Cricket mourns Indigenous SA trailblazer

Cricket Australia and the SA Cricket Association have paid tribute to Faith Thomas, a fearsome pace bowler and the first Indigenous woman to play Test cricket for Australia, who has died at the age of 90.

 Faith Thomas with Matthew Bradley and Justin Langer at Adelaide Oval in 2003. Photo:  AAP/Tom Miletic

Faith Thomas with Matthew Bradley and Justin Langer at Adelaide Oval in 2003. Photo: AAP/Tom Miletic

She passed away on Saturday and the news was announced Monday.

Thomas (nee Coulthard) played her groundbreaking Test for Australia against England at Melbourne’s Junction Oval in February 1958, when she became the first Aboriginal woman to play for any Australian sports team.

She returned figures of 0-11 from six overs in what turned out to be her first and last Test.

Thomas was selected for tours of England and New Zealand but was deterred by the prospect of a long trip by sea and instead dedicated herself to her nursing career.

Her potential was summed up when she claimed 6-0 against the Adelaide Teachers College early in her career.

Thomas, whose family gave permission for her name to be used in reportage of her death, was a survivor of the Stolen Generations and was raised at Colebrook Home in South Australia’s Flinders Ranges.

One of Thomas’ first memories of cricket wasn’t a good one – being struck by the ball. It was at that point she decided the best way to protect herself was by picking up a bat.

But it was with the ball where she truly flourished.

As a child, Thomas played improvised cricket games on dirt roads using homemade bats and a rock if there was no ball.

She would often joke that her speed was the result of throwing stones at galahs.

It was only after training as a nurse that Thomas learned that women played organised cricket, and her career began when she was invited by a colleague to participate in a club game in Adelaide.

After just three games, Thomas was selected to represent South Australia and the following year played Test cricket for Australia.

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“Faith Thomas made a wonderful and groundbreaking contribution to cricket and the community, and this is a very sad day for all those fortunate to have known her or who were touched by her many accomplishments,” Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley said.

“As the first Aboriginal woman to represent Australia in Test cricket, Faith was an inspiration to those who have followed and she leaves an indelible mark on the game.

“Faith’s work in the community in many roles including as a nurse and midwife was also immense, and the care and compassion she displayed for the many people she helped was truly remarkable.”

SACA said that as one of the first Aboriginal nurses in South Australia and the first employed as a public servant, Thomas had a profound impact on thousands of patients, including during her work as a patrol nurse in Aboriginal communities.

She has also been an inspiration to emerging Aboriginal cricketers, with the Adelaide Strikers honouring Thomas by playing for the Faith Thomas Trophy during the First Nations Round every year in the WBBL.

“On average during her time as a nurse, Aboriginal people lived 20 years less than the rest of the population and were not even counted as citizens until Aunty Faith had celebrated her 37th birthday,” SACA said in a statement.

“Living out of her car, Aunty Faith travelled the country providing care to Aboriginal Australian’s, with the full impact of her selfless efforts unable to be measured. Well after her retirement from the medical profession, Aunty Faith fought strongly for the rights of Aboriginal peoples and received an Order of Australia in 2019 in honour of a life spent working for the betterment of others.”

She was also Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Cricket Advisory Committee of South Australia and Founder of the Aboriginal Sports Hall of Fame Federation.

SACA president William Rayner said that Aunty Faith’s impact on South Australia and beyond was impossible to measure.

“Faith Thomas’ story is as inspiring as it is incredible. A leader across medicine, sport, reconciliation and so much more, Aunty Faith created footprints that others have had the opportunity to follow in the decades since,” Rayner said.

“A brilliantly unique and successful cricketer, Aunty Faith’s journey was never simply about personal achievement – instead she always sought ways to improve the lives of others.

“Aunty Faith will be greatly missed, but such is the impact she has had on this country, she will forever be remembered and honoured for the way she lived her life. On behalf of the South Australian Cricket Association, I offer sincerest condolences to all those lucky enough to know and love Aunty Faith.”

-with AAP

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