A remote rugby club at the foot of a tree-lined mountain range in Rotorua is about the most unusual place you would expect to see footy training involving a group of Aboriginal teenage girls from Adelaide.
But after a four-hour flight and four-hour bus ride, it was the ideal setting for the Port Adelaide Football Club’s Women’s Aboriginal AFL Academy players to stretch their legs.
With the powerful song of eight Maori rugby union players being filmed for a local television show emanating from the clubrooms, the girls shook off the travel with a range of drills.
Every sight, every smell, and every sound is new – many of the girls never been overseas, and none before to New Zealand.
The trip is intended as a cultural exchange and the culmination of a year-long educational program run for the first time in 2018 for young Indigenous women in years 11 and 12 by Port Adelaide and the South Australian Aboriginal Sports Academy (SAASTA).
“One of the things that I have been big on since starting with the club is having incentive-based rewards for excellence in the classroom,” says Paul Vandenbergh, the Power’s Director of Aboriginal Programs.
“We’ve been doing these international trips in the past five years with our boys’ academies – over to China twice and New Zealand – and given it was the first year of the women’s academy it was just a great opportunity to provide the same experiences to the girls.
“In my own experiences of travelling internationally, and knowing what that did for me in terms of taking me out of my comfort zone and out of my shell and making me become independent – I saw the real value in that.”
Sixteen girls and nine staff from Port Adelaide and SAASTA travelled from Adelaide to Auckland on Sunday, leaving nervous parents and grandparents at the airport.
For the it was mostly excitement about being in another country upon arrival, many marvelling at the beauty of the landscape.
“I guess the other thing about international travel is that it’s the first time a lot of our students have actually had a passport and I think that’s something really powerful in itself,” Vandenbergh continues.
“Having a passport and knowing you can travel the world, we just try to encourage our people to explore the world and different cultures and take some of that knowledge back to our communities to help them and their families become better.”
Monday saw the start of the long drive to Rotorua, with a quick stop at Hobbiton – the scene of the famous Lord of the Rings movies.
But apart from sightseeing, the girls are here for a rich cultural experience complete with Maori educational performances and experiences.
“Being here the girls will see how inclusive New Zealanders are with the Maori culture,” Vandenbergh says.
“Having been on this trip before, some part of us was a bit jealous that our culture is not as embraced across the board in Australia.
“Seeing how the Maori language is everywhere on signs and television in New Zealand – and we know they have just the one language so it is a bit easier given we have so many and we’re quite diverse with our languages – so a few challenges there for us to navigate but there are a lot of similarities.
“From being colonised, there were similar pathways to Australia, so it’s a great opportunity to bring our culture over here and learn about the Maori culture and hopefully one day they’ll come and visit us in Adelaide, spending some time at the Port Adelaide Football Club.”
The academy is supported by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet through the School Attendances Strategy, the Motor Accident Commission, the Cancer Council and the University of Adelaide.
The New Zealand trip has been made possible by the generosity of the RAA.
It will culminate with a game against a New Zealand representative side at QBE in Auckland on Saturday.
“I know AFLNZ is really keen to grow the game of AFL, not only with the men but with the women as well and I know they’re looking forward to the game on Saturday but there’s just no better way to reward our students after 12 years of hard work at school than with something like this,” Vandenbergh concludes.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience for them and something they’ll look back on for a long time.”
Story – Portadelaidefc.com.au