Ash Barty and Evonne Goolagong an Indigenous inspiration for up-and-coming tennis talent

Lewis “Lewie” Murray is a 13-year-old tennis player achieving what his father and ancestors were all too often denied.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that this article contains images and names of people who have died.

The teen from Castlemaine in Victoria won the National Indigenous Tennis Carnival under 14s tournament in Darwin this year in front of one of his role models — 14-time grand slam winner and Wiradjuri woman Evonne Goolagong.

“That was a bit nerve-racking when I saw her, but I just kept playing how I wanted to play,” Lewie said.

Life was very different for Lewie’s father, cultural educator and musician Ron Murray, who grew up at Balranald in regional New South Wales.

“Tennis courts weren’t where a lot of Aboriginal kids went,” the 61-year-old Wamba Wamba man said.

“Even swimming pools down the road at Robinvale, which we visited a lot, Aboriginals weren’t allowed in.

“There was no sign up there saying, ‘No Aboriginals allowed’, but it was a place where we really didn’t venture.”

Lewie first picked up a tennis racquet when he was a toddler after being inspired by his brother Brodie, eight years his senior.

“I just really loved playing with him and he’s a really big role model for me,” Lewie said.

Mr Murray said that if he had been given more of a chance, he would have pursued it too.

He added that what Ms Goolagong managed to achieve in her time in the neighbouring town of Barellan was unusual.

“In Barellan the whole town got behind her and ran raffles and sent her away to get coaching — it was a whole community, white and black,” Mr Murray said.

Opportunities lost
Having married into an Aboriginal family, Lewie’s mother Sarah James-Murray has heard the stories of exclusion and racism.

“Ron’s mother Lorraine was an extraordinary runner and at the time she was getting a whole lot of records in NSW,” she said.

“It was also at the time when it was very difficult for Indigenous people to compete.

“All the anecdotes in the family are that she would probably have made the 1956 Olympics with her running.”

According to the Australian Olympic Committee, boxers Adrian Blair and Francis Roberts, and basketballer Michael Ah Matt, were the first Indigenous Australians to compete in the Olympics after participating in the 1964 Tokyo games.

Making a ‘racquet’
The family is glad times have changed, and are continuing to do so.

“It’s special that there are a lot more opportunities, and the Evonne Goolagong Foundation has been wonderful for both Lewis and Brodie,” Ms James-Murray said.

It also meant more role models were in the making to join the likes of Ash Barty, Cathy Freeman and Patty Mills.

“Lots more Indigenous tennis players and sportsmen are coming out now,” Lewie said.

Despite the positive moves forward, Mr Murray said more could be more done to improve inclusivity in sports.

“By the time you buy racquets, shoes, and then you’ve got your entry fees and accommodation … it costs a lot of money,” he said.

“You should be helping single mothers, refugees and Aboriginal people to try and get them into the game.

“It’s still got that elitist feel about it.”

As an added bonus for winning the national carnival, Lewie will get to be a ball boy at next year’s Australian Open.