Redfern Boy Badger Celebrates Indigenous Round
When Gavin Badger was a young Indigenous lad in Redfern he dreamed of playing rugby league at the highest level.
But Badger found a different pathway to the top.
It is a journey the NRL referee, an elite athlete in his own right, hopes other Indigenous youth will also travel.
Badger, who has officiated in more than 300 top grade games, and Melbourne winger Josh Addo-Carr are set to ramp up an NRL campaign to attract more Indigenous referees to the game.
"The rate of Indigenous referees in the game is quite low," Badger told NRL.com.
"In the NRL I am the only one, and there is not a lot in the next levels coming through either. That is something I am really trying to promote and push. My pathway to the NRL was different to Josh's, but I still have a pathway.
"As a young kid I dreamed of playing in the NRL. You need the ability to do it and I didn't have it, but there is another pathway.
"I am a full-time athlete and I get to run out on the same grounds as Josh does. I don't create the same excitement he does, but it is still a great opportunity for kids to become professional athletes."
Badger would like to see Indigenous referees of all ages.
"As a knockabout kid running around Redfern it put structure around what I do and into my life," Badger said.
"Some of the things I've learned refereeing I've carried on in my life and it is has made me a better person, and I think that can help a lot of kids as well. It taught me respect and how to deal with stuff.
''It was really hard when I first started refereeing and got abused by someone in the crowd, not going over and punching them in the face. Not everything is going to go your way all the time and you have to take it all into account and then make a decision."
As a youth, Badger was a frequent visitor to Redfern Oval. He would play his junior footy in the morning before watching Craig Coleman, Mario Fenech and company in action for the Rabbitohs.
He played in the backs alongside Darrell Trindall and Terry Hill in the juniors and went on to referee both of them.
"I grew up playing junior football with a lot of really talented Indigenous kids for Alexandria Rovers and Zetland Magpies in the South Sydney district," Badger said.
"Rugby league in general for underprivileged kids in that area is a way out and a way of staying out of trouble.
"Some of my favourite players as a kid were Indigenous. Larry Corowa was probably my favourite, just for how quick and exciting he was. Every time he got the ball the hill at Leichhardt Oval stood up."
The 46-year-old has to pinch himself sometimes about his career as a referee.
"I was a little halfback with a smart mouth and got myself in trouble with my mouth all the time," he said.
"I was surprised I became a referee because I hated referees when I played."
Badger obviously can't say which club he supports although maybe he did provide a clue.
"I think people would be surprised which club I support because the fans of that club absolutely poleaxe me and think I hate the club," he grinned.
Appropriately, Badger will be the assistant referee on Saturday night for the Storm v Titans clash at Suncorp Stadium where Addo-Carr will no doubt be lighting up the left side of the Melbourne attack.
Addo-Carr and Badger have a long history but the Storm speedster will not be getting any favours.
"I'm really tight with a lot of Josh's family," Badger said.
"We grew up in the same area at Redfern. Josh is younger than me but I played footy and went to school with plenty of Josh's relatives. Especially on the Carr side, they are a talented sporting family.
"This is a massive week. To be involved in a game that is so inclusive of Indigenous people and Indigenous culture makes me proud to represent and celebrate that."