A day for footy where friendship was the winner

Aboriginal students and their families were thrilled to meet their rugby league heroes at a police community day. Kristi Pritchard-Owens reports.

Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker standing to talk to seated students and staff at Cabbage Tree Island Public School. Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker standing to talk to seated students and staff at Cabbage Tree Island Public School.
Image: Rugby league stars Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker with police, students and families at Cabbage Tree Island Public School on Thursday. Photo credit: Cabbage Tree Island PS.

It was impossible to tell who had the biggest grins when senior police brought NRL stars Cody Walker and Latrell Mitchell to Cabbage Tree Island Public School – the officers, the players or the staff and students.

Githabul woman Dyonne Anderson has been principal of the small school on Bundjalung Country for 18 years and said the positivity of yesterday’s community event was overwhelming.

“It was the biggest and most well attended event for many years with more than 200 people here,” Ms Anderson said.

“Some community members came from as far away as Sydney.

“It was a fantastic opportunity for our students and community to build positive relationships with our Police Force, with the added connection with NRL superstars Latrell Mitchell and Cody Walker.”

The Aboriginal community of Cabbage Tree Island on the NSW North Coast was severely affected by the Northern Rivers floods last year.

A pop-up school was built at nearby Wardell, to give Cabbage Tree Island students their own learning space as the community gets back on its feet.

The community event was initiated after NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Paul Pisano and Assistant Commissioner Peter McKenna made an impromptu visit to the pop-up school last month.

The students gave the senior officers a tour – and made them promise to return for a game of touch footy.

For Cody Walker, Indigenous All Stars captain, such community events are one of the perks of the job.

“Just to come up and put some smiles on kids’ faces who thoroughly deserve it, we love doing this part of it,” the South Sydney player said.

“I’m a Bundjalung boy from Casino, it’s not too far from here so it’s good to be back home on Country.”

Deputy Commissioner Gavin Woods said it was a real honour to return to Cabbage Tree Island Public School.

“For us, it’s significant in terms of trying to build, and continuing to build, those positive and trusted relationships with community,” he said.

The Minister for Police and Counter Terrorism, Yasmin Catley, also attended.

Students performed traditional songs and dances for their special guests, before taking to the footy field for their much-anticipated match with police and the rugby league stars.

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