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International Women’s Day

07 March 2023
• 6 minute read
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What better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than with a chat with one of Australia’s foremost female athletes?

Mikayla Hinkley is a right-handed batter and occasional right-arm off break bowler for the Great Southern Bank-  sponsored Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League.

She is also a proud member of the Kunja people and was selected for the first female Indigenous Sydney Thunder team in 2018.

In this exclusive interview, Mikayla talks about her experiences growing up as the only girl in a team of boys, the sporting icons she looked up to, the importance of her Indigenous heritage, the gender pay gap in professional cricket, and more.

How do you feel about being a role model for women and girls in sport? Is it a responsibility you enjoy?

I think it's an honour to be in a position where there are young girls looking up to you. When I was a young girl myself growing up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, there weren't many female role models to look up to in sport that were, I guess, broadcast in the way that we’re broadcast now.

So yes, it's surreal, but I think it's an honour and a real ‘pinch yourself’ moment. It’s definitely not something I take for granted at all.

Which female athletes were you aware of growing up?

The very first female athlete that I remember looking up to was Susie O'Neill, the Olympic swimmer. I wanted to do butterfly just like her and be a swimmer. That’s the earliest sporting aspiration I had as a kid.

The hype around the Olympics, then her going into retirement, meant that there was a lot about her career going around on TV and stuff. So I got to see that.

Also Cathy Freeman was another massive female athlete that I've been able to look up to from a role model point of view. Growing up it was really just those female Olympians because, unfortunately, not much female sport was broadcast, which really sucked.

You have something else in common with Cathy Freeman, which is your Indigenous heritage. Given your profile, I’d imagine that’s a pretty big responsibility too?

Yeah, absolutely. I think whether it's something we'd like to hear or not, sporting pathways for our First Nations youth are very different for those who aren't First Nation. So, to have gone through a pathway full of non-Indigenous people and to try to find my way was hard.

It's definitely a difficult thing for our Indigenous youth to grasp and get through because there's not much support at the moment. That's definitely something that I would love to step into after my career’s over, supporting our First Nations athletes, because there are times where it does get hard and like I said, it's a different pathway that we have to take.

It sucks but the harsh reality is that sometimes we have to leave our culture at the door to fit in, which is really upsetting. So, I guess for me, I've just tried to be authentic and remain myself and be proud.

What was it like having to play in boys’ teams when you were younger?

It was interesting! When I was younger, it was kind of normal for me. I didn't really realise until I was an adult, but I was the only girl to play boys’/men's representative cricket in Penrith. From the age of nine till 17 I was the only girl in the Penrith Junior rec teams. So I kind of grew up playing with boys.

It felt normal because there wasn't that much opportunity for females. Eventually we grew a female pathway out there and it's quite strong to this day now. But as a young kid growing up, it was just the real infancy stages of female cricket in Western Sydney.

There are still some great female cricketers coming out of Western Sydney, but at the time to be able to get the opportunity to play with girls was very minimal. And I think a lot of female cricketers my age, domestic and international, would say the exact same thing. So yeah, a lot of us had to play with the boys and kind of navigate what that looked like.

What did that look like? Did you get a hard time?

I definitely got a hard time from boys in opposition teams, but I was pretty fortunate the boys in my team always had my back and were really cool. To this day, I’m great friends with most of those fellas. But when I walked out to bat, there were definitely some things said which were pretty diminishing and probably could have made or broke me.

I remember one particular day I walked out to bat, and I was just copping it. They were spraying me because I was a girl, saying some pretty derogatory things. I think I was about 14 or 15. And I was just like, you know, stuff this, and I just opened the front leg and swung real hard and hit about three sixes in a row and they just shut up.

When I got my first Big Bash contract, the first ever game we played was actually in Penrith. So it was a really cool experience. And at the end of the game, there were young boys hanging over the fence to get female cricketers’ autographs and just wanting to hit sixes like all of us female cricketers.

It's really cool that I've got to be a part of that generational change, although there’s still a little bit to go.

What else needs to be done, do you think?

I think Cricket Australia does a really good job at the grassroots level for female participation now, which is extraordinary. And I think that's only going to continue to grow the game from a numbers perspective.

In terms of the professional game, there's still a massive pay gap. And I'm not just talking about cricket, I'm talking about every sport that has a female pathway professionally.

Obviously there’s a part of it that’s about revenues where we can't technically be paid the same amount as men, but there is a level of equality that can be met. I mean, the rookie men are actually getting paid more than our most talented professional female cricketers in this country.

How does it work that a young man coming out of school onto contract as a rookie is paid more than our (female international) Aussie players?

If you could go back in time and give 14-year-old Mikayla some advice, what would it be?

You know what? I'm pretty sure 14-year-old Makayla missed out on an under-15 New South Wales team. I would tell her not to give up. She didn't, but I would tell her anyway. I’d say, “This is the first of many speed bumps. They're all going to feel the same. They're all going to suck. But if you work hard enough, there'll always be something rewarding on the other side.”

You gave an interview at the end of last season where you said, “I think I'm happy, but I'm not satisfied at the moment.” Are you any more satisfied now?

No, and I hope I'm not satisfied until the day I retire! I think it's just the nature of being a professional athlete that you’re never satisfied. The moment you let your guard down, that's when you get taken over   .

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

This year’s theme is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.

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