An annual competition seeks student designs to be proudly worn by the Queensland Reds Rugby team.

Story Amanda Burdon  Photo John Sessarago

She’s not a convert to the game, yet, but Nellie Saltner is taking a keener interest in rugby these days, ever since her artwork was shortlisted to grace the Queensland Reds’ 2023 Indigenous jerseys.

A first-time boarder in Year 7 at Fairholme College in Toowoomba, the Wakka Wakka youth hails from Cherbourg, Qld, and was encouraged by her family to enter her striking work.

“I started the painting at school and finished it during the school holidays last year,” Nellie says. “I had never really painted before and thought I would try dot painting because it looked easier. The older painters make it look easy but it’s actually hard to maintain a steady hand.”

Nellie found the process enjoyable. “I enjoy how calming it is and the escape from reality,” she says. In the strong tradition of Indigenous art story-telling, the purple circles represent those suffering from domestic violence and the pink dots honour those with or recovering from breast cancer.

“Many people have grown up with domestic violence, and for the people currently going through that, I wanted to be a voice to stop it,” Nellie says. “I saw the reference to breast cancer as a way to raise awareness.”

Nellie was excited to be named a finalist in the competition and is “anxiously awaiting the decision”. Seeing her work feature in such a “great gallery” would be very exciting, but art will nevertheless be a permanent fixture in her life. “I’m just very proud of myself for having a go,” she says. “My teachers at Fairholme have been very supportive and art is something I would like to do more of.”

The decision on the jersey design is set to be made late in 2022 and the resulting kit worn by Queensland Reds players during their Indigenous round in 2023. It is the 12th year that Indigenous designs have been sought through the Future Indigenous Leaders program.

This story excerpt is from Issue #146

Outback Magazine: December/January 2023