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Players’ Voice — Neville Jetta

Neville Jetta is a member of the AFL Players’ Association’s Indigenous Advisory Board, and he looks ahead to this weekend’s Indigenous Round in an exclusive column.

When I think about Indigenous Round, my first thoughts go back to the trailblazers and what they did way back in their day that helped us current players play top-tier footy.

A round dedicated to Indigenous people gives us a chance to celebrate what those pioneers did for us and how far we’ve come in the AFL and in society as well.

Celebrating this in the AFL is really special, and having support from all the clubs makes it much more special. You get to go out and represent not only yourself, but also your family, your culture and where you’re from.

Having the round also creates conversations for fans to have about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players on their club’s list — where they’re from and their background. It’s almost like a mini-education session in itself. Creating those conversations is beneficial and I know the players love going out and being able to play in the jumper.

I know a lot of clubs are now getting football boots painted up as well. These are all ways to celebrate the round for those who are playing now and also those who played before us.

With Indigenous Round comes a special moment — pulling on a jumper especially dedicated to our people. This gives you a sense of pride knowing you have been involved in the design process.

The first Indigenous jumper Melbourne wore in 2014 was designed by the Nyirripi people, a community in Alice Springs. We knew that a number of clubs were designing indigenous jumpers and we wanted to be involved. The club asked the Nyirripi community to design an art piece and we put it on the jumper, which signified us playing in Alice Springs and being welcomed into the community.

I had a bigger role in the jumper the club wore last year and will again this year. It represents Melbourne and the traditional custodians of Melbourne and represents the lands which surround the MCG. Myself, Jeff Garlett and Jay Kennedy-Harris all had a say and we worked with the football club about what we wanted.

As it was our second jumper, we wanted to represent what Melbourne is and its first nation’s people. Obviously we are the Melbourne Football Club and we wanted the jumper to recognise Melbourne and the Wurundjeri people. To be able to do that and get a piece of art from the Koori Heritage Trust in Melbourne was awesome.

We’re all proud of what Mandy Nicholson was able to produce and I look forward to wearing it this weekend and hopefully again in Round 18, which will be the launch of our Reconciliation Action Plan that the club has been working on for a while now. To be able to wear it twice in one year is pretty special.

While I do feel as if I am an indigenous leader at the club, I would say Jeff and myself take a duel role when it comes to leading the likes of Jay and Dion Johnstone, who came to the club last year.

Myself and Jeffy take care of them and look after them as if they are our little brothers, that’s probably where you would say the different is to being a normal leader. We try and get down to them on a personal level as if we’re family and that’s a connection we’re building. It’s a connection I’ve felt with past Indigenous leaders at the football club with Aaron Davey and Matthew Whelan being the most prominent.

That connection makes you feel more at home and that’s what me and Jeffy are trying to do with the young boys coming through.

The relationship with Aaron and Matthew goes a lot deeper than just being a teammate. It’s a type of relationship where you almost become family and from that you start playing better footy. We’re pretty lucky to have Matthew back at the club as a liaison officer and he’s always willing to help Jeffy and I out.

As leaders at the club, we’re trying to mentor the younger guys so when we leave they have the confidence to take the reins.

As for the future of Indigenous Round, I would love for the growth of the round to continue over the next five to ten years and perhaps we could see a cross-code round and link the AFL with the NRL’s Indigenous Round.

It would be great to see both codes playing on the same night in a similar location. For example, the Swans playing at the SCG with the Rabbitohs right next door at Allianz Stadium. I would love to see all the sporting codes come together and make one big weekend of it.

But this weekend make sure you embrace and celebrate what the clubs and players are trying to get across, come out and support as much as possible.

The more discussion around Indigenous Round, the more we can move forward together.