Australian News

Tribal Warrior to challenge sailing stereotypes as the first Indigenous crew to race the Sydney to Hobart


December 24, 2019 05:59:40

Naomi Cain, whose only previous experience sailing was operating cranes at Port Botany docks, is part of the first Indigenous crew to compete in the Sydney to Hobart.

Key points:

  • The Tribal Warrior is named after the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, a maritime training program mentoring young Indigenous people
  • Skipper Wayne Jones wants Indigenous people to be recognised in what is considered an elitist sport
  • Naomi Cain, the only woman in the crew, says she hopes to inspire young Indigenous women to follow in her footsteps

The 40-year-old Indigenous woman might not be a seasoned sailor, but she’s right at home on the wharf.

“I’ve been working down at the ports for the past 18 years as a wharfie, so in and around the water but definitely not anything like doing the Sydney to Hobart,” Cain said.

Cain will be the only female on board the Tribal Warrior when the blue water classic starts on Boxing Day.

“Why would I not say yes? To be a part of the first Indigenous crew to ever sail the Sydney to Hobart is just such an honour,” she said.

She is from the Coonabarabran region of the Gomeroi people, and says her heritage is a driving force in her life, being a descendant of Indigenous land rights activist Mary “Queenie” Cain.

“My grandmother [Queenie Cain] petitioned the queen of England and got our land, the Burrabeedee site, back in the 1880s — that’s where I get my strength from,” Cain said.

The Indigenous crew is the brainchild of skipper Wayne Jones, who has been competing alongside Indigenous sailors since the 1960s.

“You’ve got AFL, Cathy Freeman sprinting, rugby league players — they’re all there, but who’s our [Indigenous] top sailor?” Jones said.

He wants Indigenous people to be recognised for their talent and contribution in what is widely considered an exclusive elitist sport.

“We’ve got Lightning Ridge talking, Moree talking, Bowen talking, to Uluru and to Broome, they are all following,” he said.

“This is the people’s boat — we are a mix of nobodies — everyone has been waiting for this.”

While Indigenous clans nationwide watch on, communities along the coast will light fires and hold smoking ceremonies to welcome the Tribal Warrior as it sails south from Sydney Harbour to Constitution Dock.

‘We want young ones to think anything is possible’

The Tribal Warrior is named after the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation, a maritime training program mentoring young Indigenous people at risk.

The program has been running on Sydney Harbour for 20 years and aims to reduce recidivism rates in jail and strengthen family relationships and cultural ties.

“It turns the whole crew into a family, and there’s employment opportunities after that. And it’s the joy of being involved in the incredible sport itself,” Jones said.

Shane Phillips is the organisations chief executive and will be on board this year.

“We want to show young ones it’s all possible no matter whether you’re poor or Indigenous or whatever, you deserve to be somewhere — but you’ve got to go out and fight for it,” Phillips said.

“This is the world’s main blue water race, it’s a huge thing.

“We are all keen to prove ourselves and we want other young ones to see that challenge and think anything is possible.”

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing to get to this point — the yacht was due to participate in 2016, but was badly damaged in a storm and withdrawn weeks from the race.

The crew completed the race unofficially, and it was a rough ride.

“We ran into some trouble on the way through and I was downstairs paling water for 36 hours … it was absolutely treacherous,” Phillips said.

“I was thinking to myself ‘I don’t ever want to do this again’, but then when we got to the Derwent it was all worthwhile, surreal and an amazing time.”

The 11-person crew will only get access to the leased boat, Beneteau 47.7, 10 days out from the race on December 16 — a very tight turnaround for a team with many members still finding their sea legs.

“I don’t know what is ahead for me. I am scared but at the same time really, really happy to be able to do it,” Cain said.

“If one young Aboriginal girl, or anyone sees me and thinks ‘I can do that’, that would make me so proud.”













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