New ritual: Aboriginal NRL players perform with Bangarra Dance Theatre. Photo: Anthony Johnson’You are the most powerful group of Aboriginal men in the country.’
That was the theme of the 2014 NRL Indigenous leadership camp as players developed a new Aboriginal war cry they hope will eventually have the same significance for Australians as the haka does for New Zealanders.
Fairfax Media was given exclusive access to the camp on Friday night and Saturday as players ranging from superstars such as Greg Inglis to Penrith rookie James Roberts, discussed and rehearsed the dance they believe will increase pride in indigenous communities and promote Aboriginal culture.
”For the indigenous kids, I think it will be great for their self confidence and make them proud of their culture, proud of their heritage and really proud of their aboriginality,” Inglis said.
”It is something we can own and something we can be proud of, and hopefully this dance can filter all the way down to the juniors and all the way through the game.”
The players intend to publicly unveil the war cry at next season’s All Stars match and believe that if the dance is performed regularly, it will eventually be considered a part of Australian culture.
While no one at the two-day camp in the Hunter Valley was bold enough to publicly suggest the Kangaroos adopt the war cry before Test matches, the fact that more than a third of Australia’s World Cup winning squad were Aboriginal means it is a possibility.
Every Australian team on Kangaroo tours from 1908 to 1967 performed an Aboriginal war cry, derived from Stradbroke Island, before matches but they never did so on home soil and it was decided in 1973 that the dance ”did not reflect being Australian”.
However, Newcastle centre Timana Tahu pointed out that a lot of players in the Kiwis team had Samoan, Tongan, Cook Islands and even Australian heritage, and they performed the haka with pride and passion.
”You see those blokes doing it as hard as the Maori blokes are doing it because they have got so much pride and it means so much to the players because they have grown up doing the haka,” said Tahu, who represented Aotearoa Maori in 2010.
”For us, that is what we want to do as well. We want to have the young kids knowing the dance and not be afraid to do it, to go out and give their all because they are not only representing a jersey, they are representing their family and their country.
”What we are doing is a gift to future generations that are going to be doing it over the years so we are sort of starting history here.
”Everyone is going to have input in the war cry and for us it is good because it has been talked about and now we are putting it into action.”
With more than 250 Aboriginal tribes throughout the country, the players borrowed from a variety of influences as they worked under the guidance of Bangarra Dance Theatre artistic director Stephen Page to develop the war cry they hope will unify all Australians.
NRL welfare and education manager Dean Widders told the gathering that rugby league was uniquely placed to introduce a war cry because of the game’s gladiatorial nature, the international exposure it receives and the high representation of indigenous players.
Aborigines comprise only two per cent of the Australian population but 12 per cent of NRL players are indigenous, and they make up 22 per cent of State of Origin teams and 35 per cent of the Test team.
”As far as role models for our people, you are the guys they look up to,” Widders told the players in a room featuring larger than life posters of Johnathan Thurston and Preston Campbell, the driving force behind the All Stars concept five years ago.
”You are the most powerful ambassadors and role models that we have got so we need to leave a legacy and set standards for the young kids coming through.”
However, the players were also reminded of the negative impact that off-field incidents have on the game, the Aboriginal community and their own careers, with Widders showing them statistics on the media exposure a number of incidents attracted.
While no details of the incidents were revealed, one assault received mention in 2891 articles that were read by 28 million people and seen by a further 23.5 million television viewers. It was estimated that it would cost $5 million to reach the same audience through advertising.
In comparison, media coverage of last season’s Close the Gap round were equivalent to $550,000 in advertising costs and Inglis’s appearance at the Jillaroos departure for the Womens World Cup was worth $2.5 million in advertising.
”Whether we like it or not, anything that NRL players do gets a lot of attention,” Storm forward George Rose said. ”When kids see GI do something on the weekend, they all try to mimic it in backyard footy or when they play at school.
”I’m sure it will be the same with the war cry. If they see the Indigenous All Stars doing this dance every time they play and even leading up to a game, like the New Zealand team do the haka wherever they go, I think it is something they will want to copy.”
Rose, whose grandfather George Rose I was a key figure in the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, said he was looking forward to publicly performing the dance.
”I am getting goosebumps now just thinking about it,” Rose said. ”To know I was one of the first people to develop it and perform it would be unbelievable.
”Aboriginal culture is a massive part of Australian culture – our boomerangs and our didgeridoos are the biggest things associated with Australia – and I am sure with this dance the rest of Australia will embrace Aboriginal culture more.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.