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"Perfect Score" by Ellen van Neerven: the intersection of identity and sport on First Nations Land

"This is not a beautifully written book about decolonising Australian sport. This is an ugly book that was born of the ugly language I grew up hearing in this country. This book is me scratching my way out of the scrap of the schoolyard, just trying to stay alive." So writes Ellen van Neerven in the introduction to their latest book, Personal Score. “I have a score to settle,” they continue.

Perfect Score, is a powerful and intimate exploration of their personal experiences as a queer non-binary Blackfulla athlete in Australia. Through a mix of memoir and poetry, they reflect on the intersection of race, Indigeneity, sports, sexuality, gender, class, and Country, inviting readers to question what it means to play sport on First Nations land.

Van Neerven shares the intimate relationship between their body and Country, revealing the significance of sport as an expression of embodied sovereignty. They reflect on the everydayness of the battlefield that is the sporting field, from the dressing sheds to late-night training sessions, and share their innermost insecurities.

The book highlights the power of reclaiming one's narrative and taking ownership of one's identity, much like how Nicky Winmar did when he stood defiantly to claim, "I'm Black and I'm proud." Van Neerven takes readers on a journey of acceptance and defiance, using soccer analogies to chart their personal growth.

With Perfect Score, van Neerven reminds us that sport, for Blackfullas – pre- and post-1788 – has never been just for recreation. It is a calling, as McQuire so powerfully points out. A responsibility that compels us to compete on and care for our people and our land: a land that also tells an ugly story of fires, floods, and colonial violence.

Though van Neerven describes her book as “ugly”, their story isn’t an ugly one. It is a beautiful story of Blackfulla love – for sport, for Country. Most importantly, it’s a story of finding love for ourselves.

Read the full article here.

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