Geelong will celebrate its 10th AFL Djilang Match when it takes on Port Adelaide at GMHBA Stadium on Saturday at 1.45pm.

For a decade the Djilang Match has highlighted the integral contribution First Nations peoples and cultures to the game of Australian Rules football, from its origins known in the Western Districts of Victoria as Marngrook to the First Nations players and administrators who are so integral to the brilliance of our sport.  

The Djilang Match is also a platform for the recognition and celebration of the Wadawurrung people, the Traditional Owners of the land in and around Djilang. Djilang is the Wadawurrung word for Geelong.  

Since 2012 the Cats have led the Djilang Program, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultural connection program that engages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the exploration and celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

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Narkle on the Importance of Building Culture and Learning Culture

As part of the Geelong Cats Djilang Program, Tyson Stengle and Quinton Narkle attended Wathaurong Homework Group to speak with students. Presented by Barwon Water.

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Developed in consultation with local First Nations community members and program facilitators, this year’s Djilang Program aligns with the 2022 National Reconciliation Week (NRW) theme of, “Be Brave. Make Change.”  

The 2022 Djilang Program has connected the story of the Djilang guernsey, the partnership and relationship with Barwon Water, the sharing of the stories of the Barwon River and the cultural value and importance of water to Wadawurrung people. Wadawurrung country and all who live in the region today.  

The Barwon River sits alongside GMHBA Stadium, the home of the Cats. It starts on the land of the Eastern Maar Nations, winds through the many townships of Wadawurrung Country, and out via the river mouth of Barwon Heads.  

Program participants were encouraged to consider that the water of a river is constantly moving forward on its journey, like those who are being brave to create positive change.  

Participants were invited to learn about and create artwork featuring water country and its flora and fauna including bunjil (eagle), balim balim (butterfly), parwang (magpie), buno (tea tree), buniya (eel). These are Wadawurrung traditional language words.  

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Narana Homework Club

As part of the Geelong Cats Djilang Program, Tyson Stengle and Brandan Parfitt attend a homework club at Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait young people.

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Each year, the Djilang Program concludes with the program participants’ attendance at the Djilang Match where they will form the Guard of Honour and have their artwork featured electronically throughout the stadium.  

The artwork will ultimately form part of a permanent installation at GMHBA Stadium, set to be unveiled at an AFLW match later in 2022.

We thank the many volunteers and First Nations community members for their ongoing participation, guidance and support. 
Cats player Quinton Narkle assisted in the delivery of the Djilang Program and noted how exciting and important the program was for kids and club alike.  

“It’s the importance of embracing culture and learning culture,” he said.

“I didn’t know as much growing up, so it’s great to see programs like this where kids are learning about our culture, animals and art at such a young age.”  

Both the Djilang Program and the Djilang Match are proudly supported by Barwon Water.

On the importance of the Djilang Program, Barwon Water Chair Jo Plummer said: “Education is critically important, both for young people and for adults. For our young people to really understand their culture, their heritage, where they come from and how they contribute and fit in moving forward is very, very important to us.

“By everybody working together and doing things that organically feel good together – like drawing, creating art, telling stories – it does create a real relationship.

“We think it’s incredibly important that we tell the truth, learn from history and work together to make sure that we all care for country going forward.”

Match Day highlights will include a pre-game cultural gift exchange with Port Adelaide, and a halftime celebration of the remarkable life and legacy of Albert ‘Pompey’ Austin, a pioneering Gunditjmara man who was the first Aboriginal man to play in an Australian Rules Football game at the highest level in Victoria in 1872.  

The Cats are in the unique position of hosting consecutive home games across the two weekends of the AFL’s Sir Doug Nicholls Round.

The Cats will wear their Djilang guernsey, designed by Wadawurrung woman Corrina Eccles, for both Rounds 10 and 11.  

The guernsey, titled ‘Kardiniyoo’, was created to tell a Wadawurrung story of the Barwon River and Karidinyoo, and in legacy of the recent tragic loss of two lives connected to Corrina and the community, and Bunjil the eagle is placed on the guernsey in their honour.

“I hope the players, when they run out, connect to Wadawurrung country and the landscape. Let’s hope Bunjil is flying over as they’re playing to bring us good spirit,” Eccles said.