Ancestral footprints: assumptions of 'natural' athleticism among Indigenous Australians.

Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 2012, 15 (2), pp. 23 - 35
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This article addresses the fascination with Aboriginal physical acumen in sport, arguing that although performance excellence ought to be appreciated there are risks associated with an obsession about the capabilities of Indigenous athletic bodies. In particular, there is a (generally unspoken) assumption that Indigenous people ought to rely on their sportive proficiency in order to command respect in wider society. This overlooks their potential for success in areas where the body is not centre stage, such as in education, science, business, information technology, fine arts, and so on. In developing a critique of sport performance and Indigenous involvement, the paper presents perspectives from two non-Aboriginal observers, Peter McAllister and Robert De Castella, one an academic and the other a former elite athlete. McAllister, influenced by evolutionary biology, contends that Indigenous Australians are naturally well equipped to be top-flight sprinters, while De Castella, influenced by his interest in endurance athletics, predicts that Indigenous Australians are naturally well equipped to be top-flight marathon runners. It is difficult to imagine a more starkly opposite set of athletic performance expectations from the same population group. The paper concludes that although sport remains a crucial domain for Indigenous pride and confidence, Aboriginal athletes like their non-Aboriginal peers can benefit from a range of skill sets via education, training and other types of professional or cultural development. The well-rounded athlete, whether Indigenous or otherwise, is arguably better placed to adapt to complex socio-economic environments both during elite sport and in a transition phase to life beyond the playing field.
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