The red-tailed black cockatoo takes pride of place on Essendon’s 2021 Under Armour Dreamtime Guernsey.
A tribal totem for the Gunditjmara people, it represents the journey of the soul from death to rebirth.
And for Dixon Patten, a proud Yorta Yorta and Gunditjmara man who designed the striking guernsey, it has a deeply personal connection.
“For the Gunditjmara people, the black cockatoo represents the transition from death to rebirth. You don’t necessarily have to physically die to be reborn. It’s about spiritual rebirth as well, so you can always grow and learn and adapt to a new life,” Patten said.
“The black cockatoo also represents my sister Lisa. I lost her a couple of years back. That was her personal totem.
“She left behind two kids, and there are other cockatoos on there that represent her son Yalahkai and daughter Yazmaine.
“Designing this guernsey was really healing for me. It helped me to move past it and to accept it, and it’s that whole message about being reborn. Our culture teaches us that there’s spirituality and life after death, and I understand that life is much more than what we see.
“I felt privileged to be able to design such an emblem that’s going to represent my sister and to honour her life.”
The significance of designing the guernsey runs even deeper for Patten, who has family ties to the Bombers through former First Nations players Nathan Lovett-Murray (cousin) and Andrew Lovett (godbrother).
A Gunditjmara graphic artist and designer, he was approached by the club to pay homage to the late trailblazer Norm McDonald – the first Aboriginal player for Essendon who was also a Gunditjmara man from the western district of Victoria.
The eel traps, volcanic and lake systems of the Lake Condah area in Gunditjmara Country feature on the guernsey, while the hands represent the elders guiding the Gunditjmara people on their journey.
The feet represent the players’ journey and celebrate Michael Long, The Long Walk and the important work Essendon continues to do with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Patten said he was honoured to design the guernsey, which will again take centre stage in the showpiece game of Sir Doug Nicholls Round.
“Just to see community be represented and accounted (is special). I know that they look forward to it all year, and from what I believe, it’s not just in our own community, but community in general. It’s one of the most popular games and most popular times of the year in the AFL,” he said.
“The Dreamtime game represents inclusion, reconciliation and two cultures coming together in respect. There’s an opportunity to educate and to learn. It’s an opportunity for young people to feel included, and to feel that their culture is being noticed. There’s a lot of good energy around that time in the community in general.
“As an artist, it’s not about me. It’s about me being a conduit for culture and how I represent it. Everything that I do has to be done authentically.
“I just feel immense pride, especially being able to represent our culture in such a way and having your culture adorned on a shirt. It’s highly visible. It’s moving art. It makes the broader community ask questions.”
The 17th edition of the annual Dreamtime blockbuster between Essendon and Richmond will take place at Optus Stadium in Perth, following the game’s relocation from the MCG due to the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Victoria.
It will be preceded by The Long Walk, with club greats Michael Long and Gavin Wanganeen leading the iconic Walk which will begin at the WACA at 2:30pm AWST.