Wearing the jersey, which has received widespread support from the Indigenous community, marks an important milestone not only for Indigenous Australians but for the sport as a whole (Image Source: rugby.com.au’s Instagram)
By Jack Evans
Australia wore an Indigenous jersey for the first time in a Rugby World Cup when they faced Uruguay on 5 October at Oita Stadium, in Japan.
Australia has worn an Indigenous jersey in a rugby match before, donning the gold jersey against New Zealand in Brisbane in the 2017 Bledisloe clash, and again last year when they played England at Twickenham at the end of the 2018 Spring Tour.
However, this was the first time the jersey had ever been worn in a World Cup final, marking an important milestone for Indigenous Australians.
The kit was created by Australian artist Dennis Golding who specialises in the art which “explores empowering representations of identity and race”.
The green jersey depicts golden Indigenous art and was designed to represent the 14 Indigenous sportsmen who have played for the Wallabies throughout the years.
These men include philanthropists The Faingaa Twins, who host the annual Faingaa Twins Gala to raise money for breast cancer research, and member of the Wiradjuri Nation Andrew Walker who played seven tests for the Wallabies.
Kurtley Beale, who identifies as a Darug man and is the only current Indigenous player for the Wallabies, said it was a great acknowledgement for the Indigenous community.
“It’s a great opportunity to wear the Indigenous jersey on the world stage,” he told rugby.com.au.
“It’s showing us representing all Australians, but importantly, the First Nations people.
“It’s a great acknowledgement and it’s a great show of respect of what this can do for our country, for our society as a whole.
“It’s a great symbol that will hopefully unite Australians to get behind and support each other. That’s how powerful it can be and hopefully, that’s what it will do.”
However, not all public responses have been positive.
The jersey did face some backlash, with ex-Wallabies legend David Campese, voicing his disappointment through an Instagram post after the alternate jersey was announced.
“I have no problem with celebrating and including Indigenous Australians, but as an ex-Wallaby who has been proud and humbled to wear the traditional GOLD Wallaby Jersey, I can’t understand why we see the need to move the design of our jersey so far away from such a celebrated legacy,” Mr Campese wrote.
Many people also took to social media to suggest that the new jersey resembled that of the Socceroos match outfits.
Despite the backlash, the Wallabies donning the Indigenous jersey during the match was an incredibly positive decision, and the Indigenous jersey should be worn more frequently to celebrate Indigenous culture and promote inclusivity and unification – similar to the AFL’s Indigenous round.
The NRL currently has its own version of the Indigenous round in the “Close the Gap Round”, but this level of commitment and solidarity should be demonstrated on a global scale in World Cup matches from this point onward.
Sydney Swans great Michael O’Loughlin summed it up perfectly in his 2017 Indigenous Round speech.
“The players are a united front led by their Aboriginal stars; educating the public, telling them that it’s (racism) no longer going to be tolerated,” he said.
Globally, we have also seen the importance of sport in unification, and it is not difficult to draw parallels to the rugby played in South Africa, where the sport was used as a means to unify a country.
This decision to wear an Indigenous jersey during a World Cup demonstrated an incredibly important step forward for unification within rugby and the broader community.
This choice said to Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people alike that we acknowledge the traditional custodians of Australia on a global field and want to work together towards reconciliation.