Cougar Family celebrated in First Nations uniform

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As part of the 50-year anniversary celebration of the Cockburn Basketball Associations, Dr Richard Walley has helped create a spectacular First Nations NBL1 uniform commemorating that history of the Cougar Family.

It’s a remarkable history that the Cockburn Basketball Association has put together dating back to 1972 and that is being celebrated with the 50-year anniversary now in 2022.

A significant part of the history of the Cougar Family has been the Indigenous connection, representation and participation over the past 50 years and that will be celebrated in the NBL1 West First Nations Round in July.

To coincide with that, a man with his own wonderful history and connection with Cockburn, Dr Richard Walley, has been heavily involved with the design of a special uniform that will be worn to celebrate the occasion.

To celebrate the 50-year history of the Cougar Family, the design of the 2022 First Nations uniform will feature 50 circles for each year of the association which includes 10 larger circles representing an NBL1/SBL representative who has made a significant contribution along the journey.

That is made up of five men and five women, with the women represented by current captain Nicole Roberts, Vanessa Michael, Lisa McLean, Fleur McIntyre and Vanessa Cahill.

The men represented in the design are current captain Gavin Field, games record holder Troy Clarke and Pete Stanley, Al Erickson and Walley himself.

It is a wonderful way to celebrate both the 50-year history of the Cougar Family and the contributions and significance of the First Nations people.

Walley himself has been a huge part of the 50 years of Cockburn basketball having spent a lifetime playing basketball at Wally Hagan Stadium which has now gone right through his family including his siblings, children, grandchildren, and nieces, nephews and their children.

He still plays on a Tuesday night every week at Wally Hagan Stadium and he takes great pride in the 50-year design he was able to help produce for the Cougars.

“It does mean a lot to do these designs and what it does, I love telling stories. When you look at clubs and organisations, they’ve all got stories and it’s good to capture those in an artform,” Walley said.

“When I work on any pieces, the story is already and it’s how we interpret it and this one here was an easy one to work with as far as inspiration goes because there’s 50 years of history. So I focused on creating 50 circles but it’s about what those circles actually mean.

“It means that we are actually entwined with each other so the years roll through, and the decades roll through. You have some very good years which make up the larger part of the circles and you have some challenging ones, and then you have the circles which represent collections of people coming together.

“Within any organisation or club, you’ve got the officials and committee and organisers, and all of those who do a lot of work behind the scenes that help those on the court do their thing. They don’t always get a lot of accolades but they are such an important part of any club so we like to take all of that into consideration.

“With this design, I was hoping to do that so that when you look at the decades that the association has been going, it goes right back to the district days to SBL and now to what we have today with NBL1. That transition was able to take place without any major change of philosophies or ethics of family connections here at Cockburn so that was very important for me to capture.”

Walley has become one of the most significant voices for Indigenous voices throughout Western Australia and the increased respect and acknowledgement of the culture is something he’s played a big part of right across the state in a whole range of sports.

But it’s the personal connection that he has with the Cougar Family that makes this take on even greater significance for him.

“Having a tie to the place myself helps you have the feeling of knowing what you want to represent because you’re a part of it. When you do something for somewhere else that you are not part of you’re doing an interpretation of something, but this one here we are doing an interpretation with,” Walley said.

“That’s the big thing, it’s an interpretation with Cockburn I can do. Cockburn is an association with many players because apart from the main district or SBL or NBL1 sides, the local competition was second to none in the state going back a lot of years and it encouraged excellence from people.

“It also became a fantastic feeding ground for the young ones to come and see people play, and then you watch the generations with grandparents coming to watch their grandchildren. What I’m finding now when I come down here is that I see a lot of my old friends whose grandchildren are playing.

“That intergeneration is really important and to be part of that is a special thing. My daughter comes to play here, my sons played here and I’ve got nephews, nieces and grandnephews and grandnieces who come to play here. All of that family connection is really important and I think that’s when it’s rewarding because you’re not just designing something for, you’re designing with.”

One of the circles represented in the uniform design is for Vanessa Michael who was a trailblazer for basketball in WA as a standout player of Indigenous heritage.

Michael had an outstanding playing career with 172 of her 198 games at State Basketball League level played with the Cougars while that was only part of what she achieved on the basketball court.

Michael first played with Cockburn in 2004 and played all but 26 of her SBL matches with the Cougars. She spent one season with the Rockingham Flames in 2015 when she initially returned after a break that included seeing her have her two sons.

But she was able to get back to play strong basketball up until the end of 2019 where she was captain of the Cougars in a year that saw her continue to be a regular member of Australia’s Indigenous team that plays at the World Indigenous Basketball Games, and won gold in New Zealand.

It’s a special thing to be able to include Vanessa in the design given his long history and connection with legendary South Fremantle footballer Stephen who is her father and the entire Michael family.

“I played at South Fremantle back in the reserves when Stephen was at the peak of his powers as a brilliant footballer, but he actually played basketball down here at Cockburn,” Walley said.

“He played with Basil Campbell, Maurice Rioli, Joe McKay, Rod Barrett and a whole lot of the South Fremantle boys used to come here to play as well, and East Fremantle even had a team of their footballers too.

“They loved it so we would go from footy training to come down to play basketball and then when the season started I’d still play here, but the serious footballers had to stop during the season. But that connection is very strong and we’ve also got bloodline connection with the Michael and Walley families.

“Vanessa playing here was really good because she’s got that association that’s intergenerational as well so I think that’s a good thing. I still play here on Tuesday nights and her brother is on my team and the children play here as well so that’s what these clubs are all about. It’s all about the intergenerational connection you can bring together where people feel a part of it. This is a part of us.”

While it’s a special moment for Walley to be involved in the design of a uniform like he has helped create for the Cougars in 2022, it means even more to him when he sees what it means for different people when they get to take it all in.

“It’s very humbling to be honest to see my designs out there. You don’t do anything for accolades or rewards, you do them for the right reasons and I was very blessed when we did designs because we did them because we wanted to tell a story and a connection,” Walley said.

“What I really enjoy about it and what’s humbling about it is that people accept the stories. Once the stories are told people can interpret it themselves and what they get out of it. What will happen here, when you do a piece of interpretation it’s a narrative and a story.

“Individuals will get a different view from it themselves. Some people will pick up on subtleties that other’s don’t and that’s what I like about it. You can know 75 per cent of what you’re doing but there’s another 25 per cent that’s subconscious that people pick up on and can see it even if you didn’t plan it.

“That’s one of the things that is humbling about it because it’s not just a piece of art that goes on a wall, it’s a piece of expression that are people a part of. “