The Indigenous Nationals 2022 project team has been recognised with the Vice-Chancellor’s Spirit of Reconciliation Award
The team comprised of Indigenous Student Success Program Project Officer Leanne Long and ACU Sport Program Lead Melbourne and Ballarat Ben Groth received the award in recognition of their outstanding collaboration that led the ACU Indigenous Nationals student team to victory as the overall national title winners, while demonstrating ACU’s mission and values.
Leanne and Ben valued the diversity of ACU’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander athletes, and their leadership strengthened the students’ cultural understandings while deepening their bond. While COVID-19 lockdowns presented obstacles and prevented players from meeting and even practising together, Ben and Leanne embraced the challenge of building a strong team and managed to host virtual preparation sessions for a geographically dispersed team.
A winning combination
Ben has extensive experience taking sports teams to competitions and jumped at the opportunity to be involved in the Indigenous Nationals, but he never expected it would be such an immersive experience.
He said that as a non-Indigenous person who grew up in a city, he’s always interested in knowing his own cultural blind spots.
“It can be easy to fob off and think that everything’s tickety-boo and things like the stolen generation were ages ago, but it’s not until you actually immerse yourself and get to know people that you realise the battles people have had,” said Ben.
“Through this process [of preparing], through meeting Leanne, through other units at uni, students are really immersing themselves in their own heritage.
“While hearing students’ stories, you’re watching them learn their own story and that’s really cool to see. This was the second year in a row that we’ve won, but I think I’ve probably got more out of it than anyone else,” said Ben.
Spreading the spirit of reconciliation
Leanne said that she and Ben really wanted to take others on a reconciliation journey, not just the competing students.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are only a small percentage of the population. To progress to a point where a referendum is even up for discussion, we’ve needed allies,” she said.
“People think we have this wonderful culture that we keep to ourselves, but we are sharers. Ben says that every time he chats to me, he learns something new about Indigenous people.”
After their repeat success at this year's Indigenous Nationals, the ACU Sport and First Peoples directorates have come together to include the First Peoples Directorate artwork on ACU athletes’ warm-up shirts.
“That, to me, is true reconciliation,” said Leanne.
Bringing students together
Leanne said that choosing students for the Indigenous Nationals team is a long and difficult process. In addition to their sporting ability and maintaining good grades, students are also selected for their cultural aptitude. Many go on to work as ACU student ambassadors and are role models for the team. Most importantly, the students need to be comfortable within their own skin.
“Turning up to an event with 3,500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can be very overwhelming,” Leanne said.
Ben said that if a student is struggling with their studies, Leanne will also support them with extra study assistance.
“Leanne has this ability to really bring students together, which I think helps them feel more connected to the uni. This obviously leads to a higher likelihood that they will finish their degree and go on to become positive role models,” Ben said.
Strengthening cultural bonds
“We are a mob. We look at the student wholistically and we look at team unity. We really get to know our students and I think that’s why we do so well,” said Leanne.
To further strengthen cultural bonding and promote unity through conversation and connection, next year the Indigenous Nationals team uniform will also feature each student’s traditional owner mob name on its back.
Leanne Long and Ben Groth with Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Zlatko Skrbis