In our MECCA M-Powered interview series, fearless people from around the globe share their incredible stories – from overcoming adversity to following their passions and inspiring a future generation of changemakers.
Ashanti Bush always wanted to play women’s football, but never imagined she would reach an elite level.
The 18-year-old Gold Coast Suns forward, from the small Indigenous community of Wugularr (Beswick), approximately 112km south-east of Katherine in the Northern Territory, has become not only one of the AFLW’s rising stars, but a role model for aspiring Indigenous AFLW players.
Here, Bush discusses just how important it is to ensure young Indigenous athletes are afforded opportunities (like educational pathways) and encouraged to participate — and thrive — in professional sports.
The stars foundation
After completing primary school in her hometown of Wugularr, Bush moved to Darwin, where she attended one of the city’s largest public schools as a boarder. A long way from her small community, it was, naturally, a big adjustment. It was here she joined the Stars Foundation— a program that helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young women stay engaged in school, complete their schooling and transition to an independent future. She discovered her passion for AFL and flourished through her final year of schooling with the support of the foundation’s mentors.
“[They] have been a big part of my life,” explains Bush. “Being a part of the Stars Foundation has helped me a lot during my schooling and out of schooling. The program has helped me get through a lot of things the past couple of years. They were always there for me whenever I needed help; the support they gave me was unbelievable. I would like to thank the Stars Foundation for everything they have done for me. They helped me get to where I am today.”
From the top end to top-tier footy
Like an increasing number of AFLW players from the Northern Territory and Indigenous communities, Bush likely wouldn’t have had the opportunity to play football professionally without the support of pathways programs that help junior athletes succeed at the highest level possible.
For Bush, this was the NT Thunder Academy in Darwin and, later, the Gold Coast SUNS Academy, which she says really helped get her where she is today. “[They] have been supporting me with my training and helping me become better and better every day,” says Bush.
While the support of such programs is crucial for building on-field skills, the social aspect — from sharing cultures to meeting new people — is just as important for promising athletes who hail from remote or Indigenous communities. “I got named in the draft academy to start getting ready for AFLW,” explains Bush, adding, “We were training so hard, keeping our fitness up, doing some testing, but most importantly getting together to talk about AFLW.”
Inspiring young indigenous players
What Bush loves most about playing AFLW, she says, is the “awesome people” she’s met along the way. “Making good friendships and being able to play alongside some talented players is what I love about footy. We always look out for one another, building up our strengths for the next level.”
Inspired by those who have helped her get to where she is today — her family, teammates, coaches and mentors from the Stars Foundation — Bush, in turn, is one of a growing number of Indigenous players on the AFLW list in 2022, which shows aspiring young Indigenous players that they too can play professionally. Her advice to other young would-be AFLW players? “Keep working hard, keep focusing on training. Keep your fitness up no matter what. Never give up on your dreams, keep reaching for the stars,” she shares.
Kicking goals – and being her best
Since reaching a professional level, much of Bush’s time and energy has gone into being the best player she can be. “I am currently working on building up my confidence, getting out there more and being able to use my voice more,” she shares. “What I want to achieve this year is to get out there when I am playing, to just show them why I am here and just bring out the best of me. The next thing I want to do is just make everybody proud and be a great role model for the younger generation.”
Being her best self, on and off the field, involves a full night’s sleep, keeping active and being back home around friends and family. Bush explains, “Growing up in a small community and being able to be with family means a lot to me. Going out bush, hunting, fishing, camping and showing them dreams really do come true.”