NRL referees will wear a specially designed Indigenous jersey representing their base at Sydney Olympic Park this weekend, while some are also having their boots painted.
Newcastle artist Tyler Smith, who is also responsible for this year’s Wests Tigers Indigenous jersey and has previously worked with the Knights and Titans, designed the jersey to be worn by match officials after an approach by referee Kasey Badger.
The inspiration for the jersey design is Sydney Olympic Park, where the NRL referees have been based for almost two decades, and also features the kangaroo - the symbol of Australia’s men’s and women’s teams.
“We have been based at Sydney Olympic Park, which is Wangal land, since 2004 or so and I thought we had never really done anything to connect with that area,” said Badger, who will officiate in Canberra on Sunday.
“We train day-in and day-out on that land so I thought that might be a good way to have a connection with the jersey. It has come up really well and when you explain to people what it is about, they feel that we are going out there actually representing something.”
While none of the current NRL referees squad has Indigenous heritage, Badger is married to former leading NRL referee Gavin Badger, who is a proud Gadigal man with Dhungutti bloodlines, and she wants to continue promoting Indigenous culture and history.
“A lot of non-Indigenous people in the games would like to have a voice but just don’t know how to get there,” NRL elite Indigenous pathways senior manager Timana Tahu said.
“With Kasey having the opportunity to raise that awareness and feeling proud of her husband’s culture, it is a really good story. She is trying to learn more and be a part of this awareness, which is the Pass Back, Move Forward movement.
“We often forget about our referees unless they are getting criticism and I feel it is positive for our referees to be taking part in Indigenous Round and wearing their jerseys. There are about eight of them who are also getting their boots done.”
Wanting to ensure that the referees had a jersey that meant something to them, Badger approached Tahu for assistance and he contacted Smith.
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“He has come up with a design that represents the waterways from Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River into Homebush,” Tahu said.
“There are symbols that represent the Kangaroo because the kangaroo is pretty big in sport - like the Australian team, the Kangaroos, and the Wallabies and there are also symbols that represent the referees.”
Badger said that the Cultural Choice Association established by Sydney Roosters utility Connor Watson had helped to organise for the match officials to get their boots pained to celebrate Indigenous Round.
“One of the things I am trying to push in the group is that we don’t only have these conversations or do these things during Indigenous Round or during All Stars week,” Badger said.
“This should be an ongoing education piece for us and we start to do Indigenous based activities throughout the whole season.”