Tennis SA on the way to reconciliation

With the new year leading into the Australian Open, it’s time to look back at Tennis SA’s efforts in helping create a reconciled state.

To start a Reconciliation Action Plan journey, Tennis SA started with a Reflect RAP. This stage provides the framework for scoping an organisation for an organisation’s capacity for reconciliation.

It means realising the opportunities the organisation might have to recognise and develop relationships with First Nations stakeholders, deciding on the vision for reconciliation and exploring the organisation's sphere of influence.

Tennis SA launched their REFLECT RAP mid-way through the tumultuous year that was 2021, it runs from June 2021 to June 2022.

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Their RAP is developed using artwork exclusively created by Adnyamathanha and Pitjantjatjarra and initiated Wati man Patrick Ikaringanyi Ferguson. Patrick is a Traditional Master Woodcarver and Artist and first learnt to make Boomerangs and other carvings from his Grandmother, when growing up in Tibooburra in the North West corner of New South Wales.

The work with Ferguson continued beyond this initial artwork, with Ferguson being invited to take part in the Adelaide Open, providing special gifts and carved trophies to players and winners, which can be seen here.

Ferguson is also a renowned photographer, having worked with Reconciliation SA several times also.

Reconciliation SA also spoke with Tennis SA’s Head of Tennis Development and Venues Matthew Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald explained that the initial thoughts for the need for Tennis SA to begin a reconciliation journey came when Tennis Australia reached out to Reconciliation Australia for a nationwide RAP.

After consultation, however, it was decided that “due to the unique landscape of each state, that we create our own state based (Tennis SA member association) Reconciliation Action Plan.

Tennis SA then started the process of writing our Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan, which we are proud to have released in June 2021”

The early steps from Tennis SA’s perspective, Fitzgerald clarified, came in 2018 when Tennis SA’s first Indigenous team was taken to Darwin to represent South Australia at the National Indigenous Tennis Carnival (NITC).

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“The players were identified through the Evonne Goolagong Foundation. It noticed though when in Darwin that from a participation standpoint, we were considerably down on player numbers when compared to other states.”

That realisation started a conversation between Tennis SA team members, board members and the Tennis SA Diversity and Inclusion group on how more opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander to play tennis can be created.

“The goal is to identify how many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples play tennis across South Australia, provide more opportunities and clear pathways in all aspects of our sport to ultimately increase participation”, says Fitzgerald.

It was through the Evonne Goolagong Foundation, which was established in 2012, that Tennis SA was able to start a more refined conversation about how to increase First Nations participation in the sport. The focus was not only on playing though, but also on administration roles, coaching roles and umpiring roles.  Fitzgerald explained, “During our process for writing our Tennis SA Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan, we engaged Reconciliation Australia, Reconciliation SA and other Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders peoples to contribute and guide us in our journey.”

While early in their reconciliation journey, it was in 2020 that Tennis SA was able to seize a sizeable opportunity to further their cause.

As Fitzgerald discloses, “The idea of having a local Indigenous Carnival was thought of in 2019 but unfortunately due to Covid restrictions these plans were placed on hold. The NITC to be held in Darwin in 2020 was cancelled due to Covid border closures.”

But all was not lost.

“Whilst this was a disappointing development it opened up state-based opportunities to hold their own Indigenous Tennis Carnivals and that is how the NITC – SA came to life.”, says Fitzgerald, and continued to say “This event was planned in consultation with Reconciliation SA, the Tennis SA RAP working group, Tennis Australia and the City of Playford Council. Each of these stakeholders coming together created opportunities for over 150 Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander children the chance to play tennis, learn about their culture and even receive a tennis racquet and ball to ensure they can play tennis well after the event has finished.”

Tennis SA hopes to continue building the event year on year and create activations across regional South Australia to ensure all First Nations peoples have access to tennis. Making the NITC-SA an annual event with opportunities for participants to represent South Australia each year at the NITC in Darwin.

Fitzgerald hopes that through their RAP Tennis SA can “raise awareness, not only through our staff and board but also our affiliates and the wider tennis community. We believe this to be an ongoing process and will work hard to ensure opportunities are created for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples in all aspects of Tennis.”

The NITC - SA was filmed and a video produced that is featured on the Tennis SA and can be seen below.

To add to the milestones achieved so early on in their reconciliation journey, in November, Tennis SA and the NITC-SA won the inaugural Sport SA Reconciliation Award.

An award that signals not only the achievements that Tennis SA has already made, but that the influence and change that Tennis SA can have on the future for First Nations people in the sport of tennis, through persistence and commitment to change and a better tomorrow.