Kunarr Kayku: Indigenous rugby league team is "one big family"
Hume Community Housing is proud to sponsor the Kunarr Kayku under-17s rugby league team, which is based in the Hunter region of NSW.
‘Kunarr Kayku’ means ‘Strong Family’, and for Michael Heitmeyer, family is at the heart of everything he does for his under-17s Indigenous rugby league team—both on and off the field.
With players of Torres Strait, Koori, and Murri heritage, coach Heitmeyer drew on his connections in his community to form a team that would unite Indigenous youth. He called the team ‘Kunarr Kayku’.
“It was important for me to recruit players from different Indigenous backgrounds to allow the diversity and richness of our cultures to shine through,” said Michael.
“We are one big family who looks out for each other.”
A youth worker and community leader, Mr Heitmeyer sensed a need to break down the stigma around Indigenous identity.
He said playing for Kunarr Kayku creates “opportunities to participate in networking events and gain access to a range of services, ensuring the players have every opportunity to prosper”.
“One of the team had been having a really tough time dealing with grief and loss. He hadn’t played football in years because he’d lost his way, which was such a shame because he was a brilliant player. Being a part of Kunarr Kayku has inspired him to take up training again.
“Even though we’re a football team, our sport acts as the vehicle to allow these boys equal access to services and opportunities to help them become strong, successful community leaders.
“For example, a representative from the Aboriginal Resource Group joined us to talk about employment opportunities [and] the boys really appreciated that,” Michael said.
Through partnerships with service providers, like the ARG and Hume Community Housing, Mr Heitmeyer was able to secure sponsorship and enter Kunarr Kayku into the Battle of the Countries 2020, a rugby league carnival.
Battle of the Countries aims to bring together Indigenous communities in a first-class football knockout and helps to create a space for services, young people and the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to enjoy football and engage in conversations, as well as raise awareness of mental health.
Kunarr Kayku made it to the grand finale, only to finish runners-up. But winning was secondary to participating, Mr Heitmeyer said.
“I am so proud of their sportsmanship and that they made it to the grand finale, because they had never played together before the carnival,” he said.
“These moments remind me of why our small team will create great change in our community,” he said.
Julie Bojarski, Chief Operating Officer at Hume Community Housing said, “Hume is delighted to support young Indigenous leaders through our sponsorship of Kunarr Kayku.
“The team did so well at the carnival and that shows how much talent there is out there.
“We look forward to continuing our support for the team both on and off the pitch,” Ms Bojarski said.
For more information, visit Kunarr Kayku’s Facebook page.