When 12 athletes represented Australia at the first Paralympic Games, in 1960, one of them travelled on a British passport. Kevin Coombs, a Wotjobaluk Traditional Owner from western Victoria, was the first Indigenous Australian Paralympian or Olympian. He was, however, not recognised as a citizen in 1960 because, under Section 127 of the Constitution, Indigenous Australians were not counted in the population.
Kevin Coombs would go on to compete at five Paralympic Games. He captained the Australian Paralympic Team in 1980 and had a distinguished working career in community services and health. He has a street named after him at Sydney Olympic Park, carried the Paralympic torch into the stadium at Sydney 2000 and, now aged 82, is revered as the treasured Elder of our Paralympic Movement. Uncle Kevin still has that old British passport. It’s a symbol of the era he has lived through and the importance of the 1967 Referendum.
As the body responsible for Para-sport participation and high performance, it is Paralympics Australia’s responsibility to see greater numbers of Indigenous Australians with a disability participate in sport. Our purpose is to lead the Paralympic Movement and help create a more equitable Australia. We support, develop and deliver our elite Paralympic athletes to compete on the world’s biggest stage for people with a disability. We also work with our Member sports and system partners to create sporting pathways where everyone has a chance to realise their potential.
This year we launched our first Reconciliation Action Plan, setting the foundations for creating better access to sport for Indigenous people with a disability. We know there needs to be a tangible and practical commitment to create impactful change. We believe there needs to be a tangible and practical commitment as a nation as well.
As Board members of Paralympics Australia, we cannot speak for all Australians involved in Para-sport. However, one of our shared core values is working towards a more inclusive Australia. As a Board, we join many other Australian sporting organisations in confirming our support for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament to be enshrined in the Constitution.
We encourage all members of the Australian Paralympic community to listen, be informed by the facts and make their voices heard.
Alison Creagh AM CSC
Grant Mizens OAM
Hon. Tim Carmody AM KC
Rebecca Frizelle OAM
John Hartigan AO