Hear from the Rabbitohs Indigenous Jersey designer, Joe Walker, as he describes the story behind the design and his connection to the Rabbitohs through his nephew Cody Walker.
Joe Walker was born in Casino and raised on Tabulam Aboriginal Reserve.
“I am from the Bundjalung Nation and a Proud Wahlabul Man," Joe explained.
"My totem is the Possum, where my parents lived and came from.”
Joe was one of nine children, growing up with two sisters and six brothers. He describes that his great grandparents lived the old traditions but when his grandfather was offered to continue the tribal ways, he declined.
“My grandfather Jack Walker was offered to continue the Tribal ways by his father but he declined and it ended there.”
Joe continues to keep the traditions alive explaining his culture and the extreme importance of it.
“My culture is very important to me, my love of painting come from my culture as a child hunting for Binging (Turtle). I would find caves with my brothers and was able to be a part of my history examining the paintings on the walls.
“I still hunt for my bush tucker, Kangaroo, Porcupine, Jubal's witchetty grubs, goanna and turtle. I love my bush tucker and I love my culture.”
The Indigenous jersey design was chosen by the players themselves. When Joe was first selected to design the jersey, he didn’t believe it at first when he got the call but was excited to take on the venture.
“They called me and said you’ve been named as one of our five indigenous artists,” Joe explained.
“I thought they were pulling my leg when they rang me. I was excited to be a part of the Rabbitohs design.
“All I want to know is what the totems of each player were. I’ve got the focus for the Rabbitoh in the middle, that’s a big gathering place for them to come and play for the wonderful side that the Rabbitohs Club is.”
Joe went further into explaining the design and how the jersey represents the unity between the players themselves and their connection with the Club.
“The totems are where each player are originally from, which tribe they are in and are in X-Ray art. They represent the proud Aboriginal men who have excelled their way to the top to become an elite athlete.
“The wavy lines are their own journey to the Rabbitohs so it’s representing all their journeys going to the Club.
“I am proud to have joined the dots from each tribe and put their culture and totems on display but at the end they are one a team the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
“It’s very important to embrace the Indigenous culture and to wear it in NAIDOC week means a lot to us and especially a lot to me as the designer.”
A footy player himself, Joe was speechless for words in describing his pride in Cody for representing the Rabbitohs, Walker also has a son who plays for the U20s Wallabies side whose name is also Cody.
“I played my football career with the Tabulam Turtle Divers against some of the best players from Cabbage Tree Island, Coraki, Lismore, Muli Muli, Kyogle and Casino.
“It’s unbelievable. Not many indigenous kids can say that they play for the mighty Red and Green.
“My son also plays for the Wallabies U20s. It’s unbelievable.
“I am very proud of them, of all the Aboriginal Boys who make it.”
The love for the Rabbitohs is deeply etched within the Walker family, starting with Joe’s uncle who used to live in the Redfern area.
“All my family are Rabbitohs fans bar my grandfather, he is a Cowboy,” explained Joe.
“My uncle used to live down there for years and just listening to his voice, you could hear how devoted he was to the bunnies. He always said when he went to watch them back in the late 60s and 70s, there were crowds galore and he was just in awe seeing that many people.”
As for his drawing, Joe draws for the love of it, sketching designs his whole life.
“I’ve been drawing literally all my life. I can't read and write properly so I paint, everyone can do it.
“I had limited education being Aboriginal I was placed in a special class, but my love for painting just grew and grew.
“I was drawing one day and one of my cousins up here saw me drawing a picture of a catfish and he asked if I had done this before and I said nah only when it comes in my head, I draw.
“He said I’m not trying to spook you but he said I saw exactly what you’ve drawn in a cave. It sent chills up my spine.
“I’ve been sketching on black and white paper and they’ve been selling them up here in the Yamba resort but I don't paint for money I paint for the love of my Culture and Art Work.
“I love drawing, I really enjoy it, drawing totems or tattoos in the Aboriginal design.”
The Rabbitohs will wear their Indigenous jersey in Round 17 against the Penrith Panthers at ANZ Stadium.