In an historic event that marked the return of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sports Awards after two decades, the iconic MCG National Sports Museum played host to a night of celebration and recognition on the 11th of November. Attended by 350 guests, the awards ceremony commenced with a traditional smoking ceremony, setting a culturally rich tone for the evening. The distinguished Uncle Colin Hunter, a Wurundjeri elder, graced the occasion with a heartfelt Welcome to Country.
Amongst the award recipients was Olympic gold medallist Cathy Freeman, who received a stirring standing ovation as she was honoured with the National Lifetime Achievement Award. The Kuku Yalanji and Birra Gubba woman is still best remembered in Australian sporting history for the 49.11 seconds that won gold in the Sydney Olympics 400 metres, dedicated the award to her "great grandparents, grandparents and parents".
"To anyone with a dream or interested in the untapped potential within you, I just say look to the ancestors," she said.
Photo: Cathy Freeman presented with the Lifetime Achievement award
Wayne Coolwell, Chairperson of the National Indigenous Sports Foundation, echoes the sentiment of the evening, stating, “Sport is absolutely central to the spiritual, social, cultural, and physical well-being of First Nations people.” This rekindling of NATSISA is a testament to the enduring spirit of Indigenous sports and culture, and a moment of unity that extends beyond the sporting arena.
The master of ceremonies for the night was the renowned media personality, Shelley Ware, who engaged in an intimate conversation with special guest AFL legend, Eddie Betts. The evening also featured musical performances by Uncle Kutcha Edwards, adding a unique and vibrant element to the festivities.
Photo: iconic media personality Shelley Ware, hosting an intimate one-on-one conversation with AFL star, Eddie Betts
The organizing committee including Nathan Lovett-Murray, Shelley Ware, Wayne Coolwell, Jed Smith, Rick Baldwin, Rob Hyatt and Rob Bradley, aimed to provide a platform to highlight and celebrate the accomplishments of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes, coaches, and organizing committees across Australia.
The distinguished judging panel, comprising Olympians Kyle Vanderkuyp, Koori Mail editor Darren Moncrieff, NRL Star Dean Widders, AFL legend Neville Jetta, Rugby Union legend Mark Ella, and Jody Barney, a proud Deaf Aboriginal/South Sea Islander woman, played a crucial role in selecting this year's award winners.
Photo: Pam Pedersen presented with the National Senior Elder Sportsperson of the Year award
Among the notable additions to the awards was the Trailblazer Award, acknowledging those who paved the way for current athletes, and the Lifetime Achievement Award, honouring individuals who have surpassed excellence in their respective sports.
National Sportsperson of the Year - Ashleigh Gardner (Cricket):
The historic first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sportsperson of the Year award was presented to cricketer Ashleigh Gardner. The Muruwari woman's outstanding achievements, including being rated the world's best female cricketer, were celebrated.
National Trailblazer Award - Kevin Coombs (Paralympics Basketball):
The late Kevin Coombs, a Wotjobaluk Elder, was posthumously awarded the National Trailblazer Award for his groundbreaking contributions as the first Indigenous athlete to represent Australia at a Paralympic or Olympic Games.
National Sports Coach of the Year - Ronnie Griffiths (Rugby League):
Gomeroi man Ronnie Griffiths, coach of the back-to-back Newcastle Knights women's team, was named the National Sports Coach of the Year for his outstanding coaching record and contributions to the success of Indigenous athletes.
National Sporting Competition of the Year - National Indigenous Basketball Association:
The National Indigenous Basketball Association, a brainchild of NBA veteran Patty Mills, was recognized as the National Sporting Competition of the Year, showcasing its positive impact on the lives of Indigenous teenagers both on and off the court.
The National Indigenous & Torres Strait Islander Sports Awards 2023 proved to be a night of inspiration, celebrating the achievements, resilience, and contributions of Indigenous athletes to the Australian sporting landscape. The event not only recognized excellence but also paved the way for future generations of athletes to continue the legacy of success.
Photo: An incredible musical performance by Uncle Kutcha Edwards
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Award Winners:
National Sportsperson of the Year – Ash Gardner (cricket)
National Lifetime Achievement Award – Cathy Freeman (athletics)
National Trailblazer Award – Kevin Coombs (Paralympics basketball)
National Sporting Organisation of the Year – Torres Strait Youth and Recreation Sports Association
National Sportsperson with a Disability of the Year – Amanda Reid (paracycling and multisport Paralympian)
National Sports Coach of the Year – Ronald Griffiths (rugby league)
National Sports Official of the Year – Jacqui Dover (NBL/WNBL referee)
National Sports Media Representative of the Year – Jake Duke (Fox Sports reporter)
National Junior Sportsperson of the Year – Jessie May-Hall (basketball)
National Sporting Competition of the Year – National Indigenous Basketball Association
National Sports Team of the Year – Walgett Aboriginal Connection (Koori Knockout rugby league)
National Senior Elder Sportsperson of the Year – Pam Pedersen (running)
National Sports Volunteer of the Year – Jenny Pryor (Bindal Sharks Indigenous rugby league)
Special thanks to the sponsors for this event:
Barpa Constructions, First Peoples Assembly of Victoria, AFL, No Limit Boxing Promotions, Art Yarramunua, Geelong Wathaurong Corporation, Pullman Melbourne on the Park, Accor, Fellowship for Indigenous Leadership, City of Melbourne, Vic Health, Confederation of Australian Sport, Melbourne Cricket Club, Australian Sports Museum, Dhudhuroa and Waywurru Nations Aboriginal Corporation.
For further information and to interview key people please contact:
Event Manager, Nathan Lovett-Murray
Indigenous Sports Network
43 Fletcher St Essendon Vic 3040
0448 423 799