For Carlton defender and proud Kamilaroi woman Natalie Plane, the first AFLW Indigenous round is an opportunity to educate the wider community and spark conversation.

The launch of the inaugural 2021 NAB AFL Women’s Indigenous round will acknowledge and highlight the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to Australian football.

Scheduled for round five, Plane said it’s empowering to see Indigenous women celebrated.

“You watch the men’s round, and it’s such a success so it’s really exciting for it to be a part of the women’s game,” she said.

“It’s really exciting to have another platform to share our Indigenous cultures with both the AFLW and wider community.

“It’s a chance for me and other Indigenous players to celebrate where we’re from and our families as well.”

The former cricket star added that she hopes the Indigenous round is seen as not only a celebration of culture but an opportunity to educate.

“Having this round in the AFLW, we may be able to reach different communities and drive conversation, people that may be able to learn something through the discussion,” she said.

“I want to show how proud we all are of our culture, and I want to drive that conversation around education, learning about Indigenous communities.”

The Carlton Indigenous round guernsey was designed by 18-year-old Indigenous artist Ky-ya Nicholson-Ward and represents the intertwining of Indigenous heritage and female empowerment.

Plane said the team was involved in the story behind the guernsey.

“Knowing Ky-ya previously, she called to see if I had any ideas for the design,” she said.

“I opened it up to the group and we had a chat about it, it was really a whole team involvement, then Ky-ya and I put all the ideas together, and Ky-ya worked her magic.”

From a young age Plane gravitated toward sport. Reflecting on her childhood she said she split her time between soccer, football and netball games in the winter and summer cricket.

“I grew up down the Mornington Peninsula, in Frankston. I started soccer [at] five or six-years-old and then played netball as well, seeing my brother at footy training I asked if I could play that too,” she said.

“I played football until about 13, and continued to play soccer in the winter and cricket in the summer.

“Cricket was probably my main sport growing up. I started playing at about eight-years-old, first for my school and then onto rep sides and underage mixed, eventually I was playing for state sides and ended up getting into the Big Bash [League].”

Plane then decided to switch codes, falling in love with football again.

“I remember watching an exhibition match between Melbourne and Bulldogs I think it was back in 2016, and I thought I could give this a crack,” she said.

“I was still playing cricket, seeing as the sports are played in different seasons, but I was training with my local women’s footy team, I was reminded how much I love football.

“That same year I went to India with the Indigenous Women’s Cricket team so I only committed to half a season of training, in case I got injured. After that tour I played eight to 10 games before the draft, I nominated for the draft and was lucky enough to get picked.”

Plane then committed herself to balancing both the cricket season and her first year of AFLW.

“Looking back, the first year I was drafted I was also playing for the Renegades in the Big Bash League,” she said.

“I would train during the week and on the weekends, I’d play cricket sometimes interstate, I don’t know how I did it, I’m just going to say I was young and my body could handle it.

“I just really loved footy, the physicality and the hard work and commitment that goes into everything.”

Speaking at the Indigenous round launch, Plane expressed the importance of role models for future generations.

“For me growing up, I didn’t have too many Indigenous female role models that I could look up to,” she said.

“When it came to sport obviously one of my role models was Cathy Freeman, she was a huge role model for me.

“To have so many girls from each team that are Indigenous in the competition, they’re all these powerful strong women that these young girls get to look up to. I think it’s really important.”

By Darby Ingram