0401 058 937 claresmith@wantaac.org

Natasha, otherwise known as Tash, is Wanta’s Remote School Attendance Strategy (RSAS) Director in Ntaria. She is certainly no stranger to moving around; born in NSW, she went to school in Drouin/ Warragul (Vic), University in Ballarat, then moved to Melbourne where she managed Health Clubs – and eventually on to Maryborough, where she worked as a Personal Trainer and swimming instructor.

She then adventured to the Tiwi Islands where she spent five years. One of her first memories was “I remember one girl saying to me in that first year that she would love to play footy, but she can’t because she is a girl. Well that kicked everything off!! Plus, I’d never seen such raw skill and technique as I had when watching these girls have a kick around with each other. So a pathway needed to be paved to give them every opportunity that the boys already had!”

That was in her first year there where she was employed as a houseparent. She spoke with the Land Council and the Education Board about starting a Girls Academy. Tash volunteered her time on top of her current position to show that the Academy was a good idea to set up and would inevitably bring more females to school. The Academy was approved and ‘the next year was the start of many exciting football journeys to come’ for Tash. She says she set up the female football Academy ‘as a pathway to elite representation for indigenous girls’ and that it was ‘a wonderful time of my life which kick-started my footy coaching’. 

Some other memories that stand out for Tash from her time on the Tiwi Islands was being chased by a family of dingoes while on a run, and another time, the scariest – a buffalo charged her and she bolted up a tree only to be stuck there for forty-five minutes to avoid death by horns! Tash says ‘these little adventures along the way made my time up there very unique’. 

For the following four years she coached for NT Thunders Under 18 females at the National Championships (she coached them to Kickstart National Championships three years in a row. And in the first year, won the best team award at the NT Sports awards), was selected to coach the first inaugural Victorian under 18 girls indigenous AFL team and attended the High Performance Academy in Victoria where she was also selected as the Assistant Coach for the Australian team on the tour of New Zealand. 

She spent the next seven years coaching at state level and saw many of her girls selected in the AFLW draft! (AFLW players that have been coached or mentored by her –  Katherine Smith – Melbourne Demons/GWS Giants, Sarah Allen – Adelaide Crows, Elyse Gamble – Western Bulldogs, Danielle Ponter – Adelaide Crows, Winnie Lainge – Carlton ,Sarah Hartwig – Western Bulldogs, Lily Mithen – Melbourne Demons, Daria Bannister – North Melbourne; just to name a few!)

During this time, she also set up a business of personal training and footy coaching with a colleague as well as teamed up with Nathan Burke (former Saint Kilda player and AFLW coach) and presented at many football coaching seminars across Victoria about the difference between coaching females to males. Nathan would deliver the emotional coaching experiences and she would present on the physical differences and how to train/coach the girls. ‘I learnt a lot in this time speaking with great past players’.

Tash reminisces that ‘while coaching at a high level was a wonderful highlight, I missed something – the kids. The indigenous kids and their big smiles. I missed bonding with them, kicking the footy and teaching them life skills. That’s when Wanta gave me the opportunity to come back to the NT and pick up where I had left a few years earlier’. 

Tash first began working with Wanta in 2018, originally in our Arlparra Academy and is now the Wanta Director in Ntaria. Her role mainly involves getting as many kids to school as possible and speaking with families and the community about the best way to engage children in school.  She also runs the Young Women’s Room there – a space that allows secondary school females the privacy and comfort to learn about health and hygiene, without feeling shame, as well as encourage a healthy lifestyle. The Young Women’s Room also offers music, movies, games and fun as well.

Tash says ‘I haven’t been in Ntaria for long, but the kindness of the community, and the wonderful people I work with has made my job so easy, and it’s a great place to be in. I look forward to staying here longer!’. We sure hope you do too, Tash!