When Geelong’s AFL men’s team steps onto the MCG for Sir Doug Nicholls Round on Saturday, they will be wearing a guernsey that is a pair with the club’s inaugural AFLW Indigenous Guernsey.
The guernseys were designed by Wadawurrung Traditional Owner Corrina Eccles, both bearing the same beautiful design, the men’s being mostly white while the women’s was mostly blue.
Cats AFLW player Stephanie Williams, a Larrakia and Murran woman, said it was “amazing” to see the connection between the men’s and women’s Indigenous rounds becoming more fluid.
“It’s something to be really proud of, I think,” Williams said.
“It just makes you really happy, and proud of your club too, in a way, because it’s something that we both acknowledge, across both sides of the football club, men and women.
“That’s making it more what our values are as a club, and what we represent.”
Williams, a first-year Cat, described taking part in the AFL Women’s first Indigenous Round as “a feeling like no other”.
The Cats played host to Richmond at GMHBA Stadium that round, with strong support showed for both the team and what the round represented.
“I think it was only afterwards when I’d come off the oval (that I really took it in) – because you’re so in the moment, you’re so nervous, because its only your first season – so I was still kind of getting my head around the fact that I was playing in that game,” Williams said.
“When I came off and I’ve seen a lot of girls from up north who were in the crowd, and other Indigenous girls who were there with signs and to get their hand hit (in a high-five), it was apparent then how important that round was for myself, the community, the community you represent and family.
“But also seeing all the other people in the crowd that day, too – it was a massive crowd, non-Indigenous and Indigenous people that are just celebrating the round, so I guess that was just something that was memorable.
“We had a bad loss that day, too, but that’s not what I really take from the day. I think it was more special, in a way, because it was the first Indigenous Round, and that was really something that was in the air, and something that will hopefully continue on for years.”
While Williams’ presence on the field was exciting for the Cats in 2021, she has also made a big impact off the field at the club.
For the wonderful leadership she showed in the lead-up to Geelong’s first AFLW Djilang Game, and throughout the season, sharing her story and personal experiences to educate teammates and staff, Williams was named a joint-winner of the Carter Family Community Champion Award for 2021.
That the 19-year-old is already being acknowledged for her leadership and influence in the AFLW space comes as no surprise to Williams’ mother, Lorraine, a Larrakia woman.
“Stephanie straight up is just a really wonderful person. I could not be more proud as a mother to have a daughter like her,” Ms Williams said.
“She’s been to an all-Indigenous girls school over in Healesville called Worawa Aboriginal College, and even there was actually expected to greet people and to get up and speak, and she was only really young there – she went there when she was 12 years old.
“But for her to be able to do that now, and just to know who she is as an Aboriginal woman, who understands the Sir Douglas Nicholls Round, and to understand what Sir Douglas Nicholls himself also represented, also gives her the drive to actually be a good, young, inspiring woman that speaks well, that carries herself well.
“All of her family back in Darwin are also very proud of her, because she can do that, and really want to see her fly in her career, and also to be supported into being the leader that she is.
“She’s only very young, she’s 19, and with that comes a lot of responsibility as an Indigenous woman, to be speaking up strong, but (also) to teach and inspire others at such a young age.”
Williams’ mother laughed when recalling how some people look at the young footballer and say, “Goodness, she sounds like an old lady” due to the wisdom, knowledge and eloquence she speaks with.
“Even myself, sometimes I stand back and just go, ‘Wow’, because she is one of those people – I don’t like to put her up there with people like Sir Pastor Doug Nicholls, but I know he would be very proud of her, too.”