The indigenous round holds great importance in the NRL calendar. This year, the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs entrusted the design of their special commemorative jersey for round 12 to the students of all-girls Bethlehem Catholic College in Ashfield.
“It’s breath taking,” said one of the designers, Bethlehem College student Chanel, of the Kamilaroi and Gomeroi nations.
“Being involved in this project makes me feel proud and happy to be a part of something so rare. As a young indigenous woman, I feel more connected to my culture and more recognised by the community.”
The design was created by a team of students at her school of various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, who did extensive research into the local area’s peoples, their traditions, totems and key flora and fauna as part of the project.
Taryn, of the Wiradjuri nation, said the inspiration for the jersey design came from the stories and lands of the local Aboriginal tribes, including the Wangal tribe.
“This design is about community, identity, and solidarity with the symbols used portraying players, supporters and the wider NRL community coming together to celebrate our culture” – Taryn
The jersey features the Cooks River, an important geographical point for traditional owners, according to fellow student Darci, of the Wiadjuri and Dunghutti peoples.
“The Wangal people used the river as a resource for food, water and to bathe in,” said Darci. “Myself and the rest of the girls used our time to design and research about the Dreamtime stories, land and people. We also told a few of our own stories, to have a complete understanding of the whole project.
“We used animal tracks, such as the emu, snake, kangaroo and echidna. The stars (on the jersey) represent the indigenous players’ ancestors. We also placed a meeting place in the centre of the jersey, which refers to the people and animals coming together on land, the Bulldogs coming together as a team and us girls that designed this coming together.”
“The stars represent the indigenous players’ ancestors” – Darci
The group also engaged local Elders for information and permission, including Uncle Harry Allie BEM, chair of the NSW Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Veterans Commemoration Coordinating Committee who is highly active in his local community
“The storyline helps people relate to the artwork,” Uncle Greg explained. “It’s so important to get schools involved, particularly young women, to give them an opportunity to showcase themselves and tell people about their stories.”
Bethlehem College’s acting principal, Marietta Taliana, was moved by the project. “What they’ve (students) taught me about what it means to them is phenomenal and I’m an old girl. Hearing them talk about the design, they’ve just educated me in how important it is to them, but also the spirituality in it for them. It’s alive.”
Darci noted, “It“s a big thing they (the Bulldogs) picked us as a Sydney Catholic school … for them to get our opinions and stories, that’s big!” Darci punctuated her thought with one last pearl of wisdom: “We’re all one.”