Ceduna's Tyarna Hansen showing positive signs at Port Adelaide Women’s Aboriginal AFL Academy

Ceduna’s Tyarna Hansen said a visit to New Zealand late last year with fellow Port Adelaide Women’s Aboriginal AFL Academy (WAAA) teammates was an “eye-opening experience”.

Tyarna and 14 other academy participants visited Rotorua and Auckland during the week-long trip, challenging themselves physically, mentally and emotionally with activities such as a 19.4 kilometre snow mountain trek at Tongariro Alpine Crossing and white-water rafting, while they played a match against the New Zealand under 18 team.

They were also involved in a cultural exchange with locals, experiencing Maori culture and sharing Aboriginal culture with their Maori counterparts.

Tyarna said the trip would help her develop as a person.

“It was a fun trip and an eye-opening experience for me,” she said.

“It was a team bonding experience, friendships were made and strengthened and the Maori exchange was really good.”

The 16-year-old has been part of the academy for a year, combining WAAA with studies at Immanuel College.

The academy is open to year 11 and year 12 students who visit Alberton once a week to undertake an educational component – which in 2018 was a Certificate III in Fitness – and football component, the pathway to elite women’s football.

Growing up in Ceduna Tyarna would play football in the backyard with her brothers, but since moving to Adelaide it has become a more serious path for her and she said being part of the academy had helped her grow on and off the field.

“It has been good, I have made lots of friends and have enjoyed my time on the field,” she said.

“I have grown, I am more confident and can talk in front of big groups.

“My aim is to keep doing what I’m doing.”

The academy’s Ceduna connection also involves WAAA coordinator Jasmine Miller and the club’s director of Aboriginal programs Paul Vandenbergh, who were present on the trip.

Ms Miller said it was a first time overseas for some of the girls and an exciting time.

She also said Tyarna “came out of her shell”.

“I have known Tyarna her whole life and to see her grow in the past year and particularly in New Zealand, it’s astounding to see what a program can do to an individual person,” she said.

“I saw leadership qualities and feel she will be a leader among the academy this year.”

Ms Miller said the academy’s structure was important as it did not place total emphasis on the sporting aspect.

“It is an educational and football academy and our aim at the club is to see those year 12 students graduate and then go on to tertiary education, further employment or an AFLW career,” she said.

“There are different pathways which is good and as Paul says a lot, if we can get an Aboriginal student over the line into university or employment then there is no gap with a non-Indigenous kid.

“It is about mentoring the young females, helping them, giving advice and support, and letting them know the opportunities are endless.”

Mr Vandenbergh said New Zealand was the “perfect place” for the girls to be challenged mentally and physically, and to experience other cultures.

“The feedback was amazing, if you follow the girls on social media you see they are still posting pictures from the trip,” he said.

“There was apprehension and nervousness before taking off, and you could see families were nervous about their kids going overseas, but the girls came out of their shell.”

Mr Vandenbergh said he was particularly impressed by Tyarna’s progression during 2018, culminating with the end of year trip.

“She started off quiet, but as she got further into the program and particularly in New Zealand, she became a leader even though she was a year 11 student,” he said.

“Tyarna put her hand up and when it came to the trek because she is quite fit she often helped other students up the mountain.”

He said he expected Tyarna to be part of the leadership group as the program resumes this week.

Mr Vandenbergh said academy participants would continue to be mentored and receive assistance from Port Adelaide players, coaches and staff.

The team, which played six matches last year, is looking to be involved in double the amount of matches in 2019.