With the AFL set to commemorate Sir Doug Nicholls Indigenous Round this upcoming week, Growthbuilt SUANFC is celebrating the occasion with a range of activities, including the launch of its inaugural Indigenous guernsey.
The jersey, designed by club member Yarlalu Thomas, will be worn by both the NEAFL and Sydney Premier Division squads.
Thomas is originally from the Indigenous community of Warralong, which is located south-east of Port Hedland.
Thomas spoke highly of the supportive environment at the club, declaring that it made his move away from home a much easier process.
“The club has been so good to me in terms of almost being like a family”, he proclaimed.
“All the boys have got around me and made me feel at home and having that sense of community and support away from home has been amazing.”
He left the community to start high school in Perth and graduated in 2015.
Since then, he has commenced study at Sydney University, where he is completing a double degree in a Bachelor of Medical Science and Doctor of Medicine.
Thomas has a deep appreciation for the education he has received at Sydney University and believes that having an education is important in addressing key issues facing Indigenous communities.
“It [education] is the key step in terms of improving a number of issues facing Indigenous communities and I think the key is getting more kids to go to university”, he said.
Thomas initially suggested the concept of an Indigenous Round to the club as a way of sharing his culture with the rest of his teammates.
“I was just stoked with the way it was received by everyone; letting me go ahead with all my ideas”, he declared.
“It is exciting for me to go ahead with this round as well because I get to share it with everyone else at the club.
“There are around 10 other Indigenous players across open grade and the Colts so the initial idea was to be proud of my culture and get everyone else involved.”
As well as recognising the efforts of past and present Indigenous footballers, SUANFC’s Indigenous Round also promotes the fantastic work of two community partners in Fair Game and AIME.
Fair Game supports Indigenous communities through the distribution of recycled sports equipment while AIME provides Indigenous students with mentoring and tutoring programs.
Thomas lauded the major role both charitable organisations play in allowing for more equal opportunities in Indigenous communities.
“Charitable groups like Fair Game and AIME help close the gap in Indigenous communities, where it may be hard for them to obtain equipment to play footy or sport and also to bridge the gap between university and schooling”, he said.
Marcus Valastro is another Indigenous SUANFC player who has made the tough move away from home.
However, he also credited the welcoming nature of the club, and in particular Development Coach Lloyd Perris, as crucial in allowing him to settle in comfortably.
“It was hard moving from a small town so it was great having people straight away and everyone was nice and welcoming”, he said.
“Lloyd Perris took me in straight away and let me stay a week with him while I was getting settled.
“It has been such a smooth process.”
Valastro also praised the advice of the club’s experienced players in helping him grow as a player.
“Where I come from back home, there wasn’t as much structure,” he admitted.
“For the first few months of training I was struggling, so it was so helpful to have such experienced heads helping me with my position.
“My game has changed since I have been at Sydney University for the better.”
Like Thomas, Valastro is also looking forward to acknowledging his Indigenous culture alongside his SUANFC teammates and supporters.
“It is great to have this round recognising Indigenous culture and to have a positive image around it,” he said.
Commemorative Indigenous Guernseys can be purchased via the SUANFC shop here.