How this Perth Scorchers batter is helping attract more Indigenous athletes into playing cricket

Australia World

Mikayla Hinkley is a journey-woman of Australian cricket.

The 26-year-old was the first player to represent four Women’s Big Bash League clubs, and has returned for a second stint with the Perth Scorchers, seven years after her first.

She’s learnt a lot in that time.

“I think when you’re young, sometimes you get caught up in wanting to be more like a particular cricketer that is successful,” Hinkley said.

“But now I kind of have my own cricket identity and how I play, and my flair.

“That’s something that I’ve really embraced probably only over the last 12 to 18 months.”

Mikayla Hinkley taking a swing at the ball near the crease.

Hinkley at the crease for the Scorchers during her first stint with the WA team.( AAP: Richard Wainwright)

Cricket hasn’t just provided Hinkley with a sporting career, it’s also allowed her to connect with her Indigenous heritage and become a role model for aspiring Indigenous athletes.

“My mum’s from a remote desert community in south-west Queensland, Cunnamulla,” she said.

“I didn’t grow up out there, I actually grew up in Western Sydney.

“Where I grew up gave me more of an opportunity to play cricket because I wasn’t in a remote region.

“I got more opportunity through sport, but I wasn’t as connected to culture because I lived so far away from my country.”

Balancing sport with connection to country

During her time with the Brisbane Heat, Hinkley sat on the Queensland First Nations Cricket Advisory Committee which aimed to increase Indigenous participation in cricket.

She sees facilitating a connection with country while providing a sporting pathway as a major step to increasing First Nations participation.

“I see that as a barrier for a lot of First Nations athletes, that to get good opportunity, they’ve got to move away from home,” she said.

Mikayla Hinkley stands with a cricket bat propped on her shoulder.

Professional cricketer Mikayla Hinkley believes having connection to country is equally important as opportunities in sport.(ABC News: Tom Wildie)

“If I’d grown up on country and away from major city centres, then I probably wouldn’t be playing professional cricket.”

But Hinkley believes maintaining that connection once a sporting career begins is equally as important.

“I think it’s just about the organisation having a real understanding and connection with the importance of being culturally centred for our First Nations people,” she said

“That’s in any sport; it’s allowing our athletes if they need that space and time to go home and back to their community, or have some members of their community brought to them.

“For us First Nations people, in order for us to have any sort of autonomy, we need to have some culturally-centred wellbeing and sense of self.”

Hinkley believes there is an increasing acceptance and understanding from sporting organisations of the need for First Nations athletes to remain connected with their communities.

“I still think we’re at the very infancy stage of that, but the trajectory is up, which is great,” she said.

“It’s all about sustaining relationships. Connecting to community is a continuum. You’re constantly building on those relationships.”

‘Representation is everything’

Hinkley’s return to the Perth Scorchers has provided her with the chance to continue her advocacy in a new state.

She wants to be involved with the Western Australian Aboriginal Cricket Advisory Committee, helping bring through Indigenous talent.

She acknowledges its a challenge, especially with Australian Rules having well established pathways.

“I think it’s about having more presence in those remote communities, from our sporting organisations in cricket,” Hinkley said.

Mikayla Hinkley with bat in hand in the practice nets.

Mikayla Hinkley is on a mission to increase Indigenous participation in cricket.(ABC News: Tom Wildie)

“And going out to community and seeing the talent and seeing where that kind of fits into a growth perspective of getting more First Nations people involved in our game.

“I think representation is everything. We hear it a lot, especially by First Nations women, representation is so much and just to have more presence in communities is the starting point.”

As a proud Kunja women, Hinkley recognises she is part of that representation.

“I think at the base of it all, I can only be me, culturally proud, and who I am, when I feel empowered,” she said.

“I know that any young Aboriginal woman or girls looking up to me needs to feel empowered and enriched and culturally centred.”

But her ambitions of removing barriers for young First Nations people goes beyond sport.

Hinkley was one of the first women in her family to attend university, and finding a way of linking formal Western education with Indigenous culture is an area of interest.

“It just comes to empowerment and showing our young girls that they can do anything and that breaking down barriers is doable.”

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