From 2008, a group of Indigenous NRL players including Dean Widders, Preston Campbell, Timana Tahu and George Rose led a movement to develop a pre-game ceremony that would be a response to the haka. In 2012, they brought in dancer and choreographer Sean Choolburra to help. Rather than simply taking an existing dance, the players came up with a series of movements that reflected cultural symbols – the clan, the warrior, the boomerang, the spear and a moment of reflection to emphasise that the silences are more important than the words. It was also a process that allowed the players to recognise that there was no equivalent to a war dance in their Indigenous cultures as we are cultures that hunt quietly. Along the way, Dean spoke with Elders Fran Bodkins and Uncle Max Harrison to understand more deeply the symbols of the dance and the way to take the messages of culture to the broader Australian community.
Partnering with Stephen Page and the men of the Bangarra Dance Theatre, Dean calls on Stan Grant, Adam Goodes and Michael O’Loughlin as well as NRL players and the men of the local Redfern community to come together to perform a new men’s ceremony that acknowledges the strength of wisdom and their responsibilities as Aboriginal men. At the finale, the players take their dance to the national stage on Sydney Harbour, beyond the world of football and into key national conversations about the place of Indigenous culture in Australian society.