‘Proudest black man alive’: Mitchell behind rise of Indigenous round

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Latrell Mitchell is the biggest Indigenous star in rugby league – and on the weekend when his people and culture take centre stage, the Rabbitohs fullback could barely contain his pride.

“I’m the proudest black man alive, I reckon,” Mitchell said on Tuesday. “One hundred per cent. Why not?”

No club does Indigenous Round better than South Sydney – and there is no bigger Indigenous identity in the NRL than the man wearing the South Sydney No. 1 jersey.

Mitchell has dragged Indigenous issues front and centre for rugby league, through his passion for the All Stars match, calling out racism, support for Indigenous communities and his thoughts on big issues like The Voice to Parliament, which the NRL has already openly backed without gauging the feelings of every player.

So big has Indigenous Round become for Souths that the club is expecting a crowd of 40,000 to fill Allianz Stadium on Friday when it hosts Parramatta.

Mitchell and five of his Indigenous teammates, including Cody Walker and Alex Johnston, along with all of their children, braved a chilly morning late last month to pose at Little Bay at sunrise. They posed in the jersey they designed, while in a separate photo Mitchell wore a traditional kangaroo cape provided by one of the local elders.

Pride of the league: Latrell Mitchell and Indigenous Rabbitohs teammates model the club’s Indigenous Round jersey.Credit: South Sydney Rabbitohs/Sunny Brar

“That picture will live on, it’s an iconic picture and really enjoyable to be a part of,” Mitchell said. “It’s Indigenous Round this week, it’s a very proud week for me, I don’t only have one week to celebrate it, I celebrate it every week.

“It’s not only about the jersey and wearing it that night, it’s about the week leading in, what it represents, but also what we can learn and teach each other about unity.

“The more the NRL buy in and allow us to have a voice on it, it’s really enjoyable to be a part of it. It’s a big up to the NRL, but also South Sydney, we do it the best.”

Souths have a rich Indigenous history, with one of their famous First Nations players, Eric Simms, to have a medal named in his honour for the best player on the ground this weekend.

Man of the moment: Latrell Mitchell at Souths trainingCredit: Louise Kennerley/SMH

Mitchell said the rich history of Indigenous players at Souths was a reminder of why he had got it so right moving to Redfern.

“You wonder why the greats come here as in Greg Inglis and Eric Simms,” Mitchell said. “There’s no judgment here, there’s no race, no colour, we’re all one, and that’s what the Rabbitoh represents. That’s why I’m very proud to be here. I’m just loving it.”

The Voice to Parliament debate centres on the government’s plan to change the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice.

Mitchell said he wanted more education for everyone to make their own decision. “I’m not a ‘yes’, I’m not a ‘no’, I’m not even a ‘maybe’ yet,” he said.

“It takes all of Australia to comment on that. I can’t speak for you, I can’t speak for the next bloke, I can only talk for myself and what my family believes. Anything that helps an Aboriginal man or Aboriginal woman move forward in society, I’m all for it.

“But at the end of the day, we want to make sure we get everything in the learnings, and make sure we know what we’re doing and how it looks and how it’s structured.

“I just want to know more and make sure my people can have a voice on their own terms and not be spoken for.

“It won’t be until after the grand final [the vote], there are a lot of things that need to be put in place … I’m happy conversations are starting to be had.”

Mitchell required a few running repairs and was massaged by club physio Eddie Farah during Tuesday’s session. Several teammates quickly laid down beside him and pretended they also required some of Farah’s magic touch.

“I was putting it on for you fellas, I knew you were watching,” Mitchell joked.

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