A Red Dust Heeler is committed to the inclusion of people with disability in all areas of life – building healing friendships and a connected community

Spread Out and Stick Together
(Tom Powell, Red Dust Healing)

Outback Academy Australia’s Red Dust Heelers (the Heelers) community engagement programs keep the spotlight on inclusion for people with disability in all areas of life, including sports and recreation, education, business and employment.

The Heelers are Aboriginal and other Australian people with disability. They use adaptive sports and their own stories to bring community members, services and the corporate community together for education and awareness raising about the abilities, needs and interests of people with disability.

This innovative program, the first and only one of its type in Australia, has generated a movement of connected people, including emerging young leaders and Elders such as Cultural Ambassador Darryl Kickett, Wadjuk Elder, sporting legends Evonne Goolagong-Cawley AC OAM and Syd Jackson, alongside Patron Kevin Coombs OAM to guide and support the work of the Heelers in communities.

The Heelers are also guided and supported by Red Dust Healing  co-founder Tom Powell, and their Cultural Ambassador Darryl Kickett in relation to dealing with  experiences of trauma, grief, rejection and loss, resulting in mental health challenges. The Heelers use the tools developed to manage challenging experiences to engage with, and support, community members experiencing mental health challenges of their own.

Red Dust Heeler

Wheelchair Basketball National Leagues Participation

Since 2013, OAA has fielded the Red Dust Heelers Wheelchair Basketball team in the National Wheelchair Basketball League (NWBL) and began the women’s team in 2017 in the Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball League. This gives the Heelers a national profile and engagement with communities around Australia. It also gives people with disability a pathway to participation in adaptive sports – people who have otherwise been disengaged or unaware they could play sports and be part of a supportive community.


Talent Identification and Paralympic Sports

One of the motivators for the Founders of Red Dust Heelers team was a comment from a young Aboriginal person at program in WA after watching Paralympic Games Footage was “Where are the blackfellas?”

Founders, Brad Ness OAM (Paralympian), Kathleen O’Kelly-Kennedy (Paralympian), Ryan Morich (NAIDOC Sportsperson of the Year 2015), and Robert Pike (Wheelchair Basketball Athlete & Youth Worker) began the process of creating the Red Dust Heelers community engagement programs, including for awareness about para-sports broadly.

Founders also began working with OAA partner the Australian Paralympic Committee to identify talent and pathways to para-sports participation. With the APC the Heelers promote a broad range of para-sports participation in communities, alongside engagement in healthy lifestyles, education and employment.


INVICTUS Games 2018

Invictus Games Logo


In 2017, the INVICTUS GAMES Sydney 2018 Organising Committee recognised the positive impact of the Heelers movement, and the alignment with INVICTUS Games messages and legacy goals.

OAA was invited to become a Communications Friend of the INVICTUS GAMES Sydney 2018, promoting INVICTUS messages about the healing power of adaptive sports with Indigenous communities. Throughout 2018, the Heelers have taken the INVICTUS Flag and messages to communities in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales.

On Friday October 26, 2018 at 5pm the Heelers are also showcasing their friendships and skills during a scheduled wheelchair basketball game. The Red Dust Heelers game will showcase athletes from as far away as Mulan Community in remote WA and Rockhampton in Queensland playing alongside their mentors, on the same court used by the world’s Invictus Games Sydney 2018 competitors to celebrate the healing powers of sport, friendship and community.

This opportunity is deeply appreciated by all the Heelers. They are excited that this also means they can support their teammate, Brendan Hardman, and all other Invictus Games 2018 competitors from around the world. Brendan became a Red Dust Heeler in 2018 and played in the Heelers NWBL team to prepare for 2018 Invictus Games.

Link to Brendan Hardman Channel 10


International Day of People with Disability (IDPwD)

In 2018-19 the Heelers are being supported by the Australian Government IDPwD program to take their community engagement program to Sydney for the INVICTUS Games 2018, Shepparton in Victoria, Bunbury in WA, Brisbane and Townsville.

OAA partner the Australian Paralympic Committee will assist these programs for engagement with communities about the barriers and enablers for participation in adaptive sports and healthy lifestyles for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability. We will also be promoting awareness about and engagement in adaptive sports, including Paralympic pathways.

This landmark community engagement program will also produce resources to further promote awareness and participation in para-sports through education providers, community-controlled organisations, services and peak bodies. The Heelers and APC community engagement activities will showcase the ability of people with disability, while raising awareness about engagement and pathways to para-sports and healthy lifestyles.

Watch this space for updates on the Heelers IDPwD and APC community engagement programs.