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The Indigenous Round Message Means Far More Than A New Set Of Jerseys

Sat, 28/05/2022, 2:01 am
Jim Tucker
by Jim Tucker

University of Queensland winger Kye Oates feels a growing pride that rugby is fostering more understanding of Indigenous culture.

Saturday’s Indigenous Round across Queensland Premier Rugby is all the more powerful because it’s so much more than a batch of new themed jerseys.

“A lot of Indigenous stories are told through art or passed on through elders sitting around and talking to a younger generation,” Oates said.

“To see more and more jerseys spread around Indigenous Round and NAIDOC Week (in July) means a lot because the designs all have their own stories.

“Before Saturday’s game, I’ll talk with the UQ boys about the story of our jersey. Explaining the connection to land and how important that is to Aboriginal people is always important.

“It’s really special to be able to share that from my culture.

“I know that last year, when we had an Indigenous theme to our whole season, it did feel like it helped us build a stronger connection as a rugby team.”

Dotted branches from trees, footprints as a pathway, water holes, gatherings, specific colours...so much to jersey designs highlight community and connection.

Kye, last year’s Alex Evans Medallist as QPR’s Player of the Year, and brother BJ will tell you their mob is from North Stradbroke Island.

Uni’s new Indigenous jersey for Saturday’s match against Easts at Bottomley Park has been designed by their cousin Joshua Wawa Jungerboi.

The contemporary Indigenous artist is a proud Ngugi and Geonpul man. He has spent many years honing his skills and gaining inspiration from the natural environment on North Stradbroke Island.

“It’s special to have our family involved in the jersey and it does make it more meaningful,” Oates said.

On the field, Oates is realistic about where the UQ team sits in trying to find a resonant follow-up to last year’s premiership triumph.

“We have a long way to go as a new team. We might have won our first three games but we didn’t really play at our best,” Oates said.

“Not everyone will agree but I think last weekend’s loss to Brothers was a loss we needed to lift our standard.

“We have a lot to prove in terms of how we can play. When we do, it will be devastating.”

Uni opened with wins over Wests (27-22), Norths (47-12) and Souths (19-10) before a 21-14 reality check in the wet against traditional rivals Brothers.

BJ scored a try in the losing effort against Brothers. It was the first for the Oates brothers this season and a long way short of the 20 they injected into 2021’s success.

Easts reserve grade centre Jayden Carroll has found the supportive bonds of rugby a positive way to experience his Indigenous heritage.

“I grew up playing footy with Indigenous boys at Easts rugby league but it wasn’t until later that I found out about my own Indigenous background,” Carroll said.

“It’s been pretty special to explore that and understand more of Quandamooka country where I was brought up on the bayside.

“I’ve found myself in a community, rugby, that is so supportive. You get around people from New Zealand, the Pacific, England and Australia with a common bond of footy.

“We’re all connected to one thing.

“For young Indigenous players to be able to look up to guys like Kurtley Beale absolutely killing it and making it worldwide is pretty exciting.

“It’s cool to see Aboriginal culture being celebrated, the national anthem being sung in a First Nations language and the jerseys.”

Easts will wear their first Indigenous jersey in NAIDOC week in July. Wests will wear one at that time too.

Young GPS winger-fullback Floyd Aubrey, a Wakka Wakka man from Murgon, likes Indigenous Round at club level after being involved in the message at Super Rugby level.

“It’s good to see our culture getting out to the world,” Aubrey added.

“I think it’s important me playing at the Reds. There are a lot of black fellas representing in the NRL. It’s good to have players in Super Rugby for young fellas to see like Dylan Pietsch, Triston (Reilly), the Brumbies winger (Andy Muirhead) and, now he’s coming back, Kurtley Beale.”

“Hopefully, I can inspire other young fellas to represent their people and Queensland.”

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