At Monday night’s training we heard from President Jane Ryan about the important heritage of Sir Douglas Nicholls and the strong women in his life who equally strove for the well-being and equality of First Nations people, with a heartfelt call out against racism in all its forms. Read Jane’s speech below.

Representatives of our sporting club. Div 1 player, Rikki Ryan, and her Nan Sharon Hughes then addressed the group, speaking about their mob and journeys to football.

Unbeknownst to Rikki when she moved over from Western Australia last year to join Darebin, her Nan had also played for the Falcs in the 1990s. Sharon is an equally popular figure around our NFNL teams and it was heartwarming to hear from both Rikki and Sharon about the belonging and friendships they have formed over their times with the Falcons. Sharon also mentioned how important it is for the Falcons to celebrate with true heart and meaning these events as it is spoken about in community and welcomed.


I’d like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we’re meeting and training on today – the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I also pay my respects to all First Nations people in the room tonight.

Tonight we reflect on the Sir Doug Nicholls round, which has been commemorated for 8 years now by the AFL.  And a step on from the previous 11 years where the league has held an initiative to celebrate the contribution to the game by First Nations people.

It is linked to May 26 which is National Sorry Day, where we remember our shameful history of mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In particular, the Indigenous children that were forcibly removed from their families to be “assimilated” into white Australian culture, known as the “Stolen Generations.”

Despite growing up on Yorta Yorta country in Shepparton in the 1980’s, I didn’t learn about the amazing leaders that came from the area – people like William Cooper, Aunty Margaret Tucker and Pastor Doug Nicholls. Amazing people that grew up on the famous mission Cummeragunja, north of Shepparton on the Murray River (if you do anything this week to educate yourself, look up Cummeragunja walkoff)

Pastor Doug Nicholls was an incredible individual who worked tirelessly for his community, particularly in leading the AAL in Northcote, organising for the ’67 referendum to make sure Indigenous people had the right to vote – before then their rights were found in the Flora and Fauna Act-  but also supporting many Indigenous families under pressure from the 1930’s in Shepparton, to the Fitzroy years working for urban communities.

The level of racism that he was subjected to was documented and disgraceful. He was a brilliant athlete and at 5 foot 2” was fast, strong and had the hops. He played at the highest level when it wasn’t just the opposition players, spectators or fans that were racist. He trialled for Carlton and the trainers wouldn’t rub him down for the only reason that he was a proud Aboriginal man.

As our Club does – my mind goes to the women’s impact at this time and now. I think of his amazing wife and partner in all the work he did – Lady Gladys Nicholls who is with him in the statue at the park across from Parliament Station.

I reflect on the way Indigenous women were perceived in the 1930’s and the leadership capacity she would have had to do all the amazing things, in driving for equality and caring for those in need. All this despite not having been given the vote, facing racism and misogyny, and really not having a great deal of agency in Australian society at that time.

Despite all the barriers, she persisted and was a critical part of the movement to expose the inequity and racism of the time.  Her efforts changed community attitudes and shame in recognition that human rights were not being met.

As well as Lady Gladys Nicholls, its great that the AFL are also celebrating her daughter Aunty Pam Pederson, who has done a lot of work helping sporting clubs to do better when it comes to their role in supporting and celebrating Indigenous players. Also being an amazing athlete, a runner and swimmer, she has worked within the health and justice systems to integrate culturally appropriate ways of dealing with acting out behaviour – especially in the context of racism and being treated unfairly.

In particular, she worked as part of the Koorie court system in Shepparton – a successful pilot connecting elders to young people. Its clear that without recognition and acknowledgement of pain of wrong and hurt done in history and that continues today, that we are all suffering from not understanding our own history.

So this week I always think it’s important to take the opportunity to read, to listen and to improve our understanding of the impact of racism on First Nations people, the community and the whole of society. It’s a time to be sorry but also to have a plan about what you’re going to do about it yourself. What can you do to stop racism in your life – there should be no such thing as casual racism. A racist thing said or done is either conscious or unconscious and it shouldn’t matter intent – it needs to be called out as a racist act and then it is up to the person what they do about it.

I’m super proud of you all going out in our inaugural Indigenous jumper celebrating the connection to the land and water on Wurrundjeri country. Feel the strength of the women that lived, loved and played on the banks of the Merri. Community and family are who supports and nourishes you  – Lady Gladys Nicholls and Aunty Pam Pederson are great role models for us all to emulate. Good luck out there this week.”