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Fremantle bond enhanced after special 'Manjaree' smoking ceremony

David Prestipino -

There was a strong sense of connection as Fremantle players, staff and members of the public gathered on Friday morning for the club's annual smoking ceremony held for the first time at Manjaree, a place of great significance for Whadjuk Noongar people.

Uncle Richard Walley, Kwinana deputy mayor Barry Winmar, the club's new Indigenous and Multicultural Liaison Officer Che Wyatt and Indigenous champion and life member Roger Hayden led the smoking ceremony on Whadjuk boodja at Bathers Beach, or Manjaree (meaning gathering place), where locals and visitors once engaged in trade and cultural exchange before European arrival, and a site that continues to be a place of meetings, greetings and farewells.

Fremantle has had more than 50 First Nations men and women drafted to the club since its formation in 1995, including Mr Hayden - a key diversity champion at the Dockers since retiring in 2011, who told the National Indigenous Times Friday's smoking ceremony was particularly poignant as the Manjaree was a spiritual and special place for Whadjuk Noongar people.

"It's a meeting place that's been an area where Noongar have been coming for more than 50,000 years... for celebration ceremonies, a hunting place but really a place for people coming together," he said.

"For us today, we're continuing that tradition and bringing our Freo family into this space where we've been doing it for thousands of years.

"So it was significant... we've been wanting to do the ceremony down here for the last couple of years but now have, and so today was special."

"For a spiritual connection, us being the Fremantle Football Club, the Fremantle area, Walyalup, this place is very significant."

Mr Wyatt, a proud Wongatha, Yamatji, Noongar and Adnyamathanha man, said he was honoured to work with Mr Hayden - the club's Next Generation Academy coach - and continue his work building Fremantle's strong connection to Indigenous and multicultural players, one deeply entrenched in their history and culture.

"Supporting this club has always been easy because, at any time in its 30-year history, I could put on a purple jumper and feel represented," Mr Wyatt said.

"The significance of something like today is continuing and stretching the club's commitment to embedding Indigenous culture and multiculturalism into our DNA, which has been Fremantle’s identity for a long time, so it’s about continuing that commitment.

"I think smoking ceremonies, cultural practice and creating environments where multiculturalism is celebrated shouldn't get treated as extraordinary, it's the standard and is the .minimum that should be happening. 

“People from those backgrounds (Indigenous and multicultural) have helped build the foundations of Clubs that are in the league today. 

Mr Hayden has provided guidance an ear for Mr Wyatt to lean on for guidance since he joined Fremantle in January.

"It's been a privilege to have him as a mentor off the field," Mr Wyatt said.    

"Being a man that has such a strong connection to culture, he's been such a great help to me. He lets me take the lead but then also offers guidance whenever he can."

Fremantle begins its 2024 AFL campaign next Sunday afternoon against Brisbane at Optus Stadium.

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