you you’re not good enough — just work hard,” she said.
Fellow touch footballer and netballer Poppy Sandilands is a proud young Barada woman — she has also been selected to play for the Indigenous Budgies at the Gold Coast International Festival later this year.
“To bring my culture into my netball is something special and not a lot of people can say they’ve done it,” the 16-year-old said.
“I’ve worked hard to make this team and I tried my best [at the Australian Indigenous Schoolgirls Netball Championships] to make the top side but it doesn’t always work out the way you want.
“Next year I’ll go back harder and make that top side.”
Poppy Sandilands plays goal attack and is proud to bring her culture into netball. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Inspiring Indigenous girls and boys to pursue sports
Like many families in regional Queensland, the Kirwins support many different sports.
Mother Jasmine Kirwin is a former representative netballer and father, Wakaman man Glenn Kirwin has a background in AFL and league.
Ms Kirwin credits the existing opportunities for her daughter, Ms Sandilands and other young sportspeople in central Queensland, to a strong support network between families.
“Sometimes you’ve got to jump in as a scorer, some of the mums have been managers, we kind of have our own team … and support each other,” she said.
Ms Kirwin hopes her daughter and other Indigenous players can blaze a trail for the next generation of regional sportspeople.
“I think once Indigenous girls and boys in the area see what our girls have done, they can feel like they can try and achieve the same kind of milestones and achievements,” she said.
“That’s why I think it’s important that we get the word out to these Indigenous sportspeople, that there’s opportunities around Australia for this.
“At the moment us families are backing our own kids but it would be nice, in the future, to have a bit more backing.”
The young Indigenous netballers are keen to represent their culture by playing for the Australian Indigenous Budgies. (ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)
Ms Kirwin said netball talent in regional areas is rarely recognised externally.
“I think there’s a lot to offer from this area and these girls are going far and wide, whether it’s just in the local competition or the rep [sic] competition or this Indigenous competition,” she said.
“I would like more opportunities in Rocky for Indigenous players to come in and develop with these girls and inspire them.
“Sometimes Rocky misses out and I think if we’ve got the interest and we’ve got these girls making a name for Rocky, maybe that might draw in some development.
“It would be nice to see an Indigenous tournament here.”
Walking Together is taking a look at our nation’s reconciliation journey, where we’ve been and asks the question — where do we go next?
Join us as we listen, learn and share stories from across the country, that unpack the truth telling of our history and embrace the rich culture and language of Australia’s First People.
More stories from Walking Together: