NIKITA BYRNES | NEWS
On 10 July, 2021, 25-year-old Ashleigh ‘Ash’ Barty defeated former Czech world champion Karolina Plíšková at Wimbledon, the oldest tennis tournament internationally. The scores in the three-set match were 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 against Plíšková in the Wimbledon ladies singles.
This win made Barty, a proud Ngaragu woman, the first Australian to win the Wimbledon grand slam since Lleyton Hewitt’s win in 2002. More significantly, it made Barty the first Australian woman since Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s win in 1980. Evonne Fay Goolagong Cawley AC MBE is a retired professional tennis player, who ranked as the world number one in 1971 and 1976, and has an astonishing one-hundred-twenty career titles. Barty’s outfit was a tribute to the dress Goolagong Cawley wore fifty years earlier. Before that, Margaret Court won the title in 1963, and Lesley Turner Bowrey won it in 1964.
Goolagong Cawley has long been a mentor to Barty, and said she was “chuffed” about the dress tribute. When interviewed from her Sunshine Coast home about Barty’s win, Cawley reflected on how she knew Barty would be “our next champion” when Barty was about 13-years-old, playing at the Australian Open. After her win, Barty said that “I hope I made Evonne proud.”
Ash Barty’s win was a win for all Australian women, but was especially significant to Aboriginal communities across the continent as they celebrated this victory at the end of NAIDOC week.
Media critics were quick to recognise that media outlets and reports only attributed Barty the title of “Australian,” erasing Barty’s Aboriginal identity, and the close link that she shares with Goolagong Cawley. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated Barty in a Tweet, saying, “A great Australian champion. Australia is bursting with pride.” Little mention was made by politicians in their congratulations of the significance of Barty’s win for Aboriginal communities nation-wide.
Writer Chelsea Watego wrote of the significance of Barty’s victory in The Guardian that it was a “moment of joy – but most notably Black joy, which hits differently than the sounds of ‘Aussie pride’ we are so familiar with.”
Cathy Freeman of the Kuku Yalanji and Burri Gubba peoples of north and central Queensland respectively, tweeted saying, “We are all so very proud of you.” Many compared Barty’s emotional collapse after realising her win to the historic image of Cathy Freeman seated on the Olympic track after realising her own win, 21 years apart. Both women carried the hopes of Aboriginal countries all over Australia on their shoulders, and both women were transformed into legends.
Congratulations Ash Barty! Your win is a proud moment for our nation and demonstrates the beauty of Black excellence.