Aboriginal affairs

Fever defender inspires

LOUISE DRYBURGH

“When I was younger I was always a bit of a big dreamer. I wanted to be a 400m sprinter like Cathy Freeman. I wanted to be a professional singer and dancer. Mind you, I wasn’t always good at it,” West Coast Fever defender Josie Janz says.

“But if there were any new skills that we learned at school I always went home and practised it more because I wanted to be the best at it.”

Born on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait before moving to the small town of Derby, Janz says that, growing up, there were not too many opportunities other than sport.

“In [Derby] there isn’t a lot to do after school, so naturally I played a lot of sports,” she says.

“I did basketball, swimming, athletics and netball.”

Starting serious netball at the age of eight, Janz never realised how far she could go with the sport.

“I didn’t really know any of the pathways to play at a higher level,” she says.

Janz says Netball WA representatives would show the Derby children other avenues, but it wasn’t until she moved to Perth that bigger opportunities started to become apparent.

“When I got to Perth, I realised there were many more opportunities to play in a State League club, for WA or even Australia,” she says.

Janz moved to Perth to go to boarding school at Presbyterian Ladies’ College through an academic scholarship and became a boarder for three years.

She says that at the time she did not know much about what was outside of Derby. But lessons from her father prepared her for the new life in the city.

“My dad has always been the kind of person who throws you in the deep end and hopes you can swim so it was no shock to me coming to Perth and having to learn about different ways of my new school at PLC or going out to learn new things about netball,” she says.

At the age of 18 Josie was awarded a scholarship to the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, and in 2009 she played for the Australian Under 21s in Jamaica.

Janz with a young fan.

As an Indigenous Australian who works for the David Wirrpanda Foundation, Janz is able to continue her work as a role model both on and off the court.

‘After moving back to Perth [from Canberra] I wanted to do something outside of netball,” she says

“As an athlete you need to be doing things other than just playing sport, like working or studying.

“I love representing Indigenous people and creating real change in our communities.

“I was kind of thrown in the deep end because David’s partner Shannon became pregnant with their first son Marley and I was supposed to manage the program until she came back.”

The Deadly Sista Girlz Program that Janz manages nationally aims to engage, inspire and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls between the ages of eight and 17.

“I wanted to develop and improve the program to create real change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and I thought: ‘what better way to do it than work with these girls who are going to be the future parents of our people?’.”

Wirrpanda Foundation CEO Lisa Cunningham says the girls in the program absolutely love Janz, and having high profile athletes like her really promotes the program.

“They really look up to her,” Ms Cunningham says.

“We took the girls to watch Josie play at an the Perth Arena with over 7000 people.

“Before that they just thought of her as a sister.

“After seeing the game they saw how famous she was.

“That really gave them a push to show that they can achieve whatever they want if they put their mind to it.”

Janz says meeting and mentoring the participants was when she started to think about how she could inspire and support them in their own endeavours.

“I think the girls are more interested in who your family is and where you come from rather than what things you have achieved in your life but it definitely helps to share your experiences in life and show how you overcame any challenges that came with it,” she says.

“Sharing my story being an Indigenous female athlete from a small town playing elite netball in the best competition in the world can be inspiring.

“I really feel like the work I’m doing will create a positive change for Indigenous people to not only survive but thrive.”

Photography: Louise Dryburgh

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