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Australia's Lydia Williams proud of indigenous roots in a land far away

Australia goalkeeper Lydia Grace Yilkari Williams
Since her debut in 2005, Lydia Williams has won 52 caps for Australia.

On May 26, as Australia observes the 18th National Sorry Day to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the country's indigenous population, Lydia Grace Yilkari Williams will wake up on the other side of the world, some 20,000 kilometres from Katanning, the Western Australian town where she was born.

The 28-year-old is regarded as one of the best female goalkeepers in world football and played an integral part in the Matildas progression to their first Olympic appearance in 12 years, but she hasn't forgotten her indigenous roots.

With a heritage that is half-Aboriginal (father) and half-American (mother), Williams clearly remembers the childhood days of travelling around parts of the Western Australia desert, as her father (an Indigenous tribal elder) visited remote communities.

"Seeing dad work in the indigenous communities was not so much a different experience for me since I was so young and didn't fully understand," Williams recalIs.

"I understood that Dad wanted to help out the indigenous people with whatever he could to lift their spirits if they were down, needed some food, a place to stay for a night or just someone to talk to.

"My Dad was very generous and spoke to anyone from all walks of life, he just loved people but more so, loved his culture and wanted me to learn about it also when I was growing up."

Time spent kicking an AFL ball around in the red dirt with the indigenous kids of those communities undoubtedly contributed to the hand-to-eye co-ordination which serves her so well today, but she was still some years away from making the switch to the round-ball game.

When Williams was 11, she left behind the expansive outback, Kalgoorlie's mining community and assorted native marsupial pets (Lydia had a pet kangaroo) as the family moved to Canberra.

New in town, her mother encouraged her to join a football team to make friends and with the goalkeeping spot the only vacancy, the future national team keeper pulled on the gloves for the first time.

Since then, her skill between the sticks on a football field has taken her all over the world, with stints in Europe and the USA complementing an outstanding career in Australia's W-League with Canberra United and of course her role as the Matildas No. 1 shot stopper.

Williams has kept 20 clean sheets in her 52 appearances for the senior national team and amassed an impressive highlights reel. Most spectacular perhaps, after overcoming a second knee reconstruction in record time to play in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup, Williams produced a "save of the tournament" contender, denying Brazilian star Formiga's long-range shot and helping Australia through to the quarterfinals.

Lydia Williams
Williams currently plays for the Houston Dash in the U.S. National Women's Soccer League.

Her Oklahoma-raised mother who first signed her up to try the game, is still her main supporter on and off the pitch.

William's credits her as "the voice of reason."

"Whenever I get overwhelmed or stressed with football she helps me out by helping me see the bigger picture," Williams said.

"She might not know all the ins and outs of the game or when I play but she's very knowledgeable about life and experiences so she is my biggest supporter in every way possible".

Her father sadly passed away before his talented daughter pulled on a green and gold strip for the first time, but his spirit lives on in her. A tattoo on her wrist of her aboriginal middle name is a permanent reminder of where she comes from.

An inspiration for many indigenous kids, Williams is modest about her influence.

She says: "To be a role model never really crosses my mind much, I just want kids of all walks of life to see that you can accomplish anything you put your mind and heart into.

"I have a passion for the desert and the indigenous tribal roots of my culture and I would love to see more kids from the desert get involved with football or anything else that they're passionate about."

Currently in fine form for her NWSL club Houston Dash and preparing to fly home for the Matildas final Olympic training camp on home soil, Williams reflects on what National Sorry Day means to her and her people.

"Sorry Day to me means a new chapter in the history of Australia. It's historical because it acknowledges what has happened and how we are moving forward, not only as indigenous people but Australians too.

"It's exciting to see what the future holds."

ESPN Australia/New Zealand columnist Stephanie Brantz has spent the past 20 years excelling in the coverage of football and women's sport.

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