14 young footballers from Port Adelaide Football Clubs’ Aboriginal AFL Academy visited China in 2016 for a cultural exchange tour.
Established in 2013, Port Adelaide Football Clubs’ Aboriginal AFL Academy is a development program for its young Aboriginal players who spend one day a week completing a Certificate III in Sport and Recreation through a range of theory and practical workshops.
In 2016, a squad of 31 total players from years 11 and 12 participated in the Academy program. Selection for the international trip was based on attendance and academic records for both the Academy program and also the player’s commitment to their overall schooling.
The tour has become a powerful tool for taking the young Aboriginal men involved in the Academy out of their comfort zones and exposing them to new experiences and cultures. The young men return with new confidence and a broader perspective of the world.
According to Port Adelaide Director of Aboriginal Programs, Paul Vandenbergh, China was the perfect country to visit due to club’s plans to play an AFL match in Shanghai in May 2017.
‘China has such a strong and proud culture and there are quite a lot of similarities between both Chinese and Aboriginal cultures, especially related to the many different language dialects and a strong sense of discipline,’ says Paul.
During the tour players engaged in a cultural exchange with Chinese students that involved the sharing of customs, traditions, language and artefacts.
Highlights included the opportunity for players to participate in martial arts and an exhibition AFL match with Team China. Players also taught Chinese students the Port Adelaide war cry.
For 12 of the 14 players involved the tour was their first international travelling experience.
‘Most of the 14 young men mentioned many times that it was the best trip of their lives and that the experience was invaluable,’ says Paul.
‘The boys all grew and came out of their comfort zones and embraced everything during the whole trip, flying internationally for the first time, trying new foods, eating noodles and dumplings for breakfast, different customs and food, bartering at markets was a highlight.’
Chinese students also gained a new understanding of Aboriginal people and were introduced to traditional Aboriginal artefacts including weapons, spears and boomerangs. They also experienced an Aboriginal dance and war cry.
According to Paul, the long-term benefits of the project will build stronger links between the two nations.
‘The uniqueness and benefits of this project all comes down to the bringing together of two of the oldest surviving cultures of the world, both with such strong, proud cultural elements, and enhancing the knowledge of students from both backgrounds,’ says Paul.
The tour was supported by the Australia China Council (ACC). The ACC was established by the Australian Government in 1978 to promote mutual understanding and foster people-to-people relations between Australia and China.
Grant rounds opened in February 2017 for projects deepening connections between Australia and China.