Boland’s journey of Indigenous discovery

Melbourne Stars cricketer Scott Boland tells how he found out he was Indigenous a year or two ago. South Yarra, Melbourne. Monday December 18th 2017. Photo: Daniel PockettScott Boland’s family always knew there was a piece of the puzzle missing. They knew Boland’s maternal grandfather John Edwards was adopted, but just where he came from was a mystery. That question mark on the family tree was an itch that Boland’s uncle Peter felt needed to be scratched. So he started investigating.

What he found was surprising. John Edwards, who died in 2000, was Aboriginal, a member of the Gulidjan tribe from the Colac area.

“I didn’t really know what to think at the start,” Boland told Fairfax Media this week ahead of his Melbourne Stars’ Big Bash League opener against Brisbane Heat at the Gabba on Wednesday night.

“Since then, I think our family is pretty proud of it.

“We’ve still got a lot to learn about our heritage.

“The more knowledge we gain, the better we are to talk about it together.”

Proud of the discovery, the family has continued to unearth information since finding out about their roots three or four years ago.

Boland was already in his mid-20s when this bit of his past was uncovered. He wanted to embrace his background without being disrespectful. Helping him do that has been Cricket Australia’s Indigenous engagement specialist Paul Stewart.

“We’ve had some really good chats about it; learning a lot more about Indigenous culture and what it means to the Indigenous people,” Boland said.

“I think almost the best thing is we’re role models for the Indigenous community.

“Anything we can do to help and hopefully help the next Indigenous Australian cricketer, we’re obviously happy to do.”

Boland and brother Nick, himself a talented quick who played for Victoria’s Futures League team earlier this season, played together for Australia’s Indigenous team during the off-season, while Nick had already played for Victoria in the national Indigenous championships.

For Scott, the experience was another eye opener as he got to see the strength in Australia’s Indigenous cricket ranks first hand. Particularly impressive were D’Arcy Short, who has become a regular player for Western Australia, and Dane Ugle, who has featured in WA’s Futures League side.

“I didn’t really know what to expect. I was actually surprised about how good some of the players were,” Boland said.

“We played a game against the NPS [National Performance Squad] and absolutely flogged them.

“You could see how much it means to those people to give them opportunities. It was pretty special.

“There are definitely some very talented Indigenous cricketers around the country.”

There was a bonus, too. Scott and Nick, born just two years apart, have always been pretty close, but this Indigenous experience allowed them to play together for the first time in eight or nine years.

They are hoping it’s not the last time either. Next year marks the 150-year anniversary of the famous Aboriginal team cricket tour of England, the first Australian team to do so. To mark the occasion, CA are sending men’s and women’s Indigenous teams back to the UK. Both Boland brothers want to be a part of it, as does Scott’s Victorian teammate Daniel Christian, the captain of the national Indigenous team and one of only three men from Indigenous backgrounds – the others being Boland and Jason Gillespie – to have played for Australia. There are just two women to have done so: Faith Thomas and Ashleigh Gardner, whose star has risen over the past 12 months.

If Scott goes on the tour, there will be a poetic connection given his late grandfather’s tribe is only a few hours away from the home of Johnny Mullagh, the outstanding all-rounder of the 1868 tour.

All that is still a fair way in the distance though. In the short term, Boland is focused on helping the Stars end their BBL drought, with the team yet to claim their maiden title despite making the semi-finals in every year of the competition.

Part of the Stars’ preparation for the tournament was an activity-filled day in Phillip Island, including what Boland said was a hilarious skit night highlighted by Daniel Worrall’s impersonation of Ben Hilfenhaus. “It was probably one of the funniest days I’ve ever had,” Boland said.

“I think it’s good to do things like that before a tournament, I think it really brings everyone together.”

Boland doesn’t think the Stars are burdened by their consistent finals failures, preferring to focus on their consistency in getting there in the first place.

On a personal level, the fast bowler says his body has recovered from a heavy workload in the first half of shield season, much of which was spent bending his back on flat MCG decks. “It’s been good to freshen up and get the body back into the rigours of Twenty20 cricket,” Boland said.

“I think it’s almost underestimated how hard those two hours in the field are, especially for a bowler. Just to get your body back into that mode instead of the 96 overs a day where you’re standing around for a lot of it. Get the constant movement back and all the speed back.”

And he is looking forward to again bowling with veteran John Hastings, who has returned from injury, having also been appointed Stars captain, replacing the retired Dave Hussey.

“Another bowler who can bowl at the front, middle and is really good at the back end,” Boland said.

“They’re a dream to have in any team. I look forward to bowling with [Hastings] at the death.”

Boland is already a role model for the country’s Indigenous cricketers, who CA’s participation numbers show swelled from 24,000 in 2014-15 to 54,000 in 2016-17. But he stands to make a bigger impression if he can return to the international scene after playing 14 one-day internationals and three T20 internationals for Australia last year, having also been called up to Australia’s Test squad two years ago.

While he didn’t set the world on fire when given his chance in 2016, Boland says he’s still in the mix to get back, most likely in the shorter formats. “I had a really good start to the shield season,’ he said.

“You never know what’s around the corner. Whoever the form fast bowlers are in Australian cricket will get an opportunity. Hopefully I’m one of them.”

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