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Peris, Nova (1971–?)

PUBLICATION: Nova Peris with Ian Heads, Nova: My Story: the autobiography of Nova Peris, Sydney, ABC Books for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2003

SEX: Female

BIRTH DATE: 25 February 1971

BIRTH PLACE: Darwin, Northern Territory

FIRST LANGUAGE: English

SIGNIFICANT LOCALITIES:

  • Fannie Bay, Darwin: Where Nova’s family lived in a Housing Commission unit of building called “The Kurringal Flats.”
  • Cobourg Peninsula: the traditional land of the Murran people, of whom Nova is a descendent (p.17) Nova visited Cobourg after reconnecting with her natural father, John Christophersen, and it became a significant site for her. Despite the pleading of her coach Ric Charlesworth, Nova took a group of teammates to Cobourg during their week off in 1996. (p.104-105)
  • Nova returned to Cobourg following the 1998 Commonwealth Games, because she felt flattened by the negative coverage. (pp.212-213)
  • Cannon Hill, Kakadu National Park: The traditional land of the Bunitj Clan, of which Peris’ paternal grandmother is a member. (p.17)
  • Maroochydore, Sunshine Coast: Peris moved to Queensland with her boyfriend Sean Kneebone when she was 17. (p.60) While the move facilitated her career development, Peris felt alienated and discriminated against in Queensland. (p.105)
  • Melbourne, Victoria: Nova moved to Melbourne briefly to train at the Victorian Institute of Sport, but left to escape the “poisonous atmosphere” created by the breakup of Cathy Freeman and her manager and boyfriend, Nic Bideau. (p.136) Peris returned to Melbourne in 1997, because her husband Sean Kneebone lived there. (p.138)
  • Orange County, California: Nova moved to the United States in 1997 to train with the Handling Speed Intelligently Unit, under John Smith. (pp.147-158) She returned to Orange County in 1999, however she was eventually forced to leave the squad because the administrators had difficulties dealing with Sean Kneebone – both her manager and her husband. (p.217)
  • Canberra: Nova went to Canberra to participate in part in the Constitutional Convention in 1998. (pp. 159-178) Peris and Daniel Batman later bought a house together and moved to Canberra in 2001. (pp.281-282)

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL:

  • Nova first went abroad to New Zealand as part of the Australian Under-21 hockey team in 1992 (p.74-76), and later to Japan. (p.77) However, it was her trip to the Netherlands in 1993 she found most confronting. (p.77)
  • Throughout her sporting career, Nova has travelled to 52 countries around the world, (p.93) and lived for a substantial amount of time in America. (pp.147-158) Peris lists her favourite international travel destinations – Canada and Germany – although declares that her preference is ultimately for Australia. (p.284)

PROMINENT INSTITUTIONS:

  • The Sydney Olympics Organising Commitee: Invited Nova to carry the Olympic torch at Uluru, and let her daughter run beside her. (p.9)
  • Women’s Hockey Association: Appointed Nova to the Australia Team, even though she didn’t nominate herself. (p.77)
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC): provided Nova with the loan that, along with 10,000 dollars from her mother and step-father, enabled her to buy a house in Perth. (p.78) Nova later worked as a Treaty Ambassador for ATSIC for three months, while pregnant in 2001. (p.240)
  • Gryphen: The hockey-stick manufacturers who gave Nova her first one off sponsorship payment of $3000. (p.93)
  • Athletics Australia: Mediated a conflict between Nova and a track and field team mate who repeatedly referred to her as ‘nigger’. (p.106) Nova later took Athletics Australia to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for not selecting her for the Kuala Lumpur team. (p.179)
  • Chicka Dixon Centre, Cecil Park: Where Nova and her daughter opted to stay when they moved to Sydney. (p.136)
  • Catherine Freeman Enterprises: Nova lived in one of the properties owned by Cathy Freeman in Melbourne, but was given 24 hours notice to evacuate in 1997. (p.139) Nova presumed this was the result of an action by Freeman’s ex-partner and manager, Nic Bideau. Cathy Freeman intervened to prevent Nova’s eviction. (p.139)
  • Handling Speed Intelligently Unit: A sports management company based in Orange County, with whom Nova trained in 1997 and 1999. Nova forced to leave their training program when HSI tried to take over her management as well as training.(p.217) At the time, Nova did not see why this was necessary, however she later found out it was due to the difficultly HSI management had with Nova’s husband. (p.217)

SALIENT LAWS AND POLICIES:

  • None mentioned.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH:

  • Nova infrequently hyperventilated during due to anxiety during hockey games, and appealed to a sports psychologist. However, she considered herself to be directed and secure enough not to need to make regular visits to psychologists, which was part of the Hockeyroos protocol. (p.94)
  • Nova had a fever and flu in 2000, as well as a hamstring injury, which threatened her goal of competing in the Sydney Olympics. (p.250)

EDUCATION:

  • While enrolled at Rapid Creek Primary school, Nova would frequently run away from school. (p.43)
  • When she was in high school, Nova and her friends would frequently truant. When her stepfather (Darwin policeman Les Chapman) became aware of this, he punished her harshly. (p.56) At one point, Chapman smashed Nova’s sporting trophies, declaring, “these mean nothing unless you get a good education.” (p.57)
  • At the time, Nova resented her stepfather’s chastisement. However, her appreciation of the value of education increased, to the point that she would prefer her own children to pursue tertiary education over a sporting career.

EMPLOYMENT:

  • Nova worked in Customer Service for Telecom in Darwin until Jessica was two. (p.65) She was able to transfer to Telecom in Perth, and the organization was lenient when it came to her hockey commitments. (p.69)
  • By 1996, Nova was a full-time employee of the Australian Institute of Sport, and received $300 a week. (p.92) However, considering her circumstances (being a single mother with a mortgage), Ric Charlesworth decided to increase Nova’s pay by 50 dollars a week. (p.93)
  • Nova worked as ATSIC Treaty Ambassador for three months when she was pregnant in 2001. (p.240)

PARENTS:

  • Joan Peris: Nova’s mother was born was Wyndham, but sent to Melville Island for schooling, because Nanna Peris was sick with typhoid. Joan then chose to live with a foster family in Adelaide, but returned to Darwin later in life. (p.30-31)
  • Joan was herself a sporting “all-rounder”, who had played soccer for the Northern Territory. (p.36) Joan supported Nova’s sporting ambitions from a young age, and looked after Jessie when Nova was competing professionally.
  • John Christophersen:  Nova’s father, who was five years younger than his mother. Joan and John broke up when Nova was two, but John continued to pay maintenance for her and her younger sister Venessa until they were 15. (p.18, 32)
  • Christophersen concedes that he was unwilling to accept responsibility when the children were young. However, he also claims that he did not want to disturb the ‘family unit’ that had developed with Les Chapman. (p.19) While Nova harbored some resentment against her father, she now accepts this explanation for his absence from her early life. (p.19)
  • Christophersen reconnected with Nova and her sister Venessa when she was 18. (p.18) Christophersen visited Nova again after she had had her first daughter, and their relationship developed from there. (p.62)
  • Nova’s relationship with Christophersen, who was active in Indigenous politics, provided her with a strong link with her heritage and awareness of issues affecting indigenous Australians. (p.229-230)

PARTNERS:

  • Sean Kneebone: Nova was hesitant to include the details of her relationship with Sean Kneebone in her autobiography, because it was “bad from the word go”, and she has since moved on with Daniel Batman (p.266) However, she also recognizes that her relationship with Sean is an important element of her life story. (p.266)
  • Peris ignored the advice of her friends and family, particularly her stepfather, by moving to Queensland with Sean when she was 17. (p.59)
  • Nova left Sean in Maroochydore when she was five months pregnant, and returned to Darwin to live her family. (p.59) For the majority of her daughters’ young life, Nova was essentially a single mother, because her relationship with Sean was “up and down and all over the place”. (p.267) Despite this, Nova felt obliged to marry Sean in 1995. (p.268)
  • When they were together, Nova felt persecuted by Sean, and they fought constantly. She tried unsuccessfully to conceal her relationship troubles.
  • Nova stayed in the unhappy relationship for the sake of her daughter, however she realized that ultimately her daughter was suffering because of the constant feuding. (p.266)
  • After she left Orange County, Sean became her coach as well as manager. (p.217) Sean’s personality problems caused significant problems for Nova’s career.
  • After 11 years of breaking up and reuniting with Sean, Peris followed her friends and families advice and divorced Kneebone in 2001. (p.278) Peris expresses a hope that this action will guide other women in similar circumstances, including her daughter.
  • Daniel Batman: Peris became close friends with fellow athlete Daniel Batman while she was still married to Sam Kneebone.
  • Shortly after she and Sean divorced in January 2001, Nova began a discrete relationship with Daniel. (p.279) Eventually, they made their affections public, and Daniel proposed to Nova in April 2001, when they had only been together for two months. (p.279) This new relationship came as a surprise to Nova, as she was previously pessimistic about her chances of finding a partner who would be “respectful and caring of Jess and me”. (p.275)
  • Nova described her connection with Daniel as one based on common interests and spiritual connections.

 CHILDREN:

  • Jessica Kneebone (Jessie): When Nova fell pregnant with Sean’s child at 18, her stepfather tried to convince her to get an abortion. (p.60) Les presumed that a child would ruin Nova’s sporting career, and tie her with an unsuitable partner. (p.60) While Nova had not planned to have a child so young, she was determined to keep it. (p.60)
  • Nova delighted in having a daughter. However, her sporting career suffered as a result, and the lack of support from Sean made rearing a child particularly trying.
  • Fortunately, Nova was able to rely on the support of her mother, who took care of Jessica when she was teething. (p.73) Still, being away from daughter when she was training and touring was also a source of stress for Nova. (p.75)
  • When Jessica grew older, she provided support and consolation for Nova. This was particularly important when Nova was moving from place to place, and under a great deal of pressure from herself and others, and when her relationship with Sean was particularly bad. (p.150)
  • Nova worried about the consequences that negative media representations would have on Jessica, particularly the friction with Melinda Gainsford-Taylor after the Commonwealth Olympics.
  • As an adolescent, Jessica demonstrated significant sporting potential. Nonetheless, Nova writes that she would prefer to see her daughter pursue a professional rather than sporting career.
  • Peris had a second daughter, Destiny, with Daniel Batman in 2002. (p.287)

IMPORTANT/INFLUENTIAL FIGURES:

  • Les Chapman (“Chappy”): Les Chapman was a Darwin policeman, ex-Navy communications officer, and keen sportsman, who became Nova’s stepfather when she was six, and who remained married to her mother for 17 years  (p.19) Chappy claims that he “used to be a bit racist”, and surprised himself and his family when he became involved with an Aboriginal woman. (p.49) Chappy supported the family financially, and Nova considers his relationship with her mother to have been a harmonious one. (p.51)
  • Nova emphasized the strong influence that her stepfather had on her. Chappy taught Nova and her sister her not to lie or steal, to maintain good grooming habits and to value education (p.55) Nova believes that while many Aboriginal people tend to be group-oriented and conformist, it was Chappy who encouraged her to pursue her goals regardless of opinions of others.
  • Chappy was a very strict stepfather, and frequently resorted to physical punishment (p.52). While Nova resented Chappy’s methods when she was young, she grew to appreciate his discipline in retrospect.
  • Nana Peris: Nova’s maternal-grandmother, who she and Venessa used to visit frequently when they were young. Nana Peris was a problem drinker, however it never bothered Nova as a child (p.20) Nova relays Nana Peris’ experiences with alcohol, and diagnoses her problem drug abuse as a symptom of her harsh life.
  • John Peris: Nova’s maternal grandfather, whom she claims encouraged her to stand up for things he felt strongly about. (p.215) Nova became thinking of her Grandfather before her Olympic match, and of how she would like him to have seen her succeed. (p.120)
  • Nana Janey: Nova’s paternal Grandmother (John Christophersen’s mother)
  • Bill Neidjie (“Bill Bill Neidjie” or “Kakadu man”): Nova’s paternal great-uncle, who was “one of the Territory’s most notable and legendary characters. (p.3) Nova met Bill when she went with her father to his home in Kakadu, and enjoyed his stories. (p.34, 230-231)
  • Alberto Serena Gonzardi (Aunty Serena): A “warm-hearted Italian couple” who lived next door to Nana Peris, and used to take Nova to little athletics. (p.36)
  • Murray Leed: a sports journalist for the Northern Territory News, and family friend, who predicted that Nova would represent Australia in hockey and running when she was just nine. (p.38)
  • Gordon Clark: Director of Northern Territory Hockey, who intervened when Nova felt she was unfairly treated by her coach in the Australian Under 21 Championships (p.67)
  • Elspeth Denning: A formed member of the Australian hockey team, who took Nova ‘under her wing’ when she was struggling to balance her sporting, work and family commitments. (p.73)
  • Ric Charlesworth: a medical doctor, ex-cricketer, hockey player, and federal politician, who was the coach of the Hockeyroos while Nova was a member between 1993 and 1996. Nova described her relationship with Ric at length, and extolls his virtues as a coach. (p.79-86)
  • Ric transformed Nova from an attacker into a defender, which went against the trend of using the fastest players as strikers. (p.89)
  • Ric influenced Nova’s personal life was well as sporting life, as she knew she had to maintain a clean lifestyle.
  • When Nova decided to change sports, Ric tried to deter her. (p.131) When she considered returning to hockey in 1999, he offered her a place in the Hockeyroos. (p.214)
  • Kate Starre: One of Nova’s Hockeyroo teammates, who she was particularly close with. Kate became upset by the racial inequality she noticed in South Africa. (p.103) She was the first to embrace Nova when they won an Olympic medal. (p.124)
  • Catherine Freeman: A fellow Aboriginal athlete, who was a friend of Nova’s. While they were not ‘close’ when they first met, Catherine became an increasingly important figure in Nova’s career.
  • Nova trained with Catherine when she moved to Melbourne. Catherine stayed with Nova during her breakup with her husband and manager, Nick Bideau. (p.135) Eventually, Nova decided to leave Melbourne to escape the “poisonous atmosphere” that developed due to the split. (p.136) Cathy suggested she might follow Nova to Sydney, and subsequently Nick evicted Nova from the house owned by Catherine Freeman Enterprise in Melbourne. (p.139) Cathy confronted Nick, and Nova was able to continue living in the property. (p.140) However, this incident led to a “temporary distant period” in Cathy and Nova’s friendship. (p.141)
  • Nova went to Orange County to train at the same place as Marie-Jose Perec, Freemans’ greatest rival. The media speculated that this was due to a rift between the two, however Nova rejects this implication. (pp.148-149)
  • John Smith: The head of the Handling Speed Intelligently training organization in Orange Country.
  • Smith supported Nova after she made a disappointing performance in the 100 metres at Commonwealth Games, and advised her to focus her attention on the 200 metres. (p.186)
  • Smith convinced Nova not to return to hockey after the Commonwealth Games. (p.214)
  • Glynis Nunn-Cearns: A heptathlon competitor who Nova met when she was 14, and who allowed her to touch her Gold Medal.(pp.171-172)
  • Betty Cuthbert: The winner of four Olympic medals, who Nova presented the Centenary of Federation medal to in May 2001. (pp.172-173)
  • Melinda Gainsford-Taylor: Nova’s rival, and the favorite for the 200 metres in 1998 Commonwealth Games. On the day of the event, Melinda was injured and Nova won the Gold medal. (pp.189-193) Nova resented the media coverage of the event, which portrayed her as the undeserving and unsympathetic beneficiary of Melinda’s accident. (pp.198-200)
  • Nova suggests that her Aboriginality, her status as a single mother, and the fact that she had only recently changed sports, prejudiced the public against her. (p.183) She also turns the allegations of bad-sportsmanship around, claiming that Melinda never congratulated her on her victory. (p.208) Nova believes that following the incident she was seen as the “‘bad girl’ of Australian track and field.” (p.201)
  • Nova also recalls being verbally abused by Mark Taylor-Gainsford, Melinda’s husband, following the event. (p.204)
  • Nova has a second run in with Melinda at the Sydney Olympics, when they ran the four by 400 metre relay together. Peris blames Gainsford-Taylor for being in the wrong position to accept the baton and slowed the race down, and costing the team a chance at a medal. (p.254)

RELIGION:

  • Nova’s family attended St Martin De Porres Catholic Community at Casuarina church every week during her childhood, and she considers herself a Christian.
  • As she became more politically aware, and her biological father had more of a presence in her life, Nova became increasingly interested in traditional Aboriginal beliefs. This interest and respect reached a crescendo when Nova carried the torch for the first leg of the 2000 Olympics relay through the land of the Yankuntjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people. (p.5)
  • A common interest in Aboriginal spirituality was one the things that connected Nova to her second husband, Daniel Batman. (p.279)

THEMES/PREOCCUPATIONS:

Sporting success

  • Nova recalls and reflects on her sporting success.  She is from a sporting family, and demonstrated athletic ability from a young age. She excelled at basketball, touch football, swimming, hockey, cricket, athletics and Australian Rules. (p.41)
  • Nova played “every sport there was to play”, and in Year 10 she was asked to represent the Northern Territory in five team sports alone. (p.39) As she grew older, Nova became particularly obsessed with hockey, and used to practice constantly in her backyard. (p.42) She believes that this informal practice, which is common in Aboriginal communities, played a large role in her success. (p.42)
  • Nova recalls how her self-confidence, instilled by her stepfather, enabled her to maintain her persistence and passion, even when others questioned her ability. (p.68)
  • In her acceptance speech for the Young Australian of the Year, which she reproduces in her autobiography, Nova claims that everyone is capable of achieving the same success as she if they hold to these principles.
  • Nova also describes the joy she derived from sport, which helped her cope with her relationship problems.
  • Nova also comments on some of the draw backs of success: the ‘hangers on’, the jealousy, and the negative media coverage following her victory in the Commonwealth Games. (pp.203-211).

Aboriginal History and Australian Politics:

  • Nova devotes a significant proportion of her autobiography to expounding her theories about the position of Aboriginal people in Australian history and politics. Nova expresses her concern about the inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, which she noted while participating in the Olympic marathon. (p.11)
  • Nova discusses the breakdown of Aboriginal communities – particularly the problem of alcoholism and domestic violence – and advocates for social change from within. (p.236-237) She uses her families’ own experiences as an example of the ability of Aboriginal people to independently change their circumstances.
  • Nova charged conservative politicians, particularly Prime Minister John Howard, with stalling the ultimate reconciliation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Despite their negative influence, Nova expresses her optimism about the future of Aboriginal people.
  • Nova describes her involvement in the Constitutional Convention, and calls on Australians to take pride in a post-colonial national identity that celebrates both Aboriginal and Anglo traditions. (pp.160-168) She advocates for Australia to become a Republic, (p.164) and there to be change in preamble of the constitution, (p.168) a treaty between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians,  (pp.239-241) an apology to the Stolen Generation, (pp.234, 241-242) and a ban on mining uranium in Kakadu (p.244). She expresses exasperation at the outcome of the 1999 republic referendum, and blames the Howard Government for intentionally offering an unappealing model. (pp.166-167)
  • Nova takes pride in her own political involvement, and wields it as evidence of her well-rounded character.

Aboriginal culture and heritage:

  • Nova writes that, despite having a mother of Aboriginal descent, it wasn’t until she developed a relationship with her biological father that she came to appreciate Aboriginal culture. (p.19) Since then, Nova has developed a strong connection to the sacred sites on her father’s traditional land in Kakadu, and presents herself as a staunch advocate of cultural preservation.
  • Nova’s connection with her ancestral lands also inspired her to take up painting in traditional Aboriginal style in 1994, and she has since designed a Swatch watch, and Olympic pins and coins. (pp.297-89)
  • Nova also considers her autobiography to have been inspired by Aboriginal story telling traditions.

Sporting culture:

  • Nova described the differing cultures surrounding the team sport of hockey, and the more individualistic track and field competitions. Nova celebrates the bonds that formed between the members of the Hockeyroos, which were forged through common ambition, celebrations of success, and respect for their coach Ric Charlesworth. Nova also recalls humorous incidences that the team shared while touring. (p.79-91)
  • Nova explains that the team was tolerant of difference, as it was made up of people of difference races and sexual orientation.
  • Nova compares this confidence-building camaraderie with the more volatile relationships that developed between track and field athletes.
  • Nova also claims that her victories in athletics were not as great a source of joy as those she achieved as part of a team, as she had no one to share them with.

Experiences of racism:

  • Nova recalls her experiences of discrimination on the basis of her race. During their childhood, Chappy taught Nova and her sister to defend themselves physically should they be subject to racist slights. (p.101)
  •  Nova believes that she was a subject of racism in Queensland, when she was offered secretarial work, but was denied the job when her potential employees met her in person. (p.105)
  • When Nova became successful in sport, she was able to rationalize discrimination as partially inspired by resentment.
  • Nova complained against one of her track and field teammates who repeatedly referred to her as ‘nigger’, not realizing that she found it offensive rather than humorous. (p.106)
  • Nova also believes that the controversy that followed her 1998 Commonwealth Games may have been inspired by racism.

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION:  Peris’s autobiography was written with Ian Heads, who also writes the introduction. (pp.xvii-xxix) Nova solicited input from the important characters in her autobiography, including her mother, her father, Nana Peris, Aunty Tanya, her sister Venessa, Les Chapman, Murray Leeder, Ric Charlesworth, Elspeth Denning, Rechelle Hawkes and Daniel Batman.

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

'Peris, Nova (1971–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/peris-nova-17821/text29405, accessed 26 May 2016.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012