Today was the final full day of our tour here in New Zealand.
So far it has been beyond my wildest dreams.
I’ve met new family members for the first time, discovered a new culture and shared all of this with 17 of my close mates.
The most significant element of this tour for all of us was cultural exchange and for us as young Aboriginal men to take something positive back from the Maori culture that can help better our Aboriginal culture back home.
For me it was about preserving our language which will therefore continue to preserve our culture and identity. As an indigenous culture we need to get better at this.
Equally as important, is the need for us to better embrace our history and culture as young Aboriginal people.
The thing that is so striking about the Maori culture is the willingness to share stories and traditions with each other.
The elder Maori people are always passing on information to younger Maori people who are equally willing to listen and learn.
This is another thing I look forward to sharing with my people back home in Australia.
So, we all took our own learnings from this cultural exchange tour.
The other aspect of this tour was an important game of football.
I say important because any time you get to represent your people and culture is an honour.
The other significant aspect of today’s game was that it will be the last time our players as a group play together.
Across this season we have played six games, winning five and losing one, and we certainly wanted to finish on a high note.
But it was obvious last night at the official dinner that our New Zealand opponents were equally proud of their heritage and desperate to represent their country.
The scene at the multi-purpose oval next to QBE stadium was spectacular. It was a beautiful sunny day with a forecast maximum temperature of 24 degrees while the ground surface was like a bowling green.
A couple of minutes before the game both teams met for a symbolic moment of cultural exchange.
The New Zealand team performed their haka first which was both exciting and a bit intimidating to confront. On one hand it was great to see their passion close up, while on the other there are moments when you feel quite vulnerable just standing there as they approach you.
We then got the chance to return fire with our traditional war cry. It was a great feeling to be able to showcase something so important to us at another country and to a culture who understands more than anyone the depth of what it means to us.
Soon after our war cry the game started and we enjoyed the first use of a two or three goal breeze.
We jumped out of the blocks quickly and led comfortably at quarter time, 6.7 (43) to New Zealand 0.0.
Despite kicking into the breeze, we continued to dominant during the second quarter and led comfortably at half-time by 79 points, 13.7 (85) to New Zealand 1.0 (6).
New Zealand came out after half time very physical and were determined to make a statement.
Although they did not have a high skill level across the team, what the did have was pace, the ability to tackle hard and a willingness to never give in.
After a scrappy start to the second half we began to regain the ascendency and by three-quarter time had established a commanding 115-point lead, 20.8 (128) to 2.1 (13).
The final quarter saw much the saw as we started slowly and finished off strongly.
With only seconds left, small forward Terell Rigney capped off a brilliant performance with his 10th goal.
We eventually won by 145 points, 26.9 (165) to 3.2 (20).
At the after-match presentation with both sides Terell was awarded best on ground by the New Zealand coaching group while we awarded Frank Szekely best player for his six-goal performance.
At this post-match function, we presented their team with some traditional Aboriginal gifts as a token of our thanks for their fantastic hospitality.
The match was particularly special for me as some of my New Zealand family came along to watch me play AFL for the first time obviously.
That made me very proud but the best was yet to come.
After the game my Nana Rachel and Auntie Celess invited me and the entire team to her house which is situated in the native lands of my Maori family.
We arrived at Orakai, the Maori name of the area which belongs to my family.
They also call it Takaparawhau, the lands we fought for.
After we arrived we went slightly up the hill from Nana’s house to magnificent location overlooking Auckland harbour.
At this location was a special meeting place for my family and their tribe called Tumutumuwhenug.
This meeting spot is very spiritual as it is a place that connects my families’ genealogy.
Before we entered this sacred area, we were formally welcomed with Karanga, a call done only by women. Today we were welcomed by my Aunty and Cousin. This was such a proud moment for me and piece by piece I was gaining a greater appreciation of my Maori culture.
Once we entered my Nana explained that the house symbolically represented the inside of a woman, who are of course the giver of life.
For the next hour we shared stories, music and dance. It was almost surreal as I stood back watching my Aboriginal teammates take in a Maori cultural session from my family, who only had just met a few days ago. I just wanted to enjoy every minute for as long as I could and soak up as much information as possible.
Afterwards, my Nana invited us all back to her place where I met my grandfather again. The boys were treated to ice cream and Tim Tams which capped off a great day for us all.
I farewelled my New Zealand family knowing it was not going to be for the last time. This Aboriginal Academy tour was beyond my grandest dreams.
I thank Port Adelaide for giving me the opportunity to develop myself across the year in the Academy both from an academic and football perspective.
The opportunity to then travel to New Zealand to discover the other side of my heritage is something I will be grateful of forever.
This has been a week that I’ll never forget.