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The inaugural graduating class of the Western Bulldogs AFL team's Nallei-Jerring program were presented at Etihad Stadium last Sunday, in a ceremony attended by Victorian Minister for Sport and Recreation Hugh Delahunty.
Thirty young Indigenous people from Melbourne's West, aged between 10 and 14 years, formed the first cohort of the Bulldogs' Koori youth program, which has been facilitated by the football club over the past five months.
Nallei-Jerring, meaning 'join and unite', seeks to strengthen the Koori youth community through partnership with the Western Bulldogs.
The program uses the medium of Australian rules football to help local Indigenous youth explore their Aboriginal heritage and culture.
This year's inaugural program was the product of recommendations from the Victorian Government's 2008 Wannik report and consultations with the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association.
Western Bulldogs Chief Executive Simon Garlick addressed the new graduates last Sunday, praising the program's ambassadors, sponsors and volunteers, announcing that the Koori youth program had exceeded all expectations.
'Nallei-Jerring has not only been a learning opportunity for the young people, but for our staff, players and supporters as well to learn more about the Koori culture and history,' Garlick said.
The Nallei-Jerring program recently won the Western Region Koori Community Justice Award in the ‘children and youth' category.
The Bulldogs have subsequently been nominated for the Victorian Koori community justice award to be announced next month.
Western Bulldogs Indigenous playing trio of Liam Jones, Brett Goodes and Koby Stevens served as the ambassadors for the program.
Jones recounted early high-school experiences with his Indigenous heritage when discussing his work for the program:
'Because there were no other kids at school, it was ignored a little bit,' Jones told the age.
'If they can learn a bit off each other, networking and getting friends and staying in contact, they have that link to a little bit of culture.'
The Koori youth program comprised seven workshop sessions, concluding with Sunday's graduation.
Activities for the participants included a heritage tour of the You Yangs, sessions on personal development with Victoria Police and leadership training with prominent Indigenous figures Grant Hansen and Kyle Vander Kuyp.
At the club, participants toured the Whitten Oval, trained alongside the Bulldogs' playing group and formed the guard of honour for the team's round nine victory over St Kilda.
Additionally, participants' football stories were published on the Western Bulldogs website. Graduates stayed on after Sunday's ceremony to watch the Bulldogs defeat Adelaide.
The football club hopes to continue the program next year. The club has received positive reviews from recent graduates and significant interest from other local Indigenous young people awaiting such an opportunity.
Source: Western Bulldogs