13. LYDIA WILLIAMS
By Sam Squiers
Lydia Williams is the tough formidable Matildas, Arsenal and Melbourne City goalkeeper. She’s played all over the world, at World Cups and Olympics…but the jetsetting, international life of a professional athlete is a far call from the barefoot young Lydia from the outback who played in the red dirt, had pet kangaroos and a close connection to her indigenous culture. Lydia talks to Sam Squiers about her fascinating upbringing, racism and discrimination, the heartbreaking loss of her father and the massive shift in the women’s game.
On Her Game with Sam Squiers – Matildas Goalkeeper Lydia Williams
Transcribed by Nadine Maraldo www.gossipcom.com
- Sam Squiers (Squiers)
- Lydia Williams
A Podcast One Production.
Hey, I’m Sports Journalist Sam Squiers, welcome to “On Her Game”.
Lydia Williams’ story will captivate you, for fifteen years now Lydia has been the tough and intimidating goalkeeper for the Matildas, making her Australian debut as a shy teenager in 2005. She’s played all over the world, World Cups and Olympics, but the jet-setting international life of a professional athlete is a far call from the barefoot young Lydia from the outback, who played in the red dirt, lived off the land and had a close connection to her Indigenous culture. Lydia has this resilience and humility, which is no doubt a product of her upbringing, with her Bush Pastor father and her wall street corporate turned missionary mother. She’s faced racism and discrimination; the heartbreaking loss of her father and she’s seen first-hand a massive shift in the women’s game. Lydia’s sporting story starts in a Western Australian desert.
WILLIAMS: So, um, being in a country town, Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, obviously played every sport under the sun. (laughs) So, it was Little Athletics, um, footy, ah, basketball, (Squiers: as in AFL? Aussie Rules?), AFL yeah, um, and, and football (Squiers: mmm). I actually learnt how to kick a, a footy first out in the desert with Indigenous kids (Squiers: mmm), so that was kind of I think my passion especially being in W.A., you know, everyone followed either the Dockers or the Eagles (Squiers: mmm). And I was a passionate Eagles supporter (Squiers: right, cool), yep, um, so yeah, I, I played everything under the sun, and I really enjoyed being outside, so it was mainly football and footy that I mainly enjoyed (Squiers: mmm). Um, and then, my mum got a job in Canberra, so we all packed up and moved, which was the most terrible thing at the time for me (Squiers: mmm). Um, so, yeah when we moved over, I had to join some sporting teams since I didn’t know anyone (Squiers: mmm) and her words exactly, “you didn’t have any friends, so let’s join you up in some sporting teams.” (laughs)
So, basketball and football it was because there’s no such thing as AFL in Canberra.
SQUIERS: I’m going to go onto Canberra, but I just want to go back to Kalgoorlie, because that is just a fascinating way to, to, to grow up and a fascinating area to grow up in. Your dad he’s Indigenous but your mum’s American, isn’t she? So, how did those two worlds collide?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, um, well mum grow up, um, her side of the family is a military family in America, ah, so she grew up in Oklahoma, ah, and then moved to Boston and finally New York to work on Wall Street (Squiers: wow). Yeah, as an accountant’s assistant so she was right in the middle of hustle and bustle, ‘70s New York City, um, so she was doing that with her life and then kind of, um, started going to church and didn’t really know what she wanted to do (Squiers: mmm). Um, and there was a mission’s trip actually to, ah, Australia, to work with Indigenous women in communities and she was just kind of was like, “oh, yeah, that’s my calling” (Squiers: wow), so, she came over to Australia for three months.
And then my dad’s side of the family, his background is obviously Indigenous (Squiers: mmm) and his family is part of the Stolen Generation (Squiers: mmm). So, he’s raised by his grandparents, his, ah, grandmother got taken to a mission (Squiers: mmm), um, with his two half-siblings (Squiers: yep) and then his grandfather hid him, ah, from the police when they’d come into town. So, because he was half, we’re not really sure who his dad is at all (Squiers: yeah), um, so, he was half, so whiter skinned obviously, you know, he was the one that I guess was targeted really to be taken to missions (Squiers: yeah). So, great grandpa hid him and kind of raised him and everything, so, he was a part of the first Aboriginal kids to go to school as well.
SQUIERS: Your grandfather or your father?
WILLIAMS: Ah, my dad (Squiers: yeah), so he went for I think it was three years and left because it was just, the racism was terrible so he never got an education, never got a job, um, turned to alcohol (Squiers: mmm) and then a, a missionary came into town and Kalgoorlie and, um, spoke to him and he just kind of felt, you know, rejuvenated and, um, and he became a Christian and then moved all around Australia, like Western Australia preaching and helping out Indigenous people.
SQUIERS: I heard him described as a Bush Pastor?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, yeah, he was pretty, um, he, he just travelled around, there was no (Squiers: mmm), he didn’t really have an, an actual settlement, he just, you know, slept on floors and tents, in his car, with his dog and his guitar (laughs). So, he basically just was just was kind of nomadic and just went everywhere just trying to help people and bring the same level of hope that he found, um, through the missionary to, to others.
SQUIERS: Did he ever talk about the Stolen Generation to you, and did he pass on what that was like?
WILLIAMS: Um, no, not really, I think he really wanted to shy away from that. He did explain to me a lot of times, obviously I’d walk with him and there were, you know, racist words thrown at him. Or I remember going through a few places, like a drive-through to get coffee for him (Squiers: mmm), um, you know, a hot chocolate for me (laughs) and he would have to explain why he got short-changed and why we had to go back to the store to ask for the right amount of money back (Squiers: wow). So, for me that was a bit, ah, interesting, I didn’t really understand all of this.
SQUIERS: I was going to say, did you understand what was happening?
WILLIAMS: No, I just knew him as my dad (Squiers: yeah), I’m obviously very light skinned compared to how he, he looked (Squiers: mmm), um, so for me it was like, “why is this happening, when he’s, my dad? (Squiers: mmm) Can’t you see that we’re like the same person and you’re not saying that to me?” (Squiers: yeah, yeah) So, yeah, it was very interesting.
SQUIERS: Your mum, so they were part of the same missionary together and fell in love?
WILLIAMS: Well actually, so my dad heard about my mum (laughs), about this American woman came over to Australia to work with Indigenous people, so he was like, “okay, let’s have a look.” (laughs)
So, um, yeah, he actually knew about my mum before (Squiers: right) and they had one meeting, one chance meeting and he introduced himself and they started chatting and then that was it, they exchanged addresses (Squiers: mmm) and she had to go back to America. And they wrote to each other for four months, and he, the only way that my dad learnt how to read was through comic books, so he loved the Phantom and, and the Phantom’s sweetheart is actually called Diana, which is my mum’s name (Squiers: yeah). So, he would sign off the Phantom (laughs), which my mum showed me those, ah, letters and I was like, “oh my gosh, you two were both so corny.”
SQUIERS: And she still got them, that’s awesome (Williams: yeah, so), that must have been beautiful to read?
WILLIAMS: Oh, I, it’s a bit cheesy, I’m not, I’m not ready for that yet (laughs) (Squiers: that’s awesome). I think she still reads them, I’m, I’m just like, “I’m just going to wait” (Squiers: right, right).
Um, but yeah, so they wrote to each other for four months and he proposed to her through a letter (Squiers: aww) and she said yes and packed up her life and moved to Australia.
SQUIERS: I hear as well, they had their honeymoon in a cave as well (Williams: yes, for two nights), that’s a bit different to, yeah, a high life.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, mum was like, we need to leave after two nights. (laughs) But my, my dad actually, they had their wedding in a dried creek bed (Squiers: yep) in Western Australia, which was a site of an Aboriginal massacre (Squiers: wow) and he believed that if there’s something, you know, something heartbreaking, something beautiful can come out of it (Squiers: oh wow). So, everybody came with their, you know, their dogs, their stray dogs and swiping away flies and everything (laughs) and had their wedding on a, a dried creek bed and then went to a cave for two nights. He swept it out and put a mattress in there (Squiers: aww, nice), and some candles, and the dogs (Squiers: and the dogs), under the stars (laughs) and then mum was like, “we need a hotel”.
SQUIERS: I’ve had enough of this (Williams: yeah). What a beautiful story, what an incredible man and, um, I want to talk about your dad, um, a little bit further, but for you growing up in the outback, I want to know a little bit more about what that was like, how different was that to, to other kids’ upbringings?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, it was, it was crazy, it was like, now that I think about it, I’m like, “not many people do it, at all” (Squiers: no), but being in Kalgoorlie, there’s just a vast Nullarbor plain drive that you can take, um, also the drives to Alice Springs where we would always go every year for a Convention (Squiers: mmm), um, so we’d travel all the way through to I guess, you know, Ayers Rock and, um, to Adelaide and Cooper Pedy, so we’d do that every year. Um, so, I got to be on the road a lot (Squiers: mmm) with my parents and during that time kangaroos are everywhere so, you know, you kind of, they hop out and you’d hit them (laughs), but we’d always check if there’s joeys (Squiers: yep) and then dad would never let food go to waste. So, we’d tie up the kangaroo to our front bull bar (laughs) and take it to the next community town and they’d be like, “okay, it’s dinner for everyone” (Squiers: wow, wow). So, yeah, we, we used to travel around, and I didn’t think anything that it was out of the norm (Squiers: yeah), I knew it was something like special, but I, but I was like, “ohh, I’m still doing schoolwork”, um.
SQUIERS: I was going to say were you home schooled during that time? Yeah.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, mum in another life was actually a schoolteacher (Squiers: right), um, so she got all the work from teachers before we left (Squiers: mmm) and I’d be doing like a little journal of Maths and English, (Squiers: mmm) and Science (Squiers: cool), um, and then kind of like showing my travels of where we go (Squiers: yeah, right). So, it would be at least a month, um, that we’d be kind of on the road for (Squiers: mmm). Yeah, for me it was like, it was fun, I got to learn a lot and I mean I’m an only child so (Squiers: mmm) when they were doing their thing, I had to kind of make friends and, you know, and play with animals (Squiers: mmm) and play sport. So, I was always kind of, I was never bored.
SQUIERS: What do you reckon were the greatest lessons, um, learnt from having that kind of lifestyle, travelling around, and having to find your own fun, but what was the greatest lessons you learnt from that lifestyle of having your parents as these missionaries and doing that?
WILLIAMS: I think it was learning off them and, you know, in hindsight I don’t, now that I, I know about it more I can kind of reflect on it, but dad not having any money or having any kind of real income, um, obviously mum was the, the, the breadwinner (Squiers: mmm). So, she would have, you know, twenty dollars for me and dad to kind of like get dinner that night or, or whatever it was and he’d split it and see, you know, his, um, cousin or someone on the road that was like worse off than him and he’d just, you know, give that ten dollars to them (Squiers: mmm) and be like, “we’re fine, we can split a meal or (Squiers: mmm), you know, we’ll, we’ll just have like have chips or get like fish and chips or something (Squiers: yeah), like where we’re okay with what we have, this person doesn’t have anything” (Squiers: yeah).
And, just at the time I was like, “why? I want food!” (laughs) And, and now looking back at it it’s just like we were, we were always okay (Squiers: yeah, yeah), the, everything we’ve gone through we’re; we were always provided we had enough and just seeing people that didn’t have enough, just my dad’s humility towards them (Squiers: mmm).
Um, but then, you know, my mum obviously coming from a completely different background (Squiers: mmm), how she integrated into something that not a lot of people would do (Squiers: mmm). You know, give up Wall Street to come to Australia (Squiers: mmm), um, with no other job really (Squiers: yeah) except missionary work, um, (Squiers: in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Yeah). Yeah, and just seeing how she kind of was humble and listened and completely integrated herself into Indigenous culture. And I mean now some of her best friends are those people that she met all those years ago (Squiers: yeah) and, you know, we live in a, a nice house in Canberra (Squiers: mmm) and, you know, she’s healthy and safe, but it’s just like that’s, you know, something that we’re really blessed to have and grateful for.
SQUIERS: Did you have an appreciation for your Indigenous culture and that kind of upbringing when you were young or did that appreciation come a bit later for you?
WILLIAMS: Um, I, it’s been kind of up and down. So, it’s definitely when I was younger and living in Kalgoorlie, I like, I loved it (Squiers: mmm) but, but to travel out in the desert, everybody knew me by my travel name which is Yilkari (Squiers: cool). Um, so, you know, we’d go out there and it’d be like, “oh, Yilkari’s here”, so. (laughs)
SQUIERS: So, explain that to me.
WILLIAMS: Um, so it was given to me, my tribe and where we kind of grew up and was from, I guess there’s, there’s a place called Warburton (Squiers: mmm) and there’s a place called Warrakurna, um, so that’s Central desert (Squiers: mmm), um, in the Gibson desert. So, um, they actually gave me my middle name, um, so I have my, my dad’s grandma, oh, great-grandma’s name which is Grace, so it’s Lydia Grace Yilkari Williams (Squiers: cool). So, growing up in the desert, you know, I was kind of famous really (laughs), you know, ah, but everybody knew by my, my tribal name (Squiers: yeah), yeah that was really special.
SQUIERS: Did you still have that American cultural influence in your life as well growing up?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, every, um, Christmas, ah, we’d have kangaroo tail soup (laughs), um, and damper and then mum would make the pumpkin pie (laughs) (Squiers: yeah). So, um, (Squiers: wow) she brought that to our family and so with all the cousins and aunties and uncles would get together and mum would make about three pies (laughs) and dad would get a kangaroo tail from somewhere and we’d bring it over and they just loved it. It was like, “what is this? (laughs) (Squiers: wow) What is this pumpkin pie?”
So, um, that was her number one requested meal for sure.
SQUIERS: Did you face racism growing up, was that something you had to deal with?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, um, I think, you know, once I kind of went back to Kalgoorlie and I had to get back into I guess school and not be so tribal and, um, out there.
SQUIERS: What age was that?
WILLIAMS: Ah, probably when I was eight and nine (Squiers: mmm), you know, obviously I look white so (Squiers: mmm), you know, my dad picking me up and people not knowing him, you know, obviously there’s going to be comments of, “oh, I didn’t know that’s your dad”, (Squiers: mmm) or, “you don’t look like him” or, you know, back then it was called half-cast because (Squiers: mmm) I wasn’t really dark and I wasn’t really white like my mum (Squiers: mmm) because, you know, when she’d speak it’d be an American accent (Squiers: mmm). So, people were like, “wait, what’s going on?” (Squiers: yeah)
Ah, so, yeah, I definitely faced a lot back then (Squiers: mmm), um, also didn’t help that I was a tomboy, and, you know, I didn’t dress up and do girly things (Squiers: mmm), so, you know, I was a little bit grubby. (laughs) I guess, but, you know, I was a bush kid, so I just loved being outside and, yeah, I definitely had a few obstacles I guess that wasn’t just racism, it was, you know, a few things that kind of made me different. And I guess I was naïve about it (Squiers: mmm) because it didn’t affect me all that much in terms of, you know, I felt, I guess persecuted against (Squiers: mmm), it was more I felt like I didn’t belong (Squiers: mmm), I didn’t really have a sense of identity (Squiers: yeah) and that was just probably more confusion rather than, you know, sadness or anything like that.
SQUIERS: Let’s talk about sport, when did soccer come into your life?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I started, well I obviously started playing back in Kalgoorlie, ah, it wasn’t really that big, I mean it was (Squiers: mmm), I guess it was more organised than, than footy because of the, you know, there wasn’t enough girls to play (Squiers: mmm), football or footy, um, so it was like, “oh, soccer/football (laughs), you can kind of have both girls and boys (Squiers: mmm), or there’s enough for just a girls team.”
So, that was I guess was more organised (Squiers: mmm) than, than playing footy, ah, and it wasn’t until we moved to Canberra that I was like, “ohh, this is actually like a competition, I actually have to like (laughs) really focus if I want to play this sport”. And we came late so I was like, ohh, you know, mum’s like, “we need to join you up in teams”, so I was like, “okay” and then she’s like, “well here’s a problem, registrations shut so they’re letting you join (Squiers: mmm) but you can be in Division Four and play wherever you want or you can be in Division One, but the only position left is a goalkeeper” (laughs) and I was like, “oh, yeah, I’ll, I’ll go on goals because we’ll rotate and I know how to, to catch” (laughs), I was like, “okay”.
So, I joined up in Division One, needless to say I never played on the field ever again. (laughs)
SQUIERS: Is that right? (Williams: yep) You never played another position?
WILLIAMS: No, that was it and I mean there’s this huge competition in, um, Canberra called the Kanga Cup and I remember that, playing that in my first year and I saved a penalty (Squiers: mmm), which was unheard of because I was like my first year of really big goals (Squiers: yep), and I don’t have a goalkeeper coach. So, here we go, and I saved it and we won the comp (laughs) and then my coach, I remember him coming up to me and be like, “you’re a goalkeeper through and through, you’re not leaving.” (laughs)
I was like, “oh, no”.
SQUIERS: So, how old were you back then when you were put in, first put in as goalkeeper?
WILLIAMS: Oh, I was twelve, yep (Squiers: twelve and never played another position), nope (laughs).
SQUIERS: And was it because you were good that they didn’t or was it because no one else wanted to go there?
WILLIAMS: I think it was a little bit of both (Squiers: yeah), I think it was no one else wanted to do it and then it was like, “she’s actually kind of good (Squiers: yeah), and so why should we rotate”. Um, (laughs) so yeah, I just got stuck with it.
SQUIERS: When did soccer then start getting serious for you, was it during the Kanga Cup or what was it?
WILLIAMS: Um, I think it was, there was a, a schoolgirls’ tour back when, you know, it was just like you’re old enough you pay an x amount of money and go on a trip with, you know, all these random girls (Squiers: mmm) from different schools around Canberra. And, it must have been when I was fourteen and I went to China (Squiers: you went to China for?), so it was just a tournament against some other Chinese schools (Squiers: right) and you just paid for it and went.
So, for, you know, for us it was like a lot of money (Squiers: yeah), we had to fundraise quite a bit (Squiers: mmm), we had to get help from a lot of places, ah, and I guess it was like a trip of a lifetime (Squiers: mmm) and I had the opportunity and then my parents were like, “yeah, you need to do it”. So, I went and that was probably when I realised, I was like, “wow, this is really cool that (Squiers: yeah), you know, I can do this” (Squiers: mmm) and then, you know, soon after it was obviously the 2000 Olympics and I got to go to a game in Canberra and I think it was like Sweden versus Nigeria or something (Squiers: mmm) random. And I was like, “well these, big ladies” (laughs), I was like, “but they’re playing like they get to travel the world and play” (Squiers: yeah), and I was like, “that’s kind of cool” (Squiers: yeah).
And obviously Cathy Freeman, you know, raced, and I was like, “I want to do that (Squiers: yeah), that’s what I want, really want to do” (Squiers: yeah), but I had been watching her race, um, gosh like since like ’96, I think was the Commonwealth Games (Squiers: mmm), um, and I remember having a VHS and watching like, having all. (laughs) Oh yeah, rewind (Squiers: it was), it’s like having all these people like, “Cathy, what?” and like is, (Squiers: there’s kids listening and not knowing what a VHS is), yeah, (Squiers: it’s a videotape).
Yeah, so, I’d just watch the Commonwealth Games over and over again.
SQUIERS: Wow and Cathy Freeman (Williams: yeah), yeah, did you feel connected to her because she was like an Indigenous athlete, an Indigenous Australian as well?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, because that was the first kind of like Indigenous, Indigenous athlete, a female (Squiers: mmm), that I actually saw, um, and could relate to, um, obviously we had a few Eagles players come, that I, you know, saw in Kalgoorlie, but it was never any females and I was like, “wow, this is kind of cool, that she’s won this”
SQUIERS: Yeah, yep, but you, you made your Matildas debut when you were seventeen, is that correct? (Williams: yep, yes that’s correct). Take me back to that day, what was that like?
WILLIAMS: Oh, wow, well I had been in camp since I was sixteen (Squiers: mmm), so I’ve been a part of the squad for sixteen years now, which is absurd (Squiers: oldie) in itself (laughs) and then, um, it wasn’t until I actually went on that trip that I was like, “this is like the real deal (Squiers: mmm), like these like women dream about this moment to like, they’ve been actually, since they were eight thinking about playing for the Matildas”. (Squiers: yeah) And for me it was like, “ah, Matildas, cool” (laughs) until I was seventeen because I was, because I had no idea (Squiers: yeah), I was in that kind of naïve kind of like frame of mind of like, “oh, this is cool, this is a great opportunity (Squiers: mmm), be grateful for it”.
And then when we went over to, I think it was a two-month tour that we went to, and we went to China, Japan and South Korea and I got to play against a, a club team which they filled the stadium anyway (Squiers: yeah) and I thought, “this is crazy that like this club team versus Australia” (Squiers: mmm) and then that’s when I got to see my first real games live and then I actually got to play against South Korea. We lost but (laughs) it was a good learning experience because I was like, “wow, this is like the real deal (Squiers: yeah) that we get to travel the world and play this sport and people love it”.
SQUIERS: Being a goalkeeper, there’s a lot of pressure on you (Williams: there sure is) (laughs), what’s been, do you have a most crushing moment being a goalkeeper that haunted you for, for a long time?
WILLIAMS: Um, I had a really hard time and letting mistakes go when I was younger (Squiers: mmm), probably from, oh, age of fifteen to maybe eighteen (Squiers: mmm), um, it really, it weighed on me a lot when I, you know, a, a game would be lost or I’d made a mistake and I didn’t, I’m my harshest critic (Squiers: mmm), it doesn’t matter anyone out there says.
SQUIERS: It amplifies when you’re the goalkeeper surely, like?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, so I had a really hard time with like letting things go (Squiers: yep), so that’s probably the one thing that I’ve learnt about most throughout my position is how to be really resilient (Squiers: mmm) and I mean the worst thing about it is I think when you go through something hard in life, I think that helps you (Squiers: mmm). And, you know, I never want it to happen again and if, you know, and if I could redo it I obviously would (Squiers: mmm) but I think with everything that’s happened in my life that has been tragic I actually helped me to be a better goalkeeper (Squiers: mmm), in terms to be mentally, being mentally strong, being able to, to bounce back and be resilient, I think that’s, that’s been the major thing, that’s kind of helped me.
SQUIERS: Do you thrive on penalty shootouts?
WILLIAMS: Absolutely not, I hate them (laughs), I don’t like them at all, even though I might seem it, I’m just like, “oh, please, someone score, it’s the 99th minute”, so.
SQUIERS: Argh, I can’t imagine the pressure from a penalty shootout being a goalkeeper.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I mean luckily the pressure isn’t on me that much but, um, yeah, I definitely don’t like them.
SQUIERS: What was the biggest difference because you’re in a, a really unique position where you’ve seen your sport and your women’s game go through massive change, massive development, really, really quickly. But looking back on those first few years of playing for the Matildas, what was the biggest difference that stands out now from what you guys had to go through to what it’s like for you guys now?
WILLIAMS: Oh, gosh, probably that we had to wash our undies (laughs), um, no it was, you know, it was (Squiers: I hope you did wash your undies, explain that), yeah, oh definitely (laughs), but like, like handwashing them, well that’s a different thing in itself. It was just, there, there was nothing like we, we obviously got, um, compensated for going over but it was just like x amount a day, you’ll get it at the end of the trip and then you, that’s it (Squiers: mmm). You see nothing (Squiers: mmm) and, you know, it wasn’t a lot, it was, you know, probably, it was a month long trip maybe it was like three thousand dollars (Squiers: yeah) and obviously taxed (Squiers: yeah) and then you get that lump sum in your bank (Squiers: yeah) and then, um, in the meantime you had to figure it out (Squiers: mmm). Ah, but, um, it, it was just the little things, it was, you know, not having enough strips and enough, like, tracksuits so you had to, to, you know, you had to make sure you don’t spill food on them because (Squiers: mmm) if you want to wash it yourself it’s going to cost you (Squiers: mmm) kind of thing. So, it was just like everything was the minimum and, and basic and I remember being there when we actually signed over to, to have contracts for the year (Squiers: mmm) and how big a deal that it, it was now. And now it’s just like, “oh, a year contract, great” (Squiers: yeah, yeah), it’s just the standard deal.
SQUIERS: Yeah, back then though, and I, I keep saying back then, but it’s like even five years ago, you guys were still playing some internationals in closed stadium (Williams: mmm) where there’s no one, the doors weren’t, gates weren’t even open for anyone to come in, what was that like having to do that and it wasn’t that long ago that you were, that you were doing that.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, it’s kind of, it’s kind of crazy thinking about it, I think the only time that we really got any type of crowd was when we played before the Socceroos (Squiers: mmm) and that was maybe once or twice in, in my (Squiers: mmm) recollection that we actually got to do that.
SQUIERS: Was it because you couldn’t pull a crowd or that hierarchy I guess didn’t believe and didn’t have faith you could pull a crowd?
WILLIAMS: I think it was we probably couldn’t pull a crowd, we didn’t really have the media following, it’s also very expensive to bring your team over to Australia (Squiers: mmm) and there was absolutely no way we could afford that unless it was, you know, some kind of link in (Squiers: mmm) to, a tour here or something like that. And it was just probably pretty impossible to do that (Squiers: mmm), but also, we hadn’t, we hadn’t done anything, we hadn’t done anything significant then (Squiers: mmm), um, where it was really I guess backed upon, I think it was the first time that we got out of a knockout round (Squiers: mmm) or I think it was when we scored in the 2007 World Cup (Squiers: mmm), I think it was the first time we won a game.
SQUIERS: When did you win the Asian Cup though (Williams: 2010), 2010, yep.
WILLIAMS: And I think we had the game with the Socceroos, I think that was in ’09 or ’08 (Squiers: yeah), so it was really, we were just kind of like baby steps, it wasn’t like really anything significant (Squiers: yeah) happening then so, you know, it was just like, “oh, you know, (Squiers: yeah) the girls are wanting to have year-long contracts controversy” (Squiers: yeah, yeah), so, to get, to bring out another team (laughs), (Squiers: yeah, yeah) um, or to open up stadium doors it was always going to be an expense.
SQUIERS: What was it like to pull on the green and gold but then have to play in front of empty stadiums? Not because there’s not a crowd, but because the gates aren’t even open
WILLIAMS: It was the norm (Squiers: yeah), um, you know, it was also where we went, was always we travelled (Squiers: mmm), it was very rare that we were home, you know, all these other countries could afford to bring us over, so we went over (Squiers: mmm). And for us it was like, “you know, we’re going over here, so there’s not going to be, unless they pick up a stream, it’s not our problem, (Squiers: mmm) it’s, you know, it’s not being shown back home”. But yeah, I just don’t think there was kindness or any way for there to be looked at, “oh, let’s, you know, (Squiers: mmm), field games back here”.
SQUIERS: You played in the U.S. from 2009 (Williams: mmm), what was the big difference then that you saw from playing in the U.S., what was it like playing there compared to playing back in Australia in the Women’s League?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I got to go to the U.S., when I was just, in the very first season of, gosh, it was WPS back then (Squiers: yep) and my team, I’m telling you, was ridiculous, we had World Cup winners, we had Olympic Medallists (laughs). You know, in, in my team there, we had Megan Rapinoe (Squiers: yeah), who just got named Balloon d’Or Feminin, we had the best Brazilian player (Squiers: mmm), um, it was crazy (laughs), ah, and I was a nineteen-year-old (laughs) and I was like, “what am I doing here?” Um, and I learnt so much, I didn’t play a minute, ah, which I didn’t mind at all (Squiers: yeah), but it was my first experience going overseas (Squiers: yeah) being in a professional environment with all these like women that have given up their whole life to, to pursue this (Squiers: mmm) and their country believes in them, they’ve won stuff (Squiers: mmm). And for me to see that I was like, “wow, this is cool, this is, you know, how, what it looks like to have a, a country invest in, in their women’s team (Squiers: mmm)” and, um, that was really exciting, yeah, that was my first taste of it (Squiers: yep) and then obviously now just the backing of sponsors and people that are willing to invest over there is huge.
SQUIERS: All that investment, what difference do you see that that makes?
WILLIAMS: I just think it gives girls that, you know, that they want that, they know they can make a living out of it (Squiers: mmm) so they’re willing to put all their effort into that sport (Squiers: mmm) to try and make it. And I think that’s what you want to do, you want to leave no stone unturned and know you’ve given it your all whether you make it or not, you know that there’s nothing more that, you can do. But I think when it gets to a point where you’re like, “can I afford it? (Squiers: yeah) Is it enough?” And that’s when girls don’t, don’t pursue it (Squiers: mmm), they don’t, they can’t, because they’ve got to live. (laughs)
SQUIERS: Yeah, what was it like then for the girl who grew up in the outback (Williams: ohh) without shoes (laughs) to then have this international professional sport life, where you go from country to country playing football, a few pinch me moments?
WILLIAMS: Oh yeah, I’m like, mum sends me videos sometimes of like, “oh, Lydia growing up” and I’m like, “oh my goodness don’t ever show that to anybody”, (laughs) I’m like, I cannot believe that I would never have thought in my whole entire life that this would happen so, (Squiers: mmm) so it’s, it’s like, it’s definitely very surreal.
SQUIERS: What’s the biggest adjustment that you had to make?
WILLIAMS: Oh, probably how I talk and how I act.
SQUIERS: Right, why’s that, in what way?
WILLIAMS: Oh, and, yeah, I mean I had a twang (laughs), I, I was very, very rough and, you know, Indigenous slang here and there, you know, Canberra is definitely not like that at all, so I had to learn very quickly. One of my, um, best friends over there, I remember it was weird, we didn’t become best friends yet (Squiers: mmm), it was like probably month I was over in Canberra and we were about to go on a school trip (Squiers: mmm) and she saw me like digging in the ground and she recalls that, she’s like, “oh, she’s just a little bush kid, like look at her over there, like not, what is she doing?” (laughs) And she just was like, “what is she doing?” she just couldn’t understand, um, and then, yeah, we became best friends later on, but it was just crazy that, you know, I, I had to adjust so much to I guess to fit into that, into that lifestyle (Squiers: mmm) but then it also allowed me to find myself as well.
SQUIERS: In terms of the women’s game and the development it’s made, what are you most proud of when you look back on the development of the women’s game in Australia?
WILLIAMS: I think the media, and I think the backing of the Federation, I remember when we were in Canada in 2015 and we were going through the knockout round and we had, I think, I don’t know, I think it was Channel Seven (Squiers: mmm) or someone, or some Australian news crew came over and it was unheard of that we’ve ever had a news crew from Australia (laughs) fly somewhere just to film us and interview us. It was always, “oh, can you pick this up, it’ll be streamed back here or something”, but it was, you know, they came all this way to see us play (Squiers: mmm) and I was like, “oh, this never happens”. (Squiers: yeah) And then since then it was, it’s just been like, “oh, we need, you know, a film crew here (Squiers: mmm), at the Olympics, we need to have this film crew here (Squiers: mmm), oh the girls qualified”.
Um, and it’s just, things are getting streamed and televised that, you know, in family-friendly times (Squiers: mmm), people are watching back at home, there’s interviews, the Federation believe in us, you know, they believe in equality so, (Squiers: mmm) there’s just this really big following and really big backing and that makes us perform better.
SQUIERS: You don’t have to wash your own undies (laughs) or, um, make sure you don’t spill anything on your tracksuits anymore.
WILLIAMS: No, no, I have a big bib. (laughs)
SQUIERS: And of course, we’re on the brink now of finding out whether Australia and New Zealand will host the 2023 World Cup, um, we’re recording this right before the announcement (Williams: yeah), so we don’t want to jinx anything, but I can’t help but think back to what you were saying about Cathy Freeman and seeing her do her thing and, and win gold on that incredible stage called the Olympics. Do you think back now that, you know, what this event could do for little girls like little Lydia when she was twelve years old watching that?
WILLIAMS: Oh, I think it would be incredible, the amount of times I go overseas and I’m just like, “you’ve just got to come visit Australia” (laughs) and like to have a major tournament here (Squiers: mmm) and think we Australians know how to host a, a tournament, we’ve, we’ve done it many times for many different sports (Squiers: mmm). And I think to have the world’s best, and The World Game in Australia would be incredible (Squiers: mmm) and the amount of people you think that you’re going to inspire, not just girls but boys, but families, you know, I, I think it would do wonders for the game and for people in Australia. I, I just think it would be incredible, you know, seeing the support that the, the Women’s Cricket Team got (Squiers: yeah) and people getting behind that, yeah, it’d be, it’d be amazing.
SQUIERS: Does it blow your mind that you’re now to many little girls what Cathy Freeman was to you?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I had, that doesn’t sink into me yet (Squiers: mmm), ah, I don’t think it will to maybe when I’m done because for me, I’m still that kid in Kalgoorlie.
SQUIERS: Um, can I, we’ve talked a lot about your mum and your dad, they’re really important to you, but I do want to talk about, about your dad and, and what happened when he was fifteen (Williams: mmm), he sadly passed away, can you take me back to that, to that day and, and what happened?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, um, so, I think it was, a few weeks before that he, I got called out of school, um, and dad was not feeling the best and, um, and I got, ah, called out of school and went straight to the hospital and I was like, “what’s going on?” And they’re like, “oh, he’s been diagnosed with cancer um, but we think it’s lymphoma, but we can treat (Squiers: mmm), so he’ll be here, he’ll get some chemo, um, and then, you know, we’ll see how it’ll progress”. And he actually the next week went to Western Australia to do a wedding (laughs), funnily enough he was still working and doing weddings (Squiers: yeah) and, um, preaching and stuff. So, when he came back, on the flight back he actually had to be put on oxygen (Squiers: right). Um, so, we landed, he went back into hospital, um, then came back home and it was okay.
And then I remember gosh it was two weeks later, that I got called out of school again and I was like, “oh no what is it this time?” (Squiers: mmm)
So, I went straight to the hospital again, but this time I went into Urgent Care (Squiers: mmm) and as soon as I walked through the doors and I saw doctors around and I saw my mum and I just knew that (Squiers: mmm), I, I’d never had emotion overcome me like that ever (Squiers: mmm). You know, there’s obviously like losing a game in a tournament, you know, it is devastating but like I just, as soon as I walked in there, I just felt like this grief just wash over me and then, um, the doctors came over me and just said, “he, he only has a day or two to live, it’s that aggressive” (Squiers: mmm).
Um, so, yeah, we, we had our final kind of words to each other. Mum and the doctors left the room and me and dad just chatted (Squiers: mmm), um, and he just said, “he’s just so proud of me and he’ll always look after me and be looking down on me, and, you know, no matter what I do, it, it doesn’t matter because, you know, he loves me” (Squiers: mmm).
Um, and that was kind of our, our last conversation together (Squiers: mmm) and then mum was in and out of hospital, I had, um, my school friends come and say goodbye because they were a big part of our life as well (Squiers: mmm), dad used to go out to all the school camps and, um, teach the kids about, you know, what it is to be Aboriginal, he loved everyone (Squiers: yeah). So, my, my school friends came and said goodbye, a couple of my soccer friends came as well and then basically, yeah, I, we went home, a day and a half after I had last chatted to him, and we just got clothes, get changed, go back to hospital (Squiers: mmm). And then whilst we were home we got a phone call, um, from our, one of our really good friends who were like, “you need to come right now” (Squiers: mmm) and so made it just in time.
And, you know, by this time it was morphine had taken over (Squiers: mmm) so everything was incoherent (Squiers: mmm) and he was in and out of it so, yeah, that was, that was about it. It was fast and it was really devastating (Squiers: mmm) and probably for a good year after I didn’t feel anything (Squiers: yeah), I really cannot, I, I don’t even know what happened on my sixteenth birthday (Squiers: right) because I have just have completely shut down all those memories (Squiers: yeah) from that and I just think I just went numb (Squiers: mmm) for a good year.
SQUIERS: Yeo, did you still play sport during that time?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, I definitely still played, I went back to school a week later, um, everybody was like, “um, what are you doing here?” (Squiers: yeah, why so soon? How so soon?) Um, and I think it was just because my dad was just like, “I just don’t want you to stop, you know (Squiers: mmm), you, like it’s going to be hard but like, I believe in you, I’m proud of it (Squiers: mmm), I don’t want you to stop and let this overcome you”, (Squiers: mmm). Um, so, I think I just pushed aside all emotion and I was pretty numb and just went back to school and back to sport. And it wasn’t until, you know, a year later, that me and mum, we were avoiding talking to each other, because we both so scared (Squiers: yeah) of making each other cry (Squiers: yep) and then it was a year later that we actually sat down and were like, “we miss him” (Squiers: mmm) and actually allowed us ourselves to kind of feel again (Squiers: mmm).
And then it was around that time that I made, you know, the National team (laughs), so it’s kind of crazy that, it’s almost like all that frustration and grief that I didn’t feel, it went into what I was about to become a part of (Squiers: mmm) but then in saying that, obviously after I had to have some grief.
SQUIERS: Yeah, you still miss him?
WILLIAMS: Oh yeah, every, every day, especially now there’s a lot of talk about, you know, Indigenous rights and, you know, that kind of thing (Squiers: yeah) and I was just like, “oh, I would have loved my dad to be here to see this and talk”. Because right now I’m getting a lot of my information from my mum and my family (Squiers: mmm), which, you know, is not coming straight from my dad, so that’s probably the hardest thing about it.
SQUIERS: Because we talking about being a Bush Pastor and, and his upbringing, but he, he was also, um, he was an Elder and he, he crossed that political divide as well, he, um, well, educated politicians (Williams: mmm) on Indigenous issues as well and was deeply respected across all cultural divides, wasn’t he?
WILLIAMS: (laughs) Yeah, yeah, he actually had his Memorial Service, um, in, um, in the Great Hall in Canberra (Squiers: mmm), which at the time only one other person had it. There were over a thousand people there (Squiers: mmm), politicians, the Tent Embassy, people from school, from sport (Squiers: mmm), um, church, there was that many people there to come and, kind of, you know, remember him (Squiers: mmm) and, um, speak fondly of him. But, you know, he never wanted anyone to feel like it’s their fault for anything that they are (Squiers: mmm), um, he wanted to educate everyone and just love everyone (Squiers: mmm).
One example was, you know, we, being in Kalgoorlie there’s a lot of brothels (Squiers: mmm) and, you know, every other week we’d go down there, and he’d pick flowers from the garden, and he’d just go and give like the women flowers (Squiers: mmm) and just talk to them and just treat them like humans. (Squiers: yeah) And, you know, just, he, he went to prisons to talk to prisoners (Squiers: mmm) and he interacted with the lowest of the low (Squiers: mmm) and I got to witness that (Squiers: mmm) and I think that’s why he was so respected.
SQUIERS: You talk about you wish your dad was here at the moment with all that’s going on in the world with all the demonstrations that we’ve seen with Black Lives Matter and demonstrations here in Australia as well, what kind of impact has that had on you watching these demonstrations and, and, and being involved as in Indigenous Australian?
Yeah, for me it’s, it’s, it’s definitely hard seeing, you know, how many people that are, are hurt by it. I definitely can’t speak on behalf on anyone except myself (Squiers: mmm) and, um, obviously for me being lighter skinned, I haven’t gone through a lot of, I guess racial abuse, you know, without people knowing that I’m Indigenous (Squiers: mmm). And then obviously travelling and not being in Australia a lot (Squiers: yeah) I’m, I’m, you know, jet-setting and playing, you know, the best sport I can (Squiers: mmm) and for myself.
I definitely can’t speak on anyone else but myself, but it is, it’s, it’s hard to see and it’s hard to hear some stories (Squiers: mmm), I just think it’s all about education (Squiers: mmm), it’s all about, you know, listening to each other and I think once you listen to someone (Squiers: mmm), like I take my mum for example, she didn’t, she never came here and integrated into Indigenous life thinking that she knew better (Squiers: yeah, yeah). And she’s, she’s an American that worked on Wall Street and grew up in the South, so she just came with an open mind, she learnt everything she could (Squiers: mmm) and, you know, she, she never thought that she knew better (Squiers: mmm). She, she wanted to, to learn, and I think that’s the, the biggest point, we just have to listen to each other and allow someone to talk without judgement.
SQUIERS: We’re seeing across the world as well, a lot of athletes use their platform to be able to take a stand and, um, and send a strong message, Colin Kaepernick, and we’ve seen Adam Goodes in Australia, how important and do you feel that as well using your platform as an athlete to be able to educate, to be able to stand up for what you believe in, how important is that?
WILLIAMS: I think so, I think, um, you know, that at the end of the day athletes are human and I think everyone feels and, you know, we, we do have to perform on the sporting pitch but also now a lot of athletes being able to say things and verbalise other issues that take them away from the athlete and make them a person (Squiers: mmm) I think it’s really powerful because, you know, now we actually have a voice and now we can actually, you know, contribute in the things that are, that are passionate and are worldwide and are issues. And I think that the more athletes that can do that it’s great, so, yeah, I am definitely passionate about, you know, showing that side, the human side (Squiers: mmm) and, and not just the athlete side of it.
SQUIERS: Hmm, speaking of platforms and being able to use your platform to create change, um, your book (laughs), your children’s book is creating change, isn’t it? And you’re using your platform, tell me about “Saved”, I love this book.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, um, well “Saved” is basically a, I guess a short novel of my life (laughs). Ah, so, actually I, I got approached by Allan Unwin, and they heard my story and was like, “woah, that’s a children book without like you even trying” (Squiers: yeah, right) and my agent and I spoke about it before and was like, “we need to think about how to, what’s a good way to tell your story?”
(Squiers: mmm) And the fact that they picked it up right away as a children’s book (Squiers: mmm) we would have never found that path, so it’s just interesting how (Squiers: yeah), you know, how publishers think, it’s, it’s crazy (Squiers: yeah). Um, so they were like, “can you write a, a draft?” and sure enough I did (laughs) and I already had the talking animals and, you know and.
SQUIERS: So, what’s it about, for people who, who want to go out and get it for their kids?
WILLIAMS: Well, “Saved” is about, um, the, the joy of sport, perseverance (Squiers: mmm), and, um, you know, handling adversity along the way (Squiers: mmm), um, so it’s about little Lydia (laughs) growing up in the desert and trying out all these sports until, ah, she finds one that she likes (Squiers: yep) and one that she is good at. And it’s just about having fun with her friends which are the desert animals so, ah, it’s, it’s very roughly based on my life but it’s, it’s pretty true. (laughs)
SQUIERS: Talking animals (Williams: yep), and what do you want kids to take from the book then?
WILLIAMS: I just want them to take that, you know, it doesn’t matter if they’re good at something as long as they’re having fun (Squiers: mmm) and they’re enjoying what they’re doing (Squiers: mmm) that’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks, as long as they’re enjoying themselves and they’re learning something from it, I think that’s the main thing. Life’s too short to be reliant on other people’s opinions.
SQUIERS: We finish off every podcast by asking our guest what message would you send to your little ten-year-old self, and this is an interesting time for you, because it’s just before you moved to Canberra (Williams: mmm), so you were still your bush kid, outback kid living in Kalgoorlie.
WILLIAMS: You know what, sporting wise, I wouldn’t tell myself anything because I think all the highs and lows that I’ve been through (Squiers: mmm), it wouldn’t have made me where I am today, and it wouldn’t have driven me to succeed more (Squiers: mmm). Um, the thing that I would say in terms of life is, probably tell the people that you love them all the time and I’d tell, like, appreciate and do as much as you can for, for the people around that you care about as, as much as possible because you just don’t know how long they’re going to be on the Earth (Squiers: mmm) and I think that’s the one thing that I’m telling myself now (Squiers: mmm). The amount of people I’ve reconnected with just to be like, “hey, what’s going on? (Squiers: mmm) You were a really important part of my life, you know, growing up, or, you know, at this point” So, I think that’s, that’s the one thing I would definitely tell myself.
SQUIERS: Beautiful message, an important message, you’ve got so much, there’s so much every little girl and boy from all backgrounds can learn from you, Lydia Williams. Thank you so much for sharing your story with “On Her Game”.
WILLIAMS: Thank you, it’s been my pleasure.
SQUIERS: On her game is presented by me, Sam Squiers and produced in collaboration with Podcast One Australia, Producer Lindsey Green, Audio Producer Darcy Thompson, Executive Producer, Jennifer Goggin. For more episodes, head to podcastoneaustralia.com.au download the free Podcast One Australia app or search on On Her Game podcasts.