“This is all our culture”

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Patty Mills led the Boomers to their historic “rose gold” medal in Tokyo and has just signed a $17 million NBA deal. But Eddie Mabo’s unshowy great-nephew, who draws strength and meaning from his Indigenous roots, is also helping to combat racial injustice.

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The wind is shifting. The rains are coming. The signs are there. As senior elder on the tiny island of Mer, in the far eastern Torres Strait, Uncle Alo Tapim is the custodian of such knowledge. He knows that when the south wind – Ziai – blows at this time of year, the monsoons are coming. That familiar breeze blew one recent evening, kissing his cheeks.

He was on the verandah with his great-nephew, who is in culture considered his grandson but who is to us Patrick Sammy James Mills, basketball star and national treasure. Mills, 33, wore his freshly minted “rose gold” (bronze) medal from the Tokyo Olympics, and listened intently to the old man. “We own the south wind,” Tapim, 76, reminded him. “We belong to the south wind. The south wind is ours.”

In this moment of natural flux, Tapim also yarned with Mills about the games he played in Japan, from his team’s undefeated run through the group stage, to their triumph over Slovenia during which Mills poured in 42 points: a record in the Olympic medal round. The tally ensured his beloved Boomers stood on the dais for the first time.

Where basketball purists saw modern mechanics – copybook passing to the low post, faultless pull-up jumpers in transition – Tapim saw something ancient, beyond the ball skills taught to Mills by his Torres Strait Islander father Benny, or the temperament nurtured in him by his Aboriginal mother Yvonne. Tapim saw totems…

Click here for the full story from Good Weekend on Saturday October 2, 2021

Photography by Paul Harris

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