There is a spot on Boonwurrong country Katrina Amon wanted to show St Kilda’s influx of Aboriginal players.

Down the road from where Amon, the club’s inaugural Indigenous development manager, grew up, Half Moon Bay sits among Melbourne’s ritziest real estate.

But even next to a decadent yacht club, there is no mistaking the cultural significance of the steep, picturesque cliffs.

Boonwurrong people had traditionally walked between Yirruk Wamoon (Wilson’s Promontory), and Werribee to rest at the cove for freshwater.

On the day the club held a customary Wominjeka smoking ceremony heading into the 2022 season, Paddy Ryder, Ben Long, Jade Gresham, Brad Hill, with recruits Nasiah Wanganeen-Milera, Jarrod Lienert, Marcus Windhager, Jack Peris and Josias Kyle, slipped away into another time.

Katrina Amon. Picture: St Kilda Football Club.

Amon said right away she relished her job helping Indigenous players understanding the change they bring to the game and the club.

“I know when Ben Long was wrapped around in the flags on Boonwurrong country, he got quite emotional about it,” she said.

“He said to me, ‘you know when people are understanding my culture that means a lot’ as the non-Indigenous (St Kilda) boys have.

“I’ve done a few talks with the whole playing group on stuff there, and the feedback that I’ve got from them all has been so positive.

“When I’m in the rooms after a game and they’ve won, they sort of give me a little kiss and a cuddle because they’ve embraced me.”

The role may be just three days a week for the lifelong Saints supporter, but the ripple effect is growing.

Club bosses have given Amon carte blanche on ideas.

And the St Kilda yawa (Boonwurrong: journey) this season is travelling even further for the club which has largely embraced 29 Indigenous players over time too, dating back to Jim Wandin in 1952.

“My philosophy always is that education is the key to have better understanding of Aboriginal culture, so that was always going to be being part of it,” Amon said.

“Not just St Kilda Football Club, but you know the whole community, all our members, and the wider AFL group as well.

“Maybe we’ve got a longer history than some other football clubs with the number of Indigenous players that have come in.

“You know, because of that history, the club itself has been very open and welcoming to programs that you want to install at the club.”

Amon’s legacy off the field this year has gained rave reviews, even from rival clubs.

The exchanging of traditional and ceremonial Aboriginal gifts before a match was an initiative of Amon.

Yet the idea had grown beyond even her expectations.

“We talked about the Indigenous round and at that stage we had thought it was just the one week, but they’ve moved it across two weeks,” Amon said.

“I did ask, ‘why do we do it just the one week?’. I was an advocate for this being across the whole season.

“And so, then I came up with the idea let’s do it for home games and that’s how other people in the club have embraced Aboriginal culture and what we’re trying to do.

“But as a club, they said let’s do it every game.”

Indigenous players from both teams meet in the centre circle before the toss of a coin to hand over their story of Aboriginal country.

The land where St Kilda lays was called Euro Yuroke and a ngargee tree (red gum) believed to be 500 years old still sits behind the club’s earliest home, Junction Oval, and remains a significant spiritual significance to Boonwurrung.

The name for Moorabbin, the location the Saints moved to in 1965, comes from the Kulin word moorooboon for resting place.

“We are on a cultural journey, and we’re celebrating those with others,” Amon said.

“To come away on our journey with us and then the fact that people are now giving us boomerangs, they also give back to us, and it means that they are starting their own journey and we’re all, the 18 clubs, are on a journey, which is fantastic.

Amon said that journey, and the conversations it started, were critical.

“There was one of the ladies that I worked with, and she had not heard about the ‘67 referendum and she didn’t know I was flora and fauna format four years until then,” Amon said.

“She didn’t know what that was. So, you know, always have that conversation.”

  • Story by Andrew Mathieson