Two AFL School Villages, focussed on growing and developing the game and improving physical development in culturally diverse communities, are being established in New South Wales.
Announced at Sydney Swans HQ on Friday night at the launch of a commemorative book, Celestial Footy – which tells the story of Chinese Heritage in Australian Rules – the AFL will invest $560,000 to establish pilot AFL School Village Models across Hurstville and Parramatta to support accessibility and awareness of Australian football in those communities.
Both programs will be in high CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) communities, with Hurstville having a high population of Chinese Australian residents.
As part of the Hurstville village model, there will be a three-year commitment to the creation of a Future Stars Program that will identify up-and-coming players, particularly those of Chinese heritage, who will participate in specialised coaching sessions with AFL and Sydney Swans Development Coaches.
The pilot program will see five primary schools identified to participate within each community, with the AFL recruiting and providing a qualified physical education teacher to support student physical literacy and professionally develop teachers.
The schools selected for the program will also have a classroom day at Swans HQ and integration opportunities with the Sydney Swans Academy.
As the AFL seeks to expand its reach into all communities around Australia, a new book released on Friday night celebrates the singular contribution of Chinese Australians in footy.
Authored by Patrick Skene, Celestial Footy tells the story of Chinese Heritage in Australian Rules and was commissioned following a Commonwealth Government grant from the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations.
The funding was received to publish a commemorative book and create a digital hub celebrating the history and contribution of Chinese Heritage to the game.
Celebrating the pioneers, such as Wally Koochew and Les Kew Ming, to the modern-day champions Les Fong, Lin Jong and Darcy Vescio, Celestial Footy draws on interviews and archival research to shine a spotlight on the broad range of characters who have excelled in Australian football and passed on their love of the game through the generations.
The digital hub highlights individual stories of Chinese Australians in Australian football starting on Ballarat’s gold fields to the present-day players.
Hosting a wonderful collection of biographies that includes pioneers like Koochew, Ming and James Lepp and bush footy legends Billy Wong and Clarence Lepp from country clubs across regional Victoria.
The best of West Australian and Top End players are featured through tales of Les Fong, Keifer Yu, Neale Fong, John Tye and Joe Sarib who are all famous footballers figures with Chinese heritage.
AFLW player Sophie Li and broadcasting pioneer Nat Edwards highlight female involvement in the game, along with stories celebrating players from the modern era of the game since the 1970s including Trevor O’Hoy and Darcy Vescio.
Speaking at the launch of the book, AFL’s Executive General Manager Strategy, Technology, Data and Analytics Walter Lee said Celestial Footy was a wonderful celebration of Chinese heritage in footy.
“Patrick’s book is an amazing contribution to the early history of our game, tracking those people from the Chinese community who made their mark in Australian football,” said Mr Lee.
“Our game is richer for their involvement and this book is a celebration of so many diverse cultural stories that have found a place in our game.
“I would like to thank the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations for their support in commissioning the book and digital hub and helping us tell these wonderful stories.”
Peter Cai, Foundation CEO, said: “By exploring a little-known part of Australian history, this book highlights the contributions of Chinese Australians to the AFL and celebrates their achievements.”
Skene said: “When I first set out to write Celestial Footy I had no idea of the sheer number of Chinese-Australians that have played the game in the last 140 years.”
“On my journey, I uncovered an extraordinary tradition, a hidden chapter of Australian history filled with characters and it is an honour to put a spotlight on their stories.
“They are stories of resilience and overcoming obstacles to play the game but also stories of mateship, bravery, excellence, civic pride and having a go.
“A special thanks to the National Foundation for Australia-China Relations, the AFL and Hardie Grant for supporting the project.”