Women’s Aboriginal AFL Academy trip to NZ: Diary Days 1-3

My name is Colleen Karpany and I am 16 years old. I go to school at Avenues College at Windsor Gardens. I am also a member of Port Adelaide’s Women’s Aboriginal AFL Academy which only started this year.


Because I worked hard and finished all the school work and took part in all the football components of the Academy program, I and 15 of my Academy teammates got the opportunity to travel to New Zealand for a cultural exchange tour. We also get to play a game against a New Zealand Under 18 team as a curtain raiser to the AFLNZ Grand Final.

Over the next few I plan to share what happens during our trip online. It’s a very new experience for me and so many of us and even though we have only been here for two full days, it has already been amazing.


I’ve been really excited about this trip for a while, but there was a time when I didn’t think I would be able to get to New Zealand. I didn’t have a birth certificate, let alone a passport, and it took a lot of effort to get everything ticked off in time. I have been living with my Nanna since I was four and she had to get my parents to come to Adelaide from a long way away to sign the papers to get the birth certificate and passport for me. I would not be here if it wasn’t for her. I feel so lucky to have my Nanna, who has taught me so much about my culture and always looks after me.

She was really happy for me getting the chance to travel outside of Australia. Nobody from our family has ever been overseas and I know Nanna was also a bit nervous. It was lucky she knew a couple of the teachers and (Port Adelaide Football Club Director of Aboriginal Programs) Pauly (Vandenbergh) otherwise she wouldn’t have let me come.


We got to the airport on Sunday morning and Nanna and my sister and Aunty came along. They gave me about a million hugs before we had to go through customs and then Nanna waited until the plane took off before leaving. She’s really strict usually and I’ve never been away from her, not for this long, but I know she is happy that I am getting this experience.

I have flown before to Sydney and Alice Springs so I knew to pack crosswords and charge my phone and tablet. I don’t think I even spoke to the people next to me the whole four hours. It was also cool to walk through first class and see what it was like. One day I hope I get to fly in first class.

We landed in Auckland and had dinner before spending the night there. In the morning we had a four-hour drive to Rotorua and the scenery along the way was really pretty. It was so green and there were heaps of cows and sheep on the side of the road. We stopped for a little bit in a small town called Hobbiton, and we stopped at the site where they filmed Lord of the Rings but couldn’t do a tour because we didn’t have time. I bought some Maori necklaces to give to my sister for her birthday. I even had a little sleep on the bus and a few of the other girls did too.

We checked into our accommodation and after lunch started walking to a training oval. The adults assured us they knew the way and it was just around the corner. It took us ages to find it, and we only did after some local school girls helped us. We trained on this rugby oval with a huge mountain range in the background and there was a tv show being filmed in the clubrooms so we couldn’t make too much noise.

Then we walked back and got ready for our first cultural experience. We went to the Mitai Maori Village and learned a lot about their culture. I had no knowledge of it but I had heard there were some similarities between it and parts of the Aboriginal culture. We got to see a group of the Maori men using a traditional hand-made canoe to paddle up a sacred stream at the site of an ancient Maori village. They were all wearing traditional clothing and chanting in their language. I learnt that the Maori people were Polynesian and came to New Zealand around the year 1200 by canoe.


We saw a show where Maori men and women danced and showed us their musical instruments and weapons, and Marlon (Motlop) who is the boys’ academy coach presented their chief with a Port Adelaide Indigenous guernsey as a gift. Marlon was selected to represent us as our “chief” and he made a speech thanking the Maori chief for welcoming us to his land and for feeding us.


It was really amazing seeing their dancing and their traditional ceremonies, especially the famous Haka. That is their way cry and they did it in areas where it would echo around the hilly landscape to warn off other tribes. They told us there was something like 75 Maori tribes in New Zealand. When the men and women did the Haka they all had their eyes open very wide and they stick their tongues out. It is pretty intimidating and it was special to see.

They showed us how they made ‘Hangi”, which is when they cook the food on coals underground. We had chicken, lamb, potatoes and sweet potatoes and salad, and it was all you can eat! There was also dessert. We were all pretty full at the end, but then we went out in the dark with torches to look for glow worms. The guide also showed us a bubbling spring where the water comes down off the mountain and it is really cold and pure. It was also really blue! The whole experience made me feel a bit sad. I felt so thankful and privileged to see the dances and learn about the culture, but I felt sad because they are so strong with retaining the language and culture and in Australia, we have lost so much. I asked the tour guide how they keep the culture so strong. They share their culture so much and learn about it in the schools and I just feel like we could be a lot better at home, especially in schools.

It was a really deadly experience but by the time we got on the bus and headed back to the we were really tired and ready for bed.

On Tuesday morning we got up and had breakfast and then we headed down to a park next to Lake Rotorua for training. It was a really pretty park and training was pretty fun, we even played a game at the end against some of the staff and when we beat them, they had to do push-ups. Even Pauly!

We then walked across town to the Polynesian spas. Basically, there a range of 28 pools and spas at different temperatures. They are these geothermal hot mineral springs and the waters are meant to help look after your skin and fix tired muscles. I didn’t want to go in at the start but our coach Bronwyn (Davey) told me it would help with my sore shoulders, and it did.

After we went to a place called Te Pua, which was an arts and culture centre where they are keeping alive the traditional Maori arts like wood carving and weaving, and there was even a guy doing tattooing. We got to talk to the students who were learning how to do each of those arts and they were very friendly. We actually saw a guy getting a tattoo on his leg. The guy who was doing it had a big tattoo all over his face and they said the men did it as an initiation thing once they had achieved a lot in their lives. It would have hurt so much! The idea of initiation is a similar thing that our Aboriginal people have in Australia but they don’t do the face tattoos. Even the Maori women sometimes get tattoos on their chins. Speaking to some of the girls, it made me realise that I am so privileged to know a lot about my culture and the whole experience made me want to help educate more people back in Australia.


Our tour then took us to some geothermal hot mud pools. The tour guide said the pools get to 98 degrees and they are constantly growing. There was a hotel built on the side of them but it has had to shut down and will soon be knocked down because they keep expanding and it’s too close now. It was deadly to see the volcano action and to walk on the rim of a volcano. It was really steamy there but it was raining a lot and it got really cold. Despite the it was still a cool experience.


I have loved the trip so far and we have only been here for a couple of days. I can’t wait to see what comes next.


Story – Portadelaidefc.com.au