‘Pretty deep’ talks fuel Suns’ Indigenous integration
A PRESEASON camp session late last year set in motion a thoughtful and cohesive integration of Aboriginal culture into the Gold Coast Suns this year.
Former Suns men’s player Jarrod Harbrow hosted a Q&A with current AFLW Native players Janet Baird, Ashanti Bush and Kalinda Howarth which Baird said “was pretty deep.”
“We just spoke to our team and expressed how culturally important it is for us to be here and how much it means to our community back home,” Baird said. women.afl.
Head coach Cameron Joyce saw these sessions as an opportunity to better understand Baird and Bush in particular, coming from the Northern Territory to the Gold Coast when they arrived at the club.
“They both gave a presentation to the group about their background, their culture and their family, just to give everyone – players and staff – a bit more information about their lives, and also to help us understand what is their home and how can we support that,” Joyce said.
These sessions included teaching a certain language to the group and led to regular and welcome questions.
“They always ask me; how do you say that in your language? Baird said.
“They try to say it and it’s funny, so it feels like home and comfortable enough to share those learnings with them.”
Following this, the club instituted a weekly award for players, Walu of the Week, voted on by the player group after each match based on the values set during the pre-season.
“Walu” is the Yolgnu word for “sun”, linked to the family background of Baird and Bush.
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“We talked to Janet about how we can incorporate some of her language but also her art as well, so she made a logo for us,” Joyce said.
Although Baird admits it was his “first time” doing art, it was a positive process and having this weekly award keeps the language and country in mind.
“There’s native art all over the club, and even the boys know [Walu of the Week] and they think that was a really cool initiative as well,” she said.
For Joyce, integrating culture allows the club to support players more holistically, rather than just as footballers.
“It helps in terms of being able to have conversations about all aspects of their lives, rather than the Gold Coast and life on the Gold Coast and football and their work,” Joyce said.
The Suns’ native Guernsey was also designed by inaugural player Kalinda Howarth, in collaboration with local Bundalung-Yugambeh artist Christine Slabb.
“Nothing about this Guernsey is there by chance, there’s real meaning to it and it just shows the effort Kalinda and others have put into it,” Joyce said.
According to the club’s website, “The white sun over Guernsey represents the Gold Coast and the GC SUNS AFLW players and their families and communities. The yellow sun on Guernsey’s upper back represents the sunrise coming out of the ocean while the symbolic nature of having the sun on the front and back of the playing strip signifies the past, present and future of the football club.”
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