Indigenous pride fuels Rebecca's All Star fire

Rebecca Young is a proud Worimi woman.

The Worimi people are Indigenous Australians whose territory lies in the eastern Port Stephens and Great Lakes regions of New South Wales.

Rebecca’s family are native title holders and are traditional owners of the land in the Port Stephens area. Her family are from this area and have been able to prove traditional connection with the land before white contact.

From an early age, Rebecca remembers being given a role in her community to fulfil. As she has grown, these roles have grown and continued to change. In her current role as an Aboriginal sites officer she works in the archaeological space with the aim of protecting Aboriginal sites.

It gives her the opportunity to touch and hold elements of the land which represent the last physical contact that the Worimi people had with their ancestors. When Rebecca touches or holds a relic, she is potentially holding a relic that her great great grandfather could have held.

When Rebecca isn’t working or being a mum to her young family, she’s playing footy, and tonight's All Stars game at AAMI Park has special significance.

It's an opportunity to celebrate her upbringing and connection to her history and a chance to inspire the next generation of Aboriginal women.

The All Stars concept was developed by Preston Campbell in 2010 to coincide with the second anniversary of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generation.

In 2011, the Women’s All Stars played the World All Stars at Gill Park on the Gold Coast and women have been involved ever since.

In 2017, Rebecca had the honour of captaining the Indigenous All Stars to victory over the World All Stars in front of her friends and family.

Tonight sees the Indigenous All Stars play the Maori Ferns as the NRL revamps the All Stars concept to see two Indigenous teams have the opportunity to represent their communities.

"When you’re out there, you are playing for a greater purpose because you are representing your people," Rebecca says.

Indigenous Women's All Stars Quincy Dodd.
Indigenous Women's All Stars Quincy Dodd. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

The Maori Ferns side contains familiar faces Hilda Mariu, Amber Kani and Krystal Rota, who played for the Warriors in the inaugural Harvey Norman Women's Premiership.

The changed concept does have one drawback though and it’s that when the Indigenous All Stars played the World All Stars (a team comprised mainly of Australian Jillaroos) the week leading up to the fixture gave the Indigenous women a unique opportunity to educate their friends and teammates about their culture.

In a game where 12 percent of NRL contracted players are Indigenous and 17 percent of grassroots players are Indigenous, this education and awareness of Indigenous culture is critical.

As a country we are having plenty of challenging conversations about respecting and understanding the challenges that our Indigenous population face. And as a game we are also brave enough to engage in these conversations.

When you’re out there, you are playing for a greater purpose because you are representing your people

Rebecca Young

In 2018 we saw Johnathan Thurston call for a change of the Australia Day date to a day more inclusive to Indigenous Australians. 

The All Stars game is part of this conversation and celebrating the contribution Indigenous players make to the game we all love.

But in the women’s game it plays another role in that it serves as a key part of the pathway for Indigenous women.

Many of the women playing for the Indigenous All Stars have been selected on the basis of their performances in the annual Koori Knockout.

Rebecca Young puts in the hard yards at training.
Rebecca Young puts in the hard yards at training. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

Among the elite players uncovered at the knockout were Caitlin Moran, Nakia Davis-Welsh, Simone Smith and Rebecca, who has gone on to carve out a fine career and has given no thought to retirement.

At 37, she is training full-time with the Newcastle NSWRL Women’s Premiership team and has also hinted that a transition into coaching isn’t too far away.

Given how popular Rebecca is every time she delivers a coaching clinic in the Upper Hunter region, this sounds like it would be a welcome transition.