Faith Thomas Obituary, Death – Aunty Faith Thomas, the first Aboriginal woman to play Test cricket for Australia, died over the weekend at the age of 90, and Australian sport is in grief. Thomas (née Coulthard) became the first Indigenous woman to represent an Australian sports team when she played her first Test for Australia against England at Melbourne’s Junction Oval in February 1958. Thomas was awarded the Order of Australia in 2019 for her contributions to cricket as well as her long nursing career dedicated to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Thomas, the 48th Australian woman to play Test cricket, is honored each year by the Adelaide Strikers, who compete for the Faith Thomas Trophy in the Women’s Big Bash League. Her legacy continues on as a great of the game in Adelaide Oval’s Avenue of Honour.
Playing in a T20 encounter against Pakistan on January 26 ‘doesn’t sit well with me,’ admitted Ashleigh Gardner. “Faith Thomas made a wonderful and groundbreaking contribution to cricket and the community,” said Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley. “As the first Aboriginal woman to play Test cricket for Australia, Faith was an inspiration to those who came after her, and she left an indelible mark on the game.” Thomas Tinnipha was born in Nepabunna in 1933, the daughter of an Adnyamathanha mother and a German father. Faith Coulthard was brought to Colebrook Home in Quorn, South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, by her mother, where she began playing improvised cricket on dirt roads with a makeshift bat and a rock if there was no ball.
Thomas, a fast bowler, joked that her scary pace was the consequence of “chucking stones at galahs,” but she didn’t realize women played organized cricket until she was in her late teens. Thomas was invited to play in an Adelaide club game, and the power she created from just a few feet of run-up made her an instant sensation. In her debut season with Windsor, she took a hat trick and 6/20, and in one memorable game against Adelaide Teachers College, she had six wickets for no runs.
After only three club matches, Thomas was chosen to represent South Australia and subsequently to participate in a warmup game against the touring English squad in Brisbane. A legend was born there. To dismiss English captain Mary Duggan, Thomas bowled a delivery so fast that the middle stump was thrown cartwheeling, and Duggan sat on the pitch giggling at her helplessness against the pace.
Thomas made her Test debut the following year, in 1958. The Sydney Test was rained out, and she was bowled sparingly in Melbourne. Her career ended peacefully after she carried the drinks in Adelaide. Despite being chosen to tour England and New Zealand, Thomas, a desert lady who disliked being at sea, declined the international trip.
Instead, she went to the docks to say goodbye to the squad and decided to pursue a nursing profession. Thomas had been influenced as a kid at Colebrook by two kind women she called Sister Hyde and Sister Rutter. “I don’t know how those two women didn’t go insane trying to look after all those little blackfellas,” she later recalled. “I used to think that things just happened or were coincidences, but now that I look back, I’ve seen a lot of miracles.”
In the early 1950s, Thomas was among the first Indigenous nurses to be trained at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, and he went on to become the first Aboriginal State Public Servant. Thomas, one of the country’s first Indigenous college graduates, moved her skills to Raukkan at the top of the Coorong to work with the Ngarrindjeri tribe. She married Bernard Thomas and raised a family while her nursing career took her back north, where she worked in rural places and villages, driving an old Land Rover with a shotgun for company and making a tremendous impression on hundreds of patients who lauded her as an inspiring advocate for positive change.
“Faith Thomas’s story is both inspiring and incredible,” stated SACA President William Rayner. “As a leader in medicine, sports, reconciliation, and so much more, Aunty Faith left footprints for others to follow in the decades since.” Aunty Faith’s journey as a fantastically unique and successful cricketer was never only about personal achievement; instead, she was always looking for ways to better the lives of others.”
Because the only word forbidden at Colebrook was “can’t,” Thomas believed her remarkable life was conceivable. “I remember when we were nurses, you’d see a job advertisement for a double certificate nurse, apply, and the job would go to a single certificate white nursing sister,” she reflected. “Sister Hyde would say that’s a door that shouldn’t be opened, so try another.” It was instilled in us that we should never give up.”