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Players’ Voice — Jay Kennedy-Harris

Jay Kennedy-Harris reflects on his experience on the biennial AFL/AFL Players’ Association Indigenous All Stars Summit and the importance of connecting with his culture and fellow Indigenous players.

Attending the AFL and AFL Players’ Association All Stars Summit provides an important opportunity for us as players to catch up with people we spent our childhoods with through family connections but are now spread throughout Australia playing football at different clubs.

We arrived in Adelaide on Sunday evening before the camp officially began on Monday. We were able to catch up with everyone before the formalities began and we attended the Welcome to Country ceremony by the river. It was a great way to start the camp by acknowledging our culture.

The playing group were shown a sneak peak of the new Adam Goodes documentary about his journey in the AFL and into retirement. It was a real eye opener for a lot of the boys to see what he went through late in his career.

We trained on Monday morning at Adelaide University for about an hour, in what was a pretty relaxed session run by coaches Andy Lovell, Roger Hayden, Chance Bateman and Xavier Clarke. We finished with some AFLX style match play to help the guys in team Deadly to prepare for Friday’s tournament.

The ball barely hit the ground during training, which is not always a good thing! It generally means there’s less running required, which our GPS units never miss! Some extra running was done at the end to get the necessary work into our legs.

On Monday afternoon we travelled 45 minutes by bus out to Lot 100 where we were hosted by former player Daniel Motlop and introduced to his business Something Wild, which incorporates Australian native ingredients and harvest meats into mainstream cooking.

It was incredible to see what the Motlop’s are doing to incorporate traditional foods into mainstream hospitality. Using ingredients sourced by Something Wild, the chefs at Lot 100 put on an amazing feast for the players and AFLPA, club and AFL staff in attendance, which included magpie goose, kangaroo tail and barramundi.

As part of the cultural experience and connection on the camp we all had the opportunity to make boomerangs with our teammates.

The Melbourne boys and I worked really hard on it, so it’s come up pretty nicely.

Our plan is to take it back to the footy club and have all the staff have their own turn with it so the boomerang becomes the club’s boomerang.

The idea of having everyone shave it down a little bit means that every member of the club will have had an equal part in it. It will be a nice touch for us knowing that everyone who works at the club has been involved in the process of making something that is important to us Indigenous players.

It was hard work making it though, I’ll say that much!

It was the first time I’ve tried to make one and although it was already halfway down for us it was still exhausting.

After dinner we were lucky enough to have an Indigenous family, who had travelled down from Arnhem Land, perform some traditional songs and dances for everyone around a camp fire.

Growing up, most of us boys will have been involved in traditional dance at some stage in our lives. But to have everyone, including the club and AFL executives and our coach Simon Goodwin, participate in an important part of our culture was really special.

I could see it on Goody’s face when he was walking over that he probably hadn’t done something like that before but I think he realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t something you had to be talented at but rather just embrace together.

Since Goody arrived at Melbourne we’ve all worked out the type of person he is and he really wants to get to know people on a personal level.

For a lot of the players in our group he can do that quite easily but for the Indigenous boys there are a lot of things about us culturally that he didn’t grow up with so it can be a bit harder to find that connection.

For him to come to Adelaide and spend a couple of days on the camp with us was incredibly special.

I don’t think he quite estimated how much we got out of it knowing that our coach was here to embrace and share our culture.

We’ve got a great rapport at the club but sharing an experience like the Indigenous camp makes it better.

On day three we rose early and drove two hours to the small community of Point Pearce, which is an aboriginal mission located on the Yorke Peninsulia — Narangga Country.

The population of Point Pearce is just 91, but it seemed that every one of them, and some more, were there to greet us at the local primary school.

There is a real football community and where my ancestors are from is more rugby so it was a thrill knowing how much they enjoyed having us players there.

Wayne Milera got the most attention as he’s from this country and many of his relatives were there on the day. Brownlow medallist Gavin Wanganeen is also a Narangga man.

The community put on a song and dance for us with their local school and the boys definitely got a lot out of being part of that.

Heading down to the beach gave us a chance to feel more at home being in an area where there isn’t electricity or anything, it’s just beach.

I hadn’t ever seen wombat being prepared on a fire before, which was interesting. We’ve seen some different things but wombat certainly wasn’t one of them.

On the way back from the beach one of the four-wheel drives got bogged in the sand for about 90 minutes, unfortunately it was the first in the convoy so it meant everyone else was stuck behind it.

There was a mini bus of players heading straight to the airport to catch a flight, so they were getting particularly anxious as time wore on.

Bradley Hill suggested we get one of the buses to push it but I don’t think he realised that meant we would’ve gotten bogged as well.

Former player Danyle Pearce eventually came to the rescue, pulling the car out with a winch on the front of his truck.

On the final day we had a great presentation from The Line, which presented some pretty alarming statistics on domestic violence in Indigenous communities. Jarman Impey was announced to the group as an ambassador for The Line and he spoke with great passion about how we wants to make a difference.

We trained at Adelaide Uni after lunch and then we kicked the footy, signed autographs and took pictures with the 100-plus kids who had gathered to watch training.

After that, it was off to the airport and home to Melbourne.

Reflecting on the camp, what struck me was how many young players make up the Indigenous player cohort.

I missed the last camp in Broome, so I was surprised how many Indigenous boys had been drafted in that time, especially a lot of the ones who I wouldn’t have played with in the talent pathway.

It’s great for the game that we’ve got so many boys getting drafted that are from an Indigenous background.

As an Indigenous playing group we’ve been pretty lucky with some of the phenomenal role models we’ve got in this group.

Eddie Betts is at the top of his game still, Shaun Burgoyne just keeps on going and Neville Jetta is someone who has also experienced the lows in his career but has come out of the other side and is now one of the best defenders in the competition.

It’s been great to have them here not only as footballers, but as people.

They do a lot and it’s been great to spend time with such strong role models.