When Shadeene Evans first trained with her soccer idol Kyah Simon, she kicked the ball around silently, too shy and star-struck to reveal she was a massive fan of one of the first female Indigenous soccer players for Australia’s national team The Matildas.
The 17-year-old now plays for Young Matildas, the Australian women's national under-20 team, and is a senior at the prestigious Westfields Sports High School in Sydney’s west.
Evans looks back at her first training session with Simon fondly. “It was great to get to train with someone you looked up to as a younger person,” Evans tells SBS Life.
“She was just an inspiration to us as Indigenous kids. She was inspirational to me.”
The young player’s journey to the national stage began in the remote Indigenous community of Borroloola in the Northern Territory. And it was in this small traditional community of 800 that her love for soccer grew. Evans remembers spending hours after school kicking around the soccer ball with her cousins. Her talent didn’t go unnoticed, soon landing stints playing for local tournaments and eventually state games representing the Northern Territory.
Her big break came at 13 when she was discovered by a John Moriarty Foundation talent scout – an organisation dedicated to supporting Indigenous talent in remote areas. She was offered a place as a boarder at Westfields with a host family, and went from playing in a tight-knit community to the manicured soccer fields of Australia’s biggest city overnight.
“When I first [arrived in Sydney] I found it very hard because I came down by myself - just trying to adapt to a new environment and the busyness. I got homesick a lot,” she says.
But Evans quickly adjusted and says coming of age in Sydney under the guidance of great coaches helped develop her confidence “as a player and as a person”. It also helped honed her skills by giving her the chance to compete with other young players at an elite level.
“It’s great playing and training in that environment with tough athletes that love playing. They help me push myself. My goal is to keep pushing, no matter how hard [things might get].”
Evans, who comes from the Mara tribe, describes herself as “Mara girl at heart” and says she finds solace connecting with her roots. Every school holidays Evans heads home to connect with extended family and participate in traditional culture including dance and dream time stories.
“Going out in the bush - fishing, camping, hunting and being in nature all the time - it’s one of the best feelings. I love going home and connecting with the land and culture. It brings me so much happiness,” she says.
“All the sacrifices, being away from home or just going through tough times can be hard. But I have all these people who support me, and I’m very thankful for the support and opportunities.
She also loves inspiring younger kids who flock around her on those visits home.
“It’s great to see the younger kids back home looking up to me. Hopefully that can open up many doors [for them to] just to see what’s outside Borroloola and have different experiences.
“[I tell them] if you love something, go for it. Keep chasing it… Once you’ve been given the opportunity, take it with both hands.”
SBS is covering the biggest games of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019™ tournament, live, free and in HD across television, radio and online. From June 8, watch or stream all Matildas games, the opening match, quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final on SBS.
All SBS live matches, replays and the FIFA Women’s World Cup Today™ daily highlights show will be available to enjoy anytime and anywhere at SBS On Demand.
All 52 matches will be live on SBS Radio in multiple languages and The World Game website and app will stream all SBS matches live alongside the latest scores, video highlights, breaking news, and analysis.
Fans can also join the #WorldGameLIVE discussion show on Twitter, from 5.30pm AEST* each match day.
SBS is presenting the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™ in partnership with Optus Sport.