Over recent years there has been a significant amount of interest of Rugby among the Torres Strait Islands (TSI), this has been illustrated with current and ex Wallabies David Pocock and Glen Ella visiting the Islands in 2013, with over 20 Indigenous schoolgirls from the TSI’s nominating to attend the National Indigenous Schoolgirls Ella Sevens Championships – of which 5 were lucky to attend and the first ever TSI Women’s team participating in the Cairns Ella 7’s Tournament.
With being exposed to these opportunities and the girls returning to the community and sharing their experiences to others, this has further increased the profile of Rugby on Thursday Island. In May 2014 representatives from Australian Rugby Union, Queensland Rugby Union and Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team Inc. visited Thursday Island to deliver development activities at local Primary and High schools; Come and Try Rugby Sessions for both Males and Females and Accredited Coach Education.
The successful trip allowed for Rugby to be expanded into the communities of the Torres Strait Islands & build relationships with the communities; promote programs run by Queensland Rugby Union, Lloyd McDermott Rugby and Australian Rugby Union; Identify talented players and upskill individuals in coaching - with the aspiration of working with local community members to potentially establish a Rugby Sevens tournament/competition among the Islands in the near future.
Representing the Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development Team was the National Indigenous Women’s Sevens Captain and Australian Pearls squad member Tallisha Harden. The trip allowed Tallisha who is of Torres Strait Islander heritage, to not only to use her Rugby experience to offer quality coaching and inspire young children to reach their goals but also provided her to connect with family members she had never met and explore her Torres Strait Islander roots and culture.
“Going home to the Torres Strait and trying to increase participation through Rugby Sevens was always going to be a challenge, due to the large interests in other sports among the islands. In saying this, my trip back home was one of the most amazing trips I've ever been a part of – particularly for me to travel to my “country” and connect to culture through Rugby. The interest, willingness to learn and commitment shown by the kids was absolutely astounding. We had kids travelling by dinghy’s from neighboring islands and others cramming into a bus just to attend our rugby sessions each morning and afternoon. The participation levels remained high throughout the week and the skill-level displayed by the Torres Strait Islander kids was incredible considering many had never played before. Most of the kids are just natural athletes. I found it especially rewarding because many Indigenous children lack the belief and the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and challenge them. Yet we had an abundance of kids and adults attending each session almost every day.
This is why I think it's so important to have positive and strong role models for these kids to look up to. Many Indigenous kids are reluctant to try something new and don't feel like they are able to achieve something unless they can see or hear about it first-hand, especially young girls. I'm humbled and proud to know I may have made a difference and been a positive influence in these kids’ lives. I had a role model as a child and they inspired me to set and work hard to achieve my goals. I want to do the same for other young Torres Strait Islander kids by motivating and encouraging them to achieve their goals through promoting education as well as sport”.