What Indigenous Round Means to Raphael Clarke

By Lincoln Edmunds

Indigenous Round has grown from small beginnings to become a traditional staple on the football fixture at both professional and community levels across the country.

Sir Doug Nicholls Round, as it is formally known, is the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and their contribution to Australian football.

And it is an initiative that former St Kilda footballer, and current St Kilda City star in the SFNL, Raphael Clarke is a big fan of.

“It does mean a lot [the dedicated round]. To get the chance to put on an indigenous guernsey, you should be giving it your all [every game] but when it’s indigenous round it feels more special. It’s a sense of pride,” Clarke said.

Having been involved in the game for a long period of time, Clarke believes the sport’s culture has definitely changed for the better.

“It’s so multicultural now, it looks after everybody not just the Indigenous players. Especially with the rules regarding the racial stuff, it’s definitely come a long way both on and off the field which is awesome to see.”

“It gives everyone a chance to say, righto I can go play footy and just enjoy myself. Not worry about what someone’s going to say to me or get left out because of my skin colour.”

Football and Indigenous Australians have a long and colourful history and the game plays a huge part in many Indigenous Australian’s lives.

“In some remote communities, footy means everything. It’s what makes them happy, what makes them smile, it’s a sense of belonging,” Clarke explained.

“It puts a smile on their face and that’s the same with any kid kicking the footy with their mates.”

Having endured the rigours of an AFL career with the Saints that spanned from 2004-2012, unfortunately Clarke finished his career just as the indigenous round celebrations at the elite level kicked into full swing.

That is something that does slightly disappoint him to this day.

“It’s one of those things when you look back, I’ve missed out on. It was only Essendon and Richmond [back then].”

“When you see the amount of effort [that goes into the round today], it’s disappointing not to be a part of it on the big stage but it was part of the process.”

But he is hopeful that one day himself and other former Indigenous AFL players will be included in the round’s celebration.

“The only thing that sort of gets missed is the clubs acknowledging all the past Indigenous players. You might only have three, four Indigenous players through your door.”

“You probably should do whatever you can to get them on board, even if they were only on the rookie list for a couple of years.”

Aside from being a role model as an AFL footballer, Clarke has also provided tremendous support off the field for young Indigenous Australians with numerous mentoring programs.

“My brother Xavier had a mentoring program with kids at school so I did a bit of that and since then I got into the building industry back up in Darwin,” Clarke said.

“Out in the remote communities, [I’d have] two-three boys working with me. Teaching them life skills, fixing doors and that stuff. Helping them out going forward. I enjoyed that side of it, it was good fun.”

“If anyone ever wanted to have a chat about anything or needed direction, I’m always here to help.”

Growing up as a young kid in Darwin, Clarke was rarely exposed to any AFL footballers and therefore drew his inspiration from his family and local footy club.

“My father and my older brothers were the big ones [role models]. We never got to see too many AFL players, so the local footy club [St Mary’s] where Michael Long and my brother came from, gave you some hope.”

“It was like righto, if you work hard enough you can make it as well. That’s where my role models came from, in my backyard more than anything. Especially with my old man taking us to training and everything he did.”

And there are still plenty of challenges for the code up north including the lack of exposure to the elite level and the issue of attracting young Indigenous Australian’s down south.

“For footy clubs, it’s just trying to get to those remote areas more often. I know they do community camps [but] there’s so much talent around and if you never see it, you’ll never know.”

“Getting that raw talent and bringing it to the bigger cities, it’s still a hard thing to do. To get a kid who’s lived always lived in Darwin to Melbourne and [then] try to change his whole lifestyle, it’s hard.”

Now down in Melbourne, Clarke has pulled on the boots for St Kilda City and is thoroughly enjoying the experience so far.

“It’s been good. It’s a good bunch of boys down there and the biggest thing I’ve liked is the multicultural mix of boys at the club,” he said.

“[There is] New Zealanders, Islanders, Africans and five-six Aboriginal boys. It’s probably the most multicultural club I’ve played at. It’s awesome, training is always a bit of a laugh.”

But unfortunately for Clarke, back and hamstring issues have limited him to just two appearances in the early stages of the season.

“The old back and hamstring are not what they used to be! I’m back in the gym trying to strengthen them up so I can [hopefully] get a good run at the second half of the year.”

But for Clarke, and the rest of the Indigenous population, this weekend is more than just about football, as they get to proudly represent their club, culture and people in a round that now means so much.

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