By Claire Ottaviano
A PASSION for sport and a drive to see improved life outcomes for young children in Midland saw Swan View’s Cheryl Kickett-Tucker appointed a member of the Order of Australia this week.
The Wadjuk Noongar traditional owner, Curtin University Research fellow and former state Women’s National Basketball League player takes her research into Aboriginal education, health and wellbeing and applies it at the grass-roots level through the Kaat, Koort and Horizons basketball program for local children and teens.
Along with her father Allen Kickett as founding chair, Professor Kickett-Tucker created the Midland-based Koya Aboriginal Corporation and its research arm Pindi Pindi.
“Koya stands for utilising the strengths of the community and teaching them to fish, not to give them fish,” she said.
“It stands for teaching people with skills, knowledge and heart to be the driver of their own destiny.
“We know life is tough, but there are things that are brilliant and we’re going to help you refocus your lens to know about that and use it to overcome any challenges you’ve got.”
Born and raised in Midland, she developed an obsession for basketball at nine-years-old.
“Basketball at that level teaches you things like being on time, working in a team, being respectful, being responsible, planning.
“I was 14, coaching, umpiring and playing basketball when my mum quietly pulled me aside and said to me, ‘you cannot eat a basketball’.
“She was saying I needed to keep up my school grades… I wasn’t a smart, smart kid but I really applied myself.
“I had that hard working kind of nature and that came about through basketball.”
The spur to seek an academic pathway came after she sought advice from a university careers liaison to study sport science.
“She [careers liaison] said Aboriginal students weren’t good at studying science and warned me against pursuing this because most failed.
“That spurred me on because don’t say no, don’t say no to me, you don’t know me.”
In the years following that moment she finished a Bachelor of Applied Science, an Associate Diploma of Applied Science, a Master of Science from the University of Oregon and completed a PhD.
“I am a fulltime uni professor then after 5 o’clock I get stuck into the community services stuff,” she said.
“Life is tough, academia is tough, I’ve got documents to do, papers to write and students I look after, but the community work with those kids, that’s the heart.
“That’s what keeps me growing and I’ve missed that during COVID-19.”
Over the past 20 years Koya Aboriginal Corporation has adapted to meet the needs of the community.
“Back then there wasn’t a group highlighting the strengths of our people and doing street-based community approaches, development and building relationships with people,” she said.
“Now, I can see challenges that ended decades ago remerging with kids, it’s a cycle, reinventing itself.
“Once kids are strong in their cultural identity, no matter what culture they come from, that is the thing that will drive them and help them question the forces around them that might want to steer them in this or that direction.
“If they have that, it is a shield.”
The future for Professor Kickett-Tucker and her community lies in securing funding and resources to help give local youngsters sport opportunities around Australia and the world.
Anyone can nominate any Australian for an award in the Order of Australia.
Visit www.gg.gov.au for more information.