Lessons of the past inspire Matthew's winning speech

A tearaway Aboriginal bowler inspired the winning speech at the 2023 Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition.

A boy holding a trophy in front of a sign. A boy holding a trophy in front of a sign.
Image: New Lambton South Public School student Matthew Howley after winning the 2023 Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition.

New Lambton South Public School student Matthew Howley is the 2023 winner of the Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition.

Matthew’s prepared speech about Aboriginal bowler Eddie Gilbert, who dismissed Don Bradman in a fiery opening spell in a Sheffield Shield match in 1931 but was not recognised for his talent until after his death, won through with the judging panel.

“Despite the legendary display of bowling, I hadn’t heard of Eddie Gilbert,” Matthew told the Newcastle Herald.

Throughout his career, Gilbert was subjected to racism from opponents and teammates.

“Learning about Gilbert’s experience has opened my eyes to another side of Australia’s sporting history,” Matthew said.

“We cannot change Gilbert’s story, but it is a sobering reminder of the racism and intolerance First Nations people still face, both on and off the cricket pitch.”

The Multicultural Perspectives Public Speaking Competition has been running for 28 years and encourages primary school students to explore ideas of multiculturalism, while developing their public speaking skills and improving their confidence.

At each stage of the competition, contestants present a prepared speech and an impromptu speech.

More than 2000 students competed in the years 5 and 6 and the years 3 and 4 competitions.

Kurrajong Public student Isla Pilgrim won the years 3 and 4 competition with her speech ‘A Safe Place to Call Home’.

Matthew’s speech

‘He came at you with a blinding flash of arm and released the ball like a bullet. To bat against him was to know real fear'.

In what Australian cricket legend Don Bradman later described as the fastest bowling he’d ever faced, Indigenous bowler Eddie Gilbert dismissed Bradman in a stunning opening over in the first Sheffield Shield match of 1931. The first ball, Bradman blocked. The second tipped his hat, sent him off balance and made him fall backwards on the pitch. The third, bounced over Bradman’s head. The fourth knocked the bat from his hands! The fifth had him caught behind. Out for a duck!

Despite this legendary display of bowling, I had not heard of Eddie Gilbert. I enjoy playing cricket, and aspiring to be like those who make the Australian team. Have you ever thought about those who didn’t make the team – and perhaps, why they didn’t?

In my experience, playing cricket has been a way to connect with new people. During a time when I was being excluded at school playing and training with my cricket team lifted my spirits and helped me to feel accepted. Gilbert’s experience was very different. He was only three years old when he was forced to live in an Aboriginal settlement. He was denied his culture, educated in white ways, and integrated into white society through sports.

During his time playing cricket he was made to sleep in a tent on the practice pitch, away from the team. One teammate refused to speak to Gilbert, another tried to run him out in his first game. Some refused to share taxis, hotel rooms or dining tables with him. Gilbert was reported as saying, “It’s alright to be a hero on the field, but a black man can be lonely when he is not accepted after the game".

Gilbert also faced controversy over his bowling action. Some thought that no-one could possibly be so fast with such a short run-up so he must be bowling illegally. The allegation played right into the hands of those who stereotyped Aboriginals as lazy cheats. Queensland selectors filmed Gilbert’s arm action and viewed it in slow motion; they found no anomalies.

In January 1931 Gilbert took seven wickets for 91 runs against a touring West Indian team. Despite his success, Gilbert was never selected to play in the Australian team.

Historically, Cricket Australia has failed to encourage and select Indigenous cricketers. Faith Thomas was the first Indigenous cricketer to play for Australia. She made her debut in 1958. Jason Gillespie would be the next, in 1996: 460 men have represented Australia at an international level; just four have been Indigenous.

Fortunately, things are beginning to change. Initiatives encouraging kids from multicultural backgrounds to play cricket include the Usman Khawaja Foundation, a national Indigenous competition and a First Nations round in the Big Bash League. Quite a step forward from Gilbert’s day! We are also seeing more First Nations players representing Australia including Scott Boland, Darcy Short and Ash Gardiner.

While we are learning from our past, from my involvement in cricket locally it is evident that there is still more to be done before numbers of participants in junior teams are representative of our Indigenous population. Consultation with Indigenous people is an important step in identifying barriers to participation. We can work together to create opportunities, encourage role models and provide financial support and facilities. In some remote Aboriginal communities, sports facilities still comprise of an unmarked field.

We must also show respect for culture and call out racism and discrimination wherever it occurs. Gilbert died in 1978 after a long period of poor health which is said to have stemmed from the racism and injustice he suffered through his life. His cricket career ended in 1936.

Sadly, it was not until 2007 that he received due recognition. A bronze statue of Gilbert was erected, and a Queensland cricket ground and Indigenous sportsperson award were named in his honour.

Learning about Gilbert’s experience has opened my eyes to another side of Australia’s sporting history. We cannot change Gilbert’s story but it is a sobering reminder of the racism and intolerance First Nations people still face, both on and off the cricket pitch.

We must all work towards making cricket an inclusive game with equal opportunities for all. The discrimination Gilbert suffered must never be repeated.

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