WELCOME TO MY COUNTRY
ANDREW Walker isn’t just helping turn around Echuca Football Club’s on-field success, he is also pioneering an indigenous round in the Goulburn Valley League. Starting tomorrow when he and his teammates will run onto Victoria Park in the club’s – and the league’s – first indigenous jumpers to mark NAIDOC Week.
FOOTBALL may have taken Andrew Walker away from country for a long time while those in EchucaMoama watched his AFL career go from potential to proven.
And when this stellar run with Carlton finally came to an end for Walker, it would prove to be anything but that.
Tomorrow Echuca’s footballers, including co-coach and teammate Walker, will run onto Victoria Park in an indigenous strip – a first for the Goulburn Valley Football Netball League.
At the same time the netballers will also step onto the courts in a matching outfit, a combined moment about which Walker is becoming quite emotional.
And is, for him, a fitting highlight for, and culmination of, NAIDOC Week, a week that has showcased his people, the Yorta Yorta.
“It’s incredibly important to me,” Walker said.
“Echuca’s the place that I grew up. I spent 17 years here playing football with this club as a young man.
“They gave me the opportunities to play and to learn about the game. So being able to tie something so special to my family and my indigenous heritage to the Echuca Football Netball Club, which is really my other family, was something that was always in the back of my mind when I took on this role,” he said.
Walker worked with Yorta Yorta artist Clive Atkinson to design a jumper that represents the story of indigenous culture in and around Echuca-Moama.
Their design features three wavy lines for the three rivers — Goulburn, Murray and Campaspe — an important symbol within Yorta Yorta culture.
In keeping with the tradition of the club, its monogram, over the hearts of its players, has been recreated in the style of the Aboriginal flag.
WALKER said it was important for the jumper to reflect Yorta Yorta culture for all indigenous people of Echuca.
“I wanted to make this special for the local indigenous players and families to share the story of the Yorta Yorta people,” he said.
“It has been a wonderful project to be involved with, and it is something that I am quite passionate about.”
And NAIDOC provided the perfect platform for the unveiling of his dream.
“NAIDOC week is a significant time,” Walker agreed. “It brings our indigenous community together and recognises what we as a community have contributed to our great country.
“For someone like my pop, who is 90 in two weeks, it’s an important week, as it is for all indigenous families throughout the country, so to have this at the end of it can be something very special.”
The jumper is something with which many within the community have wanted to be involved.
The Loddon Campaspe Indigenous Family Violence Group came forward in the early stages of planning and asked to be involved, and has sponsored the uniforms, as well as donating their time on game day to help with the running of activities.
“We are really fortunate that Ann Spittle, Justin Homer and Kate Booth jumped on board to help us out,” Walker said.
“It shows that when you push forward with an event like this that our whole community does want to be involved.
“For sponsoring the jumpers, as well as donating their time and helping us out in any way they can, we are incredibly grateful.”
Yorta Yorta elder Uncle Col Walker will perform a smoking ceremony, which is a cleansing ceremony for both Echuca and Seymour to come through together.
Uncle Col will also perform a Welcome to Country, with Narjic Day-Burns playing the didgeridoo, as well dances being performed before the match.
After the match, Madi ColvilleWalker will also perform for the players.
Walker said the day will provide the opportunity for all to learn more about indigenous culture.
“I think it’s important that people aren’t embarrassed about their knowledge of indigenous culture,” he said.
“I have had questions from people about what a smoking ceremony is or why we do a Welcome to Country, and to me that’s a breath of fresh air.
“I think sometimes people are afraid about offending the indigenous community so they don’t ask questions, so this round gives us an opportunity to teach people about why we do these things.
“So with this hopefully becoming a GVL wide round next season, it will give all clubs an opportunity to talk to their indigenous players about their culture and for everyone to learn more about it.
“‘It brings us all closer together as a community.”
‘ I think sometimes people are afraid about offending the indigenous community so they don’t ask questions, so this round gives us an opportunity to teach people about why we do these things ’
PROUD FOOTBALLERS: Echuca’s Kane Morris, Riley Clarke, co-coach Simon Maddox, Kell Warde, Jack Atkinson, co-coach Andrew Walker and Jobee Warde proudly display the club’s first indigenous guernsey it will wear in tomorrow’s GVL senior football clash with Seymour.
PROUD MOMENT: Andrew Walker in the playing top he designed in partnership with indigenous artist Clive Atkinson.