There's nothing like sport to bring young people together.
Just ask Rachael Stewart and Michael Saunders, co-founders of Southern Aboriginal Sports.
Rachael, a Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara woman from Melbourne and Michael, a Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba and Gungarri man from Echuca, both experienced the personal and community benefits of sport first-hand as they grew up.
'We and others were supported by Victorian Aboriginal Youth Sport and Recreation (VAYSAR), which was the peak body at the time,' said Rachael.
'It was very significant in uniting us all as one Mob,' she added.
A few years ago, Rachael and Michael began reflecting on their own sporting journey, and that of their children, recognising that equivalent opportunities were not available for the next generation.
To solve this problem, Rachael and Michael founded Southern Aboriginal Sports (SAS), with the goal of providing equal sporting opportunities to young First Nations athletes.
'SAS is a hub and platform for Aboriginal children and youth, engaging in sporting program delivery,' said Rachael.
'We've been privileged to get some great opportunities from local Aboriginal sporting clubs like Warma Sports, the Melbourne Blacks and Fitzroy Stars.'
'As our journey has been supported by our local and state-wide Aboriginal communities, we believe we must provide even better opportunities for the next generation,' she added.
In 2022, this effort to pass it on to the next generation also found support from the Victorian Government's Aboriginal Sport Participation Grant Program with $15,000 in funding towards competition participation and uniform and equipment acquisition .
For Rachael and SAS’ Southern Lightning program, the funds have allowed more people to participate and to shine at local and regional competitions.
A high point for the club came in January, when they entered 3 Southern Lightning teams in the Eltham Dandenong Junior Basketball Tournament.
All 3 teams went on to become grand final champions , leaving their mark on one of the biggest junior basketball tournaments in the world.
'The Aboriginal Sport Participation Grant Program has made a significant difference for SAS and our Southern Lightning program, and we could not attend these events without that support,' said Rachael.
The program has also supported the growth of Southern Aboriginal Sports, which has expanded from an initial group of 10 athletes to the current roster of 60.
'The grants have been critical to supporting this growth,' said Rachael.
'They do a lot to support the work of our coaches, parents and community members, whose contributions to the club must also be acknowledged,' she added.
As SAS move from strength to strength, Rachael is confident that the skills and lessons provided on the court will translate off the court as well.
'It's empowering for Aboriginal children to express their individuality under the guise of a team-first concept,' she said.
'Nurtured by mentors, they are learning structures and philosophies through sport that can be applied in life,' she added.
'This approach means our kids will not only walk any path they choose - they will run it!'
The Aboriginal Sport Participation Grant program, delivered across three categories, provides grants of:
- up to $1,500 for teams to participate in state-wide or national sport carnivals
- up to $1,000 to cover team uniforms and sport equipment
- up to $250 per individual for the purchase of sporting uniforms and/or equipment
- up to $750 for travel and accommodation expenses.
The grants reflect the government's ongoing commitment to supporting the Victorian Aboriginal community.
For more information about the program and past grant recipients, go to Aboriginal Sport Participation Grant Program.