This NAIDOC Week, we champion the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Team Members who are bound for Birmingham.
Eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Team Members have been selected so far to compete across eight sports in this month’s Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
It ties the record for most First Nations athletes ever to be selected for an Australian Commonwealth Games Team, matching the number from the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Hockey star Brooke Peris was initially selected for the Games but sadly suffered a thigh injury which will keep her from competing in her third Commonwealth Games. Commonwealth Games Australia wishes Brooke a speedy recovery from her injury.
Maurice Longbottom was late to the game of Rugby 7s but is now an integral part of the Australian line-up and is the only member of the men’s team with previous Commonwealth Games experience. The proud Dharawal man was born in La Perouse in 1995 and originally hoped to follow in the footsteps of relatives George and Bruce Longbottom, who played rugby league for the Rabbitohs in the 1980s. Maurice played some games for the South Sydney junior squad, but after being told he was too small, he went back to park footy, playing with the Coogee Wombats and working as a carpenter, and wowing them in OzTag. He struggled to watch the 15-man game, but in 2015 was invited to play in the Ella Sevens, a tournament named after the famous Rugby Royalty. In fact, he would hardly even watch the abridged version of rugby, until he saw it on TV at the 2016 Olympics. After seeing him play for the Lloyd McDermott Indigenous side at a national tournament late that year, Australian coach Andy Friend immediately him a contract. Since then, Longbottom has played at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and the 2020 Olympics, appeared in more than 130 matches for Australia and scored over 70 tries. Qualified carpenter left school in Year 10 to get an apprenticeship.
Ruby Storm will create a slice of history in Birmingham when she becomes the second Indigenous Para-swimmer to represent Australia at the Commonwealth Games. Ruby is from the Wiradjuri tribe in Deniliquin but grew up in Traralgon on the lands of the Gunaikurnai people. One of a generation of S14 swimmers in Australia who emerged post the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, Ruby lives with autism and was originally petrified of water when she was young. She took up swimming when she was seven. After some impressive swims at the 2018 Para Pan Pacific Championships trials, Ruby was selected for the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in London, picking up a bronze medal as part of the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay 34 points team. She also swam in four individual events, catching notice with her 5th in the women’s 100m butterfly S14 final. Ruby pushed New Zealand legend and four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist Dame Sophie Pascoe all the way in the 50m butterfly at the 2020 Para World Series in Melbourne. Next was the Tokyo Paralympics where she claimed silver in the mixed 4x100m freestyle relay S14 and bronze in the women’s 100m butterfly S14, as well as making three other finals. Ruby will contest the 200m freestyle S14 which makes its Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham and uses the music of U2 to get pumped for her races. She wants to become a florist when she retires from swimming.
Wonnarua man Brandon Wakeling will be heading to his second Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in the men’s 73kg event. Wakeling made history at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games becoming the first First Nations weightlifter to compete at the Commonwealth Games for Australia. Hailing from Campbelltown in southwest Sydney, Wakeling moved to the Gold Coast with his family when he was five. His early sporting dreams were rugby league and long jump, but he was on the smaller side growing up, so took up weightlifting to keep up his physique and to try to match it with the bigger players. He switched focus to weightlifting and has been coached by Miles Wydall at Cougars Weightlifting Club in Brisbane since 2015. After his Commonwealth Games debut in his home city, Brandon won bronze at the 2019 Arafura Games, then gold at the Pacific Games. He set his PBs in clean & jerk (175kg), snatch (127kg) and total (302kg) all at the Queensland Club Challenge in July 2020. Brandon is also an ambassador for Deadly Choices which aims to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to make healthy choices.
Mariah Williams is a proud Wiradjuri woman and will be making her Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham. Born in the central-western NSW town of Parkes, Mariah enjoyed soccer and touch football as a youngster, but hockey became her mainstay and she moved to Newcastle when she was 13 to attend Hunter Sports High School. 2013 was a milestone year for the then 17-year-old who made her Australian debut at both junior (Jillaroos) and senior (Hockeyroos) level. She put her international dreams on hold until after she had finished her HSC, before returning to the squad in 2015 and was selected to represent Australia at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. A serious adductor injury then kept her out of the game for nearly two years before she returned to the Hockeyroos in 2019, although a shin stress fracture and COVID-19 made the lead-up to her second Olympics in Tokyo a challenge. Mariah is an ambassador for the Australian Institute of Sport’s Share a Yarn program which seeks to build more meaningful connections between sport and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
Ashleigh Gardner is renowned as a powerful and aggressive all-rounder and possesses one of the best batting strike-rates in the women’s game and is an integral part of the Australian line-up. The only indigenous member (Gundagai clan) of the squad in Birmingham, Ashleigh plays for the Sydney Sixers in the Women’s Big Bash League. She made her T20 debut against New Zealand in February 2017. The following June, she became the first indigenous woman to play for Australia at a cricket World Cup. Ashleigh played in Australia’s 2022 Women’s World Cup-winning team in New Zealand after missing the start of the tournament due to COVID-19. Ashleigh was born in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown and still plays for the local cricket club. She also has a passion for Aboriginal art and has recently taken up painting.
Alex Winwood will be looking to replicate training partner Andrew Moloney’s flyweight gold-medal success at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, Australia’s only previous gold medal in the division. A proud Noongar man, Alex is the only indigenous boxer on the 2022 team – his grandfather is celebrated indigenous artist Primus Ugle – Alex grew up in Perth as one of eight children. He took up boxing at the age of 15, after encouragement from his high school teacher. He made his Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games where he suffered an unlucky split-decision loss to Zambia’s Patrick Chinyemba in the round of 32. Winwood turned pro in late 2021 and moved to the Gold Coast, linking up with Dragon Fire Boxing’s renowned manager Tony Tolj, who has also manoeuvred the careers of Commonwealth Games alumni twins Andrew Moloney and Jason Moloney.
Taliqua Clancy is the first indigenous Australian to compete in beach volleyball at the Commonwealth Games and will be determined to improve on her silver on the Gold Coast in 2018, as she continues to build a successful partnership with Mariafe Artacho del Solar in Birmingham. Growing up in the rural Queensland town of Kingaroy – over 200km away from the nearest beach – volleyball seemed an unlikely path for Taliqua. However, the Wulli Wulli-Goreng Goreng woman has gone on to become one of the world’s best, winning the world junior title with Artacho del Solar in 2012 before teaming up with Louise Bawden, the pair rising to no.5 in the world rankings. She and Bawden reached the quarter-finals in Rio 2016 where she was the first indigenous Australian to compete at the Olympics in beach volleyball. Clancy and Artacho del Solar reunited in 2017 after Bawden retired. The pair made it all the way to the final match before losing to the highly ranked Canadians at the 2018 Games, before gaining some revenge at Tokyo 2020, knocking the no.1 world-ranked Canadians out in the quarters. However, the Americans proved to be too strong in the final, with the Australian pair taking silver, enabling Clancy to become the 10th indigenous Australian to claim an Olympic medal. Clancy’s match day ritual has her wearing her trademark visor, even if she and Mariafe are playing at night.
Indiana Cooper is already making her mark on the para-athletics world at just 15-years-old. After watching Gold Coast 2018 gold medallist Isis Holt win three medals at Rio 2016 Paralympics, “Indi” Cooper told herself, “That’s what I want to do.” An indigenous woman (Wiradjuri) and 2021/22 Kurt Fearnley Scholarship recipient, Indi rose to prominence at the NSW All-Schools Carnival in December 2020 where she beat the T38 800m age record by over three seconds. Committing to six running sessions and five gym sessions per week – including two sessions in Canberra at the AIS – the Tumut High School student won four gold medals and broke two national records at the Australian Athletics Championships in April 2021, before claiming another two gold medals at the 2022 championships. Indi travels to her debut Commonwealth Games in Birmingham via the Road to Gundagai, her home 390km south-west of Sydney where she hopes to break the 14.38 sec Commonwealth record established by Australian five-time Paralympic gold medallist Lisa McIntosh at Melbourne 2006. Outside of athletics, Cooper enjoys playing soccer and league tag. She has a six-month-old dachshund named Nala.
Brooke Peris is a proud Ngarrawanji woman who was part of the Hockeyroos’ teams that won gold in Glasgow and silver on the Gold Coast. The Darwin-born hockey star took up the sport when she was four, inspired by her cousin Nova Peris who won Olympic hockey gold in Atlanta in 1996 and competed in athletics at the Kuala Lumpur 1998 Commonwealth Games and Sydney 2000 Olympics. Brooke made her international debut against South Korea in 2013. A year later, she made her first Commonwealth Games appearance in Glasgow where she became an internet sensation after capturing a ‘selfie’ with the Queen in the background with teammate Jayde Taylor. The tenacious forward, who has also been to two Olympic Games and played over 180 internationals, says that she is inspired to achieve her best by older brother Johnathan who suffers from epilepsy. Brooke shares a special friendship with indigenous teammate Mariah Williams and the pair always do a special handshake before each match, saying who they are. Brooke Peris was initially selected for the Games but sadly suffered a thigh injury which will keep her from competing in her third Commonwealth Games. Commonwealth Games Australia wishes Brooke a speedy recovery from her injury.