In the final week of June, sixteen Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students representing the Wollotuka Institute and University of Newcastle travelled to Naarm, Melbourne, ready to compete in the 2023 Indigenous Nationals.
The Indigenous Nationals is an annual competition comprising of a four-day round robin tournament across various sports where Indigenous university students from around Australia come to compete. Now, in its 27th year, the event has grown even more from when it started originally in 1996 at our very own Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle. It’s a week of mixed sports, celebrating culture, and friendship, that was hosted this year by Monash University.
Our UoN students went exceptionally well, placing 4th out of 33 universities across the nation whilst acquiring multiple accolades along the way. Bailey Carney was awarded a $5000 scholarship as a promising Indigenous student athlete, Natarni James received the Most Valuable Player for netball, Jackson Eckford received the MVP for touch football.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview one of Team Wolly’s student athletes, Bindi Shaw, an Aboriginal woman from the Wiradjuri nation on Dubbo NSW, who received a prestigious Spirit Award for touch football. I was able to get the inside scoop from this second year returning athlete on how the team went at this UniSport event.
M: How did you get this opportunity to be part the Wollotuka team? What was the process?
B: With a wide variety of Indigenous students at UON, Wollotuka had put out an EOI for students who were considering going to the games. They then held 3-4 trial sessions I believe, then after those trials they announced the team based off student attendance, academics, sporting ability, and their involvement with the university and Wollotuka Institute. We then had training sessions leading up to the event.
M: How was it travelling together as a team to Melbourne?
B: I think travelling as a team down to Melbourne was a really smart idea on behalf of the staff leaders who took us. This allowed us to start the journey the right way and be able to build that bond and team cohesion a bit extra before going away and competing together.
M: The competition schedule says teams played between 8am-6pm. How many games did you play per day and what game day was your personal favourite?
B: There were four days each with a different sport including basketball, netball, touch football, and volleyball. For basketball, touch, and volleyball, we made it to the quarterfinals and so we played up to 4-5 games every day. Whereas for touch football, we made it to the grand final and overall played 6 games throughout the day.
My personal favourite game day was touch football as it’s my best sport and I felt the most comfortable with it compared to the others. With touch being one of the biggest mixed sports in Australia, it’s always fun watching others highlight their abilities. Before the comp, we had the idea in the back of our minds that touch was going to be our strongest sport and that was reflected in our results as we played in the grand final for the 2nd year in a row.
M: How did the UON team go in the overall competition?
B: We were able to win our round pool basically each day and had the determination to make the top eight for the finals in every sport. Of course, making the grand final for touch helped our overall points significantly. It was versing ACU, a rematch from 2022’s grand finale, and whilst it was a tough game with so much amazing talent from both sides, we gave it our best but unfortunately finished down 5-3.
With all our vigorous efforts, our Wolly team came 4th overall out of 33 universities from around the nation, as well getting to take home some MVP and spirit awards and one of our boys being awarded a scholarship too. So overall, our team did an outstanding job.
M: Who were your greatest rivals in the competition? Was there a particular university?
B: This year was the largest Indigenous Nationals held so far and so there were new universities and teams that came and brought the heat. Our team believes that our biggest rivals overall was UQ (University of Queensland) as we got the chance to play this team multiple times throughout the competition. They ended up beating us in the netball quarter finals which was hard but then we took the win over them the following day in the touch football semifinals. They were a talented team and had good structure and with this, they were able to win the entire competition.
M: How was your overall experience at Indigenous Nationals?
B: 2023 was my 2nd year at Indigenous Nationals and has been one of the best experiences in my life. I am so beyond grateful for the opportunity to be able to attend such an incredible event. I have learned so much about my culture and had the opportunity to meet so many lifelong friends and even family from across the country. I could not recommend it more to anyone. As long as I’m in uni, you can bet I’ll be taking any chance I can to go to UniGames again. Post game depression was hitting hard on the plane ride home aha, it just makes me more excited to compete at the UniSport Nationals at the Gold Coast in September as well as Indigenous Nationals in 2024 at the University of Wollongong.
M: Were there any standout moments from the trip?
B: The most stand out moment of the trip was our bonding off the field as well as how well we worked together as a team on the field. Getting to the grand final was one of the team’s best moments and for me personally, getting a spirit award for touch football was also a highlight of the trip.
M: As Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, what does the Wollotuka Institute provide for you and what are your main interactions with it at UoN?
B: The Wollotuka Institute at UON provides so much support for their ATSI students and staff. They have assisted me and my studies by providing me with tutors to help me gain extra support for my degree. If I need a person to talk to about things I have going on with university studies, family, or other concerns, I always feel comfortable reaching out to them for support and they have become a useful and reliable source for me both in regular day-to-day things and academic support.
For more content following the events of the Wollotuka Institute and its students, check out the instagram @thewollotukainstitute
Hey, I’m Mel Jenkins, your Editor of the Opus Magazine and fellow student, studying a Bachelor of Communications. When I’m not working, studying, or playing netball, you’ll find me at the beach, having a boogie at the club, or napping. I also LOVE camping and exploring new places, so if you have any suggestions for a uni girl on a budget—send some ideas my way!