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Lisa Fatnowna is wondering what her friends will say when she goes home to Cairns and orders an oat milk latte. The 21-year-old model and hockey player has only lived in Sydney a few months, but cafe culture is already taking hold. “I live on a cafe street now. And the new milk is easier on my stomach!” she laughs when we sit down to chat at our shoot. “But my friends at home will be like, who are you?!”.
Fatnowna is an exceptional young woman. For the past five years she has not only been a successful hockey player in north Queensland, finished her schooling and signed with modelling agency IMG, but has been instrumental in the orchestration of hockey outreach program Aspire to be Deadly. “The Aspire to be Deadly program is one that both my older sisters and I have been fortunate to be part of for a number of years. It uses hockey as a platform to deliver concepts including ‘Live Well, Learn Well, Lead Well’ to kids in regional and remote communityies in Far North Queensland. Through mentoring in school, clinics and the hockey field it helps to empower young Indigenous kids (as well as their families and communities) to be better on and off the field.”
She tears up several times when she talks about the girls in the program recalling some of their heartbreaking home situations and their lack of ambition. Fatnowna is as empathetic as they come. It’s obvious she feels the pain of these young women especially given their struggles are a far cry from her own harmonious background. This is something that has exponentially motivated her to help them realise opportunistic futures. “My whole family grew up around sport. Whether it was footy or hockey we were always either at training, watching family members play or playing ourselves most days of the week. I was very fortunate to grow up in an environment where you were encouraged to strive for the best, and put in the hard work. I also owe it to all the amazing coaches and teammates I’ve had over the years who helped shape me into the player I am today.”
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Since late last year, Fatnowna has extended her achievements in sport and philanthropy to another area she is passionate about, fashion. Signing with international modelling agency IMG, she is realising her dream of being in front of the camera. And the results are as impressive as a model’s with far more experience. Her look resonates with today’s fresh, naturally beatific look, her depth of person a palpable presence in each of her photographs. “It’s such a whole new world [to hockey] but there are similarities such as staying fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. You have to switch on and work really hard to get the outcome you want. You have to work within a team, but you always need to have fun and that’s what matters the most.”
Hockey has offered Fatnowna an outlet for health and passion since she was a young girl, so approaching the sport as a way to encourage students in disadvantaged communities made perfect sense. She has been involved with Aspire To Be Deadly since its outset, with everything from rom lobbying the government for funding, to establishing the details of the program, to riding in the team bus, to standing sideline during matches. She proudly tells me that this year her Aspire hockey team of young women reached the grand final. Unfortunately, they didn’t win, but you wouldn’t know from the way their coach beams about how far they’ve come. “The most surprising thing is that the connection and bond we have with the kids. Where we can pull them into place if they are misbehaving, if they need someone close to talk to, we will always be there and hearing them shout your name and seeing them run to you just to give you a massive hug really warms my heart every time.”
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As the youngest of four children, and a member of a much, much larger extended family, Fatnowna’s move to Sydney caused some momentary culture shock. She resides in the city’s east, living close to other models and hair and make-up artists, people she’s beginning to get to know. However, when she touched down a friend of a friend contacted her to say they had a spot on their hockey team. So, now the busy model travels half way across the city, to Pennant Hills each week just to get back to her roots. This passionate, eclectic life is what makes Fatnowna so enigmatic. Her presence on our set, both on and off camera, makes you feel as though you’ve known her years. It’s no surprise her proteges feel so comfortable around her. And as a testament, she has recently been made official ambassador for the program.
The future is bright for this model-activist. She lists mentors and motivators in the form of women like model Charlee Fraser, artist Grace Lillian Lee and poet-actress Guyala Bayles. “[They are all] very pure, powerful and well-driven Indigenous women that have the potential to change many careers and lives.” While she expresses her latest career move has helped her explore new horizons as well hone the importance of health and wellness, she’s driven to ensuring her exposure remains a porthole to championing Indigenous opportunity.
“I hope to spread more awareness and break a stigma in Indigenous communities that it is weak to speak [up]. There are always people around that love and care for you.”
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Aspire To Be Deadly’s core principals are beautifully synchronistic to Fatnowna’s personal plight for a better world. That these girls can begin to believe there are opportunities far and wide is what the program, and Fatnowna, are all about. “Involvement in the program has opened up opportunities and these have helped expand [the girl’s] understanding that there is more to explore in the world than home and school. It has shown the students that you need to be respectful, to be patient, look after one another. It has given them the tools to assist in resolving potential disputes [by] using their voice, sharing their frustrations and feeling empathy not aggravation. The students see what our mentors have done and it gives them hope that they can achieve it as well. As they learn new skills [and] meet new people, they begin to understand their own capacity to achieve, learn and succeed and what it takes to make it happen. They know they need assistance and are confident our mentors will help give them the confidence to try.”
Looking forward, there is nothing but bright horizons for this empowering beauty. She’s someone who might put you to shame if she wasn’t so lovely. And perhaps most impressively she’s an activist in its most literal sense. Someone who hops to a challenge and puts ideas into action without a second thought. As we chat beside the set, while the crew are busy setting up cameras, lights and backdrops, Fatnowna, unfazed, tells me about a dog she’s recently fallen in love with.
“It’s a neighbour’s dog.” she laughs. As she scrolls her phone to find a photo of him she tells me she used to hear him barking during the day while the owner was busy at work in a pilates studio. Having a bit of downtime between modelling jobs, Fatnowna wrote the owner a note expressing she would be happy to walk him and take him to the park every other day. The owner was so grateful, and Fatnowna has now become a pseudo dog-mum. Of course, she asked for no payment, it was purely for love of helping, however, she is now the proud owner of free Pilates sessions.
A serendipitous result of paying it forward? Or just that good things happen to good people? Perhaps, hopefully, both. Either way, between dog dates, modelling jobs, hockey games and ambassador duties she might have to start making the oat milk latte a double.
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A FINAL THOUGHT…
What would you tell your 10 year old self if you could go back in time?
“Never stop standing up for yourself and always trust your voice, mind and heart. To always embrace your natural beauty, take care of your body, your mind and your health.”
READ MORE: ‘THE WAY FORWARD’ FEATURING CAITLIN FIGUEIREDO, LISA FATNOWNA, JACK GRAY & NATHAN MCGUIRE
PHOTOGRAPHER: STEVEN POPOVICH
GRAZIA FASHION DIRECTOR: KIM PAYNE
VIDEOGRAPHY: HARRY GLASSBOROW
HAIR & MAKEUP: PINKY
HAIR & MAKEUP ASSISTANT: CHRISTOPHER BYRNE
FASHION ASSISTANT: CHRYSTALLA PHYLACTOU