For decades the Macksville High School rugby league teams have been suffering through an identity crisis.
The union lads are proud to be Swampies, and, long ago, the league tribe employed a dragon for its nomenclature.
But that identity fell out of use long ago, and the league boys have been branded under the school’s initials for the better part of three decades.
Enter into the ring, Nathan White from Maclean High School, who this year stepped into the role of league coach for Macksville High.
“I would say that before Nathan came, our rugby league program was piecemeal,” Macksville High principal Erica Lyne said.
“There was definitely a greater focus on rugby union than on league.”
Coach White appears to have taken on the role with all the enthusiasm he can muster.
One of his major strategies this year for his teams was to create a modern identity, complete with a fresh set of jerseys each bearing a new totem.
And as of last week, the Macksville High rugby league boys became the Macksville Mantas.
Mr White has worked collaboratively throughout the process and received help from all angles.
The adoption of the manta ray was decided after consultation with local elders in order to find a totem which didn’t already represent a local family group.
Long-serving Macksville High teacher Merrilyn Sheather incorporated her artistic talents to design the manta insignia for the jerseys.
“She’s done such a great job,” coach White said.
“And though she’ll be retiring at the end of this year, we’ll always have that as our logo.
“She’s created a lasting legacy.”
And through the guidance of Aboriginal Education Officers Paul Evans and Mark Werner, Mr White made contact with Jenny Farrands of 3rd Space Mob who offered to fund the entire project.
3rd Space Mob is a service provider on the east coast and now in Western Australia, which aims to create cultural change by working with “original kids” to live strong and in balance while traversing two, sometimes three, different cultural spheres.
“For us it’s not about assimilating—we’re about people coming together and being really conscious of who each other is,” Ms Farrands said.
“Even though a lot of culture around here is hidden, it’s still there and our younger generations want to access it.
It’s important for these kids to feel pride and belonging, and I think the jerseys are beautiful—they’re really lovely.Jenny Farrands
The colourful jerseys sport the new manta ray crest, but also feature the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags on each sleeve.
The print on the jerseys has been designed according to local Indigenous painting motifs and represents the waterways and aquatic life that bless this Valley and its peoples.
“We’re connecting back to country,” Mr White said.
“For the Indigenous kids at the school—and there’s a large percentage—rugby is a big part of their life.”
Ms Lyne is appreciative of the community support the school has received for the project.
“Sport is definitely a way to bring kids together,” Ms Lyne said.
“And it’s important to note that not every kid who plays in this jersey will be Indigenous.
“But they’ll all feel proud in this jersey to represent our school.”
And it’s true, the players are pretty enamoured with their new apparel, albeit for different reasons.
Caleb Wassens thinks the jerseys will give his team an advantage next season.
“If you feel good, you’ll play better,” Caleb said.
Some of the graduating seniors are disappointed that they won’t get a chance to test out the new jerseys next year.
“The old ones were thick, hot, baggy-arse jerseys,” Jasper Valentine-Boxsell said.
“They were just massive.”
“If they’re really long then people just grab you and rip you back,” Jayden Brindley said.
“These ones are heaps better.”
The eye-catching jerseys will certainly ensure that all eyes are on the Macksville Mantas in February 2018 as they glide into their debut match.