Newcastle Knight Jaelen Feeney was front and centre at the vibrant NAIDOC Week celebrations at Hunter Sports High on Wednesday.
NAIDOC is held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life with the week a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Rewind three years and Feeney spent more time in the classroom than on the football field working as a Learning Support Officer at Hunter Sports High.
The then 19-year-old worked four days a week with a group of Indigenous year eight students.
It’s why he’s so thrilled to return as a fulltime first grade football player and spend time with the students he once mentored.
“I worked here and have a close connection with all the students here. It’s always good to get out in the community and to learn more about your culture,” he said.
“I think they enjoy seeing a familiar face."
Feeney is passionate about talking about his culture explains he’s from the Wiradjuri mob.
“It’s about giving back to community and giving back to culture and making sure everyone is aware about the past and getting everyone being proud of who they are and embracing it," he said.
He spread that important message at the school as students worked their way around a series of engaging workshops which included bush tucker and medicine, language, artefacts, art, dance and traditional games.
Lehetta Lane-Porter is a proud Kamilaroi woman who works at Hunter Sports High as a Community Liaison Officer.
With 166 Aboriginal students attending Hunter Sports High School as well as five support teachers, the school has embraced this year’s NAIDOC theme “Songline, a living narrative of our nation.”
Three local feeder primary schools also converged on the hight school and took part in their own cultural workshops on the day.
“It’s a big day for us,” she said.
“For Aboriginal workers at the school it’s massive and we appreciate we do get the whole day and not just an hour.
“What we try to pass on to our students is that being Aborginal is everything and we pass on what it means and that it’s about what’s in your heart and not what’s on the outside.
“It’s about being proud of who you are and where you come from."
Lehetta worked with Jaelen when he held a support officer role at Hunter Sports High and beamed about his positive influence on the students.
“He is so great and because he is young, he connects with the kids,” she said.
“Having that Knights background as well, it just makes it so much better.
“Being an Aboriginal man, he’s a role model for our Aboriginal students, which is really good."
Lehetta was pleased to see Feeney returned to the school a number of times after working so closely with the students.
“He was with the year seven and eight cohort and coming back and seeing them progress two or three years later, it’s a big thing,” she said.
They are growing and we are growing with them and hopefully what we pass on to the kids, is something they will use in the future.
“I’m happy Jaelen has come back after working here because it shows to kids that they can actually make it if you work hard and they are dedicated.
“I commend him for being with the Knights and coming back and giving back to the local community.”