Her win put Australian tennis back into the spotlight and it has been magic to watch, but for me it has a deeper meaning.
Shelley Ware

14 Jun 2019 - 2:08 PM  UPDATED 24 Jun 2019 - 9:23 AM

The whole nation was alive with anticipation and support for tennis star Ashleigh Barty throughout the French Open. When she qualified for the final, it went next level.

Now, after winning the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham, Barty has become the No.1 tennis ranking in almost half a century. 

I’m a proud Aboriginal woman and my Facebook feed went into overdrive with support from all Australians, young and old. It was filled with Ash Barty love, and pride for her achievement. When she won the French Open in straight sets,  6-1 6-3, my social media went into melt down. Her win put Australian tennis back into the spotlight and it has been magic to watch.

When I was growing up Evonne Goolagong was the number one tennis player during the 70s and 80s, winning 14 Grand Slam titles. I was too young to understand in the 70s but I certainly did in the 80s. My Dad was so proud of her and he would stay up and watch every one of her games. She was admired and loved by the nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were so proud to see an Aboriginal woman achieving at the highest level. We looked up to her as a hero and she played a role in how we felt as women and how I felt as an Aboriginal girl growing up. She is still so loved and we flock to her side anytime she is at a public event for a photo and tell her story to our children because she made it possible. 

Growing up I always had a constant inner voice in my head, that inner voice that would say 'You can’t do that, you are Aboriginal.'

Three years ago tennis wasn’t Ash’s passion anymore so she put the racquet down and played cricket for Brisbane Heat. She was homesick and was taking time to look after her mental health. Kudos to Ash for listening to her heart and head and taking the break. It's a journey many of those who are outsiders ascending at elite levels understand. Our paths to the top are not are always linear but mixed with detours and interesting zig-zags.  

Barty took the time to grow and mature closer to home and, well, the proof is in the French Open trophy she now has in her hands.

Growing up I always had a constant inner voice in my head, that inner voice that would say “You can’t do that, you are Aboriginal.” Even though I had loving, highly successful parents, this was the message I internalised from wider Australia. This voice would always talk to me. It held me back too many times to count.

When I was young girl, I also had the inner voice telling me “Girls can't do that” . It wasn’t just an inner voice, it was a daily voice I would hear. I would hear it from my teachers, my principal, friends, family, strangers.

My dreams have come true, and I can relate to Ash Barty and how she has had to work so hard to make her dreams come true.

I didn’t see many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on TV achieving greatness. We certainly did have some but they were few and far between and not as beautifully celebrated as Ash Barty has been. People like Barty take away those negative inner voices and replace them with “Ash Barty is Aboriginal, she did it and so can I”.

I would question these norms as a young girl. I dreamed of being on radio as a reporter and sharing people’s stories. Today I am a presenter and panellist for the NITV/SBS Marngrook Footy Show, where I have been dissecting AFL for 10 years, and recently featured on AFL.com.au as a special guest presenter. My dreams have come true through hard work and determination, despite the very difficult moments along the way. I can relate to Ash Barty and how she has had to work so hard to make her dreams come true, and break through the many barriers to achieve the pinnacle of her sport, and I applaud her.

Thankfully there has been more momentum in Australia today to support girls in sport - with the introduction of AFLW and campaigns like “This Girl Can” , with even major companies like Nike running ad campaigns that include and empower women.

Society has started to make changes in the language and expectations used for women and girls. Girls are doing what they love and feeling empowered and well supported. Wins like Ash Barty’s play a huge role in raising the profile of women’s sport in Australia. We have to keep the movement of empowerment for girls and women, on and off the fields and courts, so they keep having success and enjoyment at the level they wish to achieve.

Ash Barty’s win will stay with this generation of young girls and they will remember this moment, the moment that gave them encouragement and strength to achieve their dreams. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls will be given that extra lift, knowing that if Ash Barty can achieve winning the French Open they too can achieve anything if they put their minds, heart and soul to it.

Shelley Ware is a radio journalist and presenter for NITV's 'Marngrook Footy Show'. You can follow Shelley on Twitter @ShelleyWare. 

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