FC Birrarung strengthens cultural ties with Indigenous playing strips

Young Wurundjeri artist designs unique jersey

Symbols of strength, resilience and guts feature prominently in FC Birrarung’s Indigenous playing strips, which were launched amid a purifying smoke ceremony at Princes Park on Thursday (July 26).

Designed by 16-year-old Wurundjeri artist Ky-ya Nicholson Ward with the help of her mother Mandy Nicholson, the designs depict stories of the waterways of Melbourne after which “Birrarung” (The River of Mists) is named.

Using symbols from the carving culture of the Wurundjeri, together with designs found on possum skin cloaks, weapons, boomerangs and shields, Ky-ya created a series of designs from which players were asked to vote for their favourite home and away strip.

Uncle Bill Nicholson with the new FC Birrarung kit

Committee member Tina Wilkins said the club was formally established in 2008 by a group of FC Barcelona-following parents who wanted to encourage inner-city kids from all backgrounds to play the beautiful game and also embrace the Catalan giants’ philosophy of being ‘More than a club’.

At the time, Birrarung Marr was being established on the banks of the Yarra River near Melbourne’s sporting precinct, and Birrarung seemed like a perfect choice.

Today the ethos is alive and well within the FCB community, reflected in the FCB playing style, the strong commitment to player and coach development, and the enduring pillars of positive values, respect and inclusion, such as providing full and part scholarships for players from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Ms Wilkins had this to say:

“Last year during our 10-season anniversary, we were looking at how far we had come as a club and realised that we had never properly acknowledged our club’s name”

“While the club has Indigenous players, we have never officially made a connection with our local Indigenous community."

Uncle Bill Nicholson and FC Birrarung families

“Around the same time, we were considering changing the design of our uniform. Some of our players were keen to channel the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch and had ordered their uniforms a size too small for a better fit across the shoulders. The old uniforms were boxy and square, the fabric wasn’t ideal and not really suited to a tight fit."

“We thought what better way to acknowledge our name and to pay respect to our local Indigenous community and heritage than to have our uniforms designed by a local Indigenous artist.”

Ms Wilkins and her fellow committee members made contact, undertook extensive consultations with our uniform supplier Covo, and the rest is history.

“On Thursday night, the buzz around the club was infectious. Wurundjeri Elder, Uncle Bill Nicholson, conducted a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony and Ky-ya was joined by her sister Dharna and mum Mandy in dance and song.”

“When Ky-ya and her family arrived, she found herself surrounded by kids wearing her artwork. She stopped and exclaimed “Wow! Look at that.”

It was a wonderful moment that was reinforced later when some players were overheard saying that their new uniforms were going to help them turn their season around.

Artist Ky-ya Nicholson Ward (Back) and sister Dharna Nicholson-Bux (Front)

“Artwork has always been an important aspect of the Indigenous way of storytelling, and by having this artwork on our uniforms", Uncle Bill reminded us we are part of telling the story of the traditional landowners, and their connection to land, place and culture."

“Our small role in this is a source of great pride for our club, and we are humbled to be contributing to the Wurundjeri story.”

Football Federation Victoria CEO Peter Filopoulos commended the initiative:

"What a wonderful initiative by the FC Birrurung volunteer committee to acknowledge Victoria’s and Australia’s Indigenous community in this way. We look forward to working and empowering our Victorian Indigenous communities to continue to embrace football in Victoria."

Club Statistics:
No of players: 297
No of teams: 20
FC Birrarung is currently recruiting U15/16 girls for next season

Club Contacts:
Inquiries: administration@fcbirrarung.com
Web: https://fcbirrarung.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fcbirrarung/

Photo Credit: Michael Fink
Press contact: Tina Wilkins,  0438 176 635

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