Quick escape
See Categories

​My journey so far: why language and culture matters

July 07 2017 By Neville Jetta, AFL player

Family, community, respect and looking out for each other - these are the values that make me who I am.

Photo courtesy of Adam Trafford/AFL Media.

As a Nyoongar man from South Western Australia, my culture is central to my identity and it’s a privilege to learn about my history and pass on the stories of my ancestors.

In the spirit of NAIDOC Week and this year’s theme Our Language Matters, I wanted to write about my experience as a proud Aboriginal man. About what my culture means to me and the importance of our languages and practicing respect.

At 27, I know I’m still a young fella going on my own journey and I’m still learning. Things like the AFL’s Indigenous Round and cultural awareness education in clubs, has been a great way for me and other Indigenous players and spectators to express our culture. It has also been really helpful in bringing non-Indigenous players and fans along on that journey with us. 

The great work the AFLPA do with their bi-annual Indigenous All-Stars camp, their Racism It Stops With Me campaign and their Many Stories One Goal Best Practice Guidelines, helps me feel supported within the AFL industry. The AFLPA has also done an amazing job of bringing about positive social change through joining initiatives like youth campaign, The Line.

When I was cast into the spotlight as a young AFL player, I was instantly branded a role model, and being Indigenous, I knew there was going to be a bit more to it. I have a responsibility not only to my wife, Samantha, and our two young kids, but to my family, my community and the people who look up to me. How I conduct myself on the field is important, but it’s what I do off the field that defines me.

I am who, and where, I am today, because I have my culture and the people that have supported and inspired me along the way. Growing up, my grandparents and parents demonstrated the value of supporting the community and having a good work ethic. Seeing the likes of AFL greats such as Nicky Winmar, let me know that playing at the elite level was a possibility for me if I put in the work to get there.

I know personally, that the positive feedback I received about my ability to play footy made me want to work harder. Through the encouragement, I got from my family and coaches, I knew I had the potential to make it. Those words, although seemingly small, were crucial to getting me to where I am now.

What I have learnt is that every child comes to make sense of the world through language. Although I’m still feeling the effects of the stolen generation and the loss of my native tongue, it is important that as a society, we heal together. Everyone should feel free to ask questions. Indigenous elders and leaders have so much knowledge and are generally happy to share their experiences - we are a caring and sharing people. 

Together we can breakdown unhelpful stereotypes by respectfully calling-out offensive remarks and jokes.

When we ignore or justify things like racism or sexism, we only prolong a culture where Indigenous people, and particularly Indigenous women, are marginalised. 

One of the greatest things I have learnt that features heavily in my Aboriginal culture, is that to have respect, you must give respect, including to yourself. People are people and they should be judged on their character and actions, not by their gender or the colour of their skin.

As a father, I want to pass on my culture to my kids and share the Nyoongar traditions and language from my side; and Samantha will teach them about Koori traditions. We want our kids to respect others, regardless of who they are or where they come from, and encourage them to do and be whatever they want to be.

I feel passionately about protecting and preserving the richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture because it makes us who we are. 

Family, community, respect and looking out for each other – that is why language and culture matters.

Neville Jetta plays AFL for the Melbourne Football Club and is a member of the AFL Players’ Indigenous Advisory Board. He is also a proud supporter of the Our Watch youth campaign, The Line, which challenges attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence against women.