There aren’t many streets in this country Pat Cummins could walk down without being recognised, and he will have little respite from the spotlight in the weeks to come in England.
Yet in Borroloola, a remote town in the Northern Territory nearly 400km from the nearest highway, Australia’s men’s cricket captain is about as anonymous as he’ll ever be.
“For the most part they were pretty uninterested in me,” laughed Cummins, who spoke to cricket.com.au before his departure for the World Test Championship Final and Ashes campaigns.
While he soon discovered that soccer and Australian rules football are the main draws in the Indigenous community about 60km upstream from the mouth of the McArthur River, Cummins’ focus on his visit to Borroloola had little do with his day job.
The recently-turned-30-year-old spent two days in the small flood-prone town – known for its annual barramundi bounty and the saltwater crocodiles that lurk on its riverbanks – speaking to elders, playing with children and learning about the challenges of living in one of the most remote places in Australia.
Accessing essential services like healthcare and education are major challenges in Borroloola, almost 1000km southeast of Darwin.
UNICEF Australia hopes the visit of the country’s most marketable athlete can be a boon for raising awareness about the part the charity is playing in closing the gap in life outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children.
Indi Kindi, operated in partnership with the Moriarty Foundation, is run by trained Aboriginal women for children from 0-5 years old using a ‘Walking Learning’ model enabling movement and creative expression that suits young Aboriginal learners.
The 2021 Australian Early Development Census found 42.3 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were considered to be developmentally vulnerable, compared to 20.6 per cent for all children.
“It’s about trying to give kids in these remote communities the best possible start,” said Cummins.
Education is an issue close to the heart of Cummins and his family. His mother Maria, who died in March after a long fight with breast cancer, was a maths teacher.
Following the birth of his and wife Becky’s first child Albie in October 2021, the fast bowler’s passion for early-childhood development has become more acute and saw him join UNICEF Australia as an ambassador.
Cummins, who grew up in the Blue Mountains and now lives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, acknowledges his son will have access to resources many other children do not.
“You start thinking about his future and the opportunities you want to provide him, just understanding we’re in a really fortunate position,” said the fast bowler.
“He’s going to be really lucky with the start to life he’s going to get – and we just know that’s not going to be the same for everyone.”
It is a common shock for Australian cricketers when they first travel abroad to developing countries and witness childhood poverty, often for the first time.
Cummins points out those same disadvantages exist closer to home, too.
“We wanted to help out kids of a similar age to Albie,” he said. “You hear of lots of programs around the world – well, here in Australia, some communities face these problems as dire as anywhere else in the world.
“The Borroloola community – the soccer team they run out of the school, they have games that are an eight-hour drive away. It’s so different to the childhood I grew up having.
“Education and employment is really tough in those areas. You’re just exposed to such different things to what I was exposed to as a kid growing up in western Sydney.
“Providing these programs really is an anchor for a lot of them in their lives. It gives the teachers purpose outside of just family, they become real leaders and grow themselves.
“It is really amazing how these programs have a huge impact on these communities.”