As young as she is, current Wallaroo squad member and Wiradjuri Women Grace Kemp wants to see the same opportunities given to young First Nations players as she got on her pathway to gold.
Growing up in the small regional community of Harden in Southwest NSW, Kemp only started playing the game at the age of 16 when her club started a women’s side.
It wasn’t until she was picked up by the Lloyd McDermott Foundation and introduced to coach Niccy Muller where was able to explore her First Nations culture and gain the personal growth needed to reach the heights of the professional game.
“If it wasn’t for the opportunities I got coming up I wouldn’t be where I am today with the Wallaroos, I thought I’d be playing basketball,” Kemp mentioned.
“I’m really grateful for the Lloyd McDermott Foundation, I was able to play with them for three years and while doing that it changed my entire life and my outlook towards the game.
“I played up in Brisbane at Sevens nationals for Lloydies and was introduced to Niccy which was huge for me, anytime I think of the game as its connection to First Nations culture I think of her.
“During that experience we were taught a lot about our country and introduced to local elders while on tour.
“To see how grateful they were to share our company was a big thing for me and something I’d never experienced before.
“For a lot of the other players it was like an everyday thing, but for me just coming into my own culture it was pretty special.
Now as a Wallaroo, Kemp is keen to see more players of First Nations heritage take the same path, trying to get out to local and regional communities as much as she can.
“Having those experiences I had, completely re-shaped the way I see things about the game and why I play it,” Kemp said.
“I’m very wary that there are girls of First Nations heritage that are out there immersed in their culture that want to play rugby who look up to players like Mahalia Murphy, Lilyann Mason-Spice and hopefully myself as well.
“I’m a big believer in ‘if you can see it, you can do it’ being part of things like the RugbyAU’s Dream Big Tour where they go to regional Northern Territory and remote communities such as that I think is crucial for the game.
“Being able to go out and scout talent like that brings a lot of people together who usually wouldn’t.
“I met girls and boys out there who’d never laced up the boots before who I know are playing now and the talent that came out of it was remarkable to say the least.”
Being a part of both the Brumbies Super W program and the Wallaroos program Kemp has been able to use her platform as a player to influence more First Nations players to give the game a go.
Using the experiences and stories that she learned, Kemp looks to provide a vision and a pathway for more players across the country.
“I reckon more First Nations girls need to be involved with the game and I think the only way that happens is for players like us to get out those local towns through initiatives like Lloydies and the Dream Big Tour, she said”
“There are girls out there who aspire to play like Mahalia Murphy or be as fast as Maya Stewart who are just waiting to be found.”
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“For those regional kids to be given an opportunity to meet us in person and then see us out on the field wearing a First Nations jersey or singing a First Nation anthem I know means everything to them.
“It just gives them the sense that maybe that could be them one day.”
Kemp is currently training out of Canberra with fellow Wallaroos squad members in preparation for the start of the 2022 Super W pre-season followed by the start of the Wallaroos 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup campaign.