By Allira Toby

I was born in Brisbane and raised in Ipswich, but I come from two tribes: the Kanolu and the Gangulu. My mob are from Mt Morgan, a little country town about 30 minutes outside of Rockhampton in Central Queensland. My parents met there as high school sweethearts and they’ve been together ever since.

My dad, Anthony, was a gun footballer and my mum, Daphne, has been a health worker for as long as I can remember. So I grew up between football grounds in Brisbane and the Indigenous community in Ipswich. I think those influences have shaped the person I am today.

Football has always been in my family. My grandparents on dad’s side started up a club in Mt Morgan and I was dragged along to games from the moment I was born. My brother still plays for our junior club, Ipswich City Bulls.

But I know my experience is rare among our mob. We have a lot of fantastic Indigenous football advocates working behind the scenes, but the game still isn’t as embedded in our communities as some other sports. Indigenous football has come a long way, but there’s still so far to go. 

I spent the off-season in Brisbane at Olympic FC. As far as I know, they are still the only football club in the country to have signed up for a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). That’s one of the reasons I wanted to play for them and help the women’s team get back into the NPL. I think clubs in the A-Leagues could follow Olympic’s lead in celebrating and recognising Indigenous culture.

Growing up, I wasn’t really aware of Indigenous role models in football. Besides dad, I looked up to Cathy Freeman. I loved her. To me, she changed the perception of Indigenous athletes in sport. Partly because she was a freak, but also because she was proud to be one of us. She carried our flag and represented our community. 

Cathy Freeman was an Aboriginal girl from country Queensland, just like me. She was shy, like a lot of our mob, but she was also a natural leader. I think there must be more Cathy Freemans out there in the bush, and I want to make sure they see football as an option. It’s important that young Indigenous boys and girls can see a pathway in our game.

That’s why I’ve started working with the Moriarty Foundation, the organisation behind Indigenous Football Week, and their program John Moriarty Football (JMF). At the moment, because of COVID, I’ve been limited to helping out via online sessions with some of the girls in Dubbo in the Central West of New South Wales. But next time I’m in Queensland, I’ll hopefully get to go up to Kuranda, which is one of JMF’s hubs in the Far North. 

But my focus for the next few months is with Canberra United in the A-League Women. This is the fourth club that I’ve played for in the league, and I can say that the culture here is second to none. At Canberra, what you see is what you get. Even though I’ve only been here for five weeks, I feel settled and the girls have made the transition very easy for me.

The last 12 months have been a rocky road. This time last year, I was stuck in Portugal during the worst of COVID after being frozen out by my club. When I returned to Sydney FC, I didn’t get as much game time as I would have liked. So this season is very important for me. At Canberra, we’ve spoken about what we want out of the season, both as individuals and as a team. For me, I want to play consistent minutes, I want to score goals and I want to enjoy my football. 

If I can achieve that, who knows? I definitely would like to play overseas again, and I still dream of playing for the Matildas. I know there’s a lot of girls like me who are looking for a call up to the squad – especially as we get closer to the World Cup in 2023. 

Whatever happens, I’m committed to creating positive change for my community. It’s great that Football Australia have set up the National Indigenous Advisory Group, which has been a long time coming. There’s so much energy in Indigenous football at the moment, so it’s on us as Indigenous athletes to be visible and active in our communities. It’s not good enough to just be on TV – we’ve got to get out there and try to make a difference. 

This In My Words feature by Allira Toby coincides with Indigenous Football Week 2021. The theme for Indigenous Football Week 2021 is “Gender Equality in Football – Changing the Game” and will focus on the power of football to unlock the potential of Indigenous girls and women and improve gender equality, from grassroots to elite. Indigenous Football Week brings the football community together to support inclusion, cultural recognition and diversity.