18 April 2019

Flying high with AFL Canberra's indigenous round

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Tom Hodge has been telling stories through indigenous art since he was a kid. Photos: George Tsotsos.

When Canberra’s AFL players run onto the field for the local indigenous round at the end of May, Tom Hodge reckons he’s going to feel pretty choked up.

The local artist is “super proud” of his indigenous heritage and says that being asked to design jerseys for all teams across the competition is something of a dream come true.

Hodge was born in Canberra although his mother is from the Blue Mountains, and his father, who grew up in Sydney, is a Wiradjuri man.

“Dad was stolen generation early in life and he floated around foster homes before being adopted by the Hodge family,” his son explains.

“We haven’t had the tie to country because Dad was removed, but we’ve worked really hard at getting the story back together about who we are and who our family is. That’s inspired my art, finding out where my grandparents came from, what our connection to the country was before Dad was removed, talking to relatives, renewing that connection. That’s how our culture stays alive, through stories and art.”

Tom had loved drawing and painting since his work was published in a collected book of student work in grade 3.

But it wasn’t until he and his siblings collaborated on a large scale goanna painting for his father’s 50th birthday and people commented constantly on how good it was that the notion dawned there could be something to this.

“Then Gerrit Wanganeen, who is a Tuggeranong Hawks board member, asked me to come up with an indigenous jersey for the club. I had a crack and it went well,” he said.

Local professional services consulting firm Rubik3 were the first to sponsor an indigenous round jersey for the Hawks three years ago while Hodge was a midfielder for the club.

Hodge with the design he drew for last season’s indigenous round.

The first design Hodge made for the Hawks was fairly straightforward, concentrating on the hawk totem in the middle of a meeting place with smaller meeting places joining in, representing feeder junior clubs and the journey through to seniors and first grade.

Hodge says that being given the opportunity to design the Canberra round jerseys across the clubs has been a more complex task because they needed to express what both the clubs and the community mean to the AFL world. His work has a focus on Telstra Tower and Black Mountain, and the blue and yellow Canberra colours.

“We’re also trying to get a hold of handprints from many members of the community because that’s the way this community is – we are hands-on in the AFL community and the indigenous round wouldn’t exist either if it wasn’t for that,” Hodge said.

When asked about the emotional aspect of teams across Canberra running out in jerseys that he’s designed, Hodge says “to be honest, I’ve nearly been in tears, that’s how happy I am. I wasn’t even sure it would work out at Tuggeranong, so this is a dream come true.

“To have Rubik3 sponsor and promote the indigenous round for three years has been brilliant because we can spread knowledge about the indigenous connection.

“It’s been well received by every club and everyone who is involved, all the indigenous and non-indigenous players and helpers around the clubs.”

“When we played Eastlake, everyone made an effort to come and shake my hand. I do the design work for fun, and because I love my art and my culture. To be thanked was amazing.”

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