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The Tokyo Olympic skateboarders that inspired Australia's new Indigenous Games apparel

Andrew Mathieson -

The shirt Dharawal man Maurice Longbottom wore around the Tokyo Olympic village between rugby sevens matches has indirectly inspired a change of apparel to fully recognise the First Nations’ contribution to past Olympic Games.

Longbottom first modelled the only piece of the Australian uniform that incorporated an Indigenous design at the uniform launch of the postponed 2021 Olympics among the 10 pieces of apparel, across all competing sports and for both formal, and casual social settings.

That shirt titled Walking Together included sets of footsteps representing the 52 First Nations competitors that participated at the Olympics since basketballer Michael Ah Matt, and boxers Adrian Blair and Francis Roberts, represented Australia in 1964.

A further eight Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders have been added to that list since Tokyo and, three years on, so has every piece of sporting apparel incorporating specific Indigenous design ahead of the Paris Games come July.

The narrative behind the revolution to ensure that following 128 years of Australians at the Olympics – one of only four nations, including France, Great Britain and Greece to attend every Olympiad – that the country’s Indigenous heroes are recognised came about quite casually.

Befriending Longbottom in the Olympic village, a non-Indigenous group of Australian skateboarders spoke to Longbottom to fully understand the context behind the shirt of the 52 sets of footsteps.

Longbottom told them how the design was about a central meeting place like Olympic Games bringing together people from all over the world.

In skate boarding's first tilt at the Olympics, Shane O’Neill, Keegan Palmer, Poppy Starr Olsen, Hayley Wilson and Kieran Woolley were so inspired they requested to alter the AOC, bland-approved shirts for the unique Indigenous equivalent in their kit.

No matter who wins Australia’s first gold – and other medals in France – 22-year-old Palmer, then 18, can still say he was the first Australian to stand on the dais wearing the first Indigenous shirt after winning the men’s park skateboarding competition final.

Longbottom was filled with more pride after the Indigenous Advisory Council further advised the AOC on insight behind meaningful Indigenous designs for Paris 2024.

“I have always had pride to run out in the green and gold, but to have this Indigenous print front and centre, to me, it’s just that little bit more special,” the 29-year-old from suburban La Perouse – on the Country of his mob – said.

Former 2008 Olympic boxer Paul Fleming, a Wakka Wakka man, created that one design for Tokyo and this year he teamed up with Torres Strait Islander artist David Bosun to create multiple new designs for this year's Games that was launched on Friday.

Deputy chef de mission Kyle Vander-Kuyp, the former Worimi and Yuin hurdler, said the AOC was moving with the times.

“It’s been giving athletes a chance to understand a bit more about the history and the culture, and what better way to do that than rapt up in green and gold,” he said.

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