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Caley Manzie – a lifetime of family, pride and sport

Sport courses through Caley Manzie’s blood. It’s worked its way into her bloodstream, pumping its way through her veins every time she lifts a hockey stick or takes off on a run.

Caley proudly holds up the Indigenous Australian flag while competing in the 2017 Uni Games for RMIT University. (supplied)

There’s a common saying about sport; that it’s just a game, just another way of socialising and removing oneself from the real world. A pastime, a leisure activity. But for Caley, sport is the way she expresses her pride for being an Indigenous Australian. It’s no laughing matter.

Over the years, sport has become “like a religion” to Caley. She was born into a household full of athletic talent and love – it was no surprise when she started playing hockey at Waverley Hockey Club and persevered until she broke into their Premier League side.

“I don’t think I’m going to be moving anytime soon, either,” she remarks, a hint of cheekiness playing on her voice.

I talk to Caley over the phone, where it’s immediately clear she is very enthusiastic about hockey. Hints of delight inflect her sentences whenever she mentions the game, or her family’s rich history in it. Her voice is deepened by a dash of gratitude when we turn to her loved ones.

“Sport, and hockey, has just taken on through the generations,” Caley says. “If I ever do have kids, they’ll probably be playing hockey as well.”

It’s not a surprising claim to make when hockey tracks back three generations of women in Caley’s family. It was through her mother that Caley learnt the ropes of hockey. Rather than watching TV monotonously all day, Caley was being told about her mother’s life in the sport.

“She’s always told me stories of how she used to play on grass and having to learn how to dodge balls that just randomly flicked up off the ground,” Caley reminisces. “My Dad and I think she lives her dreams through me.”

I’m in no position to offer a third-person perspective to the Manzie family issue, but the answer is clear to see. Caley’s mother attends all of her daughter’s matches, sitting in conditions ranging from pristine to cold and miserable, just to watch Caley play. It’s a time-honoured tradition that began with junior fixtures where Caley would “talk to her teammates about daisies while the ball was at the other end”. If that’s not living vicariously, I’m left scratching my head at what is.

Caley can barely recall a part of her life where she wasn’t playing sport. Her first memories span back to age four, where she competed in Little Athletics (specialising in high jump) whilst starting junior hockey. As she grew up, she favoured the social aspect of hockey, and elected to stick with it over athletics. In doing so, Caley was following in her Nana’s footsteps.

The passion in Caley’s voice never wavers, just ebbing and flowing through the conversation. When we move onto the topic of her Nana, I sense emotion and respect from down the phone. Just like Caley and her mother, her Nana was a proud Indigenous Australian who revelled at hockey. Brought up in harsher times, she had to have thick skin to continue playing the sport she loved.

“I’ve got a photo of her with a hockey team and she’s the only Indigenous person, or person of colour, in that photo,” Caley explains. “It inspires me to look at it and see how she didn’t care that she was going through an era that was very unfair in how they treated Indigenous people.”

The image of Caley’s Nana in her hockey team, where she was the only Indigenous person in the photo. She can be found on the far left of the middle row. (supplied)

Australian history is full of stories like these. Of strong Indigenous Australians working through adversity and oppression to do what they loved. Too often, these stories aren’t heard. I’m honoured to be listening to Caley while she talks about her Nana.

Caley can barely remember anything about her Nana – she lives on through her mother’s stories. Caley knows her Nana as “a caring woman, the sweetest lady you’ll ever meet”.

“From what I know, Nana didn’t really want to talk about herself because of her past,” Caley says, her voice swelling with pride. “But from what my mother tells me I realise how privileged I am now to have such a platform to go and play hockey and be equal with a lot of people.”

But Caley’s maternal bloodline constitutes only half of her passed-on passion for sport. Her father was an Australian rower, and also dabbled in water polo at state level. When Caley was born, he refused to let her “just stay at home doing nothing”. So, sport it was. Like it was ever going to be anything else.

With her mother supporting her through her hockey journey, Caley could also draw on her father’s success for inspiration in other activities. When she decided to enlist in a full marathon and promptly completed it, it was her father’s influence that motivated her through the gruelling 42 kilometres.

Before she knew it, Caley was maturing, having learnt her heritage and found her own love for sport. Currently in her fourth year of a geospatial science degree at RMIT University, Caley has had the chance to compete in two Uni Games for her campus. At these events, her pride as an Indigenous athlete shone through. Upon returning home, she has become a pivotal part of Waverly Hockey Club’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week activities.

Last year Caley was invited by the club to talk to the juniors about her life and background.

“To express what it all means to me was a way of engaging with the community and trying to get all different kids, whether they be Indigenous or not, to be treated equally,” Caley says.

It’s clear she is humble, and aware of the importance of her position in her society.

Part of this well-spoken nature lies in her role models outside of her family. I can feel the wide smile trying to burst out of my phone when Caley recalls watching Cathy Freeman take home the 400-metre gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. A hint of awe seeps into her voice when she informs me of how Nova Peris has inspired her while playing hockey. Now, her favourite role model lies in Nova’s cousin Brooke Peris.

“I watch her every time she competes for Australia,” Caley gushes. “She’s stunning – I love watching her play.”

It’s taken time for Caley to realise why these public figures hold so much meaning for her. She admits she “never really saw them as Indigenous people” when she was very young. But as she grew up, she began to recognise them as “Indigenous women who have changed history forever”.

Their guidance, alongside her family, pushed Caley to working on her hockey skills intently over the past year. It resulted in state selection, a coach’s award and a spot in Waverley’s Premier League side. It’s little wonder she achieved this; she comes from a line of humble sportspeople who work hard, regardless of what is in front of them.

No one can guess what the future holds for Caley. But with a support crew of strong and inspiring role models, Caley has the ability to do whatever she wants to.

Something tells me it’ll have to do with a hockey stick.


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