Kangaroos war cry a step closer
Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith will for the first time be invited to participate in cultural activities with the Indigenous All Stars team during All Stars week in a significant step towards incorporating an Indigenous war cry into future Australian Test teams.
To be coached by Laurie Daley and Wayne Bennett respectively, the Indigenous All Stars and newly-badged World All Stars teams will be unveiled in Brisbane on Tuesday ahead of the sixth staging of the event at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday, February 13.
One of the highlights of this year's All Stars match was the Indigenous war cry developed and performed by the players themselves and in 2016 the message of inclusiveness will spread further with Smith and Australian members of the World All Stars team to be invited into the Indigenous camp to learn more about our country's first people.
Former Eel and Rabbitoh and now NRL welfare and education officer Dean Widders is a key figure in the implementation of cultural activities for Indigenous players in All Stars week and believes the time is now right to share that culture with other players.
"If you were never taught [about Indigenous culture] you can't blame people for not having a clear understanding so it's up to us to teach it in a positive way and to invite people in to celebrate it," Widders told NRL.com.
"That's a real focus for our footy players; we're not doing this just to empower ourselves and make ourselves feel good. We're doing it so that other people can be welcomed in to the good things about Aboriginal culture.
"Sometime that week we're going to invite some of the key Aussie players such as Cam Smith and Billy Slater and have a chat to those guys about advancing things down the line and doing [the war cry] for the Kangaroos.
"Hopefully this war cry, if it ever makes it into the Aussie team, these moments will represent real change for our country.
"Some of these guys might be the coaches of tomorrow so if they can gain a better understanding and insight into how proud the boys are and what it means to the boys it helps them with their life as well.
"The [All Stars] game is pushing towards these sorts of changes. It's just not another game of footy or another representative jersey, it's a lot bigger than rugby league and a lot bigger than sport.
"Aboriginal culture is a big part of Australian culture and something for everyone to be proud of, something to learn from. Our boys have got a real opportunity to encourage people to embrace it."
As in previous years, Indigenous players will spend the weekend prior to All Stars week at a cultural camp that will be held on Stradbroke Island but Widders is adamant that the real strength lies in sharing that experience to the broader population.
English singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the Aboriginal flag during his recent concert in Sydney and in a speech at the Australian Museum last week former Prime Minister Paul Keating said that "the more we rejoice in their identity – and their oneness with the country – the more the country will become ours as we become nearer its spirituality and form".
Two of the game's modern greats, Greg Inglis and Johnathan Thurston, have in recent years become fathers to children who statistics say will live 10 years less than non-Indigenous Australians and are seven-times more susceptible to developing a mental illness.
And, as Widders has experienced from his regular visits to NRL clubs, football teams in many ways already embody the cultural values that the Indigenous people have lived for tens of thousands of years.
"I see it in a lot of the footy teams, they go back to that traditional law. Things like respect to elders, looking after the tribe first," Widders said.
"I went down to Melbourne and I was looking on their walls and a lot of the messages were exactly the same as a traditional Aboriginal tribe.
"Look after everyone else first, have respect for people who have been here in the past; it's all about leaving a legacy and that's exactly what our traditional culture is about.
"All these ugly stats we hear that are sad and terrible, Indigenous people alone can't solve that. We can't fix these things alone. Until all those things start to mean something to other people we're never going to get anywhere.
"For me, Ed Sheeran wearing that flag, it must have meant something to him. It must have connected with something in him and we have to try and make that connection with all non-Indigenous Australians."