All Stars an eye-opening experience for Bird
Indigenous All Stars representative Jack Bird has spent the past few days in Newcastle teaching local children about the importance of leadership and their responsibilities in the community, but the Sharks centre has also used the Harvey Norman All Stars week to learn more about his own personal identity.
Bird only found out about his heritage two or three years ago when he was told that his maternal great-grandmother was Indigenous and has since endeavoured to learn more about his ancestry and culture from teammates as well as coach Laurie Daley.
The Indigenous All Stars have traditionally spent the week leading into the game learning about the cultures of their teammates through bonding exercises such as spear making, traditional face painting and practising the pre-game dance.
Players also had the chance to listen to influential Indigenous speakers Stan Grant and MP Linda Burnie discuss leadership, belonging and cultural heritage during a two-day camp in Manly last weekend, and it's those voices that have strongly resonated with the current crop of All Stars.
The celebration of who they are is one of the highlights of the week and one of the many reasons why past and present players are calling for the fixture to stay on for many years to come.
Every member of the squad has their own story about what their family history means to them, and for Bird, the week has been an eye-opening experience.
Speaking to media at an Indigenous Youth Summit event in Newcastle, Bird stressed how important the week was for the kids, and added how significant the annual clash was for the players and Aboriginal community as a whole.
"My Nan – my mum's mum – she's really sick and she got tested for something that I think only Aboriginals have," he said.
"My nan's brother, I had a good chat to him and he went through my background with me and I got to learn a bit about him and about myself and the culture that I'm in. I'm happy to be Indigenous and if I wasn't then I wouldn't be here today.
"This week's really important for the kids, but it's also important for me.
"It's obviously my first time coming into the camp. You learn a lot about your culture and your background. It's something that I've always wanted to learn ever since I found out I was Indigenous.
"I've learnt a lot already, especially from the older boys and Laurie and from the coaching staff.
"But it's not about me; it's about the kids and getting them to go back to their communities. A little bit of a leadership role for them from a young age will help them in their future."
Raiders halfback Aidan Sezer went through something similar back in 2013 when he made his Indigenous All Stars debut and said the celebration of his background was what made this week so special.
Sezer, whose mother is Indigenous and his father Turkish, said he took a lot out of the experience which has encouraged him to actively learn more about his family's past.
"I played back in 2013 and that was definitely an eye-opener. I'm definitely a bit more familiar with my Aboriginal heritage now. I guess coming in, it just reminds you of such a strong culture and how proud Indigenous people are of their culture," he said.
"I'm very proud of my Aboriginal heritage and it's awesome to come in and celebrate our culture with all the boys."