This article was first written for and published by NRL.com.
Krstel Petrevski could not have been prouder on Thursday night as she watched the Melbourne Storm beat Brisbane 40-12 in the jersey she designed for Indigenous Round.
For Petrevski, the feeling of seeing athletes she admires wearing a jersey featuring her design is “unreal and so special”.
“It spins me out because I struggle to believe that I have designed something that the players also love really hits home for me,” she said.
“It’s a feeling like no other. It gives me goosebumps.”
Designing a jersey for one of the most successful rugby league clubs in the modern era is certainly not something Petrevski envisaged herself doing whilst she was growing up in Halls Creek, a remote Indigenous community in Western Australia’s East Kimberley region, eight hours inland from Broome.
Petrevski is a proud member of the Kija-Jaru mob and grew up in a town with about 3,000 other people; all of whom were basically related to her.
For Petrevski, one of the benefits of coming from such a small community was that from a young age she had a deep connection to her mob and was brought up with awareness and understanding of who she was.
“We are a very traditional community, so we still live that day to day every day,” said Petrevski.
“I am very lucky that I got to grow up with my family surrounding me and that I was taught to speak my language.
“I am close to my traditions and my culture which is not something all Aboriginal people have had the opportunity to experience.”
In Australia there are more than 250 Indigenous languages including 800 dialects. Petrevski can speak both the Kija and the Jaru dialects and is still impressed by the breadth of Indigenous dialects and how one word can have so many different meanings across many mobs.
At age 11, Petrevski left Halls Creek to pursue her education.
It was during that time that her connection with rugby league began.
Whilst a healthy rivalry may exist between the NRL and the AFL, it certainly hasn’t stopped Petrevski from being involved in both codes.
“I’m about celebrating and watching people succeed in whatever they want to do,” said Petrevski.
“When someone else succeeds, that gives me excitement.
“I love everyone, doesn’t matter where you come from, who you are, what your background is, I’m all about people being given the chance to succeed in whatever sport they love.”
Petrevski is currently playing for the Melbourne Demons in the AFLW and was also part of the NRL’s ‘School to Work’ program, which uses rugby league’s profile to support young Indigenous Australians with work experience, mentoring and leadership opportunities to ensure they successfully complete school and transition into further study, training or meaningful employment.
It was through that program that Petrevski developed a relationship with the Melbourne Storm. It also helps that the Storm share headquarters with the AFLW.
The jersey that Petrevski has designed for the Storm is not her first.
In the past, Petrevski has also designed Indigenous guernseys for the Demons AFLW squad.
But, it wasn’t art which drew Petrevski to doing this type of work. In fact she admits that she has a short attention span, so the thought of sitting for hours developing an artwork didn’t initially appeal to her.
“Growing up we were very connected to culture, I had a lot of role models growing up and a lot of my older family members told stories through their art,” she said.
“I watched my uncles, aunties and grandparents do art and they taught me their ways and the power of storytelling through art.
But initially Petrevski struggled with the patience to complete the art. That was until she went home during COVID. She had the chance to connect with her family and realised she had more time to share stories through artwork.
“When the Storm gave me this opportunity, I wanted to tell our story through art and definitely do it,” said Petrevski.
“It wasn’t the art that first interested me. It was the story behind it and being able to share that story through the artwork, that was what made the difference for me.
“I now do it my own way and I’ve been able to create art that I’m really proud of.”
Whilst Indigenous Round is an important chance to celebrate the contributions that Indigenous people have made to rugby league, it is also an opportunity to listen and learn about the experiences of Indigenous people so we can make our game even more inclusive than it is today.
That means that whilst celebration occurs throughout this week, the conversation needs to continue throughout the remainder of the year.
For Petrevski, there are many things that non-Indigenous people can do to demonstrate their commitment to reconciliation.
“Embracing and acknowledging culture is important, but its what you do with that knowledge that can be powerful,” said Petrevski.
“You can teach someone about our culture but then that person has an opportunity to take what they have learnt and share it with other people.
“Find a way to celebrate our culture by educating others and always trying to learn more.”