On November 29, 1996, Jason Gillespie ended Australia’s 119-year wait for its first Indigenous male Test cricketer.
A quarter of a century later, of the 458 male cricketers to play Test cricket for Australia, only Gillespie has Indigenous heritage.
From that debut in a baggy green against the West Indies at the SCG, the tall, lanky fast bowler played 71 Tests and became a fearsome spearhead of an Australian side that dominated international cricket. He is currently the coach of South Australia.
Watch India v NZ in The 2021 ICC World Test Championship Final. Live & On-Demand on Kayo. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
In his decade representing Australia “Dizzy” took 259 Test wickets and his unbeaten 201 against Bangladesh is the highest score by a night-watchman in international cricket.
The 46-year-old talks batting advice from his father, not letting abuse get to him and why no one wants a handout.
My Indigenous heritage is … from the Kamilaroi people of NSW. It is who I am and who we are as a family and people. It means we are part of the oldest continuous culture on the planet. That is something we hold dear.
My weirdest superstition is … I used to have a lot of superstitions and there was a time when I had an issue with the number 13, which became quite nauseating because I would count stairs and miss the 13th step. If I was giving my jumper to the umpire I would make sure the 13th step was not the one on which I handed it over. It was nonsense and linked to the fact that I had a lot of injuries so when I was fit I wanted to keep doing the little things like that that seemed to be working for me.
Most people don’t know … I love trivia. I used to be able to rattle off obscure capital cities like the capital of Namibia is Windhoek.
The best advice I was ever given … my late father never really played cricket but he taught me how to bat. He used to say if the ball was on the stumps play nice and straight and give yourself a chance not to get out. So I just blocked the crap out of it. I also like the saying ‘treat people as you would like to be treated’.
My earliest memory is … I have a vague memory of a fire in our house when I was about three. I remember smoke and loud noises. Before long we were out on the street. Years later mum told me it was not too serious even though it blackened the curtains.
A common misconception about me is … when people have met me after seeing me play they often say ‘gee, you are a lot taller than I thought you were’. I don’t know why. I am about the same height as Glenn McGrath but everyone assumed he was quite tall.
When I cop abuse I … it depends what mood I am in. Everyone can have an off day. By and large I laugh it off because it is more of a reflection on that person than you. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t heard things that got my end up but you don’t want to give people the satisfaction, do you?
When people see me I hope they think … I’m someone who is very passionate about what they do.
Family means … everything.
A word or sentence I use too much is … have you heard I scored a Test double hundred?
My sporting hero is … it has changed over the years but it is hard to go past DK Lillee. I got into cricket in 1981 when I was about six and watching Lillee I just thought, ‘Gee, that looks like fun. I would like to do it.’
My career highlight … I had some wonderful times. When we beat India in India in 2004, given how long it had taken us to beat them there (since 1969) and how we went about it, was really special. We implemented the plans and came away with the spoils. We had a game plan where we had to put our egos away and bowl at the stumps in the way we were not used to but it worked and everyone did their job.
Advice I would give my teenage self … don’t be impulsive. Take a breath and a moment to make sure you have all the information.
Being an Indigenous athlete today … it has changed a lot. There is an awareness. There is more acknowledgment and respect. There is a lot of social change and acceptance. That is an ongoing process in our society. It is important to keep the education and discussion going. I know there is a genuine desire at Cricket Australia level to show they are listening.
Encountering racism or an unconscious bias … no I haven’t, but I remember my father’s reaction when I was dropped from the Australian side and he was working for Aboriginal Legal Rights. He said to me, ‘you have been left out because of who you are’. I had to calm him down and say, ‘Dad, I have to be honest … have you seen how I was bowling? Have you looked at my figures?’ I had peaked. I had not evolved. This has nothing to do with race. People don’t look at me and the first thing they think of is ‘he is an Indigenous cricketer’.
The key priority needed to improve playing and leadership opportunities for the next generation of Indigenous athletes is … awareness and opportunity is the key. I don’t think anyone wants handouts or things gifted to them.