After a break last year, the Kanaka Proud Cup (KPC) is back for 2021 and events have already commenced in Rockhampton.
From its beginnings during Mackay ASSI 150 commemoration events, KPC has always been a fun footy comp but at its heart is a mission to create a way for ASSI communities to learn about history, family, culture and connect with each other. Organiser Marion Healy says that the origins of KPC are linked to MADASSIA’s Mackay cemetery project in 2017 where from 114 unmarked graves, 90 sites were identified through months of researching online records by Mesh & Knots Project Researcher Imogen Healy. KPC grew out of wanting to create a cultural day and share the stories that had been put together through the project with the community.
Marion talks about how the idea developed: “My brother Joseph Fatnowna said, we gotta take these stories somewhere so everybody else will benefit from that history. So we thought, well, if we had a cultural day and then turned it around and put on a game, we could bring all the young people together to tell them that story. What we did was, Mackay has a football team that plays in the State league, they’re called the Cutters and they were playing the Capras which is the Rockhampton team. So we said why don’t we do the curtain-raiser to that game and we approached Rocky and said why don’t they field a team and we field a team – bring them up a day earlier and we take them out and we walk them through the Mackay cemetery and tell them the stories.”
There was also an awareness around supporting ASSI men in terms of mental health, suicide prevention and encouraging leadership. “Once you know your story and know your roots you know how to stand at the front and lead your family and your community and I can see that now happening and we’re in our 4th year,” says Marion. That first cultural day back in 2017 not only took players to the cemetery, but also to other historical sites in Mackay including the river, the Leichhardt Tree and a visit to a sugar cane farm. “Uncle Dougie showed the men how to cut cane, all these young men got in and started cutting cane. So that’s that bit of teaching them who they are,” Marion says.
Out of this came the Kanaka Proud Cup. In terms of the name Marion says, “with permission from the elders I asked: Can we please take the word Kanaka back and we own it? So the elders gave me permission.”
Since then, KPC has been hosted alternately between Rockhampton and Mackay. Australian South Sea Islander United Council Independent Rockhampton president Kerry Warkill says that the event has grown every year to include women and younger ages. “The first year we just had the men’s team, the following year we had the open men’s team and then we introduced the open women’s team and under 18 boys. And then the third year we had under 18 girls, under 18 boys and open men and womens. This year we’ve got under 12s and under 18 boys and girls and open mens and womens. So we’ve actually got five games this year.”
The cultural day has continued to be a significant part of KPC involving players, community and elders. “We usually go visit cultural sights. In 2018 we went to Joskeleigh School and introduced them to the Joskeleigh history – where the South Sea Islanders lived and how they lived. We encouraged them to go through the museum, have a look at old photos and encouraged them to sit down and ask the elders. This year we’ll do the same thing,” Kerry says. “Players can learn about their family and their history on the Friday and then on the Saturday we play the game and the game is about respecting all those people that went before you and trying to connect.” Kerry says the underlying intentions of the KPC remain strong. “Basically it’s not just about rugby league, it’s about celebrating our history, bringing our community together, trying to unite our community.”
Kerry says that KPC has become a popular event that attracts crowds of over one thousand people in Rockhampton. “They don’t just come from Mackay, they come from up in Bowen too. Because the way we choose our teams, they’ve got to be connected to the community. So the elders know who they are. Because our communities have shifted throughout the years, a lot of the people that grew up in Joskeleigh and Kanaka Town have moved to Mackay and Bowen so they’re all either connected back to Rocky or Mackay because that’s where their parents and grandparents came from. We’ve had people from Sydney come up and play, we’ve had some interest from Alice Springs and places like that because people that have lived here have got out there to live but there children come from here, their mother and father are here, their grandparents are here and they want their children to come back and get that connection to the community.”
To Kerry and many ASSI community members, KPC has a deeper meaning beyond just a sporting comp – acknowledgement and ASSI visibility are vital. “It’s more than just a game, it’s about too, that we need something now because we’ve had Recognition, we’ve been recognised for 27 years with the Federal Government and 21 years with the State Government. So it’s getting out there again now, encouraging the young ones. This is what our elders fought for Recognition for and putting ourselves out there where the Government can see us now, that our communities still exist. And what they recognised with these communities 20 odd years ago about the difficulties and disadvantages that we still suffer and we still need that assistance. So it’s getting ourselves back out there, encouraging our generation, my generation and the generation that follows me, to step forward now and build on what your grandparents did.”
This year’s KPC event is set to be a great one and Kerry commends the work of the KPC committee, coaches and all involved with a special shout out to the ladies who have led a massive fundraising effort in order to raise thousands of dollars to host the event in Rockhampton this year from November 4th – 6th.
KPC players themselves come from all backgrounds and all ages. The women’s games are an integral part of the event not only in organising, but playing, leading and participating. The first ever KPC women’s team captain in 2018 was Latoya Harbin (nee Smith). Here she shares about her experience being involved, what it means to her and the spirit of the KPC.
• Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Latoya Harbin (nee Smith). I am a proud Aboriginal and Australian South Sea Islander woman.I was born and raised in Rockhampton. My husband, Earl and I have three beautiful boys Izayah & Ezra (7) and Lavassa (6). I follow my paternal great-great grandfather’s ancestry, Jimmy Wovat, who was blackbirded from Gaua Island, Vanuatu. My family lineage stems from the Minniecon, Lingwoodock and Choppy families.
• How did you come to be the first women’s team captain?
I had no idea that I was captain, until the night of the jersey presentation. We were all lining up in our positions. I was playing fullback, so I was at the front of the line, but the coach kept calling up everyone else in front of me. I did not think anything of it, until there was no one left… However, it was a night I will never forget. It was my mother-in-law’s birthday, but more importantly, it was my beautiful mother-in-law, Robyn Harbin (nee Willie) who presented me the very first women’s KPC Captain’s jersey. It was an absolute honour and privilege to have received my jersey from my mother-in-law, as she is someone who I aspire to be. She is the most humble, kind hearted, strongest woman I know.
• How long have you been involved in KPC?
I have been involved with KPC since its inception in Rockhampton in 2018.
• Can you tell us some highlights from the games you’ve played?
For me the highlights from the game didn’t come from on the field. For me, the highlights were getting to know the South Sea Islander women off the field, getting to know their story and their families. Their passion and love for their culture and wanting to know more and invest in their South Sea Islander history.
• Why is the event important to you?
I think it’s important to showcase our South Sea Islander culture and history with the wider community through sports. Sport brings people together. KPC creates an atmosphere that brings people together to be proud of who they are and where they have come from. It’s not just about a game, it’s about who you are – it’s about your identity.
• Why do you think it is important to have women’s participation in the event?
We hear about the men’s hard indentured labour in the cane fields, but I think we forget about what the women had to endure as well. South Sea Islander Elder, Uncle Bill Power recently said, “If it wasn’t for women being part of these organisations, nothing would have been done. They kept us moving”. This has really resonated with me. I think it’s time we bring our strong deadly South Sea Islander women to the forefront – we’ve got the platform, so let’s use it.
• What do you think young people can learn from KPC?
They can learn about themselves. Who they are and where they belong. It’s not just about football, it’s about learning who you are, about your culture, language and spirit.
• What would you say is the spirit of KPC?
For me the spirit of KPC sits within me. The spirit within me is for my ancestors, whose strength, courage and determination kept us here. Who fought a long and hard through all the barriers like language and culture – that’s the spirit of KPC in me.
Thanks to Marion Healy, Kerry Warkill and Latoya Harbin for participating in this story. For more information and photographs see Kanaka Proud Cup on Facebook.