Defence indigenous footballers join national carnival

This article has photo gallery Published on LEUT Ben Willee (author), LEUT Dave Devlin (photographer)

Location(s): Ballarat

Topic(s): Australian Rules Football

Seaman Communication Information Systems Tamati Smith from the Australian Defence Force Indigenous AFL team competes for the ball against Gippsland during the AFL Victoria NAIDOC carnival in Ballarat.  (photo: LEUT Dave Devlin)
Seaman Communication Information Systems Tamati Smith from the Australian Defence Force Indigenous AFL team competes for the ball against Gippsland during the AFL Victoria NAIDOC carnival in Ballarat.
A team of Australian Defence Force indigenous footballers recently participated in the Yannanayowoit Dullallally Football Carnival in Ballarat – the theme of which was to be proud of one’s indigenous heritage. 
 
The team comprised of indigenous members from all three services from all over Australia. Despite not having trained or played together prior to the event they worked well as a team and performed at a very high standard.
 
More than 1,500 competitors and 2,500 spectators flocked to competition sites around the North Ballarat sports precinct to watch 25 Aussie Rules teams battle for the cup. 
 
The Defence team, named Guyala, after an indigenous word for the seahawk, did not register a win from their four games, however, the scoreboard didn’t reflect the effort and passion of the team.
 
Captain, Petty Officer Communication and Information Systems Sam Sheppard said he felt privileged to have the opportunity to represent his culture and the Australian Defence Force at the annual event. 
 
“Most of the team haven’t played together so the first game is usually a ‘gelling’ game to get to know each other and see how we play as a team,” he said. 
 
“It’s really great to see the new guys turn up and give their best,” Petty Officer Sheppard said.
 
The team also helped man a Defence Force Recruiting stand at the carnival, helping explain the roles they undertake in the services.
 
The team wore a strip designed by renowned indigenous artist Wendy Rix. 
 
The design featured a seahawk in the centre with three coloured circles representing the Army, Navy and Air Force. The guernsey also includes colours used in the Aboriginal flag - yellow for the sun, the giver of life, red for the earth and black for the people. The remainder of the design tells the story of the different backgrounds and circumstances each member of the team comes from to be where they are today - part of a football team, part of their service and their mob culture.
 
The annual football and netball carnival is the most significant event on the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander calendar and an important platform for promoting a holistic approach to health and wellbeing among the indigenous community.
 
Chairman of the Australian Defence Force Aussie Rules Association Major General Matthew Hall, said it was a reflection of Defence’s commitment to an inclusive culture, health and wellbeing, that brought an indigenous team together for the carnival.
 
“Our team numbers are slightly improving on previous years events, which is a good sign that the message is getting through to the Australian Defence Force indigenous community,” Major General Hall said. 
 
“This team is a great credit to all the indigenous players from all three services who made it to Ballarat.”
 
Defence’s first ever women’s indigenous team will participate in a similar carnival at Punt Road, Richmond, in the middle of November. 
 
“The women’s team will also have the opportunity to mentor girls from the Female Tiwi Islands Youth Team, who will be brought to Melbourne by the Australian Defence Force for a Defence mentoring and work experience program,” Major General Hall said.  
 
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