Kylie Whitehead on Acknowledging Country

by BowlsSA5 on June 3, 2020

It might be a small step, but nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction and we are proud to be on the journey.

The Bowls SA Board have moved to implement the following:

  1. Provide a verbal Acknowledgement of Country at the first annual board meeting,
  2. Include a written Acknowledgement of Country on board, committee and staff meeting agendas and minutes,
  3. Display an Acknowledgement of Country on,
  4. Deliver a verbal Acknowledgement of Country at Bowls SA functions.

So what does this mean for Indigenous Australians?  We thought we’d ask a World Champion.  How lucky are we to have a truly inspirational female bowler in Kylie Whitehead, who caught the attention of South Australia as recently as last year when she took out the World Bowls Singles Champion of Champions here at the Adelaide Bowling Club in November.

Kylie, is Adelaide officially your most favourite place in the whole wide world…?

Haha, I have always loved visiting Adelaide, it is a beautiful city.  My grandparents actually lived there when they came out from England, so they know the area quite well and still have lots of friends there.  It will always hold a special place in my heart from now after winning the world championship there, and I would love to go back to the Adelaide Bowling Club again for a roll, and catch up with all the friends I made, everyone was really lovely and so welcoming and it’s a great club!

Where is your family, and your mob from?

My tribe is Warlpiri, from my Mother’s side and we have a really strong connection to the land and I have lots of family up there still, and also around Alice Springs.  My dad is English and I actually grew up with my dad’s parents, but they have always allowed me to connect to my culture and encouraged me to keep in contact with my Aboriginal family.

Where is your home club and how long have you been playing bowls?

I play bowls at Wodonga Bowling Club, and have since I started playing with my Grandpa (dec.) at 16.  I can’t believe I have nearly been playing for 10 years, it’s gone so quickly, but has been an amazing journey.  The world championship was my first and only time playing for Australia, but was an amazing experience, and hopefully one day, I will be able to wear the green and gold again.

As an Indigenous woman and a world champion, what strength did you draw on from your culture to inspire your passion and drive to compete and to represent your family, your people and your country?

I think all Indigenous athletes and Indigenous people in general have a special strength that we are able to draw in tough or challenging times that has been passed on over thousands of years of survival and tribulations that our ancestors have faced.

We have a special connection to the land that I feel gives us that extra inspiration, and want to do our family, our people and our culture proud.  I definitely draw on this for any challenging life situation or sporting situation.

Each bowls club around the country practices its own traditions for sport and mateship on lands that holds 60,000 plus years of strength in culture.  What does culture mean to you?

I think culture is multidimensional.  There are many aspects that make up the meaning of culture.  But in short, to me it means the make up of who you are from your heritage and your family, and how that impacts on the choices you make in your life from the everyday small choices to the big life changing choices.

Kylie, when I asked if you’d be involved in our announcements of incorporating Acknowledgement of Country into our traditions, you were 100% in.  Why?

Reconciliation is something that all Indigenous Australians and hopefully most of non-Indigenous Australians are striving for.  I believe every little bit helps, and the more we can make people culturally aware, the closer we will be to achieving Reconciliation.

It is fantastic when people are passionate about making a difference and doing their part to get Indigenous Australia recognised and more included as part of Australia’s make up and culture.  I was more than happy to help.  If everyone does their part then we will get closer to reconciliation everyday!

How does it make you feel when you attend an event or gathering that opens with an Acknowledgement of Country?

I always feel really touched when there is an Acknowledgement of Country included.  I do feel however that people don’t fully understand the meaning of acknowledgement and more education could be provided to people to help them better understand how much it really means to Indigenous Australians and our culture to be recognised.

What would it mean to you to attend a bowls event where an Acknowledgement of Country was made?

I have been to a few events, mainly national events where an acknowledgement has been conducted, but having it introduced at all levels of bowls would be a huge step in making people more aware and culturally sensitive.

Bowls SA are aiming to hit 40:40:20 on their boards by this year’s AGM and we’ve extended that guideline onto clubs by 2021.  To do that, we are focussing on building on the already great environments to be more inclusive of age, ability, gender and culture.

Kylie, you would’ve walked through the doors of a bowling club or two in your time, what did the more inclusive clubs have that gave you that “welcome, stay as long as you want” feeling?

I think to entice more people into clubs, making them more visually attractive and bright makes a big difference.  Music always makes for a great atmosphere and cuts through that awkward silence that you can sometimes get walking into a new club.

The people definitely make a difference, having friendly staff and members go a long way.  Plus a smile costs nothing! 🙂 I think country clubs do this well, as everyone knows everyone, and country people are always up for a chat and a bev or 2.

Finally Kylie, how have you spent ISO and what’s next on the bowls calendar for you?

I have actually enjoyed being in isolation, just having free weekends and not having and commitments or responsibilities has been a welcomed break.  I have also been able to spend some quality time with my Grandma which I don’t get much time to do between work, bowls and other little hobbies such as social netball and going to the gym.

Like plenty of people, our garden is undergoing some transformations too haha but I am definitely keen to get back out and socialising when we are able, and hopefully have a roll in the not too distant future!

Kylie, a thousand times thankyou for being so generous with your thoughts and your time.  How do you say, “Thanks World Champ” in your language?

I actually don’t know that one sorry haha, but definitely a future endeavour to learn some of my tribe’s language.


Click here to read more about what an Acknowledgement of Country is, and how to implement it at your club.

Click here for 7 tips on how to deliver an Acknowledgement of Country with meaning