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Dhunning - Indigenous Impact

Riley's Connection to Country

In May 2022, for National Reconciliation Week, the Canberra Raiders ran onto the field sporting their Indigenous jerseys.

What many viewers of the game might not have known was that several high school students had contributed to the design of the jerseys through the University of Canberra’s Story Ground program – which partners with the NRL School to Work program – in 2021.

One of those students – Riley Margosis – has since gone on to study a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing at UC, and was over the moon to see her work turned into wearable art.

A Wiradjuri woman, Riley followed a story prompt of ‘What is important about your Country’. In response, she wrote about her personal totem – a snake – as a metaphor for how Indigenous people are – and have previously been – seen and treated.

Riley’s story, along with the stories of four other participants, were then used by Liritja artist Kayannie Denigan to create the jersey artwork, titled Enduring Connections.

Riley says she still can’t believe her work was seen by tens of thousands of Rugby League fans.

“I’m actually not a big supporter of Rugby League but my siblings are, so I was excited that they could see what I’d been part of,” she says.

“Even right now, however many weeks past seeing the jersey worn on the field, I still can’t quite believe it. An opportunity to have your writing interpreted and presented on a jersey isn’t something many people can say has happened to them, but I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of it!”

Participants of the Story Ground program, including Riley, presented their stories to Kayannie before she began the design work for the jerseys, which were to be worn in the NRL’s annual Indigenous Round.

The stories were then included as separate panels within a larger piece, with each panel representing one story. Throughout the course of the design process, the students were involved and worked closely with the artist to ensure their experiences and connections to Country were fairly represented.

“Kayannie got to hear all our stories and read about them, and we were privy to her design process, getting to see the presentation weeks before the Raiders did,” Riley says.

“On the presentation day, we were able to speak with Kayannie again and talk about the amazing opportunity we were all involved with.”

The students and players alike were rapt with how the design turned out, and the personal stories it helped carry.

“I think the final design is really cool!” Riley says.

“It’s different to any other Indigenous Round jerseys I’ve seen in the past, and feels a lot more personal to both the creators and the players.”

Reflecting on her story and the writing process, Riley says that seeing her work come to life in a project like this has only strengthened her love for writing and solidified her future career hopes.

“My dream is to be an author, and my goal is to be a publisher, but I know realistically it would be great to have a career in which I can be writing in any way I can,” she says.

And it’s all thanks to the Story Ground program that started it all.

“I first got to participate in Story Ground when I was in Year 12 and at a UC experience day with other NRL School to Work participants,” Riley says.

“Dr Paul Collis, who ran the program, was engaging and talked about Indigenous culture in a way I had never experienced before, and when I read out what I had written, I knew that creative writing was something that could have an impact and help me better connect with my culture.”

She also credits Dr Collis, the Director of Indigenous Engagement at the Faculty of Arts and Design, for inspiring her career path.

“I think the program is one of the best things I have done for both my career path and identity. Dr Collis helps you bring stories to life and forge a deeper connection with your heritage,” she says.

“Every time I write with these programs, I feel a closer connection to my Indigenous heritage and feel more and more certain that writing is what I want to do with my life.”

Words by Elly Mackay, photos supplied.

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