"We are all visitors to this time, this place. We are just passing through. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love … and then we return home."
Latrell Mitchell provided these words when asked to sum up how he felt posing for a series of photographs to commemorate Indigenous Round.
The NRL’s annual Indigenous Round means so much to the Rabbitohs star that not even Sydney’s chilly late-May weather could stop him from stripping down to his shorts for these spectacular photos.
Mitchell recreated his famous post-try celebration for NRL.com chief photographer Grant Trouville on Friday night at Sydney’s Bare Island near La Perouse.
While he could have been at home in front of the heater on the night before the South Sydney’s crucial clash with the Eels at Stadium Australia, he braved the heavy gusts and freezing wind chill factor to proudly display his culture to help promote Indigenous Round.
Rabbitohs players will auction off their boots to children's mental health program Rising Warriors with 26 of their squads across the grades set to wear specially designed footwear this weekend.
Souths star Cody Walker said the program focused on preventing suicide in Aboriginal communities.
"It's a pretty important program to be a part of," Walker said.
"If you look at the numbers they're quite alarming and quite scary. Thirty percent of Aboriginal deaths in kids are caused by suicide. It's crazy to know that.
Amazing artwork with special messages inspire Rabbitohs
"It's obviously a special week to be a part of. To celebrate some of the great things our people have done in the game. We make up three per cent of the population but make up 12 per cent of the NRL.
"It's quite an amazing stat, but also sheds some light on Aboriginal issues that are faced in communities across Australia, that's pretty important as well."
Walker opened up on the challenges Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander people face in the community from a statistical perspective.
"I've got to live healthier than a lot of my teammates at the same age so as a stat I probably, to put it bluntly, I'll die eight years before my [non-Indigenous] mate," Walker said.
"That's not because of how I live, that's because of my race, that's the reality of it.
"We're more prone to chronic diseases. That's not because of how we live, it's just who we are as people which is scary.
"This is why Indigenous Round is so important. The NRL does a great job in supporting these rounds which is awesome.
"[All] 16 clubs have got Indigenous jerseys. You can tell by the storylines that came out over the week about what their jersey means, it's quite amazing to see."
Indigenous stars through the ages
When asked on Friday about the likes of Mitchell and Walker inspiring the Indigenous community, Souths coach Wayne Bennett said they deserved their status as role models.
“They are pretty exceptional blokes and they’ve got a great sense of community,” he said.
“The amount of time I see them give to other people and their caring nature reminds me of what makes the club what it is and how proud we all are of South Sydney.”
The NRL is attempting to help reframe the numbers synonymous with the sport to help educate non-Indigenous Australians about the challenges faced by many Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders, and importantly, what the rugby league community is doing to help address them.
Indigenous Round to highlight inequality to move forward
Particularly in the areas of education and employment, the NRL is working hard to help.
There is a 26% gap in the employment rate of Indigenous and non-Indigenous population. Countering this, 95% of placed participants from School to Work will remain in employment.
There is also a 25% gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students completing high school. In a sign of improvement, 92% of participants in the NRL School to Work program complete Year 12.
Help is available 24/7 for anyone who has mental health issues by calling Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14
For further information on the NRL State of Mind program, click here