The Gold Coast SUNS Academy continues to play an important role in the community, with over 950 teenagers coming through the program each year.

On top of all the elite football services the Academy provides such as game education, resilience, nutrition and high performance, the SUNS have also ensured cultural education is a key aspect of the Academy program.

The aim is to promote a culturally safe environment for people of all backgrounds and cultures, something SUNS Indigenous Programs Coordinator and former AFL star Jarrod Harbrow has been championing in his role at the football club.

“We want the Gold Coast SUNS to be a place where our people feel safe and valued, and where parents can have peace of mind that their kids are in good hands,” Harbrow told SUNS Media.

“It starts with our Academy where we have been implementing cultural education programs to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in our country and in our sport, but also educate on the ongoing challenges Indigenous people face in society.

“It is so important that we continue to educate the youngest generation and drive cultural change.”

Harbrow’s ambition is to have a whole-of-club approach to cultural education, where the Academy delivers the same initiatives as the SUNS’ AFL and AFLW programs, forming a crucial cog in the club’s identity.

Amongst an ever-growing list of initiatives, the SUNS Academy have enlisted the help of Harbrow and AFL Queensland to deliver Cultural Awareness education sessions to Academy HUB players throughout the season.

SUNS Academy Manager Kath Newman said the club felt an onus of responsibility to make a positive impact in the community.

“Our Academy has such a big reach, so we feel it’s important for us to lead the way with how we’re delivering our cultural education,” Newman said.

“Jarrod has been heavily involved in our Academy programs and has been a respected voice for our Academy members to learn from.

“We are committed to continuing to drive cultural education and celebrating Indigenous culture as part of our SUNS Academy program and want to be one of the industry leaders in this space.”

On top of the benefits to the wider community, the SUNS’ cultural progressiveness has an even deeper impact for the club.

The goal is to deliver an elite program that promotes football as an attractive sport for kids to pursue, driving more numbers to the SUNS Academy in a non-traditional football state.

With the SUNS Academy zone stretching to North Queensland and Darwin, top-end Academy talent often have to spend periods of time living on the Gold Coast to continue their development.

The ongoing cultural education gives families of Indigenous SUNS Academy members, approximately 5% of the 900-strong cohort, assurance that their children are entering a culturally safe environment.

At the elite level, the SUNS also harbour ambitions to be one of the best clubs in the AFL in this space, and hence become a destination club for the next generation of Indigenous players.

“We have a goal to increase both the participation and representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people playing our game and coming through the SUNS Academy all the way to the elite level,” Harbrow said.

“We’re doing more than ever before with Indigenous culture weaved through everything we do, but we’re still looking to lead the way and make our club one of the most culturally safe environments in the AFL for our people and players.

“We have a cabinet of Indigenous artefacts and murals on the walls of the Austworld Centre celebrating our Indigenous players, with even Ben Long commenting on the immediate connection he felt in a recent tour of the club.

“That’s what we want to be known as, and we hope to continue to integrate our Academy, AFL and AFLW programs in the future.”