Nathan van Berlo’s Kiwi Roots

AFL Multicultural Round celebrates ‘Many Cultures, One Game’. Round 16 of the Toyota AFL Premiership season will recognise our game’s cultural diversity, highlighting the contribution multicultural communities have historically made to Australia’s game, as well as the community engagement initiatives currently being undertaken by the AFL industry.

Crows captain Nathan van Berlo, who has New Zealand and Dutch heritage, tells us about his family’s story …

My parents, Garry and Jenny, were both born in New Zealand.

Mum is from the East Coast of the North Island; Tauranga, Mount Maunganui. It’s right on the water and has good surf. Dad’s from just over the mountains, the Kaimai Ranges, and grew up in the Waikato region.

Mum and dad followed my grandparents in moving to Australia. My mum’s parents went travelling and ended up stopping in Perth just because they liked the city. They started up a business there.

My parents went to visit them and never left – they’ve been in Perth about 30 years now, but some people still pick mum and dad up on their accents. My mum’s three sisters all followed too, leaving my uncle as the only one from mum’s family left in New Zealand.

My dad is from a family of 11, so there are still a lot of van Berlo’s left on the North Island. The name ‘van Berlo’ is Dutch. Dad’s family left Holland after the war. They moved to New Zealand and raised a big family there, working as dairy farmers. I travelled through Holland when I went to Europe a few years ago. I don’t know too much about by Dutch heritage, and it’s something I’d like to explore in the future.

My brothers, Jay and Mitch, and I were all born in Australia, but growing up, our family holidays would always be to New Zealand. We’d go and visit dad’s parents, before they passed away, and all his brothers and sisters and our cousins.

I’ve been to NZ seven or eight times throughout my life. I went back a couple of years ago with Brent Reilly and another mate. We played a few rounds of golf and caught up with my relatives. It’s a beautiful place and not dissimilar to Australia.

The van Berlo boys are Aussies through and through. We follow the Aussies in everything we do, but in close second are the Kiwis. Dad always backs the Kiwis if they’re playing Australia in something. But he only ever wins in the Rugby – the Aussies have the Kiwis covered in just about everything else.

Dad’s an All Black through and through, but Jay, Mitch and I have always been more into Aussie Rules, so he’s had to adapt. I think Dad actually likes AFL more than Rugby now. He watches game after game and tries to get his head around all the tactics. He’s got a bit of an idea now. I guess he doesn’t have much choice considering he has to watch three games of footy every weekend with three sons playing – Jay is playing for West Perth and my youngest brother Mitch is playing in the reserves. It’s pretty full on for mum and dad, but I think they enjoy it.

My family back in New Zealand still aren’t too sure about Aussie Rules. They get a few AFL games televised on the Sky Channels over there, and occasionally a Crows game will come on. They tune in when we’re playing and I’ll get a few messages or Facebook posts saying, ‘I saw you on TV!’

When I do go over there, they get a Rugby ball out and try to kick it like an Aussie Rules football, as they call it. They show me a few of their Rugby tricks and try to work out how scrawny-looking blokes like me can run around playing AFL when you need to be a big meat-axe to play Rugby. I think they appreciate the differences in the game and they enjoy taking an interest because one of their nephews, or cousins is playing.

Occasionally, the boys here at the Club will give me a little dig if the Aussies beat the Kiwis in a cricket match … even though I’ve been supporting the Aussies! Although, I will claim that I’m a Kiwi if the Aussies lose to the All-Blacks. The boys might drop the odd sheep joke too, but it’s all tongue in cheek and a bit of fun.

We’re a young country, so most guys in the team have got strong links to a country outside of Australia. Jason Porplyzia has an incredible story about how his family came to be where they are because of sacrifices his grandad made way back when. I think Ben Rutten’s mum was also born in New Zealand, and Brodie Smith has an English and Scottish background.

Everyone’s got a story. It’s nice the AFL recognises and celebrates this in Multicultural Round.