My Australia

My Australia: Cricketer Moises Henriques on his journey to fit in

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Moises Henriques pushed his Portuguese heritage to one side while growing up in Australia. Now he wants to rediscover his roots.

‘My Australia’ is a special SBS News series exploring cultural heritage and identity, and asking what it means to be Australian in 2018.

Madeira is famous for being the birthplace of footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. It's also erroneously known for the Madeira cake, which doesn't actually originate from the tiny Portuguese island (it's English).

But Madeira has another star export; Australian Test cricketer and Sydney Sixers captain Moises Henriques.

"I was born in the same hospital as Cristiano Ronaldo," Henriques told SBS News. "It's the only hospital in Madeira," he added with a laugh.

The similarities don't necessarily end there. Henriques's father, Alvaro, was a footballer who played professionally before moving the family to Australia in pursuit of a better future. His son was two years old. 

Growing up he was teased for his unusual name. Moises is the Portuguese equivalent of 'Moses'.

Moises Henriques, right, and his two younger brothers.
Moises Henriques, right, and his two younger brothers.
Instagram

"By the time I got to eight or nine, everyone who said my name would say a joke, but they'd all think it's the first time I'd ever heard it," he said.

"Even now, at 30, there are still people who think they are funny and unique when they try and come up with a joke, and think I've never heard it before.

"It never really bothered me, to be honest, because it is just a name."

That didn't deter him from trying to fit in though, and his natural aptitude for sport lent itself to easy assimilation when it came to the 'Australian way'.

"I was always fighting hard to do whatever my mates were doing," Henriques said.

"I always loved sport, all different types, so I think that really helped me in terms of integrating with friends and making friends."

And despite growing up with a footballing father, it was cricket that had him hooked.

Moises Henriques prepares to bowl during the Australian team training session at the Gabba  in  Brisbane, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013.. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) NO ARCHIVING
Henriques bowling at training.
AAP

A natural leader, he went on to captain Australia's under-19 side at the 2006 World Cup and matured into a powerful middle-order batsman and brisk change bowler.

For any cricketer, it's the full package, and he rose to captain New South Wales at just 22.

In 2013 came the pinnacle; a call-up to the Australian Test side for a tour of India, and three precious Test caps. He became Australian Test cricketer number 432.

"It's something I'm obviously quietly proud of," he said.

"I had a passion for cricket from a very young age, and spent a lot of hours at home practising, on my own a lot.

"I never actually thought you could make a career out of playing cricket.

"I looked at the guys on TV in the baggy green, the Steve Waughs and Mark Waughs, they were like superheroes to me.

"I remember one day my dad told me he was the same height as Steve Waugh, and I was like, 'you're kidding, Steve Waugh would be so much taller than you'.

"I just put these guys on a pedestal, they were like Superman or Batman."

So, what does it mean to Henriques to be Australian?

Moises Henriques
Henriques celebrates with captain Steven Smith while playing for the New South Wales Blues.
AAP

"Oh wow ... growing up here you just don't realise how lucky you are to be Australian until you go to other places," Henriques said.

"The things that we have in place in Australia are incredible, the opportunities I was able to get from the communities I grew up in, is something that I'll never forget, and never take for granted.

"You've got access to sport, you've got access to education, so it's up to the individual to take those opportunities.

"I know that in other places around the world, I definitely wouldn't have had those, and I know that's exactly why my parents moved here."

Henriques won a fourth Test cap against Sri Lanka in 2016. He plays for the NSW Blues, is captain of BBL side the Sydney Sixers, and remains in selection conversations across cricket's three formats.

But his desire to do whatever his mates were doing meant he pushed his Portuguese heritage to the side growing up. 

Moises Henriques
Moises Henriques after being picked to represent Australia in the 2014 South African Test Series.
AAP

"I have a few regrets actually from when I was growing up, my parents kept trying to speak Portuguese to me," Henriques said.

"But because I was so adamant I wanted to be Australian and to fit in with the Australia culture, I didn't want them to speak to me in Portuguese.

"It wasn't until recently that I started teaching myself Portuguese. If I'd just accepted them speaking to me in that language, it wouldn't be a skill I need to learn now."

Henriques is teaching himself Portuguese in a bid to reconnect with his heritage. The soon-to-be 31-year-old hasn't been back to Madeira since the family moved to Australia.

Moises Henriques of the Sixers swings at the ball
Henriques in action for the Sydney Sixers.
AAP

"I've been really dying to go back the last six or seven years," Henriques said. "Unfortunately I've just been non-stop with cricket almost the whole year round.

"I was teaching myself Portuguese on Duolingo, but I was teaching myself Brazilian Portuguese. That didn't go down too well with Mum and Dad!"

That said, Henriques will always call Australia home.

"I've been to many cities now, but I still feel the best holiday is always in Sydney," he said.

"I love this place, I love Australia. I still get a little bit homesick whenever I'm away for too long. I never really thought about it too much until I left, but then I realised wow, we are so lucky at home."

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