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Melbourne Football Club

‘Because of her we can’: Inspiring women

This year’s theme is ‘Because of her we can’. That outlines the importance of the women in our life and what they’ve been able to do, and more importantly how they’ve impacted me and other Indigenous men across Australia
Neville Jetta

THIS year’s theme for NAIDOC week, which runs from July 8 to 15, is ‘Because of her we can’.

NAIDOC Week (which originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’ – the acronym has since become the name of the week itself) 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.

Former Melbourne star, and now Indigenous Project Officer, Matthew Whelan, along with the club’s five Indigenous players (Jeff Garlett, Neville Jetta, Dion Johnstone, Jay Kennedy Harris and Aliesha Newman) spoke to Melbourne Media about the influential women in their life that helped them get to where they are today …

Matthew Whelan

“My mother Deb, sisters Jane, and my nan Doreen Sultan, who has passed now – they’ve all been great supporters. But my mum has been my biggest supporter – she has supported me in all of my endeavours. She comes down to visit me, and me being the baby of the family, she probably spoils me a bit than the other two, to be honest. She has given me unconditional support. Trish is my other sister – she’s actually my god sister – but I call her my sister as well. The best thing about them is that when I do go home to Darwin, it’s great to just catch up with them – and pick their brain about certain things. When you’re looking in from the outside, you have a different opinion, so it’s always good to pick their brain and see what their thoughts are on certain subjects. So, I’ve been lucky with the support from them all.”

Neville Jetta

“NAIDOC Week is always a special time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to celebrate their history – but also the achievements that we’ve achieved along the way, both past and present, and the future as well. This year’s theme is ‘Because of her we can’. That outlines the importance of the women in our life and what they’ve been able to do, and more importantly how they’ve impacted me and other Indigenous men across Australia. The women in my life, especially my mum, Lynette Jetta, my mother-in-law Marie e Joyce, my wife Samantha Jetta, my three older sisters, Theresa, Tamara and Lynley, and both grandmothers, have had a big impact. My grandmothers, Melba Wallam, on my mum’s side, and Myra Jetta (deceased), on my dad’s side, have shown love, care and resilience and have, not only looked after 13 children (Myra) on one side of the family, but nine (Melba) on the other, which is something you don’t hear about too often these days. They supported their kids the best way they could throughout the hard times, and I definitely feel the support and legacy they’ve left behind, which has been passed on to my wife and through to my daughter Nalani. They’ve definitely been able to inspire me for what they’ve been able to achieve. More importantly, the Indigenous women, who have gone before Nalani, have left a legacy for what she will be able to achieve. They have definitely been inspiring and it’s a great time to be able to celebrate that, and show the importance of it.”

Jeff Garlett

“Definitely my mother (Veronica Kalin) and nana (Mona Kalin) have been my most influential women in my life, especially growing up. They’ve helped create pathways and opportunities for us. It means a lot – we definitely look up to them every day. The other one would also be Nason’s mum. Some of the things that she’s been through and the pathway she’s created for our son is amazing. In the Indigenous community, the women play a great part – they are incredible. What Indigenous women do for us and in the community is fantastic. All of my sisters and aunties have also played a great part in my life.”

Jay Kennedy Harris

“Because the theme of this year’s NAIDOC is ‘Because of her we can’, it gets you thinking of the women who have made things possible for me. Mine is very close to home – my mum [Heather] has been a single mum, my whole life, growing up. The sacrifices she’s made have been incredible. I don’t come from a footballing family, but for her to do things that allow me to do something I really wanted to do was great. Whether it was driving me to games or getting me boots, because we didn’t have a lot of money growing up, was really big by her. Even on an educational front … Mum drove me around to get work done and helped me apply for scholarships, which I got at Trinity Grammar, which is such a great school. It really set me up for life and she definitely taught me to go after things that I love. Now I’m here at the Melbourne footy club and I’ve also set myself up for life with a good education. So, I’d hate to know where I’d be without my mum – that’s for sure.”

Dion Johnstone

“The main one for me is my mother [Cherry]. She’s been there from day dot, helping me get through life and she’s still always there. Mum’s your mum – they’re always there for you. She’s probably been my biggest influence. In junior footy, my parents drove me around the country – just to get me to training and games. They drive up every weekend to come and see me play now in Melbourne. They’re three hours away, but they still come up every weekend. They’ll watch the game and then spend a little bit of time with me and my little brother, who lives up as well. My Mum is a proud Indigenous women and lately she’s been doing some artwork. Last weekend, I went back home to Warrnambool and she presented a painting that she’d done to the Warrnambool art gallery – in recognition of NAIDOC week, ‘Because of her we can’. That’s in the art gallery in Warrnambool, so it was a pretty proud moment – it was great to be there to witness it.”

Aliesha Newman

“A woman that has made me the woman I am today would be my mum. She’s been there through everything and has been so generous and caring. No matter the distance she has had to travel, or the amount of things that I needed to reach to get to where I am today, she would find it. I’ll be forever grateful for here and what she’s done.”