Melissa Hale - Deaf Cricketer - Victoria/Australia
“I am a proud Deaf woman. I use a cochlear implant so I can hear to some degree and use my voice to communicate and I’m also fluent in Australian sign language. I am married to a proud Deaf man, James and combined, we have four children. James has twin 13-year-old boys, my two stepsons, and I have a 12 year-old boy and a 9 year-old girl. So, we are a very big family! I work full time as the coordinator of the Disability Advocacy Resource Unit which supports and provides training to 24 different disability advocacy organisations across Victoria. And like all of you, I am crazy about cricket.
I spent many years in my twenties exploring what it meant to be a part of the Deaf community developing my Deaf identity and making so many lifelong friends. Eventually I ended up on a Saturday night at a party at Hays Paddock Kew after a Melbourne Deaf Cricket Club cricket game, about probably nearing 14 years ago. I was just there for the beer to be honest.
I hated cricket.
It was the Deaf community that drew me there and let me tell you, every Saturday night you could barely move in the room it was so full of men, women and children and everyone in the Deaf community. That night, a very gorgeous man- who now happens to be my husband James, approached me and said “I need to step down as secretary for 12 months. And I have heard that you are really quite good at admin type stuff. Would you be interested to take my place for 12 months?”
I was really concerned because I had no idea about anything- no idea about cricket whatsoever but was really quite good at filling out forms and writing letters and advocating. I reluctantly said yes but with a list of conditions of things I was not going to do, and that included answering anything or attending meetings that were even vaguely about cricket. After a lot of eye rolling on James part, he agreed.
But I did not know how invested and passionate I would become for the game of cricket, especially deaf cricket. I came to realise that Deaf cricket was so much more than just a cricket club or a cricket game to the players who attended, it was a second family- often a family that many felt they didn’t have due to lack of communication within their own families.
The strong community sense has extended nationally (with national Deaf cricket competitions) and internationally (with Deaf Cricket World Cups) and has been in existence for over 100 years. (Melbourne Deaf cricket Club is the oldest deaf sports club in the world, at 139 years old).
There were no opportunities for women to experience this sense of community, and to learn the game so I set out to simply just start. However, it must be said I could not have achieved this without the support of my husband James. He has helped me enormously to pull this off. Having seen how important this cricket community was for deaf men, I wanted to create the same for deaf women. So after a lot of nagging to Cricket Australia, and with Cricket Victoria’s support, we had the very world first exhibition matches between Deaf Victorian women and Deaf South Australian Woman at the NCIC in January 2019.
Our wider Australian community- is changing. We don’t have days like we all grew up, playing outside till the streetlights come on, playing backyard cricket with random neighbourhood kids. So many of our children- mine included- and ourselves have become chained to technology. We mindlessly scroll on Facebook all day. It’s supposed to help keep us connected but it’s doing the opposite. The loss of community is felt so deeply in the Deaf world, given that the hearing world can be so isolating. Many of us are the only deaf person in a hearing school, or a hearing workplace and it’s just exhausting. Mental health issues really started to skyrocket.
Having Deaf women’s cricket, brought families back together. For example, my daughter played with me in the women’s team and my three sons played with James in his team. It was a beautiful bonding experience for our family. Other families at our club did the same and it was just so good. All our families became very close. Single isolated deaf people felt they belonged in our families, and they do, and young deaf people had access to older deaf people. It really rebuilt our community.
Being absolutely and unapologetically proud of who you are and the diversity you bring to the community will change attitudes and mindsets of everyone we meet along the way. I hope you all go out there and use Australia’s favourite sport to absolutely change the world.