Indigenous AFL Moments In Time Brought To Life In Clay

01/10/2015 3:32 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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It's AFL Grand Final time in Melbourne.

The city is abuzz celebrating all things 'footy' and as part of that a new exhibition has opened at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in Melbourne, featuring beautifully painted and crafted handmade pots very much with a football theme.

Titled ‘Our Land is Alive: Hermannsburg Potters for Kids’, the artwork is a collection of colourful pots depicting iconic scenes of indigenous AFL players in celebration of their culture and of the close almost innate connection the indigenous community has with Australian Rules football.

The Hermannsburg Potters collective is made up solely of indigenous women and this year the group is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Based in the Northern Territory, these women work in the small remote town of Ntaria, famous as an artistic community pioneered by famous Aboriginal artist Albert Namatjira in the mid-20th century.

artists at hermannsburg mission church

Artists at Hermannsburg Mission Church | Tobias Titz

The exhibition opened this month with great fanfare featuring some very special guests of honour and visiting school children, enraptured by the both the artistic pots and the stories they told.

Sid Jackson played for the Carlton Football club in the 1970s and was one of the first indigenous players to be lauded as a champion of the game alongside legends such as Graham ‘Polly’ Farmer.

Jackson is depicted on one of the pots and said he couldn’t believe he’d been turned into art.

sid jackson and rahel ungwanaka

Former VFL player Sid Jackson and artist Rahel Ungwanaka | Jill Scanlon

“I’m just enthralled with the whole thing. I’m a bit overwhelmed to see all this beautiful artwork depicting our people, especially sports people. And to see myself on a pot is just unbelievable,” he told The Huffington Post Australia.

Jackson played at a time when indigenous footballers were not great in number and had to tolerate an onslaught of accepted racism.

“In my day it was a pretty difficult period for aboriginal people and for sports people to play in," he said.

“I learned to cope with that; you had to make the best you could and keep going. I kept at the sport I loved and I think it broke down barriers. I think I was a bit of a pioneer … but it was pretty difficult at the same time."

Jackson added that there were some positives to come out of the recent drama surrounding Adam Goodes -- raising awareness of racism's pervasiveness.

“It just brings out the ones that are not across the cultural divide and understanding of cultures and people and not respecting that area. They need to get a bit of awareness about them," he said.

“But today, I think people have embraced aboriginal sports people and artists and other groups and understand that it all comes together; it’s not just sports, it’s shown through art and culture as well,” he said.

Joining Jackson as a guest at the exhibition was former St Kilda and Brisbane player of the 1990s Gilbert McAdam. Now the host of The Marngrook Footy Show -- an Australian Rules football TV panel program with a strong indigenous theme -- McAdam said he was pleased to see the school children at the opening as it is important for the future.

“It’s good because it’s an education for them and they need to know that this happened in our great game of AFL and its time in history in our great game -- kids need to know this because they’re our future,” he said.

One of the most iconic images depicted by the pottery is that of St Kilda player Nicky Winmar's famous lifting of his shirt in 1993 as a protest about racism.

im black a work in progress by rona rubuntja

'I'm Black' - a work in progress by Rona Rubuntja | Tobias Titz

With the AFL Grand Final just days away, players like Cyril Rioli will be a continuing the strong tradition of indigenous talent coming to the fore of the game and doing it on the big stage.

The exhibition is now open at the NGV and will remain so until April 2016.

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