Watching his son Kian publicly perform a ‘shake-a-leg’ dance without any reservation has convinced Cody Walker that the NRL’s All Stars match is influencing generational change within the Indigenous community.
“That was a great lesson for me, and it said to me, ‘don’t be shamed, be proud of who we are’,” Walker said as Sydney’s CommBank Stadium was announced as the venue for the February 12 clash against the Maori All Stars.
"My eldest lad is one of the shyest boys you will ever meet. He was doing traditional dancing and there was one part of the dance where you did ‘shake-a-leg’ and he actually jumped up in front of everyone and did it right in the middle.
“We were probably never encouraged to go down that path as young kids - it might have been because my dad was never encouraged, and his dad wasn’t encouraged - but the cycle has been broken by my sons."
The driving force behind Preston Campbell’s vision for the inaugural All Stars match in 2010 was to raise awareness about Indigenous issues and improve the esteem and life expectancy of First Nations people.
Learn, Earn, Legend has been a motto since, and All Stars has also enabled the game to be proud of the way the 15 per cent of Indigenous players in the NRL are embraced and supported.
Yet for the likes of Walker and Josh Addo-Carr, the All Stars concept is about more than a match each pre-season and they are witnessing first-hand the impact that the creation of the Unity Dance has had.
“When I was a kid, and when my parents and my grandparents were kids, we lost a lot of confidence as Indigenous people,” Addo-Carr said. “We would just be shamed to dance in front of people and express our culture.
“But rugby league has given us a platform to acknowledge those things and to show our kids and everyone else that we are proud of who we are and where we are from.
“When we do the war cry, we are showing kids, ‘look at us’ and we are representing. We want kids to go out to their communities and do a bit of dancing or learn a bit of language and all that kind of stuff.
“That is the reason we go all out when we do the war cry. We’ve seen our grandparents go through it, we’ve seen our parents go through it and I think it is our job to show Indigenous kids, and non-Indigenous kids, as well, to be proud of who they are and where they come from.”
It’s a role Walker has taken upon himself with his sons Kian, 9, and Kade, 7, and the Rabbitohs superstar wanted them to be involved in the promotional shoot for next year’s All Stars match on Monday night.
While waiting to pose in his playing kit with proud Penrith and Maori prop James Fisher-Harris, Indigenous women’s star Shaylee Bent and Maori Ferns fullback Botille Vette-Welsh, Walker painted his face and those of Kian and Kade.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I set out to be an NRL footballer was to bring the boys on the journey with me and it is even more special to be able to wear the jersey and have them be a part of a special week and what it all means,” Walker said.
“It is important that they are understand who they are - the traditional custodians of this land - and that they understand what it means to be an Aboriginal person, but also know where they come from and the history of this great land, and be proud of it.”
Tickets will be on sale from Wednesday, December 1 to Parramatta Eels members at 9am (AEDT), all other NRL club Members at 9.30am (AEDT), NRL account holders at 10am (AEDT) and the general public from 2pm (AEDT).
Go to tickets.nrl.com/allstars