“This generosity is changing lives”: Shelley Ware on football, storytelling and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Teacher, journalist and AFL media presenter, Shelley Ware is passionate about helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people tell their stories and see themselves in other people’s stories. Here’s her story.

For someone who loves stories and storytelling, Shelley Ware has an impressive backstory of her own. The proud Yankunytjatjara/Wirangu woman, who lives on the lands of the people of the Kulin Nation, is a devoted mother. An impassioned educator. An inspirational journalist. And a rather talented basket weaver.

When she’s not at the beach with her son or in the classroom with her students, Shelley can be found hosting her own web show Ware2Now?, appearing on the ABC’s Outer Sanctum podcast, writing a footy column for the Koori Mail … the list goes on. She’s also a proud Ambassador of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), where she is actively involved in the flagship Community Publishing Program, The Create Initiative.

We recently sat down with Shelley for an engaging conversation about what inspires her. Her first words? “I find inspiration from my Elders, I find inspiration from the world that I live in, and I mostly find inspiration from my child and the future that he wants for himself.”

That said, it soon became clear that a number of other topics are close to her heart, too. Here’s what else inspires her.

1. Creating stories with students through ILF’s Create initiative

Empowering Indigenous students to believe in their own voices is one of the most personally rewarding things that Shelley does. Through her involvement in the ILF Create Initiative—which connects senior school students with publishers and mentors in an intensive three to five day workshops to write and publish a book —Shelley helps students bring their voice, stories and imagination to life in a book.

Over the past few years, in partnership with fellow ILF Ambassador and author David Lawrence, Shelley has helped students publish a trilogy called Japarrika, about an Indigenous AFLW player. “The most beautiful part of this experience is seeing the girls grow in confidence over a period of three years. One beautiful soul was extremely shy and wouldn't read out loud. Initially, she didn't want to participate in the actual writing, but by our third year, she wrote a whole chapter herself,” she says.

“Everybody feels inspired and a part of the book. It’s a really special thing to be involved in, to see these young women become authors and believe in themselves.”

With the Japarrika trilogy now published, Shelley’s turning her attention to the next round of Create that’s coming up in Sydney in early 2023. The program, supported by Australia Post, will give a new group of students from the Yirrkala in North-East Arnhem Land the opportunity to speak up and be heard.

2. Helping embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture in classrooms

As a specialist educator, Shelley has focused her skills and knowledge on developing new curriculum resources to help teachers embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture in their classroom. She also supports educators as a consultant to help them feel confident to deliver this curriculum on their own.

“It’s vital for children to have a strong connection to their culture, and to feel a sense of pride. If they are reading, engaging in, and learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture in the classroom, that’s exactly what's going to happen. The classroom is often their starting point for growth and connection to the oldest living culture in the world,” she says.