The highly motivated 19-year-old from Forster was placed in foster care aged only 10. “I was quite hard to handle as a kid and was moved a lot from home to home,” she said. “There was not much visitation with my siblings and other family but that’s now improved a lot.”
A descendant of the Worimi tribe, life began to turn around for Courtney when she was sent to boarding school in Orange for Years 7 to 12. It was there she found rugby union after the Indigenous coordinator suggested she attend a trial.
“I haven’t stopped playing since – I absolutely love it. I was on a very different track before boarding school but once there I had a lot of support to change and move away from the stereotypical path of drugs and alcohol.”
After graduating high school in 2018 Courtney returned to Forster where she is being assisted by the CatholicCare Supported Independent Living program. Established to help young people transition from foster care to independent living, the program provides a caseworker who assists with accommodation, employment/education and connecting with the community.
“The program has been very helpful; they have supported me through a lot,” she said. “I have a better relationship with my CatholicCare caseworker, Jasmine Slater, than with any of my previous FACS (Family and Community Services) caseworkers where there is a big staff turnover.”
Earlier this year Courtney celebrated a major life achievement when she was selected in the First Nations Sevens women's squad which originated from Rugby Australia's Dream Big Time tour to discover Indigenous talent from regional communities. The team had played in numerous domestic tournaments and completed a tour of New Zealand in mid-March before the pandemic hit.
“CatholicCare has helped with my rugby gear and taken me to the airport when I travel for tournaments. Jasmine (Courtney’s caseworker) is also like a mentor to me, I run all my major decisions by her,” she said.
The goal of the First Nations Rugby program is to have more Indigenous people in the Australian side. “My main goal now is to make it into the Australian Women’s 7’s side, move to Sydney and become professional. If I train hard I could make it to the next level,” Courtney said.
Courtney’s caseworker, Jasmine Slater, says the teenager is extremely motivated and has conquered many challenges to get to where she is.
“Lots of young people who come through the foster care system chop and change homes and completely miss out on learning those core family values and life lessons like cooking a meal or filling the car with petrol,” Ms Slater said.
“Although Courtney was in foster care from a young age she has overcome all of this because she has a huge drive to be successful in both sport and study. It is a massive achievement what she has done and is doing.”
There has long been a view that sport can be used to improve outcomes for Indigenous communities. The 1987-91 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, for example, found that sport and recreation can play a role in the reduction of criminal behaviour among Indigenous peoples.
Courtney says she hopes to combine her sporting experience with her TAFE Certificate III in Community Services to offer support and guidance to Indigenous youth in her community who may be struggling for direction.
She has already earned her level one Rugby Sevens coaching accreditation, is studying to be a personal trainer and is on the coaching staff of her local team, the Wallamba Bulls, where she assists with both junior and senior sides.
“I’d like to help the kids in my area to be fit and healthy so they don’t choose that stereotypical pathway,” she said.
“Sport helped me avoid all that – it encourages a healthy lifestyle so you don’t waste your life. I think people should be part of something bigger than themselves.”
“We’ve recently just started training again since COVID-19 and I’m really excited about the future.”