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Ally Anderson: What it means to be Aboriginal

The AFLW journey is taking me to a lot of places, but most importantly it is taking me to who I am.

Through this sport that I love I am connecting with people, and places, who are helping me to understand what it is to be Aboriginal.

I was born and raised in Brisbane – a city kid. My Dad is from Theodore, west of Rockhampton, and when I was young we would go back there to visit my grandparents and my aunts and uncles.

They were great times, but a relatively short exposure to my Aboriginal roots. I think over time I lost touch with much of that culture, of who I am and my origins. In the city, there didn’t seem to be the same connection or exposure.

I guess growing up I could have been more inquisitive. I could have, and should have, asked my Dad more questions. But now, aged 24, I definitely want to know more about my Aboriginal heritage.

I also want to use my profile as a member of the Lions AFLW team to in some way be a role model for Indigenous females – to be whatever they want to be.

The more I become involved with young Indigenous players the more I want to be involved.

I get great feedback from them, but I also know that it is piecing together who I am and where I come from.

My sister is a teacher. In her first year out of uni, she taught at an Indigenous school in Ipswich.

Then at the start of this year, she moved to a tiny community at Kowanyama, in the middle of nowhere, to teach there.

She went there because she shares my passion to learn more about her Aboriginal culture. I can’t wait to go up and visit her – hopefully sometime next year.

I guess my cultural journey was really awakened when I became involved with the AFL Indigenous KickStart program several years ago.

I was really keen to play but was a year too old. So the organisers asked me if I wanted to be an assistant coach. I thought ‘Why not!’ and absolutely loved it.

I gained so much from that experience.

From memory, I think the team was Under 17s and was made up of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls.

It was just so much fun and all about forming really strong friendships. I had such a good time and so the next year I was asked if I wanted to do it again.

I jumped at the chance and so one year rolled into another and another and eventually I took over as the coach of the team, which was a real step up, but something I really enjoyed.

As the AFLW was starting I stepped back to an assistant coaching role within the same program, but what I discovered was that, although I really enjoyed the coaching part of what I was doing, it was the interaction with the Indigenous girls that really was the most satisfying aspect.

Whenever I am involved with a skills session or whatever with these young Indigenous players I feel as though I belong … and that I am giving back in some small way as a role model. I also feel that when I am in that environment I am also learning more and more about my Aboriginal heritage.

It is so satisfying when I am at an underage carnival and girls from all over Queensland will come up to me and thank me for coaching them over the years.

Just recently I was on the Queensland Sunshine Coast for a junior carnival and a group of about 10 girls came up to me and each gave me a big hug and told me how much they enjoyed being coached by me and how they missed me. One of them said: “You’re my idol.” That was really touching … and some of them I hadn’t coached for about five years.

It’s moments like that when I am really proud of what I do. Even if I have changed their lives just a little bit in some positive way, that’s an awesome feeling.

I am lucky to have some great role models – like Indigenous artist Emma MacNeill, who I met while we were playing for Zillmere (Brisbane). Her partner is Mitch Robinson.

I am really close to Emma. I just love the way she is with her children – how her culture plays such a major role in her family’s everyday life.

I am just in awe when she says something to her children in her own native language. She is such an inspiring person.

Just unbelievable. She has such a powerful presence and is really connected … I don’t even know how to explain it. But it makes me want to learn more about my culture.

Seeing what she does with her paintings, when she’s with her kids and when she goes back to where she’s from, I’m just like, ‘Wow, I want to do that. I want to learn more about my own culture and be more connected to it’. She is definitely someone I look up to and want to be like.

It makes me want to be the best role model I can be for the young Indigenous girls I interact with. And of course these girls are just so amazingly gifted as athletes and they really enjoy the game.

So many of them just need that little ‘nudge’ to get involved.

This year I have had the opportunity to head up to Mackay with Jobtrail (WorkPac), and be a mentor for the Indigenous women who have been employed in the mines.

I had a chance to go up and have a chat to them about teamwork, leadership and just general life. And being a role model for older women as well.

That was a tremendous cultural experience, and one I hope to do many times again in the future.

I’ve had created many create cultural memories, but the below sticks out for mine.

I vividly remember a week-long clinic we held a couple of months ago in the Northern Territory. It was when I volunteered with the organisation, Red Dust, in the remote community of Yuendumu. The footy clinic was all about helping indigenous players also learn valuable life skills.

 

On the first day, we just had a bit of a kick around and we started with a few boys and just two girls. But by the end of that session, the girls’ number had risen to about eight.

The next day we came back to run a clinic and about 30 girls turned up.

They had seen us girls running the session the previous day and so had all decided ‘We want to play too’. The week ended with a carnival involving men’s teams. We decided the girls should have a game as well and we had 40 females keen to play.

You realise what you can achieve as a role model. And it is about so much more than footy.

Of course, I love the game, love playing it and love sharing it with other people. But as a role model, you have the chance to influence these young people in so many positive ways – helping them to make healthy life choices.

There’s no better feeling.

This article first appeared on Exclusive Insight.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the AFL or its clubs