Known as one of the largest gatherings of Indigenous peoples in Australia, the Koori Knockout is the perfect example of how Indigenous boundaries and culture are used to determine the identity of a team.
Held on the October long weekend, the 46th Koori Knockout will see 5,000 Indigenous players going head-to-head to battle it out for the title of Koori Knockout ’champion of the year’.
“We are like warriors and fighting to win!”
Key Redfern community figure, Mick Mundine played for the Redfern All Blacks in the first Knockout 46 years ago.
He believes the annual event provides a real connection to culture. “The Koori Knockout is like a big meeting place, it just one big corroboree and its real import to our people and our culture,” Mundine told NITV last year.
“We are like warriors and fighting to win!”
More than just a game
Sport is a vital part of social development in just about all communities across the world, and has been the driving force for social connection within many cultures.
A few hundred years ago, sports were used for reconciliation purposes. Games such as Marngrook aimed to pass down traditional knowledge between generations. Marngrook was but one of the many sporting games played by the Gunditjmara people in Victoria for hundreds of years.
It is widely understood that AFL was founded on this game. Who would have thought that the Melbourne Cricket Ground was a traditional gathering ground for the Marngrook game? Now it’s the location of the AFL’s Dreamtime at the G.
Your right to play sport
Just as everyone has a right to life, every individual on earth has a right to enjoy and participate in sport.
According to the United Nations, the right to enjoy and participate in sport is an entitlement provided to everyone. In 1978, UNESCO described sport and physical education as a “fundamental right for all”.
“The right of access to and participation in sport and play has long been recognised in a number of international conventions,” says the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Sport for Development and Peace.
Despite our 'right' to sport, it hasn’t always been something everyone can access. Racism has been rife in sports throughout the years in Australia, South Africa and other countries. But as much as sport divides, it can also unite, revolutionise societies and help create social change.
In 1995, the Springboks made history in South Africa after hosting and winning the Rugby Union World Cup. The game, supported by rights activist Nelson Mandela, was the first major sporting event to take place in South Africa following the end of apartheid. It marked a big moment in the nation's history and in social change around the world.
The present and the future
These days sport continues to play a vital role in determining the cultural identity of the Australian community, just as it did hundreds of years ago.
Cricket was introduced to Indigenous Australians in the 1800’s. The synergies of cricket and their traditional sports must have enabled them to excel, as in 1868 the first Australian Aboriginal Cricket team toured England.
Social education and lecturer at the University of Southern Queensland Sharon Louth says: “It's possible to see elements of our modern games in these [traditional Aboriginal] games. Keentan is like basketball, and Wana is much like French cricket, Kokan is a hockey game and Koolchee is like 10-pin bowling”.
The revitalisation of traditional Indigenous games today is influencing the education system and creating respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
Even though the European 'invasion' had wiped out much knowledge of traditional Indigenous sporting games in recent years, there has been a cultural revival and acknowledgment by the government to introduce traditional games into schools.
Since 2009, the Australia Sport Commission has been worked with NSW community to develop an understanding and respect for traditional Indigenous games. They have also developed tool kits and resources for schools to encourage the inclusion of Indigenous sports in mainstream society.
Indigenous sporting events such as the Koori Knockout, Murri Carnival, the TI Cup and the All Black Carnival are also playing a vital role in providing economic opportunities not just for the Indigenous communities but also for the broader Australian.
When the Koori Knockout gets under way over the October long weekend, it will continue a long-running cultural tradition. The event is sure to instill pride in its participants and viewers, and create a stronger identity of the local NSW community.
Let’s hope mainstream society will further understand and recognise the positive impact that Indigenous culture and sport can have on the broader Australian community as a result.
The 46th Knockout will be hosted by the 2015 winners The Redfern All Blacks. Leichhardt Oval will see over 100 teams from across NSW for this year's Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout carnival.