Indigenous Sport Month: AFL stars open up on life and footy as Indigenous Australians

From childhood memories and AFL journey to his culture and the legacy he wants to build on, Hawks star Jarman Impey tells Chris Cavanagh about life and footy as a proud Indigenous Australian.

Chris Cavanagh: What Indigenous nation or nations are you connected with?

Jarman Impey: My mob is the Yorta Yorta mob, which is based around the Shepparton region where I was brought up and also around Echuca and Swan Hill. Our totem is the long-necked turtle and I’ve spent a fair bit of time on the Murray River.

CC: What does your heritage/culture mean to you?

JI: I’m very proud to be an Aboriginal person, an Indigenous person of Australia. I think I have to lead by example but I feel I am a role model to my community, which means a lot to me. But I’m still on my journey learning about my culture as well, being only 25. When you’re a kid you just do kid things, but as I’ve become older, I’ve started to look into it more.

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Hawk Jarman Impey is a proud Indigenous Australian.Source:Supplied

CC: Your favourite custom from my heritage is …

JI: I’ve got a lot, but I love being on the Murray River. I feel connected every time I go back, especially doing some fishing. With the new technology we’re not fishing with spears and nets anymore. But when I get on the river, and hear the birds and the nature going on, that’s where I feel most connected.

CC: Something not many people know about you is …

JI: I love country music. There’s just something about sitting around a campfire and listening to country music on a guitar. I do love Alan Jackson and Charley Pride in the country music scene. But I also love playing the didgeridoo and I’ve been trying to practise my breathing patterns so I can play consistently.

CC: Your earliest memory is …

JI: Fishing on the Murray River and going down to a dam and yabby fishing. I also remember swimming in waterholes, or down the river with my friends, and playing footy at Rumbalara Football Club, which is an Indigenous football club.

CC: One piece of advice you would give your teenage self …

JI: It would probably be to listen more when you have your Indigenous elders speak to you. You probably don’t realise until you’re a bit older and wiser and you think, ‘What was the elder saying then?’ To the best of my ability, I did try to listen, but that’s still something that I’d tell my younger self — to listen and learn as much as you can, while you can.

CC: The best advice you were ever given …

JI: It was probably from my dad, Glenn, who said: “Be a leader.” That’s obviously among the community and not going down the wrong path and standing up for what’s right. That’s what stands out for me.

Impey celebrates a goal during last season’s Indigenous Round. Picture: Sarah ReedSource:News Corp Australia

CC: If you weren’t in sport you would be …

JI: If I didn’t play footy, I’d definitely go into a sporting avenue, probably playing local football and being a PE teacher or working in a gym or something like that. My dad was a builder, so I’d probably start out working with him. But then I would have gone down the sporting path because we were definitely a sporting family.

CC: A common misconception made about you is …

JI: I am pretty quiet and reserved as a person, but once you get to know me I am a bit full-on and in your face and probably a little annoying. That’s probably one that the boys wouldn’t want to bring out too much of.

CC: When you cop abuse you …

JI: I feel like I go into a really composed mindset and bypass the negativity. Afterwards, I will probably overthink it and feel a bit sorry for the situation. But in the moment I will be very composed and try to think my way out of it. I have received some messages and comments on social media about being Aboriginal, but I think it’s important to call it out because we want to make change in Australian culture. It’s pretty sad, but you’ve got to look at the long-term goal and we are getting better as a country.

CC: When people see you, you hope they think …

JI: That I’m a proud, respectful, Indigenous young man.

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The boots Impey wore during the Indigenous Round match in 2020. Picture: Sarah ReedSource:News Corp Australia

CC: Family means?

JI: Family is everything. That’s what gives me motivation every day, to live on a legacy for my family and be connected with my family. Myself and my partner, Annabelle, are now trying to build a family in the future and that really excites me. I’ve very lucky to have met a woman like her.

CC: A word or phrase you use too much …

JI: I always say, “Sorry”. It’s always “Sorry about this” or “Sorry I forgot about that”. It’s a bit of a habit but it comes from a good, respectful place.

CC: Your weird sporting superstition is …

JI: I don’t have any, which is a good thing. I feel sorry for the other boys and girls if they have something and it doesn’t go to plan then their head would be elsewhere.

CC: Your sporting hero is …

JI: I do have a couple. Growing up I had “Buddy” Franklin, Cyril Rioli and Eddie Betts. As I got older and I played alongside Chad Wingard, I think what he does for our culture is huge. Playing with Shaun Burgoyne, he’s a big one for what he’s done for the game inside the football field and outside the football field. He’s just been phenomenal.

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Impey, third from right in the front row, with a number of the AFL’s greatest Indigenous players celebrating Shaun Burgoyne’s Indigenous AFL games record in 2019. Picture: Michael Willson/AFL Photos.Source:Supplied

CC: Which sporting moment carried the most significance for you?

JI: It was Lewis Jetta when he was playing for the Sydney Swans. I was on a Boomerangs Indigenous camp when I was younger and we were all sitting on the forward flank at the SCG and he marked the ball in front of us all. He kicked this goal from the boundary and he just looked at us and acknowledged us and pointed his finger at us. It was just a moment where I thought, ‘Wow, how awesome was that?’ It was just a moment that was so moving and lifting and motivating all at the same time. That’s a moment that sticks out for me.

CC: What is it like being an Indigenous athlete today?

JI: I just feel like I’m a role model to other Indigenous people, other Indigenous athletes, and I have a responsibility to perform well and be respectful.

The new promo for the AFL Indigenous round from Fox Footy….

The new promo for the AFL Indigenous round from Fox Footy.

CC: Have you encountered racism or unconscious bias against you in your career?

JI: Probably not unconscious bias, I don’t think, anyway. But definitely some comments on some social media pages. I probably would have seen more, but you just get so good at swiping it away and forgetting about it.

CC: How do we improve support networks for indigenous athletes coming through the ranks of professional sport?

JI: I think we have, but I also think we can keep striving to get better. It’s very important that we all have Indigenous liaison officers at AFL clubs. That’s a big one. We do things differently in our culture and you need people who understand. It’s difficult coming into a different culture for anyone and the more that you’re educated and you acknowledge it, the better you are off as person and as an industry.

Impey, bottom right, with Port Adelaide’s Indigenous players in 2016. Picture: Sarah ReedSource:News Corp Australia

CC: Reflections of your career highlights …

JI: I always looked up to Eddie Betts because he’s so skilful and he brings that excitement for us Indigenous people. Playing on him for the first time was a standout highlight for myself. I didn’t go well because it was Eddie Betts and he was definitely in his prime. The first time was only a pre-season practice match, but then he kicked four goals on me the next time.

CC: Who put you on your pathway?

JI: There were a lot of people who put me on this great path that I’m on and I’m forever grateful to these people, but the biggest person would be my father for sure. Just the character he was, he was a very proud Australian but he loved the Indigenous space and he could play the didgeridoo better than I ever could or anyone I have ever seen play.

CC: Who is your inspiration?

JI: Again, my father. He’s built a legacy for our family and I want to be able to do the same and continue on all his hard work and all his sacrifice. He’s my biggest motivator.

CC: What is the key priority to improve player and leadership opportunities for the next generation of Indigenous athletes?

JI: It’s just about education. Bringing in young Indigenous people and educating them but also non-Indigenous people in the workspace or around us in everyday life. We just need to educate as much as we can and come together and be as one.

Originally published asPowerful memories, people driving proud Impey

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