Celebrating NAIDOC Week: How Travis Dodd is providing a pathway into football for Indigenous Australians

In celebration of the NAIDOC Week, we check in with former Socceroo Travis Dodd, who is helping football make inroads into the nation's Aboriginal communities.

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme – Get up! Stand up! Show up! – encourages all of us to champion institutional, structural, collaborative, and cooperative change while celebrating those who have already driven and led change in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over generations.

And one person who certainly is helping to lead change in Indigenous communities is former Socceroo Dodd. 

Over the past three years, Dodd has been working to improve football's engagement with the Indigenous population.

Dodd is the ambassador for South Australia’s Aboriginal Secondary Training Academy (SAASTA), the head coach of the national women's Indigenous Koalas team and has regular involvements with the John Moriarty Football (JMF) program. 

The SAASTA Aboriginal Football Academy is a sports-based education program for male and female Aboriginal Students in secondary school, run in partnership with Dodd’s former club, the North Eastern MetroStars Soccer Club.

Later in the year, Dodd is also hoping to take a South Australian men’s Indigenous team to the First Nations Indigenous Cup in Queensland. 

While Dodd currently splits his time working as a finance broker and coaching NPL SA side Croydon FC, he is more invested in helping aboriginal communities than chasing a professional coaching career. 

“I've got no ambition to coach at a professional level,” Dodd explained. 

“Having done that as a player, it's a tough slog as a coach as well so coaching professionally is not my end game. 

“The more I'm getting involved in the Indigenous side of football with player pathways and youth development, I can see myself doing that more and more. Even if that means down the track, stepping away from coaching at an NPL level.

In the last couple of months more than ever, I’ve had a lot of involvement with Indigenous football. It's all small steps but hopefully, I'm providing pathways for more Indigenous kids to play and enjoy the game.

“I certainly see that there's potential because there are over 300 registered Indigenous players in South Australia alone. I'd love to see that grow and to help make that number grow.”

From the early days of the introduction of football to Australian shores in the late 19th century, first nations people have gravitated toward the game. 

The likes of Harry Williams, Charles Perkins, John Moriarty and Gordon Briscoe were among the original trailblazers in the 1950s and 1970s. 

The Moriarty family continues to impact Australia through football to this day, through the John Moriarty Football (JMF) program - that utilises the sport to foster talent and positive change within Indigenous communities.

Over the last 30 years or so there has been that long-awaited increase in Aboriginal representation in our national teams, including with Dodd himself. 

While Dodd only made two appearances for the Socceroos, he made history when he became the first known Aboriginal player to score a goal for the men's national team.

The goal in a 2-0 win over Kuwait in AFC Asian Cup Qualifying in 2006 not only made history, but it also capped off an incredible international debut as Dodd claimed a Man of the Match award and captured the hearts of young Indigenous footballers across the nation. 

Having been involved with Indigenous football for a number of years now, Dodd is very understanding of his culture, but that was not always the case. 

“I didn't understand it until a lot later in life,” Dodd said. 

“Through no fault of anybody, with parent separations, it was just the way it was. I didn't see a lot of my dad’s side growing up. 

“At the time, I didn't think anything of it. To be honest, it wasn't until much later in my 30s after soccer had finished when I was at work talking about cultural identity that I sat back and realised I didn't really know a lot about my family's history.

It’s a learning process and I was very embarrassed back then to say that I didn't know a lot about my family culture and history, but there's a lot of Indigenous people out there that are in the same boat.

“It's okay to say that you don't know. If you're willing to go on that journey and ask for guidance and help, then you're putting your foot in the right direction. That's what's happening for me now, I'm still going on that journey. In the last two to three years, I've felt more confident in myself to own where I'm at. 

“To be able to be part of the South Australian Aboriginal training academy now to get funding to help Indigenous kids have a football pathway through education, it's been fantastic. 

"Being part of the Australian Indigenous Football Council, which is a newly formed organisation more locally in South Australia as well. It's something that I probably wouldn't have got engaged in a couple of years ago because for whatever reason, I just didn't have the confidence to be able to go out there and speak about Indigenous culture or history. 

“Now I feel like I don't have to know everything but I can go out and own it.”

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