Country rugby club announces inaugural Indigenous round & scholarship

Here’s some pretty damning stats for you.

As of 2014, 888 players had represented the Wallabies and just 13 of them were of Indigenous descent – that’s 1.46 per cent of Australian players.

In 2011, of the entire Super Rugby players pool just five were Indigenous – yes, just five.

These numbers are a huge factor in why Orange Emus Rugby Club in Central West NSW has decided to devote this weekend to celebrating Australian culture, by hosting its first ever Indigenous round.

The club’s under 17s will wear special jerseys – they’re playing Orange City under lights after first grade – which will be auctioned off.

But Emus have gone one massive step further as well.

“We’re very proud to announce we’re establishing an Indigenous scholarship, to try and keep these young Indigenous kids in rugby and help them on and off the field,” Emus under 17s co-coach Tom Goolagong, also the pioneer behind this weekend, told the Central Western Daily.

“All stats points to a severe under-representation of Indigenous players in rugby union,” Emus president Steve Fergus added.

“The scholarship idea came straight from the under 17s coaches, they’re coached by Tom Goolagong, Jamie Stedman and Mick Wallace, and fits in perfectly with our club’s goal of growing participation, in the seniors and juniors.

“We’ll auction the jerseys off and some of that will help fund the scholarship, which will go to one Indigenous player a season. It’ll help them pay for boots, registration and that sort of thing.

“It does have stipulations in place regarding achieving at school or work as well, so it isn’t just about rugby.

“This is only the first event but we’re aiming to have funding in place to support the scholarship for the next nine years. We’ll also be donating some of the money to Lloyd McDermott Rugby Development, Australia’s Indigenous junior program.”

“We want to do everything we can to help these guys grow as rugby players and people, that’s why we’re looking long-term,” Goolagong said.

The jerseys Emus’ 17s will wear have been donated by Orange Aboriginal Medical Service (OAMS) and designed by local Indigenous artist Hayden Gibbs-O’Neill.

“We need thanks OAMS and Hayden, they jumped on board straight away,” Fergus said.

“The jerseys look amazing too, they’ve been a drawcard. From the moment people saw the designs you could feel the anticipation lift, the boys can’t wait to get them on,” Goolagong added.

“We need to thank Orange City too, in a big way, they’re very receptive to the idea and have been very supportive and excited to be a part of it,” Fergus said.

But, of course, this type of event is never just about rugby union. It’s not just about Emus’ newly-established scholarship either.

“It’s about celebrating our national culture, as a whole” Goolagong said.

“It’s not just about encouraging our young Indigenous kids, we’ve got 10 in the 17s alone, to aspire to great things, it’s about doing that for everyone.

“Seeing how excited all our guys, Indigenous or not, are about the jerseys, the Indigenous dancers we’ll have, the whole day really, it’s opened my eyes and made me very, very proud of them.

“The non-Indigenous kids are just as proud to be a part of this as the Indigenous kids. This is their history too, it’s a part of Australian history, which is something everyone should be proud of.”

Goolagong mentioned looking long-term, and he’s not just thinking about Emus.

“We want this to be the catalyst for bigger things, for sure,” he said.

“That was the plan from the start. I’ve already had people from other clubs approach me about going bigger and better next year.

“I think the goal should be a full Blowes Clothing Cup (Central West) Indigenous round, how awesome would that be?

“We have such a heavy Indigenous influence in the Blowes Clothing Cup and Central West Rugby Union and we should celebrate that more.

“I know it’s tough for clubs to fund this type of thing but one thing I’ve learned from doing this is just how quickly our local community jumps on board to show their support.

“On that, I can’t thank everyone who has helped with this enough. I can’t wait, the club can’t wait and neither can the players.”

Emus’ under 17s take on Orange City after first grade plays Parkes on Saturday at Endeavour Oval, the jersey auction will follow the game.

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