Children from nine primary schools and five junior Aboriginal sporting clubs from across Victoria recently participated in rugby league skills sessions with professional Aboriginal and Maori National Rugby League (NRL) players, at an NRL All Stars Schools Gala Day.
School students, including Koorie, Maori and Pacific Islander students, were invited to a NRL All Stars Schools Gala Day at the Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval in Thornbury.
The Schools Gala Day was part of a week of community-based events, culminating in the NRL Indigenous All-Stars games.
Male and female NRL coaches and players took the students through a series of exercises and drills.
The All Stars men's and women's teams made a guest appearance to answer the students' questions. At the end, every student received a rugby ball for players to sign.
The Black Eagles Basketball team, founded by a group of Aboriginal Elders in Shepparton, came down to Melbourne for the day. The students were from various local schools and play a number of sports, not just basketball.
When asked what they enjoyed about the day, it was unanimous: 'Meeting all the players, taking photos and getting signatures,' says Fiona from St George's Road Primary School and Giselle from Lemnos Primary School.
Fiona and her teammate Zoe from Mooroopna Primary School say their favourite part about playing Rugby is 'tackling people'.
Students from Coburn Primary School in Melton also enjoyed meeting the players: 'The players were cool, they were very tall!' says Year Six student Rajay.
'The players were very encouraging and funny,' says Year Six student Kiara.
The day was also a highlight for Coburn Primary School Year Six student Jacob. 'I loved the way we could make friends with the other schools,' Jacob says.
Making friends and building community
Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated President, Geraldine Atkinson, said events like these are part of an educational process and that it was heartening to see so many young girls come to the Schools Gala Day.
'It's really important that we get young girls involved in sport,' Geraldine says.
'What we want to do is showcase the talents they have, and for them to get an idea that if they want to participate in NRL that they'll have the opportunity to do so.'
'I think it's great for our young girls to be introduced to those role models and to see that they can achieve what those young women have achieved'.
'We want to make sure that children are interacting with other children from different cultures or diverse cultures, they're interacting with each other, and they know that this place is there for them if they need any support for their sporting journey,' Geraldine says.
The Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval sits adjacent to the Aborigines Advancement League. Founded in 1932 by William Cooper and other notable Aboriginal leaders such as Shadrach James, Kaleb Morgan, Doug Nicholls, Eric and Bill Onus, the Aborigines Advancement League holds a special place in the Victorian Aboriginal community and is the oldest Aboriginal organisation in Victoria.
President of the Aborigines Advancement League Lee Saunders says he's hoping for the students and wider community to be aware of the site and use it in the future.
'What we're really hoping for is for people to get to know this place, and know that they can come here to catch up with their mob so that they have a safe place to come to,' Lee says.
'The League's always been a place where we've been able to showcase what the Aboriginal community has, and about inviting people here to participate in whatever events they want to do with children,' Geraldine says.
'We feel that it's very important for not just adults using our facilities, but ensuring our children, our upcoming leaders, are participating as well.'
Education opportunities for Koorie students
The NRL All Stars Schools Gala Day was consistent with an outcome of
Marrung: Aboriginal Education Plan 2016 – 2026 that Koorie students engage fully throughout their schooling years, and be supported through programs that provide formal and informal mentoring opportunities that build confidence and cultural connections.