Yanyuwa man John Moriarty was forcibly removed from his family in Borroloola when other children his age were starting pre-school and placed in several boy’s homes before being moved to St Francis Home in Adelaide, where he found solace playing football on the field next door.
“The game elevated me from out in the bush, from being in a home, from being taken away from my mum when I was four,” he says.
From that difficult start, Mr Moriaty went on to become the first Aboriginal player to represent Australia and play for England’s top clubs, which he says inspired him to realise what he should achieve. Now he wants to help others come to the same realisation.
This week the John Moriarty Football (JMF) announced an expansion of its initiative to reach thousands of more Indigenous children across the country with the launch of Indigenous Football Australia (IFA).
“Equitable access to football means kids can come through, have good health, well-being, get a good education and increase their engagement in the community,” Mr Moriarty says.
Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman Jada Whyman came through JMF’s initiative when she first moved to Sydney from Wagga Wagga.
"Soccer is an expensive sport. I was struggling, and JMF stepped in to support me financially,” she says.
“It took a lot of stress and pressure off my parents and I've been forever grateful since.”
This support, which Jada said was much more than financial, helped her launch her professional football career.
She now plays for the Matildas and the W-League. After she finishes her Bachelor of Commerce, she hopes to grow her success in Australia and perhaps even overseas.
“Aboriginal kids are tailormade for the international roundball game and the aspirations they can have is to play with the top clubs around the world,” Mr Moriarty says.
The initiative is currently offered in 18 communities across Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales.
Its expansion means its reach will increase to 36 remote and regional communities across the country, create around 70 jobs for Indigenous people, and provide more than 3,600 students with access to a football and wellbeing program.
Also announced was a major partnership two years in the making, bringing UNICEF and Moriarty Foundation together to corporate through the global exchange, knowledge sharing and community driven-advocacy.
UNICEF Australia Chief Executive Officer Tony Steward says it’s incredibly hard knowing that not every Australian child has a fair chance.
When he first pondered on what UNICEF could do to help Indigenous children, he was given one piece of advice from an Elder.
“Do not think because UNICEF's good with children overseas, you can make a difference in Australia," Mr Steward says.
"Just come and have warm conversations, listen to some of the issues and build relationships. See what's happening out there and listen."
It’s the advice he’s taken with the decision to work with Moriarty Foundation by letting them lead with their expertise.
JMF Co-Chair Ros Moriarty says the initiative meets 11 of 16 Closing the Gap targets.
"We've been doing that every day of the week for 10 years now,” she says.
Former Socceroo and Moriarty Foundation Board Member Craig Foster said IFA provides opportunities to all Indigenous children in Australia, as well as pathways to some who demonstrate incredible talent,
Mr Foster says, “often it's the opposite, let’s find the real talent and the others are there for these to flourish and emerge”.
“That's not John Moriarty Football, and that's certainly not Indigenous Football Australia."
Mr Foster said the IFA model has been tested, researched, proven and is now ready to roll out.
His personal testaments lie in the descriptions of its graduates, like Jada’s potential of being “the best goalkeeper in the world” and Marra woman Shadeene Evans as “a leading young talent in this country”.
Before 19-year-old Shadeene was a young Matilda, she was an inaugural JMF scholarship holder.
"The foundation’s done so much for me as a person,” she says.
“They’ve been very supportive of what I've achieved, and I wouldn't have done it without them."
Shadeene is giving back by mentoring the new young ones coming through the same program she did.
It was also announced today that Jada will be joining the staff as a scholarship mentor.
“We've all got the same goal which is to help these kids become better people and hopefully go somewhere with their football,” Jada says.
“These kids are going to come across some great challenges, and I know they’re going to overcome them.”
“I don't think they know how brave they are just yet.”