On Our Own Terms

The Richmond Football Club has an alliance with Rumbalara Football Netball Club (see this article). This alliance is a means for Richmond to recruit talented young footballers from the north of Victoria. Rumbalara is on Yorta Yorta Country. These are the lands  of notable figures such as William Cooper, Sir Doug Nicholls, Jimmy Little, Deborah Cheetham. Nathan Drummond, a young player at Richmond, is a grandson of William Cooper. Below, is a narration from Mr.Paul Briggs from a documentary on the club (here: Message Stick). Mr.Briggs is telling his story about the founding of the Club and what it means to the Aboriginal community of Shepparton.

I’m the founding president of Rumbalara Football Netball Club, which we established in 1997. […] It has become the heart place of the Aboriginal community. The motto is, Proud Strong Family. Which is a way of re-affirming our sense of connectedness amongst Aboriginal families in the Goulbourn Valley area.

The name Rumbalara means, ‘end of the rainbow’. The Rumbalara Football Netball Club adopted the name during the 1980s when we were playing social football against other Aboriginal teams. We’d travel to Melbourne or we’d travel to Adelaide or to Darwin, as an Aboriginal football club and socialising with other Aboriginal communities. We advocated to establish ourselves as a club in a mainstream competition, and we were successful after 15 years of advocacy.

Shepparton is a challenging environment for Aboriginal people. I suppose, it is how safe people feel. Depending what their history has been like. And, we spend 99.9% of our time with Western modelling of community. Every day we negotiate our existence.

The majority of non-Aboriginal people don’t have a reason to engage with Aboriginal people, so they don’t come to us. You have to drop your sense of identity to engage – that is the assimilative view. In the early days of establishing a club, it was like, ‘why do you need an Aboriginal club? Why don’t you just mix in? Why don’t you just fit in with everybody?’

People don’t want to be challenged by difference. And, I think it is quite stressful over generations, trying to eke out a living and an existence in an environment that really doesn’t want you to be a part of it. But, all of the authorities say, that that is where you belong. That is where you are put. It is more the subtle way that culture operates in regional places such as Shepparton. There is a general feeling that you almost have to keep your head down.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 9.41.35 pmThe Rumbalara Football Netball Club challenged that notion that we have to keep our head down. It put us out on the public stage. And it has challenged our mob, and white mob, that there is a social engagement happening here, that won’t happen in any other environment.

We definitely know that non-Aboriginal people feel unsafe coming into an Aboriginal world, because they’ve never had to do it. And, they’ve never been challenged by it. And there is no imperative for them to do it. The Football Netball Club forces that interaction. It is a learning curve. It is not just about football and netball. It is about Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. And it is about our capacity to look after ourselves and sustain ourselves and be viewed as a distinct body of people living in the diversity of the city of Greater Shepparton.

The football club became a target for us to say, ‘as a community this is what we need to hold ourselves together as a people.’ And that most towns in country Victoria, or here in Shepparton, will have football netball clubs, or cricket clubs or tennis clubs, or which identify them as unique communities, and as an Aboriginal community, we didn’t have that sort of infrastructure to support us.

We have to design a future for ourselves. That is the importance of the Club. Flying our identity. A core group of leaders, stuck with the vision for over 20 years. So, it wasn’t as if we’d come together for one or two  years and had a go and then decided it was too hard and disappeared. It was over 20 years that we stuck on this notion that we wanted to have an Aboriginal football-netball club. There was a core group of Aboriginal men and women who worked and socialised together and who stuck to the vision over a long period of time.

It has been a fruitful thing. What is here today is testimony to the longevity of the vision and energies of the men and women of the people here in Shepparton.

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