BY MARGIE SAUNDERS
Korin Gamadji Institute’s Program Officer Joel Garner had a unique Saturday day when he showed up at his Punt Road workplace to play for rival team Footscray against Richmond’s VFL side.
Garner plays VFL for Footscray and also works full-time at Korin Gamadji Insitute (KGI), a subsidiary of the Richmond Football Club that provides leadership and mentoring to the next generation of Indigenous youth.
“I was watching training during the week, and a few people had told me to go sit in the office and close the blinds so I couldn’t spy on the boys while they were training,” he joked.
“There was a bit of excitement from our [KGI] office upstairs, and a few people came along to watch like Brady [Cooper] and Uncle Luke (Murray). It was nice to play in front of them. It was good to show them what I can do as well.”
On a wet and cold Saturday afternoon, Garner was a key player in Footscray’s 23-point win over the Tigers, finishing the day with 25 disposals and two goals.
In 2017, the 23-year-old Indigenous man was drafted to Port Adelaide after a strong season where he was captain of the Vic Metro team for the National Under-18 Championships.
Garner spent four years at Port Adelaide before moving home to Victoria and continuing his football journey in the VFL with Footscray.
He joined KGI in May 2022 during Dreamtime week, having only been delisted by Port Adelaide at the end of 2021.
Garner returned home to Victoria and worked with his dad in the construction business for about six months before his opportunity at KGI came about.
“By chance, Aaron Clark, the KGI Director at the time, gave me a buzz. I knew him from my days at Port and the early Indigenous programs, like the Kickstart program in Victoria,” Garner said.
He got the job a month later.
“That was pretty special. I felt pretty lucky to have Clarky looking after me and guiding me in this direction, so I’ve got to thank him for a lot of things.”
Before being drafted to the AFL, Garner was involved in early Indigenous youth programs like Flying Boomerangs and Kickstart, though there were fewer opportunities compared to what is available now.
“I wish more things were around when I was a little bit younger,” he said.
“I think if I knew a little bit more about KGI back when I was younger, I would have got involved, and now I’m trying to pump it out to as many young people that I know back home that it’s such a cool experience that they get.”
Garner’s favourite part about working at KGI is seeing its impact on the youth and his ability to share his life experience with the younger generations.
“A lot of young people who come in our program can be a little bit shy and nervous, but seeing them come out of their shells and go back into their communities as a more confident person and a better leader, it’s a great reward for us.”
“To give a little bit of my life experience to other young people coming through, whether that be footy or just life in general and moving away from home, all those things our young people have to deal with living in country areas, a lot of them move to the city so just trying to help where we can.”
Joel is enjoying balancing his time between playing at Footscray and working at Punt Road.
“The club and everyone at KGI have supported me in continuing that footy journey. Being over at Footscray, it’s a bit of a trek after work, but it’s nice to separate work and footy.”
As Programs Officer, Garner will oversee two leadership camps next week in Melbourne for Richmond Next Generation Academy (NGA) participants and KGI year 11 and 12 Indigenous students.
“We have our year 11 and 12 program coming up, so I believe that is probably our biggest and most important program. It will be action-packed…we have some really awesome speakers coming in to share their stories and learnings, and we’re all pretty excited about that.”
The KGI camp will run over four days, with a number of events and information sessions scheduled.
Participants will attend Nicky Winmar’s 30th Anniversary Healing Ceremony at Victoria Park, a public event that is intended to provide healing for those who have suffered through racism and to help others reflect on their own attitudes towards First Nations Peoples.
The camp will include sessions from Richmond’s major partners, including Swinburne, nib, and Latitude.
Next Generation Academy participants also have an exciting two-day carnival of football planned, with a three-game round-robin on day two. The first day of the carnival will include a session with KGI alumni April Goldring, an aspiring psychologist currently completing a placement at Richmond under the mentorship of Indigenous Psychologist Dr Justin Trouson.