“Don’t be scared to speak up to who you are.”
Sitting around a campfire on a cold autumn’s night in Sydney Olympic Park, Sharks, NSW squad member and Indigenous All Stars star Nicho Hynes could relate to the high school students sitting in front of him.
Hynes was a special guest during the NRL’s Indigenous Youth Summit that took place last week as part of the NRL’s Indigenous Round and National Reconciliation Week.
The five-day event enables young participants to interact with other year 11 and 12 students across Australia through a series of workshops, activities, and discussions.
Around 64 Indigenous students, including some from the NRL School to Work program, took part in the summit with Hynes, Rabbitohs pair Blake Taaffe, Isaiah Tass and Dragons NRLW player Taliah Fuimaono among those who stopped by during the week.
“If I looked back [at 16] I’d say be open and proud to be a black man, I wish I had someone back then tell me all the things I know now,” Hynes told the group.
“What I learned from the uncles and elders in All Stars camp is no one has walked your path and have no idea who your parents are, your grandparents and their grandparents.”
Hynes also spoke on the importance of schooling in the Indigenous community, particularly after his own difficult childhood.
“When I finished school I didn’t get an ATAR and wasn’t serious about education,” he said.
“It was one of my biggest regrets now. I have nothing behind me and now have to study or get into a trade post-footy.
“I’d just say to you don’t waste your opportunities.”
Recapturing culture and identity through School2Work program
School to Work project officer Melissa Lightburn said having NRL and NRLW players attend the event has a major impact on the students.
“We find with a lot of these camps that when they arrive there’s a sense of nervous excitement and anxiety on what to expect,” Lightburn said.
“By the end of the day they form connections and step outside their comfort zone and meet new people.
“It’s for them to be comfortable to do that. Some of our participants have grown up more immerse within their culture than others.
“They feel like they’re not connected but then they start to meet others and realise they might know someone through their culture or through their mob.
“It is a reality and that’s what special about these camps. We’re able to start the journey for a lot of them and that wanting to learn more about their culture.”
Taimana Elers is an aspiring NRL player from Hunter Sports High in Newcastle
“My mum’s Aboriginal and dad is Maori. I didn’t grow up around my Aboriginal culture but coming here I’ve learned a lot of things,” Elers said.
“It’s a new experience for me but a good environment. I’m learning heaps of things. We went to the new Sydney airport and they were talking about all the pathways there when starting a job.
“I want to make the NRL but always have a look for a second options. There’s multiple avenues you can choose from.”
Performing artist's dreams in reach with School2Work program
Merinda Carney is a rising rugby league player who plays in the South Sydney region.
While many females part of the program don’t play the game, Carney has aspirations both on and off the field.
“I’ve been so hesitant about university but going there and seeing the program and what they’re talking about I am more likely to go there now,” she said.
“It’s been eye-opening to see that we can go to school and get an education. When I was a kid I want to be a marine biologist as I love animals.
“As I’ve gotten older I want to focus on sport so am thinking around a physiotherapist or personal trainer.
“The Summit has been really good in giving me a better understanding of what my options are.”