When Leonie Young thinks back on her football career, she remembers the good times spent with her late mother, Iris Yow-Yeh.
During the 1980s, Young became the first Indigenous woman to represent Queensland in football and was one of the founding members of Tiwiwarrin, Brisbane’s first Indigenous women’s football team.
“It was all mum,” said Young, who began playing in the late 1970s for Mitchelton, The Gap and Grange Thistle.
“Mum decided she wanted to start her own Aboriginal team. She was the brains behind it. She got all the girls together and came up with the name, which means fast and speedy. And that’s how Tiwiwarrin was formed.”
In 1988, The Sun newspaper welcomed Tiwiwarrin as “Brisbane’s newest club”, noting that “the speed of the team on the field has been the keynote to their outstanding record in division two.”
Young, who mostly played on the wing, remembers the shared sense of humour and camaraderie between a group of women that had strong family connections.
“We just clicked. We played serious, but we had our laughs too,” said Young.
“We’d dance on the soccer field and mum would be there growling at us, but that’s just the way we were. It was awesome. It was mum’s sisters’ daughters – Aunty Shirl, Aunty Madge, Aunty Barb. We were all cousins, all family.”
Tiwiwarrin played in Brisbane throughout the 1990s, winning trophies and gaining new supporters along the way.
Current Junior Matildas coach Rae Dower fondly recalls coming up against Tiwiwarrin during her playing days at North Star, Redlands and Newmarket.
She remembers Tiwiwarrin’s direct style of play and their distinctive black, yellow and red jerseys based on the colours of the Aboriginal flag.
“They played the game with a sense of pure joy,” said Dower.
“I played alongside Leonie in some rep sides. She was fast and a lot of fun to be around. I always preferred playing with Leonie, as it meant I didn’t have to chase her!
“Her mum, Iris Yow Yeh, was the heart and soul of Tiwiwarrin and a strong, passionate advocate for women in sport.”
Dr Lee McGowan rediscovered Tiwiwarrin while searching through the archives for the Football Queensland History project.
“Tiwiwarrin are an absolutely incredible forgotten story in our game,” said McGowan, a lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
“The number of females playing football has grown rapidly over the past two decades, but Tiwiwarrin will always be the trailblazing team for Indigenous women.”
Now 60, Young still treasures her old Tiwiwarrin jersey. For her, it’s a lasting physical link to those good times she spent with her family and her community.
“Mum used to wash all our jerseys ready for Sunday and my Pop would drive the bus. They were our biggest supporters,” she said.
“I think it was the best decision my mum ever made, to start an Aboriginal team with all of us girls. Through mum, we were recognised as a team to be reckoned with.”
To find out more about Football Queensland History, click here.