She’s closing in on the title of world’s best all-rounder, but Aussie star Ash Gardner’s influence isn’t limited to what she can do with the bat, ball and in the field.
Gardner is so much more than just an elite athlete, with the proud Muruwari woman a leading voice in the community hoping to promote her people by learning and teaching about her culture.
It’s why First Nations Round is so important to her, with the WBBL bringing it in last season to honour Indigenous culture on and off the field.
The round will wrap up on Wednesday night and it’s fitting Gardner and her Sixers will host the Heat in a match that will garner huge interest with top spot possibly on the line.
Gardner is one of six Aboriginal players in the WBBL this season and one of just a handful to have represented Australia on the international stage.
But for all her achievements with the bat and ball, she’s just as thrilled to be part of something bigger with First Nations Round an important step in the journey.
“It’s huge. It’s something I’ve wanted to see happen in the league for so long, so to see it come to fruition last year was incredible,” she told NCA NewsWire.
“To actually see other players get on-board and want to know more has been great because it actually creates an awareness, and that’s probably the best thing about it.
“It sparks conversations about First Nations people, so it’s an excellent tool to have because it’s an education piece.”
The round features smoking ceremonies, barefoot circles, a welcome to country before each match and traditional songs played at games, but perhaps the most significant part is the jerseys.
All eight teams have worn specially designed jerseys by local artists who have told incredible stories through their designs.
For Gardner, this is one of the most special parts of the week, especially given she’s immersed herself in art and painting and is proud to tell the Muruwari story through her creations.
The Sixers jersey was designed by Bidjigal woman Jordan Adler, with Gardner and BBL player Dan Christian playing a part to share their connection with the local area.
“The sand goanna is my clan totem, so it’s basically our spirit animal and we can never eat or kill it,” explained Gardner, with the goanna prominent on the front of the shirt.
“That stems right back from my ancestors right from the start. It’s a really cool symbol that’s on our jersey, and I didn’t really know how to put a little personal touch on there, so I thought that’d be cool to do.
“A couple of the girls have said that it’s the coolest piece of the design and it’s something that I love being able to wear.
“I also get to learn about the other Indigenous players in the league and what the different strips mean.
“People tend to forget the stories behind them and why the artist has chosen to depict those stories on the jersey the way that they have.
“I know that last week down in Melbourne, I was telling a couple of the girls what our jersey means and the significance behind the little symbols on it, and it was cool to see how much they cared.”
The promotion of Indigenous culture has been a growing theme across all sports in Australia, and while she hasn’t had much to do with NRL stars Latrell Mitchell and Josh Addo-Carr, or former AFL player Eddie Betts, their work has inspired her.
“I follow a lot of them on social media and it’s fantastic to see the backing that they give their brothers that play in the leagues,” she said.
“It’s so good to see them call out racism because I think that’s powerful and goes quite a long way to the average person to see someone with that platform calling it out at that level.
“Thankfully, it’s something I haven’t had to face first hand, but being able to see them do that is important and sends a message that it’s not OK.”
First Nations Round may be coming to an end, but Gardner hopes it will only grow in future years.
“It all stems back to education and taking pressure off the other Indigenous players within groups to utilise their voice and get these messages driven to the wider community,” she said.
“It would be fantastic to see players of all backgrounds to spread these messages because I think it’s really important for all people to have these conversations so it reaches wider communities.
“I hope in the future people actually want to do it but also that they stay engaged and understand why we want this round to happen and why it’s so important for First Nations people to see that we’re backing the culture.”