The so-called ‘Indigenous’ jersey is something that’s been growing in significance in Australia over the last few years. The NRL has led the way with its annual Indigenous Round – where all the Australian teams create jerseys that celebrate culture of Aboriginal and Islander peoples, usually through the application of vivid native art.
Rugby union in Australia has been getting in on the game too in recent years – the Rebels and most notably the Reds have been wearing Indigenous shirts for a few years now, but the concept hasn’t made the leap to the test arena until now.
There’s just one player of Indigenous heritage in the current Wallabies set-up – Kurtley Beale – and it was the Waratahs utility back who first suggested that it was time for the Indigenous concept to step up to the top level of rugby in an interview last year.
Now, that idea has become a reality, and for the final Bledisdoe Cup match of the year against the All Blacks on 21 October, the Wallabies will be wearing one of the most striking and unusual jerseys ever worn by a tier one nation.
As is sensibly the case with these shirts, ASICS has entrusted the design to an Indigenous artist, in this case a young Kamilario/Gamilaraay man from Redfern Sydney. The striking jersey takes the classic green and gold Wallaby design, and fuses it with native art that encompasses the sleeves and the bottom half of the shirt.
The most prominent feature is of course a large stylised wallaby on the front of the design – fitting given that the word ‘Wallaby’ comes from the words ’walabi’ or ‘wulaba’ in the Aboriginal language of the Gadigal people of Eora Country.
Natural history fans will know that wallabies can’t move backwards, only forwards, and so the use of the famous Aussie animal here reflects the aims of the ARU to play their part in helping to move sport, culture and community forwards through mutual respect and understanding.
In a lovely touch, you’ll notice that there are 14 symbols surrounding the wallaby – each of these represents one of the 14 Indigenous players who have represented the Wallabies, including Beale, Lloyd Walker, Lloyd McDermott and Gary Ella.
The layers of other circular symbols that weave their way around the shirt also represents the many varied communities and cultures of Australia that connect to one another through their mutual support of the Wallabies.
On each sleeve you’ll also notice a flag – the one of the right side is the Australian Aboriginal Flag, while the one on the left side is the Torres Strait Islander Flag.
Beale was given the honour of revealing the Wallabies Indigenous jersey on social media a few weeks ago, and he was front and centre at the official launch of the shirt, and the former Wasps man was visibly emotional when he spoke of what this shirt means to him.
“I’m a very proud Indigenous man,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young Indigenous talent in this country and for me to be the person to reveal it to everyone out there, it’s just a special, special feeling. You don’t understand how important it is for myself and the other Indigenous players past and present to stand up and be role models for young Indigenous kids out there who are aspiring to be professional athletes. It’s something that I hold close to my heart and I think it’s a great step forward.”
Beale has probably summed things up better than we ever could – rugby should be a force for good in the world, promoting equality, tolerance and respect at every opportunity, and something as visible as a jersey worn against the Wallabies biggest rivals is a pretty significant way to do that.
It doesn’t hurt that the shirt in question looks absolutely fantastic – it’s perhaps the most unconventional and unique jersey that any tier one nation has ever worn, with a fantastic story and brilliant execution.