Courtney Hodder is a proud Badimia Yamatji, Whadjuk and Nyoongar woman. She grew up in Perth, away from her traditional country, which she found challenging.
“Getting asked questions about where you’re from or what language you speak and not knowing was the most challenging part,” she says. “But I always knew I was an Indigenous woman, and I was always passionate about who I am and who my family is,” she adds.
However, it took her being drafted to play for the Brisbane Lions before Courtney realised that she needed to find out more about her culture. “Coming to the Brisbane Lions in my first year, I was asked what my totem was,” she explains. “I was taken aback because I didn’t know the answer and it left me wanting to know more.
“That led me to ask questions of my elders and I quickly found out what my totem was, as well as a lot more information about my culture. Being asked questions at the Lions led me on a journey to wanting to know more about myself, my culture, and my family,” she adds.
Family has always featured strongly in Courtney’s life. Growing up, she played Australian Rules football with her uncles. “I was the only girl, and we all shared a massive footy journey together until I reached the age of 14. I then made the transition to play with girls, and I haven’t looked back since,” she says.
Family encouraged her move to rugby union
Courtney’s early AFL teams included the Fremantle Hawks (now the Freemantle City Dockers) and the Rockingham Rams, before she transitioned to the Peel Thunder, where she played junior football. She was part of three under-18 All-Australia teams in this code.
At the age of 16, Courtney discovered rugby union through her partner and his family. “They are a big rugby union family and I wanted to try something new,” she explains. “It was just as fierce as AFL; it was a new challenge, and it was exciting. Lots of my high school friends were playing rugby, so I was happy to follow the crowd a bit and give it a go.”
She was selected for the Western Force in the inaugural season of the Super W in 2018. Touted as a rugby prodigy, she scored six tries in the Force’s Round 1 game against the Melbourne Rebels and finished the season as the top try scorer in the competition.
Heartbreaking injury ends stellar rugby union season
Sadly, just before her 18th birthday, Courtney broke her leg, which forced her out of the 2019 Super W season. “I had made the Western Force team and quickly picked up
so many skills and rules,” she describes. “I was progressing quite rapidly and becoming a household name in Perth for rugby, which was great.
“However, I was inserting myself into so many things, not worrying too much about school, and focusing on what I was doing with my career,” she says. “I was trying to play every tournament and every game possible and I burned myself out a little.
“Four weeks before my 18th birthday, I went to a tournament in Canberra, where I played a game of 15-a-side rugby union and broke my leg. It was a long recovery, and I was in a boot for five months, including bed rest for two weeks, which was unusual for me.
“Trying to accept that you can no longer do what you've always done was very, very challenging. But I have an amazing support network and my partner's family really looked after me,” she adds.
“I literally had to learn to walk and run again,” she says. “I had three surgeries, and it was a very challenging process, but I got there in the end. Being told at the age of 18 that you can't play sports again added more fuel to my fire and made me determined to show people that I can return.”
Brisbane Lions waiting in the wings
Despite a long road to recovery, Courtney bounced back from her injury and returned to play rugby for the Queensland Reds in 2020, where she scored five tries throughout the shortened season.
Brisbane Lions coach, Craig Starcevich, and Lions midfielder, Ally Anderson, had contacted Courtney in 2018 about considering a career with their team. At the time, she felt she wasn’t ready for the move but, two years later, she was prepared for a new challenge.
“When I was ready, I contacted Craig and, two days later, I was signed to the
Brisbane Lions as a rookie draft, which was amazing. I went from playing rugby to four months later being signed with the Brisbane Lions and playing my very first game not too long after that,” she says.
“My first year of AFLW definitely took me on a whirlwind of a journey,” she adds. “We won the grand final, so I was a premiership player in my first season, and I also kicked Brisbane’s goal of the year. I never thought I’d be able to achieve anything like that.
“My first year with the Brisbane Lions was my best year. Coming into a new profession and a new sport after not playing it for four years really boosted my confidence. I had such an amazing support network with the Brisbane Lions, and they encouraged me and gave me the confidence to do what I was able to do.”
Courtney credits her mother-in-law, along with her partner, as the people who have inspired her most to keep pursuing her sporting dreams. “They were there for me every step of the way through my journey,” she explains.
“They inspired me to want to be better and further my career and develop personally. Having them and other family around me inspired me and gave me the belief I can do what I'm able to do today.”
Cathy Freeman Indigenous role model
Courtney looks to Aboriginal Australian sprinter, Cathy Freeman, as her role model in sport and the inspiration she looks to when harnessing and sharing her culture. “My biggest role model growing up was Cathy Freeman. It was amazing watching her win an Olympic medal in the 400-metre sprint. I’ve always looked up to her. She's a strong and passionate Indigenous woman and she taught me a lot about myself.
“She showed me the path of where I wanted to be in life, which is what I'm doing now. It’s about going full steam ahead, living life to the fullest, and taking every opportunity I can,” she explains.
She is also grateful for how her Indigenous culture has been fostered within the Brisbane Lions. “I've never felt more included in a football club than the Brisbane Lions. Every time NAIDOC Week comes around, me, Ally and the others teach the girls something new, whether it be explaining the importance of the didgeridoo or boomerangs and what women do compared to men.
Surround yourself with people who care
“It's a really good way for us to share our culture with our team and they're all excited to learn more. They genuinely want to be involved in what we have to offer and share.”
Courtney’s advice to young Indigenous players who aspire to achieve in their sport is to follow their dream and heart. “Keep striving to be better; to better yourself, and better your profession and you will get there,” she says.
“Surround yourself with loving and caring people and they will help you through your journey,” she concludes.