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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Women Inspire Physical Activity this NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week is held nationally from 8th July – 15th July and is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) history, culture and achievements. This week is also an opportunity to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to this country and society.

“As we celebrate NAIDOC Week, Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) wants to ensure that closing the health gap remains a top priority for our Australian Government. Closing the health gap means achieving health and life expectation equality for Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” says Anita Hobson-Powell, ESSA Chief Executive Officer.

Information from the Australia’s health 2018 Report revealed that in 2012–13, about 2 in 3 (64%) ATSI adults aged 18 and over in non-remote areas were not sufficiently active. However, in 2014–15, around 76% of ATSI children aged 4–14 were physically active for at least 60 minutes every day.

With physical inactivity accounting for about 8% of the health burden among ATSI peoples (compared to 6.6% in non-Indigenous Australians) encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to remain active as they age is vital.

“Higher rates of sedentary behaviours are associated with an increased risk of chronic disease. Improving physical activity levels presents a significant opportunity for health improvements and for reducing the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians,” adds Anita.

The theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week is ‘Because of Her, We Can’ – reflecting on the active and significant roles Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have played, and continue to play, at community, local, state and national levels.

“It is really important that we encourage our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mothers, Aunties, daughters, young sisters and cousins to be active,” explains Bree Sauer, Accredited Exercise Physiologist and proud Iman tribe woman.

“NAIDOC Week is a perfect time to reflect on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who have helped to promote the importance of physical activity in the community through their contributions to sport.”

Some inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from sport include:

  • Cathy Freeman, OAM – the first Australian Indigenous person to become a Commonwealth Games gold medallist at age 16. This was in 1990 for the 4 × 100m relay.
  • Nova Peris-Kneebone, OAM – the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal. This was at the 1996 Olympic Games with the Australian women’s hockey team, the Hockeyroos.
  • Rohanee Cox – plays for Sydney Uni Flames for the Women’s NBL and was the first indigenous woman to win a basketball medal for Australia.
  • Ashleigh Gardner – plays for the Sydney Sixers in the Australian Women’s Big Bash League and was the first indigenous woman to play in a cricket World Cup.
  • Kira Phillips – plays for Fremantle Dockers and was the first player of indigenous descent to score in the Women’s AFL.

“We are so proud of these deadly women who inspire and encourage our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mothers, Aunties, daughters, sisters and cousins to become more involved in sport and exercise in the community,” says Bree.

By encouraging the role of sport and exercise respectfully, Accredited Exercise Physiologists also play a key role in helping to close the health gap by providing exercise services to ATSI communities.

Bree adds that, “There are deadly Accredited Exercise Physiologists who run community exercise programs that are available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that are respectful of country and culture. You can locate an Accredited Exercise Physiologist in the community by using the search function on the ESSA website.”

Exercise is Medicine Australia has also published three factsheets on Aboriginal Health for Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), kidney disease and type 2 diabetes. The factsheets provide information on the condition, the benefits of exercise, how exercise produces benefits for that condition, and the most appropriate exercise for that condition.

ESSA, in consultation with Reconciliation Australia, is also developing a Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

“Through its RAP plan, ESSA aims to engage in meaningful conversations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and address some of the inequities that exist between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians, including, helping to close the health gap that exists,” confirms Anita.

To find out more about NAIDOC Week, please click here.


Artwork by Trent Squires – a proud Noongar man.