The history we should all celebrate
I think it’s important, when you are involved in professional sport, that you make sure you’re living a life outside it as well.
The First People Project combines my passion for our Indigenous culture with my love of filmmaking, and I’m extremely proud that we have been able to launch it this month.
There are many stories to be told about the people who have called Australia home for more than 50,000 years.
By chance, and a relationship with two boys I met and mentored at high school, I discovered some of these stories. I want to share them. I want people to understand them and I want people to really feel the same sense of belonging to Indigenous Australia as I do.
This is part of our culture as Australians but is often overlooked or misunderstood. The fact that we live in this beautiful country together, this is our history and we should all know about it and all celebrate it.
My direct experience has been with Arnhem Land. I don’t know enough about central Australian communities, or those in Queensland, Western Australia, Torres Strait and more.
But I know these are all different, intricate cultures. The plan with the First People Project is to start telling their stories. Sharing culture and insight. With that I’ll learn more, and hopefully so will many other Australians.
I want the communities to see these films, too, and see that it’s a way for them to share their culture and help people understand what they’re about and what they do.
But this project extends beyond film. We want to help young Indigenous people flourish in their chosen fields. Often they need intensive help to achieve their goals. Sometimes it’s a case of lacking the connections, life-experience or role models to make it happen.
My goal with First People Project is to help make things happen for them from a physical, logistical and financial perspective. We want enterprising young Indigenous people to reach multiple goals and become more independent and confident. But our help will be ongoing. These relationships, like the friends I have made in Arnhem Land, are for life.
My adopted Yolngu family
When I was 16, I had little to no knowledge of what Arnhem Land was like.
I had become friends with Delwyn and Leon Wunungmurra, cousins from a very small community in Arnhem Land called Gapuwiyak, while boarding at Scots College in Sydney, and they had a profound effect on me.
I am a few years older than them and I could see they needed a great deal of help dealing with the change in their lives, from a remote community coming into Sydney.
They spoke a different language – djambarrpuyngu – and had limited English. There were a lot of things they hadn’t yet experienced about city life that we take for granted.
It wasn’t until the situation was reversed that I truly understood the magnitude of how tough that transition must have been.
The boys had shown me videos and photos from home but I’d never been anywhere similar, never met the boys’ families, never visited a remote or Indigenous community at all.
Delwyn finished school and asked me to come and see how he lived, meet his family and experience the way he was brought up.
I caught a plane with Leon to Darwin, and then another smaller plane to their home – a small township of around 1000 people next to a lake. The reception I received was humbling. I felt very lucky to be immersed in their culture and to meet some beautiful families.
I had known the local people for less than a day but because they knew the connection between me and their kids, and what I’d done for them, they took me in, called themselves my adopted Yolngu parents and family.
What shook me about the town was how different it is from Sydney, and how crazy it was that these boys were thrown in the deep end into a school like Scots, a Sydney private boarding school, and how they were able to handle themselves in that environment.
What amazed me the most, was I had no idea about this side of indigenous Australia and wouldn’t have if I hadn’t met these boys and they’d invited me there.
Always wanted to make a difference
As a professional sportsman I’m in a fortunate position where I have a voice, a platform and I’ve always felt I wanted to use it to make a difference.
It’s something that comes naturally to me. I think if I didn’t use my voice, and just kept this to myself and didn’t share it, then I’d be doing these guys a disservice.
The idea of using film to tell their stories and share their culture was an obvious one for me. I did film studies, art and media studies all through school. I made a short film for my HSC – a story about my old man on the farm. That was cool, and personal. A great experience to shoot a film with him.
I’ll direct all the films that we do in the First People Project. I’ll be working with Canon and AthletesVoice to capture the cultural, creative and spiritual life in remote Australia and show the world the power and beauty of this culture.
I’m also joined in this venture by Jonny Samengo and David Rawlings, the founding board directors.
The locals have been really happy with the results so far. I think it helps that I’m someone they trust, and they respect seeing someone who’s not indigenous come into a community and embrace it and love it and want to share it and love it for what it is. They’re excited to tell their stories. I am excited to share them.